“Human footprints,” Brian remarked.
“So I guess we’re not Lewis and Clark,” I replied.
If we weren’t intrepid explorers, at least we could pretend. For even if we weren’t the first, we must have been among the first to paddle the upper Hudson River and Opalescent River since the state purchased the 6,200-acre MacIntyre East tract from the Nature Conservancy in April. The land was formerly owned by the Finch, Pruyn paper company.
The tract encompasses a 5.2-mile stretch of the Hudson and a 7-mile stretch of the lower Opalescent, one of the wildest rivers in the state.
You could paddle these rivers before, but legal access was limited. When I wrote my guidebook Adirondack Paddling, I put in at a sloping rock and almost fell in the Hudson. Now that the lands are in the Forest Preserve, there are several convenient options for entering and exiting the river. In addition, it is now permissible to land on the shore to relax, swim, fish, or picnic.
Brian and I did an end-to-end trip, putting in at a highway bridge over the Hudson and taking out more than four miles downriver along a county road. Including an excursion up the Opalescent we canoed nearly nine miles. I left my bicycle at the takeout; after we finished paddling, I rode it three miles back to our car.
The takeout can be a bit tricky. We planned to take out near a highway sign (see directions below) where the river comes close to County 25, the road that leads to Tahawus and the Upper Works trailhead. As it turned out, this part of the river is a backwater. You can still exit here, but you’ll have to pull over a beaver dam to reach the takeout. The other option is to paddle downriver a short distance beyond the backwater. You’ll have a short but somewhat steep climb up the bank to the road.
To reach the put-in, we continued north on County 25 to its junction with County 76, the road that leads to a former titanium mine. Just east of the junction, County 76 crosses the Hudson. We found ample parking on the left side of the road after crossing the bridge.
After launching near the bridge, we paddled downriver. The shoreline of this part of the Hudson is owned by NL Industries, and the left bank seems to be made of waste rock from the mine. It was not a particularly inspiring beginning, but in less than a half-mile, we left the industrial blight behind. The river was now lined on both sides by cedars and other trees.
The Hudson widened considerably as it morphed into Sanford Lake, offering a broad vista of nearby peaks, including Santanoni Peak and Wallface Mountain. The river soon narrowed again. At 2.2 miles, we came to the mouth of the Opalescent River.
“What a treasure of a spot,” Brian remarked.
Brian, who was researching a story for National Public Radio (click here to hear his story), took out his recorder to capture the bird song in the air. I started paddling upstream. The Opalescent is delightfully twisty, with a sandbar or gravel bar at almost every bend. In summer, these would be wonderful places to swim or picnic — which would have been illegal in the past.
Eventually, Brian caught up and we continued paddling against a moderate current. At 1.7 miles from the Hudson, we passed under a railroad trestle. This is as far as I got when I was researching my guidebook. At that time, the water was shallower. Brian and I paddled 0.3 miles beyond the trestle before stopping for lunch on a gravel bar. We could have traveled farther, but how far is hard to say.
Going down the Opalescent was a lot of fun. At times we let the current carry us along. At one turn in the river, we were treated to a majestic view of Allen Mountain, one of the High Peaks.
In no time, it seemed, we were back at the confluence. We turned left to continue our journey down the Hudson. In just 0.2 miles, we passed under a logging-road bridge. If you don’t want to do an end-to-end trip, you could put in here, paddle up the Hudson and Opalescent, and return to the put-in (see directions below).
Past the bridge, the Hudson pulls away from the road. This is the wildest stretch of the Hudson we saw. About two-thirds of a mile below the bridge, we came to an alder marsh with a spectacular view of Mount Colden and Algonquin Peak (the latter still dotted with snow). The marsh was filled with the sound of spring peepers.
In another few miles, we veered right to enter the backwater, which offered more stellar views of the High Peaks. I found our takeout by turning right and following a channel to a beaver dam. I could see my bike and the takeout just on the other side of the dam. It was either pull over the dam or fight our way through an alder thicket. Brian had another idea: paddle downriver a bit and take out on solid ground. That’s what we did, ending up maybe a quarter-mile from the original takeout.
If you don’t plan to take out from the backwater, I’d recommend you explore it for the views of Allen and other peaks.
For those who might want to duplicate our trip, here are the mileages on the Hudson, measured from the put-in on County 76:
1.25 miles: Sanford Lake
2.2 miles: Opalescent River
2.4 miles: logging-road bridge
3.1 miles: marsh with view of Algonquin
4.2 miles: backwater with view of Allen.
Depending on where you take out, expect to spend roughly 4.5 miles on the Hudson. If you go up the Opalescent (which you should), it’s 1.7 miles to the railroad trestle. In shallow water, you might not make it that far. In high water, you can go past it, but you may be fighting a moderate current. Altogether, you can get in eight or nine miles of paddling.
DIRECTIONS: From Northway Exit 29, drive 17.6 miles west on County 2 (Boreas Road) to County 25. Turn right and go 3.4 miles to a yellow traffic sign showing a curvy road and “45 M.P.H.” If you plan an end-to-end trip, you can leave a second car or bicycle near here. Find a good place to take out and mark the spot. For the put-in, continue another 3.0 miles to the junction with County 76. Bear right, cross the Hudson , and park on the left side of the road. Put in at the bridge. If you plan a round trip from the Opalescent Road bridge, the directions are simpler. From the junction of County 2 and County 25, drive north on County 25 for 4.4 miles. The bridge should be visible on the right.
Photos by Phil Brown: Brian Mann on the Opalescent (top) and on a Hudson backwater (bottom).