Kayaking the Great Swamp Wildlife Area in Brewster, New York
The Great Swamp wildlife management area, located right on the border between CT and NY in Putnam county is a beautiful place to kayak. Not only are the landscapes stunning, but there is so much wildlife and calm water that anyone of any age can enjoy this trip.
One of my favorite parts is that it’s very winding – but because there is only one path, it’s impossible to get lost. You’ll just wind your way as far as you want to go, taking in all the sites and wildlife along the way.
The Great Swamp in New York is a great place for beginners and kids as there’s enough wildlife to keep things interesting and the water is completely calm. However, sometimes there are beaver dams that can make moving forward a bit more difficult. Though, they’re usually easy enough to maneuver around.
There are multiple launch points for the Great Swamp – so, if you aren’t satisfied with just one visit, there are multiple places to set off for the swamp and see new sights!
The Great Swamp is a serene kayaking location and definitely one you don’t want to miss out on due to it’s beautiful, calmness, and nature.
- Difficulty: 2.5/10
- Time: As long as you want.
- Cost: Free
- Hours: None, but parking is only available at certain hours
- Parking: Plenty, but only available on weekends or after 5:30pm on weekdays
- Bathrooms: A very clean portable toilet
- Location: This launch is directly across the street from Green Chimneys School. Other launch sites available
- Rentals: None Available
- Dog Friendly: Unclear, but it is a wildlife area so only exceptionally well behaved animals should enter.
Parking and Bathrooms at the Great Swamp in New York
Finding the Great Swamp isn’t hard. This launch site is directly across from a school – so Google Maps can definitely locate the area. With that said, there are other launch sites – some more well known than others, but if you’re headed to this site then you’ll be able to find it easily.
The parking lot is a gravel lot, but there is plenty of parking. There seems to be a summer camp location here, so I believe the plenty of parking is for a combination of that and for the school. The Great Swamp is only accessible outside of school hours – and that’s likely why.
When you pull into the lot, you’ll want to drive to the far end to be as close as possible to the launch. From there, it’s only about 1 minute of a carry to the launch – which is great for those heavier kayaks.
As for bathrooms, there was only one portable toilet when I went. I’ve seen people say that there are more toilets available during the summer, but haven’t actually seen it myself. The toilet though was exceptionally clean, for a portable one – so no worries on that front. Would highly recommend!
Boat Launch for the Great Swamp
Once you unload your kayaks, you’ll carry them right past the portable toilet and down into the launch site.
At the launch site you’ll be immediately shown two options – to either go left of the bride or to go right of the bridge. The right route heads north, and is the way that I chose for this post. I’ll need to head back to go left and see where that takes me soon.
Launching is incredibly easy – the grass leads straight into the water and there’s plenty of room for 2-3 boats to launch at the same time. Additionally, as the water is so calm – there’s no need to worry about getting swept downstream while waiting on someone else to launch. You can launch and just hangout in the water for a bit without any issues.
Plus, it’s a beautiful launch site, so you may even want to launch and just hangout there for a minute taking it all in.
Great Swamp in New York: Wildlife and Hunting
This is a wildlife area – so expect to see some wildlife. On my trip I saw several turtles, egrets, herons… and… spiders…. Lots and lots of spiders. YUCK.
This is probably the most spidery place I’ve ever been in my life. With that said, don’t let that deter you – even if you’re a little frightened of spiders. They clearly make their webs and hang out on the edges of the water. So, if you stay in the middle you’ll be fine and completely spider (and spider web) free. I learned this the hard way as I typically like to kayak close to the side to see as much wildlife as possible. Let’s just say I ended up covered in spiderwebs before I learned my lesson. Learn from my mistakes and avoid the edges!
Outside of the spiders, the other wildlife seemed to be curious of the boats. It is really a remote area that a lot of people don’t know about. Even on a beautiful Saturday afternoon there were maybe only 2-3 other kayaking groups out that day. So, definitely a remote excursion into nature and lots of opportunities for viewing wildlife undisturbed by others.
If you’re into hunting/trapping, there are opportunities for water fowl and deer. Of course, you will need to follow all laws and have all the proper permits to operate. But, if this is something you’re into there are a few hunting/research stations perfect for hunting spread throughout the waterways. Before I learned about the spiders, I was able to paddle fairly close to one and it seems like it’s in great condition with pretty dry interiors.
What to Expect Kayaking at the Great Swamp in New York
The biggest thing to expect while kayaking the great swamp is how beautiful everything is. However, I was a bit surprised – I was definitely imagining a green, luscious waterway that narrowly winds through the water. But, this isn’t really what the Great Swamp looks like from this particular launch (other launches may look different).
This launch starts out lush and green, but quickly opens up to much more open scenery. It is still a swamp, yes, but the tree line is incredibly short with only a scattered handful of dead trees continuing to stand in the water.
But, all the openness leads to some incredible mountain views immediately behind the waterways. It also gives you some fall colors (I kayaked here at the end of September when the leaves were just starting to turn). Although it was a different scenery than I had initially expected, the kayaking trip here was just as, if not more beautiful, than the image I had in my head.
The swamp still winds around and there were a couple of small beaver dams to see. There was only one spot that was a bit difficult to traverse due to a downed tree, but we made it across without too much effort.
It has been an extremely rainy summer so the water levels are very high, which helped. If water levels were lower it would be harder to paddle this direction due to downed limbs/trees and beaver dams. So, be sure to plan your trip here after a lot of rain which will help it be as smooth and accessible as possible.
Returning Back to the Great Swamp Boat Launch
As this is a one-way trip, once you’re ready to head back just turn around. There is no possibility of you getting lost, as there is only one way to go.
However, we did notice that paddling back to the launch site was much easier than padding from the launch site. I didn’t realize when heading out that we were paddling against the river – but we definitely were. Although the trip out was not difficult – the trip back was even easier and faster.
There were even points where we didn’t even really need to paddle – the river just brought us back.
As the launch site is directly next to the walking/fishing bridge – you’ll clearly know when you made it back. Don’t go under the bridge and you’ll be just fine!
Walking the Wooden Fishing Bridge
Either before or after your paddle you can enjoy walking the observation and fishing bridge. It’s extremely short, but takes you over the great swamp and allows you a different view point of the swamp compared to being in the water.
However, this bridge was covered in spider webs. We were walking by waving our water bottles in front of us to tear them down, but really I wished I had a broom. Just be prepared if it’s something you want to explore that you may want to bring something to tear down the webs before walking over it.
At the end of the bridge there is an open field with what looks to be an area for the school or summer camp. Picnic tables, a large sheet I believe is used for outdoor movies, and an archery range are back there. Since it clearly had a purpose for children, and not for exploring kayakers I left it alone. But it is a pretty field view and something I did enjoy seeing.
Other Tips to Remember
The Great Swamp wildlife area is a fantastic and beautiful place to kayak in New York. It is remote and not a high traffic area, so be sure to be prepared and arrive with everything you’ll need, including enough water!
Leave No Trace is always crucial, but especially when you’re in a protected wildlife area. Be respectful to your surroundings and be sure to pack out whatever you bring in to ensuring that you are not harming the area.
But, overall, just have fun! Exploring the Great Swamp wildlife area is a great adventure that everyone will enjoy. Come prepared, and you’ll have a great time.
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