Surf-Turf-n-Sky: Good Luck for Great Paddling, Hiking & Birding

Starting with a Hike

Wren and I were out looking for a short hike and paddle the other week and I decided that Good Luck Lake and the West Branch of the Sacandaga River might fit the bill. The trailhead sits only about 150 meters or so north of the put-in, so both are easily done together – almost like ordering surf-n-turf with a side of sky (aka birding), on a restaurant menu. We started by hiking into Good Luck Lake, but accidentally hiked the wrong trail initially. We had gone about half a mile through the deciduous forest when we reached a junction and I saw we had inadvertently hiked the trail in to Dexter and Spectacle Ponds. No matter – we just turned around and hiked back out. Wren was happy for the longer hike anyway. Good Luck Lake can be reached on that same trail – it leads hikers around the lake to the southern shore – taking just under 2 miles in the process.

Once back at Route 10 where the trails start, I walked perhaps 20 meters south and found the correct trail – the direct route to Good Luck Lake that is less than a half mile long. Again we climbed up a ridge through beautiful deciduous forest and Wren nosed through the hobblebush while I listened for birds. A few birds overhead caught my attention and I found two Tennessee Warblers with a few Yellow-rumped Warblers. Further along the trail a female Black-throated Blue Warbler chipped loudly at us and a male Black-throated Blue sang in the distance. It was nice to hear some bird song on this Adirondack autumn morning.

Black-throated Green Warbler
I found a bunch of Black-throated Green Warblers - particularly when we returned to the car.


The trail soon started to drop and we were quickly at the picturesque lake. We squinted in the bright sun after being in the dim woods, but the setting was splendid and it might be fun to carry a lightweight canoe in to the lake to explore it further. I snapped a few photos while Wren waded and swam, she dropped a stick at my feet and I obliged her request by throwing it a few times.

A Nice Flock of Migrating Birds

Wren's swim complete, we turned and walked back up and over the ridge to the trailhead. There was quite a commotion of birds at the car and I began to spish to see what was there. Many of the birds were Black-capped Chickadees, but by getting them excited I began to draw in others as well. There were Magnolia and Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Northern Parula, and both Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos. But it was Black-throated Green Warblers which seemed to be everywhere in front of me – about 15 of them in all. A few came in very close to my spishing and I tried to snap photos of them through my lens which had fogged up with the damp air. The flock eventually moved on and we moved on ourselves, dropping a stone's throw south to the parking area for the West Branch of the Sacandaga River.

Time for a Paddle

I unloaded the boat and Wren and I set off on the shallow river in the growing sun. The Sacandaga is a beautiful wild river to paddle, and we quickly spooked a Great Blue Heron from the shore and spotted a Broad-winged Hawk cruising overhead. A Belted Kingfisher seemed bent on flying just ahead of us so that we constantly chased it chattering away as we paddled, and the surrounding alder thickets held small groups of Yellow-rumped Warblers and a couple Common Yellowthroats.

Wren - dozing Sacandaga
Wren's usual dozing was interupted by regular beaver liftovers.

The wild nature of the river also creates work for paddlers, and anyone going there should be well aware that means beaver dams. And beaver dams mean wet feet. We hit our first dam soon after departing. And then our second. And then our third. At each stop I let Wren out of the boat and hoisted the boat past the dam before getting us both back in the canoe. One of the dams was old and poorly maintained, but it must have been a good piece of construction at one point as it had collected an impressive ridge of sand in its stalled waters. There was plenty of beaver sign along the sandbar, but nothing else of note as I searched it for animal tracks.

While we didn't see any beavers, their presence defines and enriches a paddle of the West Branch of the Sacandaga River.

We didn't have time to adequately explore miles and miles of the river, but we were happy to see what we did before turning around and crossing the dams again to the take-out. It was, after all, a trip designed for two activities. Wren gnawed a tennis ball while I loaded up the boat for our next adventure.

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