Long before I went car camping with high school friends, before I discovered the High Peaks, before I explored nature preserves close to my Capital Region home, I saw nature from the middle of a canoe. Nestled next to my brother in my parents’ Grumman, I trailed my fingers in the water and watched the eddies swirl off my mother’s paddle as the shoreline drifted slowly by.
I had forgotten the meditative peace found on the water until this summer, when my husband and I tried canoe camping for the first time in the St. Regis Canoe Area in the northern Adirondacks. It was a trip that made us vow to explore more of the Adirondack Park by water, so Phil Brown’s new book, Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, landed on my desk at just the right time.
Brown, the editor of the Adirondack Explorer, clearly has a passion for paddling.
“I like the intimacy of small streams: the grass swaying in the breeze, the splashes of wildflower, the insistent call of the red-winged blackbird, the animal tracks in the mud —everything is right there,” he writes in the introduction. “And you never know what’s around the next bend.”
The full-color, softcover book introduces readers to a variety of paddles, from twisting brooks to wider rivers and from tiny ponds to bigger lakes. Trips vary from three and a half to twenty-three miles in length, and some require carries.
For organizational purposes, Brown divides the Park into four quadrants; more than half of the trips are located in the northern section of the Adirondack Park, with twenty-six in the northwest section alone and just six trips are in the southeast section. There are two reasons for the uneven representation: one is that what Brown calls the Park’s “lake belt” lies in the north. The other reason is solitude.
“I prefer paddling wild places—the winding stream or placid pond—to large lakes abuzz with powerboats,” Brown writes. “If you too like the wild, this book is for you.”
So though there are a few paddles on popular bodies of water like Lake George, Brown’s emphasis is on more remote places that may be a little more challenging to reach but which see less traffic. If you are prepared to do the work of accessing some waterways, the book promises you’ll be amply rewarded.
All of the trips described in the main chapters of Adirondack Paddling can be done in a day, though some are quite long. An appendix includes descriptions of several multiday trips as well as an explanation of the “meander quotient.” The quotient is an invention of Brown’s, a way of quantifying, by percentage, how much a waterway twists and turns from point A to point B.
The trips are summarized at the start of each chapter, letting readers know the length of the trip, the number and length of carries, GPS coordinates for put-ins and take-outs, how long of a shuttle might be needed, whether motors are permitted, and whether the waterway is part of the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System. Though only fourteen of the trips are on motorless waters, Brown says in the introduction that on most of the others, motorboats are permitted but seldom encountered. That’s good to know for those of us who find them intimidating and disruptive.
The book also specifies which National Geographic map to use for each trip. While Brown’s book includes page maps showing the routes as well as put-ins, takeouts, and carries, most of them do not show much detail. If you are planning a multiday trip, a more detailed map that shows the location of various campsites will be a good investment. Brown discusses map options in one of the appendices.
If the book’s trip descriptions alone aren’t enough to tempt you onto the water, the color photographs might do the trick. The more than 150 images show landscapes, wildflowers, and wildlife found along the region’s waterways; many were taken by Brown, but other contributing photographers include well-known professionals such as Carl Heilman II, Mark Bowie, Nancy Ford, and Nancie Battaglia.
I have actually hiked to quite a few of the places described in Adirondack Paddling, including Lake Lila, where we hiked to Mount Frederica; the Cedar River Flow, which we saw from the Northville- Placid Trail; and the Boreas River, which we caught a glimpse of when we hiked to Lester Dam near Cheney Pond. They were hikes notable for their beauty and, most of all, for the solitude we found.
On each of those trips, we sat on the shore watching the water and wondered if you could reach that spot by boat. Brown’s book provides the answer. As we while away the colder months this winter, we’ll take some time to peruse it, planning next summer’s adventures.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Adirondack Paddling was published by Lost Pond Press, which Brown founded, and the Adirondack Mountain Club. It was designed by Susan Bibeau, the designer of the Adirondack Explorer.