Each year, as the snows of winter add volume to our Adirondack lakes and we inch closer to summer, I eagerly wait on the shore with my canoe. When I lived lakeside, checking to see if there was still ice was part of my morning routine. The day after the lake completely opened up, I’d hear Common Loons return, their eerie yodels signaling to me it was time to get my canoe in the water. Paddling is a great activity in the spring, especially if you are prepared for the conditions. The water, still ice cold, may be inviting, but it’s important to properly prepare for a trip in a boat this early in the season. But for those who are ready, a spring paddle is just what the Adirondack doctor ordered to cure any lingering winter blues.
Fashion. Ever heard of it?
I don’t know the best way to describe my fashion sense. Maybe “tired,” “recycled,” or “flannel” are the best words here. When it comes to spring paddling, looking cute for Instagram photos should not be a priority. High fashion is thrown out the window in favor of safety. Remember, the lakes are cold. Dress for the temperature of the water, not the temperature of the air. Tipping over in a canoe is never fun, but it does happen sometimes. Capsizing in these cold spring waters can present hazardous, sometimes fatal, conditions and hypothermia becomes a serious risk. A dry suit is a great option. For paddlers over the age of 12, a left vest or PFD has to be in the vessel at all times, but must be worn from November 1 to May 1. Children under the age of 12 must always wear a PFD when paddling. While a PFD might be awkward to wear at times, it could save your life.
Up the lake we go
You know when you go somewhere on vacation and you hear locals use phrases that mean nothing to you, but, to them, everything makes perfect sense? “Up the lake” might be a Saranac Lake version of that. One of my favorite springtime paddles is kayaking up the lake; that is, paddling from Lake Flower in town to Oseetah Lake, and beyond. Yes, I do love the remote opportunities in the St. Regis Canoe Area, but, in spring, this route speaks to me more.
In summer, when kids are out of school and vacations are in full swing, the lake can get busy. It’s then that I find myself putting the canoe on top of my car and heading into the wilderness. But in spring, the lake in town is generally quiet. There are not many motorboats on the water yet and it’s a different, peaceful experience. Plus, a lot of the aquatic vegetation hasn’t grown in, so you can go almost anywhere without getting your paddles tangled in the “weeds.”
Besides paddling, birding is another of my favorite springtime activities. Paddling from town to Oseetah affords the opportunity to see lots of migrating duck species, like Buffleheads. These ducks generally prefer an environment that is quiet and relaxed. Common Loons, Belted Kingfishers, and Bald Eagles might also be sighted on this trip as they return to the thawed lakes. (Wildlife viewing pro tip: keep your distance and use binoculars!) On days when the wind is low, the lake is perfectly calm and, without leaves on the trees, it seems like paddling in a different world. It's almost like the world is still shaking off its winter slumber and still waking up. (In other words, it's 7:30 a.m. and the world is still on its first cup of coffee, and not ready for the crazy day ahead.)
If you don’t want to go up the lake, check out Lake Colby. It’s also right in town, and has excellent birding opportunities, too! (I’m a big fan of combined activities if you can’t tell.) Or explore the Saranac River, which flows right from downtown. If you’re unsure where to start, head to local outfitters for rentals, route suggestions or guided trips, and the latest gear! The knowledgeable staff at St. Regis Canoe Outfitters, Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters, and Mac’s Canoe Livery are amazingly helpful.
Celebrate Adirondack paddling
Saranac Lake, and much of the Adirondacks, has right-out-your-backdoor paddling abundance. As we head into summer, when paddling season really kicks into high gear, several outfitters and organizations around town have teamed up to offer a variety of paddling-related activities and events in June. Celebrate Paddling ADK is a month-long (yes, you read that right) festival that celebrates all things paddling: lessons, guided trips, lectures, group discussions, river cleanups, and all sorts of paddling fun.
Whether you want to visit Saranac Lake in June to celebrate paddling, or earlier in the spring, there’s a comfortable bed at a wide variety of hotels, motels, and cozy cabins. Paddling is fun, but it can be exhausting, especially if you’re in the sun! Rest up so you can paddle the next day, too!