Paddle to Nelson Lake

Nelson Lake. Photo by Phil Brown.
Nelson Lake. Photo by Phil Brown.

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.

An American bittern along the Middle Branch of the Moose. Photo by Phil Brown.
An American bittern along the Middle Branch of the Moose. Photo by Phil Brown.

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.

About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

Reader Interactions


  1. Joe Geronimo says

    Wow! An awesome day on the water in the Adirondack Park. Mr. Brown you have really wet my appetite with this story as this sounds like something right up my alley.

    I can picture a georgous fall afternoon, complete with puffy white clouds. Colors ablaze with yellows, oranges and reds coupled with the songs of the local wildlife echoing off the mountains.

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. Solidago says

    Nice picture of the bittern! You should have let it know that its “I’m just a stick in the mud” camouflage pose works much better in tall grass.

  3. Phil says

    Glad you like the photos. When I approached, the bittern flew 20-30 yards away. Once he landed, he would have been impossible to spot if you didn’t know he was there.

  4. Tom Bebee says

    Good suggestion. I hike at least few times in the winter to Nelson Lake and as long as the lake is frozen, hike back out the outlet. Always wondered if it could be paddled, since it is frozen, I could never tell. Now I know. Thanks for posting.


  5. Wayne Dosztan says

    Phil, Have you fished Nelson Lake?

    Do you know what kind of fish are in there?

    Sounds like a nice day trip. Thanks.

  6. Bryon says

    A buddy and I wanted to get out the house after Saturday’s rain-fest so we packed our gear and headed out. We weren’t sure where to go so I told him about a paddle to Nelson Lake via the Moose. He punched it up on his Droid so we had all the trip details … very handy … we even used Google maps on the lake to see what was around us. It turned out to be an awesome day despite the forecast and it was a perfect temperature for paddling. We went past the marsh and glanced at the rapids ahead. Once through the marsh we went to the other side of the lake where we fished and ate at the flat bedrock. I think the paddle trip was a perfect mix of exercise, wilderness & scenery all with a very cool spot to get out and relax. I’m wondering about one thing maybe someone can answer. Is there another way to get to the flat bedrock on the other side of the lake? When we arrived there was a smoldering fire. We really enjoyed it because after digging the coals up we were able to get it going again. We didn’t see a soul on this trip, which lasted from around 2pm to 730. Long story short … thank you for the trip suggestion!

  7. Phil says

    Bryon, glad you enjoyed the trip. I’m not sure which other flat rock you are referring to, but there is a trail in the vicinity of the lake and probably old woods roads as well.

    Wayne, I have not fished Nelson Lake. Perhaps Bryon can tell you what he saw. Sorry for not answering earlier. I just saw your comment.

  8. Bryon says

    Sorry, what I meant was … is there another way besides paddling across the lake to get to the flat outcrop of bedrock. I followed a trail away from the fire-pit (behind the bedrock outcrop) but it got thick quickly, so it didn’t seem like it went far.

    Wayne, we didn’t catch much, just a little sunfish. Do birds usually hang out near a lake with ample fish? I’m not really sure if there is a relation but we didn’t see any birds which seemed odd.

  9. Tim says

    I have been to Nelson Lake before (maybe 1 time maybe a thousand times…). If you email me at info at metroavonline dot com and are willing to swap secret camp site/fishing holes info I will give you all the info on Neslon Lake including a trail map as well as a detailed note about the fishing there.

  10. Phil Brown says

    Molly, Nelson Lake is surrounded by Forest Preserve, so camping is permitted at designated sites and at other places that are at least 150 feet from water bodies and trails.

  11. Andrew Topham says

    Camped overnight at the Nelson lake leanto with friends and kids. Beautiful spot, even has a privy.
    Always wondered if it was worth ice fishing.

  12. Daryl Pudney says

    Nelson Lake has been a tradition in Pudney and Zalewski families since grampa Mertons started overnight fishing trips probably in 40s Dad and uncles took over passed it down cousins Ted, Bob myself brother Marc made annual summer four or five day camp trips to the flat rock. Had kids took them haven’t been in twenty year but will never forget r.I.p. Bob and Ted


  1. […] If you’re interested in a shorter trip on the Middle Moose, see my earlier post on paddling to Nelson Lake. […]

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