Longing for an extraordinary nature experience? Consider Saranac Lake's St. Regis Canoe Area, where you can sample most of the outdoor activities the Adirondacks has to offer. It's a giant buffet of absolutely gorgeous woods-and-water luxury.
You can go full Adirondacks and camp here, or you can make the short drive back to town to enjoy all the amenities of civilization at the end of a full and lovely day.
Amazing fact #1: The St. Regis Canoe Area is the largest wilderness canoe area in the Northeastern United States.
That's right, this special paddling spot is the biggest of its kind in the Adirondacks, in New York state, and in adjoining states. Essentially, if you are looking for this particular kind of environment, in a pristine state, while still being set up for easy and enjoyable exploration, then this is your dream destination. If such a place had an Olympic competition, the nearly 30 square miles of St. Regis Canoe Area would win a gold medal.
Part of what keeps this place special is how it is closed to motor vehicles, motorboats, and aircraft. So the only sounds are those of nature. And what sounds they are! Bird calls dominate the day, while the songs of frogs and loons can be heard at night.
Little Clear Pond, which is home to a popular boat launch, does not allow fishing since it is where the Adirondack Fish Hatchery releases their baby fish. And thanks to that, it is a popular place for loons since there is plenty to eat. On a recent paddle I counted eight of the iconic Adirondack birds, and that might not be all of them.
Set out at dawn, or plan to return near dusk, and get the maximum amount of loon calls.
Another great feature is the abundance of waterfront lean-tos and primitive campsites, 70 in all. As you can imagine, most of them can only be reached via a canoe or kayak and offer a true waterfront view. Privacy is highly likely. Look for a yellow "Camp Here" disc.
If you aren't ready for such full immersion yet, there's lodging, dining, and camping in and around the beautiful Lake Clear area.
Amazing fact #2: Anything nature-oriented to do in the Adirondacks can be done in the St. Regis Canoe Area.
If you want to explore nature in the Adirondacks, look no further. It's like the difference between buying gourmet cookies from a bake shop instead of a grocery store. This special, protected tract will connect you to the essence of the Adirondacks.
There's paddling, of course, among the 58 ponds and lakes, some of which are quite large. Upper and Lower St. Regis Lake join Spitfire Lake for a trio of waterbodies with lots of lovely shoreline. Short and easy carries along well marked paths connect other ponds and lakes.
One amazing thing about this area is the ponds often have distinctly different shorelines, wildlife, plants, and water colors. I've seen deep greens, bright blues, and even turquoise among the ponds, where depths, mineral composition, and times of day change how the water bounces the light.
There's 26 miles of easy, mostly flat, and well-defined hiking trails. For summiting, try a Saranac Lake 6er with the well-marked and lovely trail to St. Regis Mountain, which has abundant views of the surrounding lakes and is absolutely stunning in fall.
The Fish Pond Truck Trail offers some easy pond access for fun and photos. The main trail is 4.7 miles, and there are two miles of spur trails, with only 200 feet of ascent from the trailhead to the high point.
Horses are allowed on the Fish Pond Truck Trail and the St. Regis Pond Truck Trail, including horse drawn wagons for carrying supplies. Mountain bikes are also allowed on these trails. Since this is such a remote area, the fishing is superb and uncrowded. In the winter, these are favorite backcountry trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Amazing fact #3: St. Regis Canoe Area has been a world-famous favorite since the Adirondacks became a visitor destination.
New York City's high society took to the Adirondacks in the late 19th century. They vacated the hot city, giving us the word vacation. They moved their social circles, via steamship, stagecoach, and then railroad, to their elegant camps, where they entertained the powerful and celebrated of their day.
When John Jacob Astor IV chose a name for his Beaux-Arts hotel that would communicate its status as the new high point of style and luxury, he called it the St. Regis.
This timeless paddling paradise was also the hometown of the hospitality industry that would draw visitors from all walks of life. When Paul Smith built his famous hotel in 1859, it was on the shores of Lower St. Regis Lake. His success inspired many others in the same area, and sparked a special St. Regis ritual: the Seven Carries route.
The waters were so abundant here, and the terrain so easy to negotiate, that vistors would paddle and "carry" between seven ponds and three lakes via short, flat, hiking paths known as carries. It used to connect Paul Smith's Hotel, now Paul Smith's College, and the Saranac Inn, of which only a fine golf course remains. It is still a wonderful way to spend a day on the water. Expand into a three night, four day trip with the Nine Carries route.
Whatever your paddling expectations, it is likely this special place can meet them.
Stay nearby at classic lodging, which includes a historic stagecoach inn, a classic Adirondack resort complex, or an actual Great Camp. Dine on-site at local favorites, or in nearby Saranac Lake. Consult our Adirondack guides to get the most from your trip.
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