Paddling from Raquette Lake to Forked Lake

Friday morning, September 6, as the mist rises off the Old Forge waterfront, scores of canoes and kayaks will jockey for starting position in the annual Adirondack Canoe Classic. The three-day, 90-mile competition from the Fulton Chain of Lakes to Lake Flower is expected to involve 275 boats this year, as solo, tandem and team craft. Boats range from carbon-fiber C-1s to traditional wooden guideboats to Kevlar Minnesota 4 canoes, which are 23 feet of ultralight sleek swiftness for a quartet of determined paddlers, destined to be the fastest class in this race.

The course heads east from Old Forge and finishes at the public beach in Blue Mountain Lake on day one, which covers about 34 miles, with four carries. Day two starts at the town beach in Long Lake and ends at Fish Creek Ponds. This section includes the twists and turns of the northbound Raquette River and a tough portage around Raquette Falls. The final leg goes from Fish Creek to Lake Flower, in downtown Saranac Lake, where there’s music, food and a festival atmosphere. Watching the race from start and finish lines gives you a glimpse of real skill plus the latest in paddling technology.

But for a taste of the waterway, without the churning wakes and shouts of “Hut! Hut!” (the change-sides call for tandem, C-4s and war canoes) you can head to Raquette Lake and Forked Lake. The early days of the 90-miler included this diagonal route from Raquette Lake village toward North Point and across the North Point Road to Forked Lake, but in recent years the course has been simplified to ensure a finish line near a settlement—Blue Mountain Lake’s beach on Route 28.

Raquette Lake in early fall, when motorboat traffic has diminished, is a great canoe and kayak destination. You can put in at the town waterfront, near Raquette Lake Supply, where you can grab some snacks and beverages for a picnic at Golden Beach or Tioga Point, site of an old hotel with several lean-tos, beautiful stone chimneys from the original buildings, a meadow and two small beaches. For another sandy stopping point, Quaker Beach, on the lake’s northwest side, is a good place to stretch your legs and watch for loons. You can also stop at Silver Beach, nose around Eldon Lake (a shallow, rocky bay of Raquette Lake) and swing close to the Needles, a string of tiny, tree-studded islands. Bluff Point Great Camp, Camp Pine Knot and other historic buildings are visible along the lake’s 99 miles of shore.

If you continue northeast on Raquette to Forked Lake you’ll have to carry at North Point, but Forked is a wild, beautiful spot with a state campground. The Raquette to Forked paddle requires two cars and can be done as one ambitious day or broken up by an overnight at boat-access only Tioga Point. By September, the hum of mosquitoes should be replaced by coyote howls and loon wails.

For more on the Adirondack Canoe Classic see “The Arms Race” by Brian Mann (Annual Guide 2000) and “90-Miler” by Elizabeth Folwell (October 2011).

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