July 11, 2018
It’s been a wonderfully warm, sunny summer in the Adirondacks, and there’s no better place to be than in the water. Saranac Lake doesn’t quite have the deep, mountain-stream pools synonymous with swimming holes, but there are some fantastic spots with rocky shores or sandy beaches to hit up when the mercury climbs. Check out our five favorites below, then head into town and ask one of our local outfitters to point you toward more.
1. Middle Saranac Lake
If you’re up for it, this idyllic swimming destination is best paired with a hike up Ampersand Mountain, one of the Saranac Lake 6ers. What’s a 6er? It’s one of the six mountains near Saranac Lake, all of which are required climbs for earning the coveted Saranac Lake 6er patch.
It takes a stiff climb to summit Ampersand, so you’ll definitely work up a sweat reaching the amazing 360-degree panorama on the summit. Before you head back to town, take the path to Middle Saranac Lake that’s located at the back of the parking area. You might not feel like another hike after climbing a mountain, but this level, half-mile trail is more nature walk than mountain scramble. In no time at all you’ll be at the long, sandy beach — toss your boots and socks aside and enjoy feeling the sand between your toes. Even without the hike, this is a great place to visit, especially for families since the water is shallow for quite a ways out. Venture far enough and you’ll see Ampersand behind you, towering over the treetops.
From downtown Saranac Lake, take Route 3 west for about 8.5 miles and look for the Ampersand Mountain parking area on the right. The trail for the beach starts at the back of the parking area — there's a large wooden sign that's impossible to miss. The trail for Ampersand Mountain is across the road.
2. Moose Pond
There are two ways to get to Moose Pond, and there are plenty of rock outcrops to lounge on while you’re there. The moat direct access to the water is via the state boat launch. If you have a canoe or kayak it’s a breeze launching from the large parking area. If you’re on foot, simply take either path along the shore and you’ll be someplace awesome in no time. Right leads to a campsite and a large rock that slopes down into the water, left goes to a peninsula where there’s also a campsite and numerous rock outcrop areas to swim from.
For an extended adventure, take the path that starts on Route 3, about a five-minute drive from downtown. From the road you'll walk down the driveway, being sure to respect the landowner’s property, then cross a metal bridge over the Saranac River to reach the trailhead. From there it’s a steady but gradual climb that ends in a brief downhill to the shore of Moose Pond. There’s a perfect swimming spot straight ahead with a commanding view of Whiteface Mountain; head left and follow the shore to find more.
Boat launch: From downtown Saranac Lake, head east on Route 3. In 6.5 miles, turn right at the four-way intersection to stay on Route 3, cross the bridge, then take the first right after the bridge onto River Road. After 1.5 miles, turn right on Moose Pond Road and follow that to its end in another 1.5 miles.
Route 3 trailhead: From downtown Saranac Lake, head east on Route 3. After about 4 miles there's a large quarry on the left. Just after that, on the right, there's room to pull off on the shoulder of the road followed by a dirt driveway. Park on the road and head down the driveway, toward the river.
3. Lake Colby
Looking for easy water access without leaving town? Head to the beach on Lake Colby! Pull off the road and you can be in the water in seconds. This is a real beach in the mountains, complete with lifeguards, bathrooms, picnic tables, and a fire pit. It's also a great place for paddling and fishing.
If you're in Saranac Lake, you don't have to travel far. Simply take Route 86 toward Paul Smith's and you'll see the beach on the left, just as you're leaving town.
4. Lake Clear Beach
A little more out of the way than Lake Colby, Lake Clear beach is a beautiful swimming area that feels remote even though it’s right off the road. Pine trees line the long, sandy beach and some spots along the water are framed by trees, offering a sense of seclusion from other beachgoers. Stick around until evening and you'll likely be serenaded by the local loons.
From Saranac Lake take Route 86 west toward Paul Smith's, turn left on Route 186 after about 4.5 miles, then turn right on Lake Colby Drive after 1.2 miles. The parking area is on the left — follow the short path through the woods to reach the beach.
5. Bluff Island
Bluff Island is an epic adventure, and journeying to it is a great way to spend the day. Paddling is the only way to get there, with the most direct route being from the Saranac Lake Islands public boat launch on Route 3. From the launch, head left to follow this wide, gentle stretch of the Saranac River as it winds through lovely woods before entering the lake. Be aware that Lower Saranac is a large body of water and motorized boats are usually on the water, so if dealing with waves and wakes isn’t your thing take a right out of the boat launch and head downriver instead, where there are a couple of rock outcrops to swim from.
Once on Lower Saranac, make a beeline straight across the open expanse to reach Bluff Island. The paddle on the lake only takes 20 minutes or so, and the island’s enormous, 60-foot cliff is impossible to miss. The most accessible picnic spot is on a small peninsula to the right of the cliff as you’re looking at it from the water. If that’s occupied, continue around the island and you’ll find several more spots, including one with a gigantic slab of rock that slopes into the water — it’s a great spot for swimming. If you’re feeling adventurous, follow one of the many paths leading to the top of the cliff for great views that include Ampersand, McKenzie, and Whiteface mountains.
From downtown Saranac Lake, take Route 3 west for about 4.5 miles and you'll see the huge state boat launch parking area on the left, immediately after a bridge.