Canoeing destination offers hike to a vista and gravel biking
By Tom French
I’m not ashamed to hop off my mountain bike in order climb a hill. I’ve never enjoyed the experience of my heart pounding in my throat, and it seems to be worse with age. So I was pleasantly surprised by a seven-mile loop over a series of moderate ups and downs with a total elevation gain of a bit over 200 feet during which I only dismounted the bike once.
Doug and I met at Dave and Rivka Cilley’s Floodwood Outpost, previously part of their St. Regis Canoe Outfitters business based in Saranac Lake. Dave and Rivka recently retired and sold the business to their employees, Maeghan Farnham and Steve Cerri. Although canoe rentals will no longer be available at Floodwood Pond, Dave and Rivka are still offering light treats, a healthy selection of books, and basic supplies for camping, biking, or paddling on Thursdays through Sundays. The outpost is adjacent to the soon-to-be-completed Adirondack Rail Trail. They plan to have a bike repair station, and Dave recently released a rail trail recreational map that highlights businesses and side excursions along with other biking opportunities from Tupper Lake to Paul Smiths to Lake Placid.
The first third of our loop began with a westerly track along the Floodwood Road. This dirt road is smooth from the hundreds of cars that access the many paddling and camping opportunities between the St. Regis Canoe Area and Saranac Lake Wild Forest. Originally the stage coach connection between the Saranac Inn and the Derrick Station along John Hurd’s Northern Adirondack Railroad (finished in 1890 and later the New York and Ottawa), the Saranac Inn was a “luxurious hotel” on Upper Saranac Lake near the current golf course that was frequented by U.S. presidents Grover Cleveland and Chester Arthur. It closed in 1962 and burned in 1978. When Webb’s Mohawk and Malone (later the Adirondack Division of the New York Central and now the Adirondack Rail Trail) was completed two years after Hurd’s railroad, the Saranac Inn Station usurped Derrick. An old box car may have served as a freight depot, Floodwood Station, in the vicinity of Cilley’s Floodwood Outpost for a nearby sand and gravel pit.
East Pine Pond, one of almost 200 ponds in the area, peaks through the trees to the left as the road gradually adds elevation. The parking lot for access to Long Pond is shortly later on the right. The town line between Santa Clara and Tupper Lake is obvious not only because of extra width for a plow turnaround (the extent of winter auto access), but also because of recent logging by private owners on the north side of the road. The southern side is still wild forest.
After two miles from the outpost, a sign to Floodwood Mountain indicates the left turn onto the Floodwood Reservation Road. Although the road is not smooth, it is still an easy bike. Parking for those wishing to simply hike the mountain is on the left shortly after the turn. I’ll blame the gate for stopping me from making the hill just beyond. If only I’d been able to keep my momentum, I could have summited without walking and this bike loop would have been dismount free.
The sign for the Floodwood Mountain Trail is three-quarter miles past the gate. We couldn’t miss it because of a stash of pressure treated lumber and an SCA (Student Conservation Association) member rigging 4x6s to his back. In a partnership with AmeriCorps, this professional trail crew based out of the old Whitney property on Little Tupper Lake completes several projects within the Adirondacks every year.
We ditched the bikes and followed the crew member up the trail. The crew was building bog bridges across a muddy fifty-yard section about a quarter mile from the road.
The Floodwood Mountain trail climbs moderately for a half mile before beginning a series of sometimes steep switchbacks with an area of trail confusion near the top. A tree appears to have fallen in a way that suggests the trail has been rerouted. Erosion where the official trail mounts a small headwall is also suffering from “expanding trail syndrome” as people have attempted to avoid mud and a steep rock. Doug kept pointing to where another new and easy switchback could be routed. Hint to potential SCA project.
The 2304-foot summit is a mile from the road and bedighted with survey markers. The elevation gain is going to depend on where you start, though most sources peg it between 600 and 750 feet. A view toward the St. Regis Canoe Area with Long Pond and St. Regis Mountains opens to the north, but the best views can be found by following the herd path for a quarter mile, down into a hollow and back up to several outcrops – the best one is furthest to the west. The Oval Wood Dish smokestack pops into view above Tupper Lake. St. Lawrence County’s highest peak, Mount Matumbla dominates behind Iron Mountain, a private holding. I’ve seen Mount Morris from many angles, but never appreciated its wide bulk until this day. We think we spotted Little Blue Mountain in the northwesterly distance. Arab and the Sewards are also in plain view. It was peak leaf season, but we were both surprised by the haze – more smoke from Canadian Wild Fires.
After returning to the bikes, we continued down the Floodwood Reservation Road – an exhilarating ride. The trail rollercoasters for most of the two miles to the Adirondack Rail Trail with several downhill runs that finish with a launch up a short, steep camelback followed by more downhill. The road was leaf-covered, hiding several sleepers (oops, that’s a paddling term). It may have been the first real workout for the shock absorbers on my front struts with one particularly large rock that could have done real damage.
The last half mile to the rail trail was sandy, though I was able to fishtail to the finish. After popping onto the tracks, we spotted another party of bikers heading towards Tupper Lake to the south. We turned north. The unfinished rail trail was crunchy with shot rock. My shocks allowed me to speed ahead. The causeway along Rollins Pond provides a view of the campground. A comment period for a draft UMP covering the Rollins Pond Campground recently ended. The draft includes plans for an accessible trail connecting the campground to the rail trail. Doug and I stopped a couple of times to enjoy the views from the causeways, ponder where the accessible trail would connect, and plot a future multi-pond paddle. The distance for this third leg is two miles
Use of the rail trail is currently “allowed at users’ own risk” with some sections restricted “depending on construction status.” The section we rode on is considered part of phase three with work scheduled to begin next year. Updates on the status of various sections can be found on the DEC website.
Year-round recreational opportunities abound along Floodwood Road, ranging from hiking, paddling and biking in the summer to skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. I would do this bike and hike again. The road is plowed for a mile past the Floodwood Outpost. A winter excursion to the top of Floodwood Mountain would be 1.25 miles further than the 1.7 miles from the summer parking lot. The distance from the trailhead along the Floodwood Reservation Road is a mile.