When the air is crisp and the leaves are the color of lollipops and hikers descend on Keene Valley like seagulls on a sub, thoughts in this quarter inevitably turn to Cranberry Lake in the Adirondack’s northwest quadrant.
Cranberry Lake in the autumn has the feel of an outpost on civilization’s edge — a port from which the last ship has sailed for the year, leaving behind a skeleton crew of people to keep systems operational through a long dark winter.
A tank of gas and a plate of food are obtainable, but require an insider’s knowledge to acquire. The beauty is omnipresent and unspoiled, and there are secret adventures at every turn. The lake, the waterfalls, the rivers, the hills, the forests — all feel like they’ve been waiting just for you. If you meet someone on Cranberry Lake’s memorable trails (and that’s a big if) they will be happy for the human contact, not tormented by yet another float in a parade of peak baggers.
To me, the best of the best is that footbridge. It symbolizes Wanakena just as surely as the Golden Gate represents San Francisco. Built in 1903 so mill workers could get from home to work and back, it was knocked out by the ice in 2014. There was no question that it would be rebuilt, even if no one knew how that was supposed to happen in a community that didn’t happen to have a spare half-million dollars at hand.
There is commerce in Wanakena, in the form of Otto’s Abode, part art gallery, part coffee shop, part farmers market, were if you are unfamiliar with hiking in this neck of the woods, you can pick up a couple of William Hall guidebooks, which augment trail descriptions with the history that surrounds them.
For the ambitious, a 50-mile trail circumnavigates the lake, and there are multiple access points that make for a pleasant stroll without the backpack. From Wanakena, the scenic Moore trail follows the Oswegatchie River for two miles to a canoe put-in known as Inlet. And for a long view, Bear Mountain is an easy climb that leaves out of the state campground just outside the hamlet of Cranberry Lake.
If the crowds aren’t for you, it’s a good time to discover Cranberry Lake.
Editor’s note: This first appeared in Adirondack Explorer’s weekly Explore More newsletter. Click here to sign up.