The Middle Branch of the Moose River is not the wildest river in the Park, but try telling that to the American bittern, the osprey, the various ducks, and the kingfishers I saw when I explored the Middle Moose on Monday.
Starting in Old Forge, the Middle Branch more or less parallels Route 28 and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad for its entire length. On my two trips on the river this week, I rarely felt I was out of earshot of traffic, but this did little to diminish my enjoyment of this beautiful stream.
For a quick trip into the wild, I recommend putting in west of Old Forge and paddling a few miles to Nelson Lake in the Black River Wild Forest.
The parking lot, marked by a DEC sign, is on the east side of Route 28 a few miles north of McKeever (or several miles south of Thendara). There is a 0.35-mile carry along an excellent dirt road to the river (bear left at the first fork, then take a right immediately after crossing the railroad tracks). The put-in is just below some rapids, across from a grassy island.
Paddle 0.6 miles downriver and look for the Nelson Lake outlet on the left, just past a marsh. Along the way, you’ll see one house on the right, up near the tracks, and several rowboats on the bank. Otherwise, it’s as wild as can be.
Nelson Lake lies entirely within the Forest Preserve. You can easily make a circuit of the lake. At the far end is a flat outcrop of bedrock with a sandy landing nearby—a good place for a picnic. Or eat at the old picnic table (one bench missing) on the northwest shore. A herd path leads to an old logging road that is now used for hiking and snowmobiling.
The stretch of the Middle Moose leading to Nelson Lake has little current, so paddling back to the put-in should not be difficult. The round trip, including a circuit of the lake, is about 3.5 miles.