Keeping It Local

A Simple Suggestion Becomes a Vacation Plan 

In the depths of the winter (ok, it was actually spring according to the calendar), when we here in Lake Placid were still skiing on perfect snow but dreaming about green leaves and blue water, my husband made an off-handed suggestion: “Why don’t we reserve a campsite on Lower Saranac Lake for a week in June?"

The green leaves and blue water which were the subject of our summer dreams.

Visions of campfires danced in our heads. 

Anxious for a mental escape from the cold weather, I immediately began to Google, and came upon the Reserve America website, which serves as the online reservation management tool for campgrounds nationwide, including those located on Lower Saranac Lake which are run by the New York State DEC.

This was exciting for many reasons. At $160+ to reserve a campsite for the week, it was highly affordable lakefront property. As the sites on this lake are boat access only, it would give us a chance to explore in our canoe and kayaks. With the public access at Lower Saranac Lake DEC Boat Launch a mere 11 miles from our house in Lake Placid, it would allow us to camp at will -- to catch the sunniest, warmest days, and jet home in a flash for any reason. Finally, it would give the four of us — me, my husband, who is the proprietor of a local eatery, and our teenage sons — busy with sports, friends, summer jobs and summer camp, a week together before the season kicked into high gear. So, Hatchet Island it was!

Our family.

Nailing Down the Details—Not So Hard!

 Although the Reserve America site has a great interactive map that clearly indicates the location and number of each campsite, we also used our copy of Dave Cilley’s waterproof “Adirondack Paddler’s Map," both to plan for the trip and also to explore during our trip.  A sucker for a great map, I picked this one up shortly after our family concluded its quest to hike all 46 High Peaks, and it does not disappoint.  While we have a multitude of mountains and ranges to complete before we could ever consider ourselves anything close to “hiked out,” this paddler’s map represented a kinder, gentler wide-open frontier for our knees (particularly the knees of the two older members), and we’ve enjoyed using it to plan new, water-based adventures ever since.  We are relative newcomers to paddling and navigating local waterways; this map clearly delineates not only all bodies of water, but parking areas, put-ins, carries, lean-tos and campsites—both the kind that can be reserved, and the kind that operate under the “first come, first served” motto. It’s a great purchase (or gift!) for someone looking to get to know the Adirondacks from another vantage point.

 Our well-worn and happily used paddler’s map. 

It’s Go Time!

As the day of departure came, we were all looking forward to the getaway. The weather, however, looked variable.  As check-in day wore on, the clouds were dark and a little wet.  Still, it wasn’t a complete washout, and if I’ve learned anything after living twenty years in the Adirondacks, it’s that the days that seem less than ideal weather-wise often provide for both the best vistas and the best memories. As we weren’t really packed, and hadn’t really shopped for camp food (vital, more on this later!), we decided to transport the canoe and the kayaks over to the boat launch, stop to grab a few subs at the Lakeview Deli, and paddle out to “our” island to check out the site and enjoy dinner.  We checked into our campsite at the registration booth (also located the state boat launch on Route 3) and headed out.

It was a quiet and easy paddle over Second Pond, which connects directly to the open Lower Saranac Lake. This expansive chain of interconnected lakes and ponds provides literally miles and miles of stunningly beautiful open water to explore, but Bluff Island was our landmark (thanks, awesome paddler’s map!), so right there, we hung a right and headed straight for Hatchet Island. It took less than 25 minutes from launching the boats to reach our destination, where we hungrily enjoyed our picnic, then explored a bit.  When it was time to paddle in, everyone sort of wished that we had brought our gear to stay. Anticipation built? Check!


Heading out.


Over-pack Much?

We returned to our house anxious to get this “staycation” started for real. I know that we tend to over-pack, and I tried to keep a handle on everyone’s progress as they gathered their vital belongings. I did not succeed. Well-packed kayaks and canoes can hold a lot, but this was pushing it. We are pretty good at keeping our wardrobe selections to the bare minimum, while preparing for all temperature ranges and precipitation eventualities, but...ok, I’ll just say it...we really like to eat. We are just not the “have some dry tuna from a packet and munch on some GORP” crowd, and with two insatiable male teenage bellies to satisfy, I knew it was vital to make sure we were well fed. And foodstuffs take up space. My husband decided to call Saranac Lake Marina to rent a small fishing boat to transport our supplies, and his friend Mike had just what we needed. We were ready to roll. Two of us of left in the fishing boat from the marina while two of us headed out from the state boat launch by kayak, meeting up at our new home away from home, site #19.

 Lower Saranac Lake.

Bliss, Boats and Books 

The rest of the trip is really just a pleasant blur of loveliness. The loons calling, the sound of the water lapping against the shore, the long shadows and yellow light casting up from the crystal Adirondack waters. The boys are old enough and have enough outdoor experience that we trusted them to adventure around a bit on their own in kayaks, knowing that they would wear their PDFs and stay within a reasonable range of the camp. Beyond that, there was whole a lot of swimming, sunning, fishing, napping, campfire-enjoying, and just BEING. If you’re not familiar with that last concept, it’s the lost art of simply sitting in one spot, enjoying where you are, and not exerting any sort of physical or mental energy about what’s going to happen, or where you need to be next.  And let me tell you, Lower Saranac Lake provides the most splendid elixir for exactly that.

There was also a lot of reading... I picked up the enjoyable “Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing” (not literally about either of those things, of course, but it went with the overall theme of the week), while others in the family devoured local author Jamie Sheffield’s, Tyler Cunningham Adirondack Mystery series. Set on and among the various lakes and ponds of this very region, this series is engaging and perfectly suited to enjoy in conjunction with a paddling trip. Think Adirondack Wilderness MacGyver meets Law and Order, minus the courtroom scenes.  You won’t be sorry.

Camp Set-up.

Refreshing, pure lake water. 

Another adventure awaits. 

Reading about Adirondack adventure while having an Adirondack Adventure. 

And Oh, The Food…

I would be remiss if I did not outline a few of our best meals while on Hatchet Island. On Night One, we turned up the flair on the traditional, nestled-in-the-coals, foil-wrapped “hobo pack,” and enjoyed chicken breasts cut and mixed with packaged stuffing mix, a little hot sauce and seasoned canned tomatoes. Topped with cheese, they were filling and tasty.  In the morning, my trusty French press provided the necessary morning coffee (so much better when lakeside). Before leaving home, we grabbed a few frozen packages of spectacularly delicious local meat from the Champlain Valley’s own Mace Chasm Farm, and that turned out to be a true win/win decision - our local farmers' markets are a definite not-miss. They not only served as slowly melting ice packs in our cooler, they were the star attraction in a few of our most delicious meals……bacon and egg sandwiches with buttered and grilled English muffins…..charcoaled cheeseburgers….mac and cheese with Apple Snitz and Chive sausage….scrambled eggs with kielbasa.  Suffice it to say that we did not spend much time hungry, and that we had a lot less to pack out than we had to pack in. 

Hobo Packs get an upgrade. 

Coffee + campfire  + breakfast + lake view = YES

Nothing beats a burger.

The Verdict?

This was an easy to plan, easy to enjoy vacation that will stay with us for a long time. We used part of our time on the lake to check out other campsites, and we’re already talking about a return trip, if not before the season’s end, then definitely as an annual June event for our family. We were able to regroup, recharge and relax without expending a ton of effort or a ton of money. And for me? That’s perfection. 

No words necessary! 

Ready to plan your own Adirondack camping vacation? Check out our many local resources - whether you are a first-time adventurer looking for a guide or a seasoned backcountry camper, our local shops can help set you up with the supplies and information you need. Not a tenting-type of family? We have great lodging options from green resorts to bed & breakfasts and everything in between. What are you waiting for?

July is when things heat up!
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About The Author

Amy Quinn is a mom, a writer, a hiker, a runner​, a skier and an attorney​. She​lives in ​Lake Placid with her family and loves her mountains​. She is happiest when she is playing a role in connecting people to what they need: lo​ve and laughter, good food and good books, fresh perspectives​ and fresh air​, and one another.

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