My favorite place to be has always been on the water. Sure, mountains offer a great trip and spectacular views from above. But being on the water is an experience unique unto itself. Each pond or lake is a ‘valley’ which gives you a new perspective on the woods that surround it. Far enough away from the tree line to take in the view, but close enough to still notice the smaller things. I love being on the water, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no better time than fall for paddling! The weather is usually mild, the water is crystal clear, and of course the leaves!
My friends Max and Andrea were in town for the weekend and we were looking for something cool to do while we caught up. So, we loaded up the canoes and headed for Polliwog Pond just a couple miles down the road from where we all grew up. Our goal for the day was to do a version of the ‘Floodwood Loop.’ This area, just east of Fish Creek State Campground and Rollins Pond State Campground is a favorite of campers, day trippers, and families.
The ponds give you numerous points to start your paddle and multiple options to shorten or lengthen the trip depending on your time and ability. Our route would take us through Polliwog, Middle, Floodwood, Little Square, Fish Creek, Follensby Clear, Horseshoe, and Little Polliwog ponds; one of the longer versions of the route and a full day of leisurely paddling. If you’re doing this as part of a multi-day paddle and the campground isn’t your thing, there are numerous primitive sites scattered throughout these ponds. In the summer it’s a mad dash to claim a good site as they’re all first-come, first-serve, but this time of year it’s not too hard to snag a cool spot!
We started the day at 9 a.m. at Polliwog Pond. There are easier access points such as Follensby Clear Boat Launch, but we had time considerations that led us to start here. This pond is accessed by Floodwood Road, an unpaved gravel road which takes you deep into these secluded ponds. It was a cool morning but after unloading the boats we were warmed up and ready to go.
A sidebar here that I can't help but share. I grew up paddling in the Adirondacks and learned the ins and outs of being on the water from my time in the Scouts. We had a song we used to keep a steady and consistent stroke while paddling. Beautifully simple and relaxing. To this day, you can't put a paddle in my hand and not have me start humming it to myself:
Our paddles keen and bright,
Flashing like silver;
Swift as the wild goose flight,
Dip, dip, and swing.
Dip, dip, and swing them back,
Flashing like silver;
Swift as the wild goose flight,
Dip, dip and swing.
Sure enough, two minutes into this trip I was humming away. Try it sometime, using your paddle stroke as the beat!
But I digress, back to the trip! Our first carry of the day was between Polliwog Pond and Middle Pond. It's relatively flat, but at .5 miles this was the longest carry of the day. We were packing a 65 pound aluminum canoe and 40 pound solo canoe, not exactly light, or equipped with yokes. Although none of these carries were terribly difficult, I would recommend a lightweight canoe, a good yoke, or wheels on your boat.
Reaching the far end of the Middle Pond we were onto our second (and second longest) carry of the day between Middle and Floodwood. Floodwood Pond is one of the larger ponds on this route offering a number of smaller bays and numerous campsites. Here we were reminded of the number one rule of paddling: Always have a map! Or in our case, bother to take the map out and look at it. Our route should have taken us straight across the short end of the pond from north to south, but instead we paddled half a mile west on Floodwood Pond to the far end before we realized our mistake. An extra half-hour of paddling…there are worse punishments.
Finally back on course we headed into what is one of my favorite stretches of water in the entire park. Floodwood stream flows all the way from Floodwood Pond, through Little Square Pond, and eventually to Fish Creek Pond. This several-mile-stretch ranges from a couple inches to a couple feet deep and 20 to 40 feet from bank to bank, and is more or less completely navigable by canoe going either direction.
Halfway down the stream you come out into Little Square Pond which opens up to your right, but we stuck on course and caught the stream on the south side of the Pond. The southern portion of the stream opens up a bit more and offered some more great views of the beginning fall colors in addition to a chance to explore some classic Adirondack marshland. I wouldn’t recommend getting out of the boat anywhere on the marsh but it’s fun to paddle alongside and see whats going on.
After several miles the Floodwood stream opens up into Fish Creek Ponds. A large collection of ponds consisting almost entirely of the New York State Campground. In the summer you'lll find the campground full to capacity with lots of motorboats most days. But this time of year it's calm waters and relaxed campers!
If you felt like heading to Upper Saranac, there’s a stream that heads from here to the ‘Big Lake,’ but our route took us to the far northern end of the pond and up Spider Creek. At only a few inches deep and with beaver dams partially blocking the stream, you may or may not have to get out and walk a few small sections of the creek before it opens up in to Follensby Clear Pond.
Follensby is the biggest pond on this entire loop, and my favorite. The extensive curved shoreline and islands give you a lot of area to explore. I’m not much of a fisherman, but I hear these waters are particularly good for fishing for perch in the summer.
The more popular route from Follensby is to head to the north end of the lake and carry to Polliwog, but we decided to extend our trip with three very short carries to hit Horseshoe Pond and Little Polliwog Pond before heading back to (big) Polliwog, our start and end point. Smaller and less traveled, you can really soak up the silence and beauty of the wilderness here. These little ponds really exemplify fall perfection in the the Adirondacks!
Tired and happy, we headed back to Polliwog and our take-out for the day. All told we hit eight ponds and went just over ten miles in about seven hours. A good day!