Skimming through my collection of paddling guidebooks, I decided on South Inlet, a tributary of Raquette Lake. With deep water and no discernible current, the inlet is one of the more reliable places for a mid-summer paddling trip, when many of the North Country’s waterways have dried up. And unlike other streams in the area, there are no beaver dams to carry over, making this a great trip for children and those with a limited sense of adventure.
Originating in Moose River Plains, the inlet starts as a trickle, then gathers volume as it winds north to Raquette Lake. My canoe trip began where the inlet ends, at its widest point, where it empties into the lake. In the most poetic of several theories, it was here, at the mouth of the South Inlet, that a party of loyalists abandoned their snowshoes (raquette in French) while fleeing to Canada in 1776, a story that is said to have given the lake its name.
I launched my canoe and headed upstream, leaving the motor boats of the lake behind me. Most Adirondack streams are a corridor through the forest, surrounded by tall trees that provide shade and act as a wind barrier. South Inlet is much less intimate. The trip begins on a wide channel through a much wider flood plain. Bordered by the low grasses of a fen, there is no shelter from the wind and sun. These are minor inconveniences that are easily mitigated by an early morning start, before the afternoon winds arrive and the sun’s rays have peaked.
The guidebooks promised that I would see a wide variety of birds, and this seemed like the ideal location for them, but I saw only two. They could not have been more different. One was a majestic great blue heron, soaring with its six foot wingspan, the other a diminutive hummingbird that flitted among the purple blossoms in a stand of pickerel weed.
Making up for the lack of avian life was the diversity of plants. In addition to the usual wildflowers – joe pye weed, steeplebush, cardinal flowers – large pitcher plants lined the boggy shore, their blossoms sticking above the sea of green grass like red periscopes while the red-veined traps wait for an unwary insect on which to dine.
The river tapers throughout the journey, becoming a relative trickle at the turnaround point. An hour from where I started, a jumble of rocks blocks the access further upstream. This was the perfect spot to stretch my legs, have lunch, and swim from one of the small sandy beaches before I headed downstream to my car.
Photos: lunch spot and turnaround point; fen lining the bank of South Inlet; the “waterfall” at the end of the trip; pitcher plants along the shore.
To get there: The put-in is at the bridge where Route 28 crosses South Inlet, three miles east of Raquette Lake hamlet.