If you ever wanted to plan a multi-day paddling trip on some of the Adirondack’s best water routes, the next few weeks are a prime time. Only fall-foliage season beats early spring for sheer perfection.
You’ve got long, sunny days. Even the most popular lakes around, such as Long and Lower Saranac lakes, are mostly free of power boats. And the bugs won’t come out in earnest for another two to three weeks.
After multiple canoe trips this time of year, I’ve found the only thing I miss are the leaves, which had not yet budded during an early-May trip to Long Lake. Having done a trip a few weeks later, where we had leaves but also black flies, I think I’d take the bare trees. However, know that even if it’s the heart of black-fly season, if temperatures are cool enough the bugs will not be a problem.
Here, then, are a few suggestions:
— Lower and Middle Saranac Lake: Launch points in the village (several canoe liveries can provide equipment) or further along Route 3 (by camp headquarters on First Pond). Paddle along the lake, exploring multiple islands and some cliff faces, heading east to the channel between Lower and Middle (a bit tricky to find). Several miles of beautiful channel paddling bring you to a fun, hand-operated lock that will raise your boat to the level of the Middle Saranac. From here, you have your choice of island or shoreline campsites, or proceed further to remote Weller Pond.
You could easily spend a few days here, hiking nearby Ampersand Mountain or portaging to Upper Saranac for even more exploring. Just don’t do what I did: camp on an island during a thunderstorm and leave the boat untied at the rocks. When the storm was over there was no sign of the boat. We were trapped forever!
Actually, we found the boat floating only a few feet offshore — fortunately it had been caught in an eddy and not blown clear across the lake, which was my first thought. Doubt I’ll be that lucky next time.
— Long Lake to Racquette River traverse: This classic two-day trip requires cars parked at the Long Lake boat launch with a second at a small parking lot of Axton Landing near Saranac Lake. Launch at Long Lake and head north along the 14-mile lake. A fast team can make the other end in three or four hours, but take your time to enjoy the views. We also stopped to hike nearby Kempshall Mountain, a viewless and overgrown route that we decided would be better off abandoned.
At the far end, there are a half-dozen campsites with lean-tos to choose from, most of which were unoccupied on the early May weekend of our trip. From here, the lake empties into the placid Racquette River, which curves and oxbows its way downstream toward Tupper Lake. You’ll have to get out before Racquette Falls for a 1.2 mile easy portage around the rapids. Then it’s a few more hours of floating until you’ll see the parking area. You could also add another day by paddling all the way to Tupper Lake.
The best Adirondack canoe adventure of all time, in my opinion, is the Lows Lake/Oswegatchie Traverse. We’ll talk about that one later this month … it deserves an article all its own.