Mohawk Harbor is a hidden gem along the Mohawk River in Schenectady.
The picturesque boating spot is tucked away right near Rivers Casino and Resort, directly behind Druthers Brewing Co. It’s not the easiest place to find from the river, but once you do, it’s hard to forget.
And it’s even harder not to tell everyone you know about it.
On a recent weekday morning, I set out on an unforgettable journey to learn how to kayak. It’s been years since I last took a boat on a river, and at the request of my editors, it was time for me to buckle up (although kayaks don’t have buckles, which I also learned last Monday) and write about the boating experience that the Mohawk offers.
While I arrived a bit ill prepared and could’ve probably used more sunscreen, I was surprised to learn that there’s a lot you don’t really need to bring with you to the adventure by the casino.
For one, the boats that Upstate Kayak Rentals provides ($20/two hours, $24/three hours) are fairly new and nimble. Upstate Kayak Rentals not only has three walk-up locations and five self-serving kayak hubs, but its location in Schenectady’s back yard is open 7 days a week and gives you a glimpse of the city unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Most kayakers take the boats out for about two hours, as I did Monday, and there’s no need to be discouraged if they’re going alone. Bringing friends, although recommended, isn’t necessary, as you’re more than likely to run into crowds of fellow boaters. And knowing how to ride a bike is also unnecessary, although the fear in my eyes was clear when Donna Larkin of Upstate Kayak Rentals told me “it’s just like riding a bike” when I first made it in the water.
Still, off I went.
Larkin, who has been in the kayak business since 2012, advised me to stay close to shore to avoid any larger boats that might be making their way down the river. She also offers paddlers a container for phones and car keys, which wraps and buckles up, so if your expensive equipment were to fall in the river, it would float and stay safe from any leakage.
Following her instructions, and managing to balance myself on my own without recreating the Titanic, I soon caught a glimpse of another woman on my route.
It felt something like a Nascar race the way she was paddling behind me. She clearly was some sort of expert and when she eventually caught up to me, she let me know that she was catching up to her group of fellow paddlers who go out together every Monday.
I knew her group, Capital District Kayakers, would be a big one, but I didn’t expect the 33 paddlers that floated by me later in my trip. When they all passed by me to chat about what they do, at that moment I realized that, although Mohawk Harbor is a bit hard to find, those who do find it don’t keep it a secret.
It’s a great location to meet up with fellow kayakers -- even if they don’t own a boat of their own -- and it’s a better place to coast around and check out the view solo.
And the view was unlike any I have ever seen in Schenectady. The scenery of massive fallen trees and blue (sometimes swampy) water was bright and pretty, the wind was refreshing even in the hot sun and the water temperature was nice and cool when I dipped my hand in (probably not recommended).
Even when I found myself coasting along solo, I still had some friends join me. A small white heron could be seen scooping up fish toward the tail end of my journey and many, many fish would sporadically create some bubbles or even pop out of the water every now and then.
But it was still Schenectady. I floated by Jumpin’ Jack’s upstream in Scotia, saw the train pass by me on an overhead bridge and could still spot the casino traffic if I squinted hard enough behind me.
The trip was enjoyable for a first-time kayaker. For the fee of the boat rental, you can catch a glimpse of a new side of Schenectady. And in a world full of emails and Tweets (both of which I did during the trip to share my experience), it’s a nice place to unwind and get some much needed alone time.
The only downside was the feeling of heavy arms after two hours on the river, but a pretty bird can certainly make up for that.