Paddle the Saranac River

Submitted by guest writer: Eileen Mowrey

The Adirondacks are full of beautiful waterways just waiting to be explored. Running straight through the heart of Saranac Lake is one of the area’s best paddling opportunities – the Saranac River. This 81-mile river encompasses several lakes and winds through miles of both civilization and wilderness before spilling into Lake Champlain.

While paddling the entire length would be a huge undertaking, sections of it are perfect for full- or half-day trips. One popular one-way route is the section between Saranac Lake and the Moose Pond trailhead outside of Bloomingdale, NY.

This portion of the Saranac River is the perfect excursion for families and beginner boaters looking to get their feet – or paddles – wet. It’s also a great add-on adventure for experienced kayakers or canoers who want to spend a morning or afternoon exploring the area. This downstream route takes you with the current, minimizing physical demands while still being tame enough for inexperienced paddlers. 

No boat? No worries! There are several locations in Saranac Lake where you can rent canoes, kayaks, and all the accompanying gear you’ll need for your trip. St. Regis Canoe Outfitters is a great option. Located on Dorsey Street in downtown Saranac Lake, along the banks of the Saranac River, their friendly and helpful crew will set you up with kayaks, paddles, life jackets, and a clear map of the route. They’ll also help you put in at their onsite launch and pick the boats up for you when you’re done!

Starting from St. Regis Canoe Outfitters, it’s approximately a two-hour paddle to the Moose Pond trailhead. The first few minutes take you directly through the center of town. You’ll pass under several bridges and pedestrian walkways and can enjoy a unique view of Saranac Lake’s historic architecture. Just as you’re leaving town, you’ll come across a small section of easy, Class 1 rapids. Don’t worry, they look more intimidating than they actually are! Paddle straight down the middle and you should have no trouble.

As you move downstream, the water calms. The river stays close to the road for much of the first half of the route, but wilderness is still plentiful and wildlife is very active. As you meander the winding bends of the river, keep quiet and you might catch a critter by surprise! Small mammals, such as muskrats, otters, and beavers, make their homes on the banks and can be seen swimming or running along the shores. Swallows swoop back and forth above the water and over your head. Ducks and great blue herons fish and nest in the reeds along the shorelines. And keep an eye out for other bird species, including eagles, in the trees around you. If you’re really lucky, you may even turn a bend and find a moose!

While wildlife sightings can’t be guaranteed, excellent mountain views can. At about the halfway point of your journey, you’ll pass under a bridge that leads to the local water treatment plant. After that, the river veers to the right, away from the road and into pristine Adirondack wilderness. The river widens and suddenly you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of McKenzie and Haystack mountains, both part of the Saranac Lake 6ers, and other surrounding peaks. 

The last section of the river narrows once more, weaving between waterlocked trees and through dense forest that forms a bright green canopy above you. Breathe deeply and enjoy the smell of the surrounding pines. Take a moment to appreciate the peace and tranquility this remote section of river offers. Experiences like this make the Adirondacks seem magical.

As the current starts to pick up once more, and the road comes back into view, your time on the river is almost at an end. Two hours fly by so quickly! You’ll be able to see a bridge and the Moose Pond trail register up ahead. There is a small, sandy area off to the left where you can pull up onto the bank and disembark from your boat. I highly encourage continuing the adventure by locking up the kayaks and taking to the trail! The hike to Moose Pond is a mostly flat 1.5 miles that takes you through a beautiful dense and diverse forest. On warm days, this is a great place to complete your trip with a swim! 

Paddling the Saranac River is a fun and memorable way to experience the Adirondacks, and a great introduction to canoeing or kayaking in general. With beautiful views, abundant wildlife, and the opportunity for an added hiking trip, this excursion is sure to please outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. And, when you’re done for the day, refuel with a well-earned meal at one of Saranac Lake’s great restaurants!

For the best experience, be sure to follow these pro tips:

  • Always wear a life jacket — safety first!
  • Park a second car where you plan to take out so you don’t have to paddle back against the current. Or, arrange for your boat rental company to come pick you up.
  • Pack plenty of water and some snacks.
  • Wear or bring sunscreen and bug repellant.
  • Wear or bring layers and a change of clothes. The breeze can make you cold, the sun can make you sweat, and there’s always the chance you might fall in!
  • Invest in or rent a dry bag to keep your belongings safe.

This week in related ADK stories: 

Four perfect ways to hit the water

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