Island Camping - Without A Plan

Camping & Boating - Without A Plan

No plan; No problem... Usually

Here's the thing... When you live in (or near) the Adirondacks, every weekend is a great weekend to get-away. Because 'getting away' is as simple as jumping in the (insert your car of choice here) Jeep and driving a mere 5 minutes or 2 hours; your choice. In this case, we chose the 2 hour option and headed down to Hamilton County. It's an all-adult weekend for Greg and myself, a somewhat rare occurrence where our resident 5 year-old is visiting relatives for a night. The only reason I mention this is because later on you are going to understand exactly how unprepared I was for this outing. My usual over-stuffed mommy bags (consisting of every thing from goldfish and granola bars to handy wipes and extra batteries) were MIA on this trip.

So, we load up our camping gear (we keep the bins packed all season for our weekend excursions), hitch up the boat - a '70 Starcraft (I love having something older than me along on a trip), and jump in the Jeep. On most of our weekends we don't have a solid plan, we usually just head out and decide where to camp on the fly. Today is a bit different - we called ahead and were fortunate to book a last minute boat-access site on Indian Lake. A little something interesting we learned - this day-before-trip availability was a pure stroke of right-place/right-time (aka someone had to cancel and the stars aligned for us). Island boat sites - although plentiful in the Adirondacks - are often reserved months in advance - 9 months to be exact. The DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) opens up their reservation lines while the leaves are starting to turn and the snow is starting to fly - talk about planning ahead! From what I've just been told by friends that are avid campers - many folks have their whole season planned out and mark their calendars so they remember to call on the first day they are allowed. So, if you are planning to camp on June 19, you can call and reserve as early as September 19; likewise an August reservation can be made in November. Again, there are plenty of sites, and you can usually reserve something even up to a few days before the weekend, but snagging a prime island-and-boat-access-only site on the day of your trip is pushing it. So, at least we know where we are sleeping: Indian Lake Islands Campground Site # 16.

Hittin' the road, and the water...

Long Lake is awesome - you can swim with a plane taking off mere feet away and boaters floating by.

We head out of the Saranac Lake region mid-morning, and slowly meander through Tupper Lake and then south past several lakes, ponds and day-use areas until we come to Long Lake. We pass the public beach and watch a plane take off over the swimmers. The water looks inviting. Here we decide to put-in. I have never been out on the water down this way, and had no idea what to expect. The DEC public boat launch is easily accessible and although it was a busy weekend and the main lot was already filled with like-minded visitors, there is a nice-sized overflow parking lot for late-comers such as ourselves. There is a DEC inspection at most of the launches this summer, and while it only takes a few minutes, it is pretty important to help the stop of invasive species spreading from lake to lake as they cling to the bottoms of boats.  We've run into the DEC crew at a few different launches throughout the season, and it's fun to note the look of shock on their faces when Greg tells them I bleached the boat this summer - it wasn't white enough for me, I thought it might help! - little did I know it also helps with killing invasives! The crew asks a few questions: have you been in other bodies of water; have you drained the boat & cleaned the bottom... it's quick, easy, and helps with their monitoring of our many launches. I finally realize exactly how long, Long Lake is!

As we are loading our boat we talk to a couple of local fishermen that are just heading out. They mention a 'beach' at the north end of the lake, and now I am really confused; time to look at a map. From the road, the many times we have driven through town, I never would have guessed that the launch was closer to the southern end of Long Lake, I thought we were at the north end. So, off we go in search of the beach. HOLY (insert word of choice) MOLY, I had no idea what an impressively long lake, Long Lake actually is. I think our older boat made it to the end in about 40 minutes. 40 Minutes!? I'm used to tooling around on Lake Placid, this is a bit different, for sure.It's a long, lonnnng lake!

The destination is well-worth the trip. It is more than the landing strip that many of our Adirondack boating 'beaches' are and it's bustling with locals. And, you can tell as we pull up, that we are not a known-entity. After a moment of everyone staring at the strange boat approaching, we give a wave, crack a drink and cheers our new neighbors; within minutes we are all chatting about the stroke of luck we are having - beautiful weather, beautiful weekend, boat's running, what more could we ask for? LUNCH. Lunch is what we could ask for - and here is where I make my first fail. I normally have more snacks than you imagine. If we happened upon Gilligan's Island, not only could I feed the castaways, they could tie my plethora of bags together and make a raft to float to safety. Today I have one little bag with a couple of plums and a bag of pita chips. I am hanging my head in shame just thinking about it.Long Lake 'boaters beach'

So, since we are hungry and ready for some good eats, we decide to take a swim and then head back to the launch. Not having planned on such a long ride, we end up puttering to a stop in the middle of mile # something-or-other on the way back. After trouble-shooting a few things (I'm not good with the technical terms), we check the gas. Never have we run through a tank in one trip, but luckily we have a second tank on board, because that is exactly what happened. Seems this old boat was as thirsty as we were (luckily we had remembered the cooler - thank goodness for the little things).

At least we got stuck near a dock!

Lunch with a View...

We make it back to the launch and wait as a pack of teen paddlers pull out their kayaks and gear. The boat is soon loaded, and we are back on the road; one mission in mind. Hoss's Country Corner is our next stop. While we mainly gather picnic supplies from their varied selection, we can't help but stop and browse for a few minutes. I love this store - it is a real country store with everything from t-shirts and bait to amazing crafts and art from local Adirondack artisans. I can't help but leave with a hand-crafted ring and a funky new shirt. I could easily get lost in this store, but we need to move on. We hit Stewart's to refuel, and of course, if you are from northern NY you know this is the home of chocolate-peanut butter cup ice cream, a staple for your everyday random road trip.

We assemble sandwiches and decide to drive on. It's later afternoon now, and we are itching to get to Indian Lake and set up camp. Our intention is to hit the site, and then boat into town to grab dinner and explore. The ride is beautiful and takes us past many places I've only heard of, we even pass part of the Northville Placid Trail - which I've seen in Placid, but never encountered that far south.

Boats rock; not boats on rocks...

Inidan Lake Islands Campground

We arrive at Indian Lake Islands Campground later than expected. Again, I will say I was unprepared - I never actually checked where the campsite was, I assumed the launch would be close to town, but it was actually several miles away. We get our directions from the office, along with a warning about several places where we will need to skirt around submerged rocks along the route, and instructions about approaching our site from the right of the island to avoid certain disaster. I will admit this makes me slightly nervous - I am used to deep water and channels that are very clearly marked - this is a new twist to our adventure.Getting our bearings on the way to camp!

So, it is about 4:30 when we head out to the island. It only takes about 20 minutes to find our site and it is a beautiful ride. We pull up, tie off to a tree, and unload our gear. Within minutes we are exploring our little island. There are 3 other sites, however they are spread out and with the exception of an occasional bark you would think we were on our own private island.

We made it to our island... site #16 you're ours!

The site is pristine - I actually have to wonder if it has been swept prior to our arrival. We set up our tent, gather kindling for the fire - of which I am surprised there is quite a bit; I had assumed on a popular camping island, wood would be scarce, but after 10 minutes we are happy with our supply. Time for a swim. And, the water is beautiful! We are on the east side of the island, and the sun has already passed us by, but the water is refreshing and there is a rock (yes, a huge submerged rock) within swimming distance that is the perfect perch to soak up a few late afternoon rays.

It was so clean, I swear someone swept the tent spot!

Should we stay or should we go now...

Now, we become indecisive. Here is where our lack of planning would probably drive other travelers insane. Remember, we did not pack for island camping. We had thought we would hit the town, grab some food and maybe find a place to play pool with the locals. BUT, the campsite is much farther from the launch than we anticipated. The launch is much farther from town than we planned. We hadn't thought to check if there was a launch in town that would bring us within walking distance of downtown (our DEC greeter had informed us there wasn't). While the ride out was fine, would we be able to navigate back out to the island in the dark? Do we actually want to leave? We are relaxed from our swim, wood is ready to start the fire, and although we don't have any 'real' food, we do have peanut butter and bananas (a perfect combination - this is a favorite of mine), a few snacks and lunch leftovers...

Room with a view...

We choose to stay. We make do with an impromptu meal of random items and settle down to enjoy the lapping water hitting the shore beyond the fire. We made the right choice. Within an hour or so we were fading, and the evening was coming to a starlit close. Ironically, our 'adult-getaway' weekend ended found us falling asleep about the same time as we would have if camping with Oliver. And, somehow, we were both perfectly content with the way it had played out.

The fog finally started to lift - my earlier pics looked, well, foggy!

We awoke to a chilly morning, the lake covered in a deep, ghostly fog. We decided to break camp a bit earlier than usual; I debated a quick swim but opted to wait for a stop on our ride north - preferably with the sun shining. And, for some reason we were hungry (!?). We load up the boat and successfully navigate back to the launch - it is one of the most memorable boat rides I have had - slow and oh, so, quiet as the fog engulfed us; the only sound the occasional call of a bird. The fog was slowly lifting and the sun was just starting to break through as we made it to dry land.

Indian Lake Launch

The boat and gear loaded, we head into town. It is Sunday morning and town is quiet - until we hit Chrissy's Cafe. This quiet little cafe is bustling. Instead of waiting for a table, we choose the only 2 empty stools at the counter. We settle in to talk with our neighbors, and they generously offer us sections of their papers as they discuss local politics. I always love sitting at the counter - it's something that reminds me of my childhood (of course, back then I think the allure was that my dad would let me spin round and round in circles on the old stools). Random trivia: I'm a bit of a pancake snob. I always order a regular breakfast and then one pancake. I love pancakes but can't commit to placing a full order; too many places let me down. I will admit I regretted not ordering the pancakes at Chrissy's. While my bacon, egg and cheese sandwich was delicious, the pancakes definitely got two thumbs up - and I swear it had nothing to do with our lack of real food the night before.

Lesson(s) Learned

Content and ready to head north, we get on the road. Hamilton County is definitely someplace we will come back to explore. It is amazing we live in the same Park, and yet I know so little about this part of the Adirondacks.

So, let's recap:

  • Plan ahead if you want to guarantee a prime island campsite - 9 months ahead!
  • When boating on a lake you don't know - bring lunch and extra gas.
  • When camping via boat-access-only do your research; had we known we couldn't boat to town and were staying at camp, we would have brought food and prepped differently.
  • Go with the flow - you never know what you may discover; we found a great new beach to visit, and a delicious little cafe to stop at.
  • Obviously, and most importantly, for all the grief you get for over packing when you have the 5 year-old along - there's something to be said for being prepared.

(So, for all my talk of not liking to have a plan, after reading that list I guess I just learned the following about myself: I like to take unplanned adventures, while keeping the Jeep prepped for any possible scenario that might happen. Kind of contradictory, hmmm?)

I can't wait to visit again - next time I may even do a little prep-work. Maybe. What can I say... a weekend in the Adirondacks - it's always an adventure!


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