Take Me to the River After Dark

Nocturnal floating parties are nothing new. On muggy summer nights in Victorian times, young and restless city dwellers headed for the boathouses where they parked their rides, and waterways were packed with paddling pleasure seekers.

And then there were the steamboats. Moonlit river rides were the rage in many cities by 1900. An evening steamer ride for fifty on the Schuylkill River outside Philadelphia cost a dollar a head – and that covered a five-piece orchestra and fireworks along the way. Spectators lined the riverbanks to watch the passing boats, decorated with flags and bunting.

These days, riverboat dining has become more expensive and less risqué, attracting an older crowd. But river excursions by moonlight are back with a vengeance – emphasis, this time, on active adventure. A few of this summer’s best bets for watery urban escapes:

Chicago River, Chicago

Chicago River Paddle’s idea of a “traditional river cruise:” a group paddle up the Chicago River in your choice of canoe, single or double kayaks. Pull up at River Park for a grassy riverbank picnic of grilled chicken and veggies, then head back beneath the stars and antique lighting of the Addison Bridge.

Providence River, Providence

Watching bonfires light up the river that winds through this quintessential New England town has become a major event on summer weekends – and experienced canoers can become part of the spectacle in September. You provide the canoe, organizers provide the décor: 5-foot long, illuminated silk koi mounted on bamboo poles. The tradition began last year when 63 fish-clad canoes snaked up the river, through the flames and a cheering crowd of about 35,000.

Lake Mead, outside Las Vegas

Want a break from the Vegas lightshow? A 35-minute drive will take you to Boulder City where you can experience nature’s own from a tandem kayak. Moonlit group paddles take off for the Boulder Islands on Lake Mead in time to watch a lazy sunset, pull up for a light snack, hike or swim, then head back to the mainland as the moon rises. True gamblers can be back at the roulette tables by 11 p.m.

Charles River, Boston

Introduced this year by Charles River Canoe & Kayak, the City Lights kayak tour takes off near Kendall Square, in time to see the sun drop and the lights of the city come to life, transforming the Charles River. Paddle past campuses, glittering skyline and beneath the theatrical Zakim Bridge.