March 13, 2019
Last spring I was invited to take a much-overdue trip up the Saranac River from from Lake Flower to Kiwassa Lake for some family-fun activities on the water. I jumped at the opportunity since I hadn’t been on a boat trip on the Saranacs in years — that's way too long!
We loaded up the coolers, towels, kids gear, and adult gear, and headed out on Lake Flower. Our destination was Kiwassa Lake, but my personal mission was to photograph a bald eagle. Bald eagles have been nesting in the Saranac Chain of Lakes area for many years, and they have become a common sight along our route.
It was a partially overcast day, but beautiful nonetheless. It’s always beautiful on the water in the Adirondacks, rain or shine. We cruised slowly along Lake Flower and entered the Saranac River, which starts at Upper Saranac Lake then passes through Middle Saranac Lake, Lower Saranac, and Oseetah Lake, turning into the section of river we now found ourselves on.
This is a phenomenal boat trip if you’ve never done it. There are two sets of locks between Lake Flower and Middle Saranac Lake, with the route passing through Oseetah and Lower Saranac Lakes along the way. The river is not navigable between Middle and Upper. Kiwassa Lake lies northwest of Oseetah Lake via a 0.8-mile waterway. One can make an all day excursion of the trip through both locks and into Middle Saranac, where you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic and large sandy beach. Paddling is also a great way to travel this route, with several canoe/kayak launch areas such as Middle Saranac on Route 3, Lower Saranac's Second Pond launch, also on Route 3, and the launches at Kiwassa and Lake Flower (see launch information link below).
To Oseetah and beyond
Our trip that day was shorter and took us through a section of the Saranac River, where lots of homes are located. There are some sections and islands that are obviously not accessible by road year round, so are occupied only during the months the waterway is ice free. Passing out of the river, Oseetah Lake opened up in its vast expanse, where I was hoping to spot that eagle. No such luck. Continuing on through the waterway into Kiwassa, we spotted a great blue heron gliding along just above the waterline at the shore. We also spotted some painted turtles basking on logs. Still no eagle.
Kiwassa Lake is dotted with many homes along the east and northeast shorelines. The rest of the shore is owned by New York state and is part of the Forest Preserve. There is one state-owned campsite on the southwest shore, which happens to be one of my favorite campsites. A sloping rock shoreline on one side makes for great sunning and swimming, and a sandy beach on the other side makes it easy to bring in a boat for easy access. Kiwassa is also a very quiet lake, allowing for great swimming and water sports without a lot of traffic.
Time for tubing!
We beached one boat at the surprisingly unoccupied campsite. The kids went tubing with the other boat and the rest of us adults who were not occupied with either driving the boat, spotting for the tubers, or lounging on the rocks.
While sitting on the shore we were rewarded by a common loon chick suddenly appearing directly in front of us about 100 yards out on the water. The chicks this time of year are about 75% of adult size, and still have the steel gray feathers of the juveniles. This chick was alone. Shortly thereafter we caught a glimpse of one of the parents several hundred yards away. They slowly glided toward each other and the little one played some juvenile games with its parent for a few minutes before they both headed off across the lake. It was not a bald eagle, but it was still pretty great. This was a special moment to witness — another family having fun! Still, no eagles were spotted.
After the kids wore themselves out tubing and swimming, we reluctantly loaded up and headed back to Lake Flower. We passed a lot of families boating up and down the river, headed to and from an afternoon of family fun on the Saranac Chain of Lakes. Sadly, my quest for the bald eagle was not to be realized that day. We didn't spot a single one the whole afternoon.
Boat rentals are readily available on Lake Flower and also on Lower Saranac Lake at several marinas. Boat launches are available at both the accesses to Lower Saranac Lake and Lake Flower. If you don't have a power boat, paddling this stretch is a great option too! I've done it many times.