As I sat in my chair looking out at Lower Saranac Lake from our campsite on Pirate Island, I found myself humming the Jimmy Buffet song “One Particular Harbor.” I mentioned it to my husband and we immediately dubbed our awesome little island “One Particular Island.” Although we live in nearby Lake Placid and actually have a camp on Placid Lake, we love to go camping in the Adirondacks to experience all the rest of what the region has to offer. I never fail to take note of how incredibly lucky we are to have all this right in our back yard! I grew up in Lake Placid but when I go camping in the region it always strikes home how many of us so often take this amazing place for granted.
Our 18 foot pontoon boat was the perfect vessel for this little vacation on the lake. Pontoon boats actually create a "dock" and also hold a LOT of gear and they are easier and more forgiving when mooring on less than perfect shorelines or when "beaching" on sand. The pontoon boat also allowed us to do much more extensive exploring than we would have been able to do in just a kayak or canoe, and we could bring our dogs with us. We were able to transport both kayaks out to the campsite on the boat as well. There are several boat rental businesses in the region if you don't have your own or just don't want to trailer a boat very far from home.
Book your island in advance
Nine months ago I reserved our site on Pirate Island (site #21) of the Saranac Islands Campground) via Reserve America, the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) campground reservations company. Sites in all the New York State campground system are reservable nine months prior to arrival. The waterfront sites go very quickly. We chose this island as it is one of the few that has only one site on it, allowing us to bring our two dogs and not worry about them wandering - a built-in fence, the water! They do swim but they won’t wander off swimming.
The launch site and DEC campground check-in on Route 3 is about 4 miles West of the intersection of routes 86 and 3 in downtown Saranac Lake. It has undergone a massive renovation with enlarged and newly paved parking lot, boat staging area and launch with two large docks. Checking in here is quick and easy and the staff is both helpful and plentiful. On weekends this launch site can be very busy, so arriving early is advisable for securing parking.
The Saranac Chain of Lakes is an extensive waterway connected by two sets of locks along the Saranac River. It consists of Lake Flower, Oseetah Lake, Kiwassa Lake, Lower Saranac Lake, Middle Saranac Lake and Weller Pond. A day trip from Lake Flower to Middle Saranac via the locks is a wonderful way to spend a day, but that's a story for another blog.
Our private retreat
My husband had gone out to check in to our site earlier in the day on Friday as I was working. He had just about everything in place by the time he picked me up at 3 pm on Friday with the rest of our supplies. Pirate Island, #21, is sheltered behind Bluff Island and surrounded for the most part by other small islands. There's very shallow water with lots of rocks on the side of the island where the campsite is located, with lots of marker buoys warning of the danger. This makes for a very private setting as very few motor boats venture into that area of the water except for a few fishermen who know the waters. So, yes, skinny dipping is pretty good in this spot!
Our tent was sited on a little point of the island facing east so we could catch sunrise, which may or may not have been a good idea. Gorgeous as it was, the bright sky awakened me early - 4:30 a.m - and with the screens all open on the tent it was just a tad too early for me! Our family size tent was perfect for us and our yellow lab Bear and “labradane” Duke. They were great first-time campers and Duke, the ever alert watchdog, didn’t make sound either night, which was amazing.
“One Particular Island,” as with most islands on the lake, is populated with tall red pines and low bushes on the shoreline, which is mostly rocky with some sand here and there. The island has a wonderful high spot in the middle, making for great views around the lake and of the sunsets. Being on an island lessens the chances of raccoons and bears bothering your supplies, however, you still need to engage in best practices of food securing just in case. There were red squirrels, chipmunks and a small resident garter snake at our site. As most of my friends know, I hate snakes, but oddly, I saw the very little guy once and didn’t freak out as I normally do!
We were incredibly lucky with the weather as the temperatures hovered in the 80’s all weekend and the skies were, for the most part, clear with a few clouds. It was a spectacular stretch of weather. The winds were very calm as well, giving me some great photo opportunities early in the morning and late in the day. Swimming here is awesome and the water temperature had to be in the high 70s - perfect! There were lots of people out playing on, in and even above the water enjoying various activities all weekend. Photo opps abounded.....
We ate well. I’m spoiled, as my husband’s a chef. He can make gourmet out of next to nothing, but we brought along some easy and tasty provisions. Even the coffee was easy and really good. We graduated to a Coleman drip camp coffee maker (a terrific gift from a fellow camping friend) from our trusty old percolator, which I could never seem to get right and always ended up with grounds in the coffee (yuck). The Coleman worked flawlessly on top of the Coleman camp stove. Ahhhh modern conveniences. I’m sure the fragrance of our Sunday morning cheese and bacon omelets was the envy of all in the vicinity, not to mention the ribs on Saturday night!
Kayaking around the “neighborhood” revealed a beaver lodge directly across from our site with perfect viewing of this busy family's activities. On the first night we witnessed an unfortunate incident when someone’s dog on the island the lodge is located upon was harassing one of the beavers in the water. I was sure the beaver would attack the dog as they were very close while the beaver tried to protect its family in the lodge. The beaver would slap the water and dive continuously as the dog relentlessly tried to engage it. Eventually the owners called it away, but the poor beavers had been terribly traumatized. Lesson - keep your dogs under control and in your campsite at all times. This was inexcusably irresponsible on the owner’s part and could have resulted in the dogs death or very serious injury, not to mention the trauma to the beavers. Beavers have very big, sharp teeth (they cut down trees with them after all) and are fierce protectors.
The following morning I paddled out to the lodge, keeping a respectable distance. With my binoculars I watched one of the beavers swimming around the cove doing what beavers do in the morning. They are such amazing animals to watch. Later that evening from our campsite I noticed a couple large bunches of bright green foliage floating along rather quickly near the shoreline toward the lodge. This seemed odd, as it was completely calm. After investigating with the binoculars for an up close view it turns out it was Mom and Dad beaver transporting the evening meal of clumps of waterlilies back to the family in the lodge. When their outdoor activity seemed to have stopped, I paddled over near the lodge. As I sat there nearby I could hear a sound that could only be one thing - eating sounds. I could hear them inside the lodge munching on dinner! It was a kind of lip smacking sound with a few little intermittent squeals. Obviously waterlilies are a great delicacy for beavers.
A cool treat on the kayak
While I floated there in my kayak listening to beaver dinner, my peripheral vision picked up movement to my left. I looked up and saw a large bird disappearing very low near the water behind one of the neighboring islands. My immediate thought was, “great blue heron." A minute or so later the bird came circling out from behind the other side of the island at the water line. Bald eagle! In its talons was a large fish. It flapped to gain altitude with its large catch and circled so quickly around and behind the island there was no time to focus my camera and snap any photos. Those images are to be preserved only in my memory. There are several nesting bald eagles in the region and a couple on the Saranac chain of lakes. I won’t reveal the specific nest locations, but sightings on the Saranacs are frequent. I was lucky enough to have two sightings over the weekend. The other was while we were cruising along on the river past the boat launch. We spotted one sitting high atop a dead snag at the edge of the river. It sat for awhile as we watched it and then it took off and flew low and right over our heads, its sweeping 6 foot wing span a magnificent image that never ceases to bring goose bumps. It soared around above us going higher and higher for quite some time before disappearing into the haze.
We planned well by reserving the site for three nights but actually only camped on it two nights. We booked the last night so that we could stay and enjoy the island all day Sunday but leave later. Otherwise we’d have had to pack up and leave by 11 a.m., the checkout time at most DEC campgrounds. I can’t say DEC approves of this reservation strategy, but that’s what we do and I suspect many others do as well. For just $22 a night, it’s worth the extra night fee for us to be able to enjoy another entire day of activities and leave in the late afternoon.
As our camping weekend drew to a close I reflected again on the amazing beauty surrounding us here in the Adirondacks. We all need to take advantage of every opportunity to immerse ourselves in nature. It is both refreshing and revitalizing spending time completely unplugged and in the midst of such beauty. Check out our camping pages for complete Saranac Lake Region camping information. To book sites at Saranac Lakes campground visit ReserveAmerica.com. Find some cool places to paddle on our canoe and kayak page.