For owners with boats up to about 70 feet length overall, few itineraries excite the mind like the Great Loop—an exploration of America by boat. And, given that a Loop cruise requires planning, now is a terrific time to think about a Great Loop cruise for when the COVID-19 pandemic eases.
“Most people take at least a few months to plan, and that’s on the low end,” says Kim Russo, executive director of America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association. “Quite a few people join us a few years before they want to do the Great Loop so they can learn from everybody else.”
Generally speaking, the Loop runs along the East Coast, across to the Great Lakes, south to the Gulf of Mexico, and through Florida back to the East Coast. There is no official starting point; we’re beginning in the Northeast in this first of Yachting’s three-part Great Loop series because it’s summertime, and that’s the perfect season for Northeast boating.
From New York City up to about Albany, New York, boaters follow the Hudson River. This river flanks Manhattan, offering views of the skyline as well as the Statue of Liberty—about as all-American as it gets. As the Hudson continues up beyond the city, it becomes an artery through some of the most scenic treescapes in the nation. And just beyond Troy, New York, Loopers make a choice. To the west is the Erie Canal, which served as a key route of commerce between the East and the Great Lakes for generations. Staying north leads to Lake Champlain and Montreal.
There is no right or wrong way to eventually reach the Great Lakes; most Loopers pick a route based on their boat’s air draft. “If you can clear 17 feet, then you have options,” Russo says. “You see different things on the routes, so that’s one of the big choices you want to research.”
In fact, she says, some people buy a vessel specifically to allow for all Loop options: “A lot of the boat shows have gone virtual, so now’s a great time to be shopping for a Great Loop boat.”
Visiting New York City by boat offers metropolitan views of iconic buildings and landmarks.
- The Statue of Liberty is on Liberty Island in New York Harbor, close to Ellis Island, which welcomed about 12 million immigrants to US shores.
- The Hudson River offers scenery filled with trees so beautiful, they inspired the creation of the Hudson River School of artists such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church.
- Kingston, which served as the state’s capital in the 1700s, has three districts on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Troy is 150 miles north of New York Harbor and where most Loopers will encounter their first lock.
Since at least the 1600s, mariners have arrived at what we now call the Old Port of Montreal. In the 1990s, it was redeveloped into a recreational and historical site that includes La Grande Roue de Montreal, shown in the photograph at left.
- Notre-Dame Basilica is the city’s oldest church, dating back to 1656. The stained-glass artwork tells the story of the city’s history.
- Montreal Museum of Fine Arts not only has the types of exhibitions and collections you’d expect to find at a museum, but it also hosts musical concerts at Bourgie Hall.
- Montreal Botanical Garden spans about 190 acres with Alpine, Japanese, Chinese and other gardens.