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125 Years of Liquidity: Adirondack Paddling

Forked Lake photograph by Lisa Bramen

When the Adirondack Park was created in 1892 a key issue was protecting watersheds. Cut-and-run logging that began in the mid-19th century had left hillsides bare, and springtime often meant major flooding in downstream cities such as Albany. The Forest Preserve, where nature dominates the landscape, was created seven years before the park to protect both public woodlands and, in turn, waterways.

Today’s six-million-acre Adirondack Park contains about 3,000 lakes and ponds plus an estimated 30,000 miles of rivers and streams. The source of the Hudson is on Mount Marcy, the state’s tallest peak, and the Raquette River, which travels north to the St. Lawrence, originates near Blue Mountain. The Black, Moose, Sacandaga, Oswegatchie, Schroon and Saranac are just a few of the big rivers that flow south, north, east and west, downhill from the mountains to meet the Mohawk River, Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence and Hudson.

Water linked many communities better than rough roads in the early days of the Adirondacks, and settlers in the central and southwestern Adirondacks developed their own craft uniquely suited to rowing on lakes and portaging between them. The Adirondack guideboat, made of spruce and pine, is light, durable and seaworthy. Canoes entered the scene for recreation in the late 1800s, first for sailing rather than paddling.

Today boaters have numerous options for exploring wild waters using muscle power, strong currents and wind. Here are 25 options for celebrating the park from a canoe, kayak, raft or stand-up paddle board.

River Runs

This summer has been extraordinarily wet, hampering hiking but a real plus for river paddlers. The Hudson’s water levels are closer to springtime than late July, so rafting is exciting even now. A bonus: because of nice temperatures, you can wear a bathing suit rather than wet suit.

1) A trip down the Hudson Gorge is more than 15 miles of wilderness and whitewater to experience in a raft piloted by professional guides. The put-in is near Indian Lake and the take-out can be at North River or even downtown North Creek. A few of the outfitters operating this season include North Creek Rafting Company, Whitewater Challengers and Square Eddy Expeditions. These are all great half-day or longer trips suitable for families with kids 10 and older.

2) For a shorter whitewater raft or tube trip, the Sacandaga River near Lake Luzerne is great fun. Some outfitters include Sacandaga Outdoor Center, Wild Waters Outdoor Center and Beaver Brook Outfitters.

3) The Moose River near Old Forge is another neat trip for families. The River & Rail combo from Tickner’s outfitters is paddling on the river and a trip for you and the canoe aboard the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.

4) A four-mile section of the Schroon below Schroon Lake makes a good half- to full-day adventure. The current is gentle enough to make an upstream/downstream trip. You’ll need your own gear for this but there’s no car shuttle involved.

5) The Raquette River is a wilderness classic that can be a multi-day trek starting in Long Lake with camping in lean-tos and a carry around Raquette Falls.

6) In the northern Adirondacks Deer River Flow is a good flat-water destination with scenic views and opportunities for bird watching in nearby wetlands. Bring your own canoe and gear for this trip or arrange for a rental with a local outfitter.

Get Up, Stand Up

Stand-up paddle boards (SUP) got their start in Hawaii as instructors wanted to easily monitor neophyte surfers. Now this watercraft has migrated east, offering a new perspective to paddlers—the high view of wildlife and the landscape from that upright position. Using a SUP requires good balance and builds body-core strength. Here are a few places where you can try this new sport.

7) Raquette River Outfitters operates near the Moody bridge in Tupper Lake as well as the bridge in Long Lake. Both locations are great for sampling the sport.

8) In Saranac Lake Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters sponsors an annual SUP festival and offers lessons, rentals and shuttle service for SUPs.

9) The Lake George Kayak Company is located away from busy Lake George village and has a variety of canoes, kayaks and stand-up boards available. Ask there about paddling Northwest Bay and other quiet waters nearby.

10) Right on the Moose River in Old Forge Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company is a huge center for SUPs, canoes, kayaks and all kinds of recreational gear.

Great Lakes and Pristine Ponds

You could paddle a different lake every day of summer and never tire of the scenery. Here are just a few wonderful waterways to explore.

11) The St. Regis Canoe Area offers dozens of remote waters for paddling plus 26 miles of hiking trails. You can link several ponds with brief portages and even climb St. Regis Mountain to break up your journey. St. Regis Canoe Outfitters is a great resource for planning a trip.

12) North of Long Lake in the William C. Whitney Wilderness Area Little Tupper Lake and adjoining Round Lake are superb paddling choices. Both have rocky outcrops, pocket beaches, islands, primitive campsites and plenty of wildlife from loons and great blue herons to black bear and moose.

13) Just a few miles farther on Sabattis Road is the road to Lake Lila, with seven islands, 17 primitive campsites and no motorboats. As a bonus, a short, easy hike up Mount Frederica provides a great overview of this vast wilderness.

14) At the Upper Works, near Newcomb, the southern access point to many High Peaks trails, Henderson Lake offers exceptional views of Wallface and other mountains. The carry from the parking lot is short and well worth the effort.

15) Between Raquette Lake and Long Lake, Forked Lake is uninhabited and beautiful, with rugged shoreline and majestic white pines. Launch from the Department of Environmental Conservation campground at the end of Deerland Road.

16) In the northwestern Adirondacks Cranberry Lake is vast, with the Five Ponds Wilderness Area bordering much of the waterway. This lake is the third largest in the Adirondack Park, with numerous bays and flows to explore in day trips or overnights.

17) Big Moose Lake, famous as the scene of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, buzzes with boat traffic in the main lake but offers quiet bays to explore, including Andys Creek.

18) With a boat launch and trailhead off the Big Moose road, Moss Lake offers a trifecta for outdoor enthusiasts: paddle the small, peaceful lake; hike the easy loop trail; or ride it on your mountain bike.

19) All the Saranac Lakes are lovely, but Lower Saranac has a spectacular assortment of islands for camping and picnicking.

20) Piseco Lake has three state campgrounds and interesting nooks and crannies, including Big Bay, which is part of the Sacandaga River.

21) Cradled by mountains like a fjord, Thirteenth Lake is a lovely half-day paddle. There are tiny beaches, rocky places to picnic and plenty of resident loons. This two-mile-long waterway is in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness, with access from a small parking area near Garnet Hill Lodge in North River.

22) Near Elizabethtown, Lincoln Pond is great for canoes and kayaks; you can launch from the state campground (fee required) or from the side of Lincoln Pond Road at no charge. The north end of the pond is quite pretty.

23) An impoundment of the West Branch of the Ausable River at Wilmington, Lake Everest is bordered by a big public beach. Heading upstream leads to fast water and eventually the Flume, and en route there are amazing views of the nearby peaks.

24) Near popular Meacham Lake, between Tupper Lake and Malone, Debar Pond offers wild country solitude and dramatic vistas.

25) The Eckford Chain—otherwise known as Blue Mountain, Eagle and Utowana Lakes plus the Marion River—provides more than six miles of paddling one way, to the dam at Marion River Carry. Launch at the Blue Mountain Lake beach and turn around at the carry for a full day or walk the three-quarter-mile carry to Raquette Lake.

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