October 2018 - PADDLING & HIKING
banner photo: Exploring North Tivoli Bay. Rich Macha
Hudson River’s Tivoli Bays
By Rich Macha
By mid-October, the leaves have dropped in the Adirondacks, fall foliage is peaking in the Capital Region, and leaf-peeping time is well on its way in the Mid-Hudson Valley.
South of the village of Tivoli, about 45 miles downriver from Albany, are two bays on the river’s east shore. The bays bear little resemblance to each other and are worth exploring by canoe or kayak or on foot. Tivoli North Bay is a freshwater intertidal marsh, while Tivoli South Bay is shallow and muddy at low tide and is infested with invasive water chestnut throughout the summer. However, the water chestnut breaks up in October and reveals open water suitable for canoe or kayak exploration. There are three launch sites on or nearby the bays.
The Tivoli Bays Wildlife Management Area is accessed from Kidd Road, from which a 0.7-mile dirt road leads south to the North Bay (map and directions: dec.ny.gov/lands/92370.html). This is a good spot to start a hike with views of the bays. Unfortunately, as of mid-September, the canoe/kayak launch was being refurbished and a completion date was unknown. When the launch is operational, you still have to carry your boat down 66 steps to get to the floating dock – this could be a problem if you have a heavy canoe or kayak and lack assistance, especially on the way out.
Launch an hour or two before high tide for Tivoli and you will have plenty of time to explore all the channels of the North Bay – the difference between low and high tide is over four feet. I have spent over three hours wandering about the cattails and observing great blue herons, mergansers and other ducks, as well as red-tailed hawks flying overhead.
In the village of Tivoli, I have accessed the Hudson River at Diana Street where there is a gravel beach. This requires driving across the railroad tracks so look carefully each way before crossing. Amtrak has threatened to fence in some portions of their tracks alongside the Hudson River so I’m not sure how long we will be able to continue to use this launch spot. Start about three hours before high tide and you will have plenty of water to explore both bays. It’s best to avoid paddling on the Hudson on any days that have strong north or south winds unless you enjoy paddling in choppy waters.
One-mile south of Tivoli you reach rocky Magdalen Island. East of the island, you can paddle under the railroad bridge and into the North Bay well before high tide. The current will still be flowing into the bay. At high tide, you will find very little room between water and the underside of any of the railroad bridges.
After you have had your fill of the marshes, you can go back out to the river via another bridge further south, which brings you out near the north end of Cruger Island. Cruger Island is attached to the mainland and so is not really an island. As you continue south alongside the island, look up in the treetops for bald eagles that may be eyeing you as you pass by below. Depending on tide level, you may be able to find a good place to stop for a break.
Inside the south end of Cruger Island is another bridge under the railroad that allows entry into the shallow but open waters of South Bay. Every time I’ve paddled in here I’ve seen mute swans – up to 14 of them! The east shore is owned by Bard College. In mid to late October, the oaks on higher land display a variety of lovely hues of yellow, bronze and shades of red. A few maples add to the colorful mix. The Saw Kill enters the southeast part of the bay. Paddle up as far as you can, beach your boat, and walk up a short distance to view a very impressive waterfall.
Skillpot (Dutch for “turtle”) Island sits alone in the south part of the bay. You can exit the bay via a bridge to the west of the island and swing north past Cruger and Magdalen islands back to your launch spot.
Another good place to launch from is the boat launch at Glasco Mini Park (south of Saugerties) on the west side of the Hudson River. Look out for motorboats and barges as you cross the boating channel and, again, avoid days with strong north or south winds. Aim for Magdalen Island as you cross and continue as above.
For hiking purposes, the blue trail travels along the edge of both bays over undulating terrain as it works its way around several small ravines. There are good viewpoints along the way, most notably at the canoe/kayak launch, at the junction with the Overlook Trail (red) – and a short spur that juts out into the South Bay. The Catskills can be seen across the bay and river, and you can pick out North Point, Kaaterskill High Peak, and the fire tower on Overlook Mountain.
The old road to Cruger Island is under water at high tide (you may be able to paddle over it from South Bay), but although a bit muddy it can be walked at mid to low tide. Access to Cruger is only allowed from October through December. An unmarked path goes around the island’s north end and down along its west shore with views of the river and the west shore.
Keep an eye out for wildlife during your visit. In addition to the sightings already mentioned, over several trips here I have seen wood duck, common loon, long-tailed duck, ruddy duck, American coot and great egret. As is customary these days, after your visit, check yourself for ticks.
Judging by the number of “blinds” seen in the marshes of the Hudson River, a moderate amount of duck hunting takes place. To avoid being shot at, there is a break in the duck hunting season this year from October 15 through November 9 which makes it a perfect time to visit.
An excellent map can be found at: dutchessny.gov/CountyGov/Departments/DPW-Parks/tmstivolibays.pdf.
A lover of wild places, Rich Macha has led many trips for the Adirondack Mountain Club and has spent 20 years in the paddlesport business.