One of the great joys of my summers for the last decade has been taking advantage of one of Saranac Lake’s more unique outdoor experiences, island camping. Sure, you can find world class lakeside camping in Saranac Lake. But there’s something extra special about paddling or motoring up to your site and knowing that, for the time you’re there, it’s all yours. No traffic driving by, no other hikers walking through your camp, no generator whirring in the site next door, in fact no one next door at all. Just you, a hammock, a cold beverage, and the bliss that is an Adirondack summer on the lake. Oh, and your family and friends, if you want to share.
Island camping—choose your flavor
You’ve got quite a few different options for island camping in the area. The village of Saranac Lake actually has three namesake lakes which stretch out from town. Lower and Middle Saranac can be accessed by launching a boat at the Second Pond Boat Launch a few miles outside of town. Or, if you’re looking for a cruise, you can launch on Lake Flower, which is right downtown, and then make your way up through Oseetah Lake to get to Lower and Middle Saranac. These lakes feature the Saranac Lake Islands Campground. All of the sites you’ll find here can be reserved months ahead of time. And I mean WAY ahead of time. Coveted sites and dates are snapped up nine months in advance. But if you’re not too picky or planning a trip during non-peak times, you should be able to find something a couple weeks in advance. Need a boat? There are a few marinas and outfitters in town that would be happy to set you up with a motorboat, canoe, or kayak for the duration of your island vacation.
A bit farther out of town and accessible via the Saranac Inn Boat Launch is Upper Saranac Lake. A mixture of beautiful Adirondack Great Camps and state forest land, you’ll find a handful of pristine island (and land based) campsites free for the taking. The tradeoff here is that these sites are not reservable, you just have to get there first! For me, this is island camping at its finest. My friends and I have a particular favorite site that we've been visiting for years. We've spent countless hours tooling up and down this lake, cooking feasts over the fire, and watching 4th of July fireworks.
And lastly, also not reservable, and accessible only by small boat or canoe, you can find a few hidden gems tucked away on Floodwood and Follensby Clear ponds just west of Upper Saranac Lake. It was to one of these islands that I headed earlier this spring for a camping adventure with my recently adopted pup, Cedar.
A Follensby Clear Pond island adventure
It was a Friday night when Cedar and I headed out to the northern boat launch on Follensby Clear Pond, about 16 miles from Saranac Lake, and 15 miles from Tupper Lake. Being his first time camping and first time in a canoe, I decided we should probably only do a simple overnight adventure. Follensby Clear is a big pond with hours of exploring to take advantage of, but to set up camp, you can access any of its islands in under 30 minutes from the northern launch. Boat in the water, and we were off!
It was a warm spring night and surprisingly we seemed to beat everyone else out there for the weekend. 500 acres of pond and it felt like we were the only ones there! A leisurely fifteen minute paddle along the shore and several loon spottings later, our island was in sight. And what’s more, it was unoccupied!
This is the only lean-to campsite on Follensby Clear Pond, and the only one that is completely alone on its own island. You’ll find most islands host at least a couple primitive campsites, although at such a distance that you’ll likely never see your island compatriots. This particular site is an old favorite of mine, I can remember summer days boating out to this site with my family growing up, and setting up camp here with my Scouting friends as we paddled through, working on our 50 mile trek. The lean-to is a little worse for wear these days, but still a welcome site. For Cedar, a private island was his little slice of doggy heaven. You won’t see many pictures of him on the island because getting him to come out of the bushes and stand still was nearly impossible.
Notice the large stack of wood left by the previous visitor? Say hello to camping gold! Especially when you’re on an island where downed trees and branches can be hard to find. I left a significantly smaller but still healthy supply for the next guest.
I decided to test out the water and Cedar's swimming legs after he returned from a particularly muddy excursion into the bushes. Turns out he’s a swimmer…straight back to the shore. Clean and refreshed, we settled down to a nice fire. We were just the first of the weekend ‘crowd’ searching for the perfect site. Two canoes drifted by while we watched the fire.
Rise and shine
For me, one of the simplest pleasures of camping on the water is waking up to watch the sunrise. The water is pristine like glass, and you might see a loon catching some breakfast if you're lucky. I always feel like it's the closest I can get to knowing what it might have felt like to be on one of these lakes 150 years ago. No motors, no cars, no sign of the modern world at all. Just the beauty and silence of the Adirondack woods.
Paddling north, we stopped by the island you see in the picture above for some more sniffing adventures before heading back to the site to pack up. We had other plans for the day, but Follensby is a great base for a weekend camping trip, especially if you'd like to get some fantastic Adirondack wilderness paddling in. Follensby Clear Pond provides easy access to the Floodwood Loop which makes for a fantastic day trip. Or, overnight paddle where you can hit up another gorgeous island on Floodwood Pond.
Until next time
I'll be back on my Follensby island and probably a couple others this summer, and the next, and the one after that. For me, camping and being on the water will always be the pinnacle of summer. And there are few places I've found that do it better than our Adirondack lakes. See you out there.
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