Looking for a place to paddle? We asked five experienced canoeists to recommend a favorite trip in the Adirondacks. All of these waters are easily accessible. All are flat-water paddles, but beware that the wind can kick up whitecaps on Lake George and Long Lake.
Fall Stream near Piseco is a delightful trip for paddlers of all abilities. From spring to fall, you’ll encounter a variety of birds and wildflowers. Marsh and bog line the winding stream, so don’t expect to stop for lunch until you reach Vly Lake, about 4½ miles from the put-in. It is a beautiful lake, surrounded by “forever wild” Forest Preserve. In addition to deciduous trees, you’ll see white pine, hemlock, tamarack and spruce on the shores. There are nice picnic spots on the lake, but beware that poison ivy grows in the vicinity.
The put-in is on Old Piseco Road on private land. Camping and picnicking are not allowed there. About a mile upstream, you’ll see a dock and camp on the west shore. This is the only building on the entire route; the Forest Preserve starts just past the camp. After another half-mile of paddling, you enter tiny Fall Lake, beyond which the stream narrows as it meanders through marshes to Vly Lake. When water levels are high, you can extend the trip by paddling up the lake’s inlet to Mud Lake.
Among the wildflowers you may spot are wild azalea, fragrant water lily and bullhead lily in spring and wild roses, buttonbush, pickerelweed and cardinal flowers in summer. Also be on the lookout for kingfishers, loons, ducks, geese and numerous small birds. Their songs and calls heighten the pleasure of this magical adventure.
DIRECTIONS: From Route 8 west of Speculator, head north on Old Piseco Road toward Piseco. You’ll cross Fall Stream after 1½ miles. The put-in is on the north side of the stream. Permission to use the put-in may be obtained at the Irondequoit Inn, located another three-quarters of a mile up the road.
An Adirondack native who resides in Piseco
Long Lake & Raquette River
One of my favorite paddles is down Long Lake and the Raquette River to the fishing access site east of Tupper Lake. In summer the route is heavily traveled, but in early May it belongs to you. Camps are shuttered, docks are stacked onshore, and biting insects languish unhatched. Best of all, lake and river are in flood stage—what Paul Jamieson has called “a state of glorious uncontainment”—with ghostly landings four feet deep.
Start at the state launch site in Long Lake village, and for the best mountain views paddle the west shore. After about nine miles you’ll enter the river, a hauntingly peaceful place alive with birdsong and the whirring of snipes. Peel off into the Cold River and claim the Calkins Creek lean-to for your first night. Explore both waterways at your leisure.
Back on the Raquette, you’ll find that the river is doing most of the work, so rest that paddle and look around. Soon Moose Creek will appear on your left, a marshy wonderland worth a side trip. Next up: the 1.3-mile carry around unrunnable Raquette Falls. The trail starts steeply but levels out and then gradually descends to a clearing with plenty of tent sites. Below the cascades the river changes character, spilling over its banks into vast water meadows. You can shorten your trip by what I call waterwhacking, cutting across meanders to rejoin the channel farther down. But why hurry? You’re floating through a fantastic gurgling, tinkling landscape. At Axton the river veers from north to west, but the avenue of silver and red maples continues, looping rhythmically right, then left. You’ll find six lean-tos and more tent sites below the falls. At Trombley Landing stop to stretch and visit the painted trilliums. Two bends later you’ll reach the access site on Route 3, and your springtime idyll will, regrettably, be over.
If you only have time for a day trip, you can put in at Axton Landing and explore the river in either direction. If you have two cars, you can take out downriver at the Route 3 site.
DIRECTIONS: You can launch your canoe at the end of Dock Road in the village of Long Lake. To reach the take-out, drive east on NY 3/30 from Tupper Lake for about 4 miles to a boat launch site and parking lot on the right. If putting in at Axton Landing, continue driving east on NY 3 about 3 miles past the fork at Wawbeek Corners to Coreys Road; turn right and go another 3 miles to the landing.
Author of Adirondack Passage: The Cruise of the Canoe Sairy Gamp
West Branch of the Sacandaga
Flatwater with everything, that describes the West Branch. It has a light current, oxbows, distant mountain views, marshy shorelines teeming with butterflies in summer, numerous side trips to vary the expeditions, an easy put-in, quiet paddling, and best of all myriad reflections—double images of clouds and trees and grasses. If the water is high, there may be but one carry during the 8.6-mile trip, over an old bridge north of Avery’s meadow. In low water, you may have to carry over a few old beaver dams. And, of course, you could be surprised by a new beaver dam.
You can extend the paddle to a long day’s outing by taking side trips. Upstream of the put-in, there is a fork leading right into Good Luck Lake. You can also paddle upriver beyond the fork for a mile and a half, though there are several huge trees across the stream to slow you down. Just a couple hundred yards downstream from the put-in, a very narrow fork right takes you up a tiny, winding stream through a cranberry bog into Chub Lake to explore its quaking bog shoreline for orchids. Two miles downstream a right fork takes you into Trout Lake and Little Trout Lake, although in low water, mud flats make the latter inaccessible.
It’s a marvel that you can spend a day in a narrow valley paralleling the highway and never hear any traffic. At the end, the valley opens up to broad marshes, enabling you to spot your shuttle car.
DIRECTIONS: Drive north on NY 10 from Caroga Lake. You’ll cross a bridge over the river about a mile past the Herkimer County Line. A mile beyond this, there is a second bridge with a paved parking area. This is the put-in. Drive on another 6.5 miles to north end of the widening of NY 10. Park here for the takeout. You’ll have to pull your canoe up a steep bank. If you don’t have two cars, the current is weak enough that you can turn around and paddle back to the start.
Author of Discover the Adirondacks guidebooks
Lake George Narrows
Lake George offers paddlers some of the most spectacular views in the Adirondacks. One of my favorite trips is through the islands of the Narrows to Paradise Bay. Roughly an 8-mile round trip, it provides the average paddler with a leisurely five- to six-hour trip.
You can park and launch for free at Lake George Kayak Co. on Green Island in Bolton Landing. Paddle north along the western edge of Green Island and then head northeast 1.5 miles to the point of the Tongue Mountain. This will be the largest section of open water you will encounter. Once past the point, keep the mainland on the left and Turtle Island on the right. Past the northern end of Turtle Island there are many routes to choose from to cross to the East Side of the lake. All the islands are well marked and very easy to navigate in and around. Red Rock Bay will be easily visible and well-marked on the eastern side of the lake. Just north of Red Rock will be Paradise Bay nestled behind Hazel Island and Sarah Island. Bring plenty of water, a picnic lunch, sunscreen, a camera and, if it’s a hot day, a swimsuit. Enjoy the peaceful waters and mountain views. To return, retrace your route, possibly taking a closer look at other islands. Bring along a boater’s map to make identification easier.
The best time for this paddle will be late spring or the early fall, when motorboat traffic is lighter—though many people still venture out in the summer. Be aware that the lake can get fairly rough and strong winds prevail throughout the day. For these reasons I strongly suggest kayaks over canoes. They are better suited for these conditions.
DIRECTIONS: From Northway Exit 24, drive east on County 11 for 5 miles to NY 9N. Turn right, go about 2 miles to the first traffic light and then turn left onto Sagamore Road. After crossing bridge onto Green island, take your first left to reach the store.
—Richard “Sam” Salmon.
Lake George Kayak Co.
I remember fondly a canoe trip we took on South Inlet near Raquette Lake on an afternoon in late fall when there wasn’t a hint of cloud in the sky. The water was calm, like a stream of obsidian, and the images on the glasslike surface somehow seemed more brilliant than the objects they reflected. Grasses and shrubs, now a vibrant amber and rust, lined the banks, and spruce, pine and cedar formed a dark-green backdrop. In summer, these marshes are a great place to see ducks and other birds.
After paddling nearly two miles, we reached a series of beaver dams built near small drops in the meandering stream. The only sound we could hear was rushing water. The forest, carpeted by bright-green sphagnum moss, seemed primeval here. The canopy was so thick that almost no light reached the ground.
On the return trip, with dusk coming on, fog began to settle along the stream banks. As we approached our car on Route 28, a nearly full moon was rising just above the trees. We felt lucky to have experienced this short but remarkable waterway as it was truly meant to be—still and quiet.
Directions: Route 28 crosses the inlet east of Raquette Lake Road and west of Golden Beach Public Campground. Park on the south side of the highway just east of the bridge.
Mountainman Outdoor Supply Co.