March 24, 2023
Saranac Lake is called Saranac Lake for a reason. There are three lakes the village of Saranac Lake gets its name from – Upper, Middle, and Lower – all of which are connected by the Saranac River, which flows right through downtown. There are even more paddling opportunities if you venture beyond downtown. With so many places to explore, it would take days, if not weeks, to explore all the paddling possibilities in the area. For those looking to fully immerse themselves in a paddling adventure, consider hiring a licensed guide. As an outdoor guide myself, for the last decade, I can tell you that I hire a guide whenever I travel. Let me share a personal story that explains why.
A lesson learned
Several years ago, I was sitting in my hotel and planning how I'd spend my time at Angkor Wat, a Hindu-Buddhist temple complex in Cambodia. Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious structures in the world and is a famed UNESCO World Heritage Site. I had been guiding internationally for years and thoroughly researched the area, so I didn't feel like I needed to pay for a guide to show me around.
The next day, I planned to get to the site at 5:30 am to experience the storied sunrise there. A guide would have told me that I needed to get there half an hour earlier to get ahead of the crowds. Sure, 30 minutes doesn't sound like much, but it would have completely changed my experience. I made it just in time to see the sunrise, but I was so out of breath from running to get there that I hardly enjoyed it.
After sunrise, I had to decide which of the 72 temples I would explore. It didn't take long for me to notice small guided tours walking purposely through the main temple's walls. Local guides shared inspiring stories about how the complex was built and the symbology behind the carvings and other architectural elements. I found myself stopping near these tour groups, hoping to overhear something that might help me understand what I was looking at. Then it hit me; I was completely missing out on all the stories and details that make Angkor Wat one of the wonders of the world. The lesson was I should have hired a guide. Since that day, I have learned from my mistakes. Whenever I travel, I don't hesitate to hire a guide, even if it's for an afternoon. After all, guides help us discover the beauty and magic of a place. If that isn't money well spent, I don't know what is. If I still haven't convinced you, here are four more reasons why you should hire a guide.
4 reasons to hire a guide
Gain a new understanding of the area
Guides are knowledgeable about the local area. From history to flora and fauna, guides can impart knowledge beyond an itinerary on the water that will dramatically enhance your experience. You may be interested in what type of bird is flying overhead or what the purple aquatic herb is that is so ubiquitous on Adirondack lakes; hint, it's called pickleweed.
- A guide can take you to places off the beaten path
Even if you spend hours searching on the Internet or reading various guidebooks, you may not know about a hidden pond with a pair of loons or a spectacular campsite that offers sunset views. An experienced guide can take you to places frequented by locals that the rest of the world doesn’t know about.
- Don't worry about the details
Guides take care of everything. They will pack your gear, ready the boats, plan the best route according to the weather, and make the best game plan for the day. Hiring a guide allows you to relax and enjoy the moment without having to worry about navigating or making plans.
- Learn how to paddle and improve your skills
Guides from local outfitters are masters of their craft and can teach you how to paddle if you don't know how. If you already have some paddling skills, you can improve your skills further, so think of a guide as your own personal coach.
Guided Paddling Experiences
Saranac Lake offers a wide range of guided services from paddling to hiking, hunting and fishing, wildlife identification, and conservation education. Here are some outfitters to get you started.
- MAC'S Canoe Livery - MAC'S Canoe Livery is a family-owned and operated outdoor adventure business that provides canoe and kayak rentals, guided and self-guided treks, and specialty programming. The canoe livery is located on the edge of the St. Regis Canoe Wilderness Area in the heart of the Adirondack Park, about 10 miles from the village of Saranac Lake.
- Guide ADK - Guide ADK is a four-season outfit that offers hiking, camping, climbing, paddling, and a wide variety of winter sports to people of all ages and experience levels. Choose from half-day, full-day, and multi-day options to create the perfect itinerary.
- Adirondack Lakes & Trails - Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters (ALTO) is a full-service rental and paddling shop with easy access to Lake Flower. ALTO has over 20 years of guiding and instruction experience and they can also help you purchase the right equipment from canoes, kayaks, SUPS, paddles, PFDs, and other outdoor supplies.
- St. Regis Canoe Outfitters - St. Regis Canoe Outfitters is a family-owned paddling outfitter that has been operating since 1984. Their shop is located in the village right on the Saranac River and they also have an outpost on Floodwood Pond at the edge of the St. Regis Canoe Wilderness.
Other educational experiences
- The Paul Smith’s College VIC offers a lot of wonderful guided experiences in the spring and summer from bird and mushroom walks to other plant identification hikes, and guided paddling trips. Check their events calendar to see their current offerings.
- Are you fascinated by the haunting call of a loon on an Adirondack lake? If your answer is yes, then stop by the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation (ACLC), where you can explore interactive exhibits and learn about loon natural history, behavior, and conservation. They also offer educational guided trips and loon photography workshops, and they know the best places to find loons.
- June brings Celebrate Paddling ADK, a month-long festival that features lectures, historical discussions, a river cleanup, and other paddling activities. Celebrate Paddling ADK is a great way to kick off the paddling season.
- The Adirondack Paddling Symposium is a comprehensive weekend of paddling instruction for beginner and intermediate paddlers. Come build your paddling skills and sign-up for the symposium on June 16-19.
- Sign-up for this year's Adirondack Canoe Classic, also known as "The 90 Miler," taking place from September 8-10. The annual 3-day event has been an Adirondack tradition for the last three decades and takes paddles from Old Forge, NY to Saranac Lake, NY, the first 90 miles of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.
This paddling season, I encourage you to hire a guide and get to know Saranac Lake on an even deeper level. You will leave with a whole new understanding of the local area and explore places you might not have otherwise known about.