It’s time to start thinking about paddling
It may seem strange to read (or in my case, write) a canoeing blog when all of our lakes are frozen solid, but with longer days, warmer temperatures, and spring breezes coming, the ice will eventually break up. Add to that the extra hour of daylight we just picked up at the end of the day (I love it when we change the clocks in the spring. Daylight Saving Time rocks!), and we’ve got months ahead which are made for outdoor exploration and adventure. And so, even as I’ll be enjoying cross-country skiing for as long as it lasts (hopefully a while longer), it isn’t too early to start thinking about spring and the paddling season.
Paddling trips can take many different forms. They can be on flatwater, whitewater, on lakes, on ponds, on rivers, through marshes, or through woodlands. And they can be overnights, full days, or partial day paddles. While many paddles can be extended by creative planning to fit multiple days, it is often simpler to just grab your boat and head out for part of a day. So here are a few of my favorite paddles in Hamilton County which can be covered in a couple hours or in half or most of a day if you wanted to linger that long.
The Sacandaga River in Speculator
The Sacandaga River drains a large portion of the south-central Adirondacks, eventually forming the Great Sacandaga Lake (a reservoir) before reaching the Hudson. My favorite segment of the river for paddling is the beginning of the Sacandaga as it flows out from Lake Pleasant in Speculator.
A boat launch in the village park (across the road from the beach) gives easy access, and paddlers can also stretch their legs before or after their trip by exploring the trails along the Sacandaga River Pathway in the park, which includes a couple overlooks of the river. Once on the water, the current is easy for paddling, a few sandbars initially line the route but these are easily negotiated, or walked around if you want to get your feet wet (but you shouldn’t have to do so). The river immediately opens up into a beautiful marsh where paddlers can find ranks of blooming pickerelweed in mid-summer, as well as a list of birds like Pied-billed Grebe, American Bittern, Yellow Warbler, and Wood Duck.
The marsh also gives a series of coves and nooks to be explored, as the main channel of the river heads east from Speculator, eventually reaching Kunjamuk Bay — a wide spot in the marsh which marks the confluence with the Kunjamuk River. A second (hand-held) put-in gives direct access to this spot from Rt. 30 (reached about a mile east of the big Camp-of-the-Woods sign in Speculator), and you can choose your direction from there depending on your time and interest.
For one, you can continue to follow the Sacandaga as it enters a forested landscape and runs along Rt. 30. If you are feeling adventurous and ate a good breakfast, you may opt to explore the Kunjamuk which winds for miles on its way from the north. The mouth of the Kunjamuk is guarded by an enormous beaver dam, but there is a way to carry around it on the side if you have a lightweight boat. You can also choose to turn around and meander back through the marsh – all are good choices.
Mason Lake sits just south of Lewey Lake State Campground, offering traveling paddlers easy access to an intimate paddle on a small waterbody. The launch sits at a small picnic stop along Perkins Clearing Road - where primitive campsites also allow for extended stays. Paddlers will be treated to the picturesque forest-lined lake, watching Common Loons or spotting Bald Eagles overhead.
Nature-loving paddlers will also enjoy exploring the southwest corner of the lake which is surrounded by marshy edges and is good for other species of birds like Common Yellowthroat, Swamp Sparrow, and potentially Olive-sided Flycatcher. The marshy portion of the lake eventually reaches a second (smaller) put-in along Perkins Clearing Road which gives access to the small channel. From there paddlers can complete their loop of this jewel of a lake.
Don’t let the busy put-in along Rt. 28 on the south side of Raquette Lake fool you – South Inlet offers a beautifully quiet paddle as it slices through the northwest corner of the Blue Ridge Wilderness Area. The (initially) broad stream is bordered by mixed deciduous and coniferous forests, as it winds its way south away from the road – taking paddlers through a peaceful landscape. American Bitterns, Wood Ducks, and Common Mergansers can be spotted in the marshy and boggy margins which line much of the route, and birding paddlers may be excited by the prospect of finding species like Black-backed Woodpecker and Boreal Chickadee in some of the more coniferous habitats as well.
After a couple miles, the paddle reaches a small set of waterfalls known both as South Inlet Falls or the Cascades. Far from a torrent, they make a nice place to grab lunch or a snack, and an even better place to take a swim on a warm day, and paddlers may meet a few hikers who have legged the trail from Sagamore with just that purpose in mind. After a refreshing swim and bite to eat, paddlers can wind their way back out on their return trip, exploring the wild landscape as they go.
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