Alpha Guide: The Seven Carries Canoe Route

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Follow in the footsteps and paddle strokes of guideboats and their passengers through some of the Adirondacks’ most pristine and historic wilderness lakes.

The Adirondacks’ St. Regis Canoe Area includes some of the Northeast’s most pristine paddling opportunities. Enough waterways and canoe carries connect this massive expanse of lakes, letting paddlers explore and enjoy them for days on end. But, as one of the area’s most classic routes, Seven Carries takes you through a variety of wilderness ponds and wildlife habitats, giving you a great taste of everything this area has to offer.

The Seven Carries route was originally created as a transport route between the Saranac Inn, which has since burned down, and Paul Smith’s Hotel, now known as Paul Smith’s College. Now the route only has six carries and takes paddlers through three lakes and seven ponds. This one-way trip can be done in either direction and requires two cars. Although the route is a relatively short nine miles, some paddlers will want to turn it into an overnight trip to enjoy one of the many quiet, waterfront campsites on St. Regis Pond.

Quick Facts

Distance: 9 miles, one-way
Time to Complete: Half to full day for most.
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/70572.html

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Turn-By-Turn

This one-way route can be paddled in either direction. For planning, it requires two cars, a shuttle trip, or even a simple 10-mile bike ride from one end to the other. The southern end is at the Little Clear Pond boat launch off Fish Hatchery Rd. in Saranac Lake (44.355377, -74.292138). The northern point is at the Paul Smith’s College campus (44.438584, -74.252560).

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Pond Hopping

Little Clear Pond is a great way to start this trip. This hatchery pond does not allow fishing or camping, so you can enjoy a serene 1.5-mile paddle that takes you past small islands, where you can keep your eyes out for fish feeding on insects on the water’s surface. The abundance of fish also attracts loons, which may randomly resurface from underwater fishing excursions just about anywhere. If you are hoping to get a picture of a loon, this is a great spot to have your camera ready.

As a note, the shoreline is lined with “No Camping” signs. So, trust your map to take you to the proper carry to get to St. Regis Pond, instead of heading toward any distant sign. For each carry, a sign tells you which pond it will take you to, so make sure you’re on the correct trail before you unload.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

At 0.6 miles, the carry (44.371689, -74.298986) from Little Clear to St. Regis Pond is the longest of all the carries. Well marked and defined, the trail begins with a short uphill climb. So, if you overpacked your boat, you may begin to regret some of that extra gear. To start the next paddle, follow the trail to an old boardwalk or dock, which will help keep you out of the mud.

Fitting with the carry to it, St. Regis Pond is the trip’s largest, although the most direct route to the next carry is a 1.2-mile paddle. The pond, which offers a terrific view of St. Regis Mountain and its fire tower, is lined with waterfront campsites along the outer shoreline. As well, the large island in the lake’s eastern part has a campsite that’s a bit more unique.

Many paddlers choose to make camp here for a night, or will even basecamp for a few days while taking paddle day trips elsewhere. Because of the difficult access, Ochre Pond, the Fish Ponds, and Grass Pond are even more adventurous and secluded than the Seven Carries. Regardless of which site you pitch your tent, the air will be filled with nothing but the sounds of water lapping on the shoreline and loons calling to each other.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The carry-over to Green Pond begins on the eastern end of St. Regis Pond (44.382231, -74.301641). The clear and well-traveled trail is short and sweet (110 yards), and is a nice change from the first carry.

The first thing you will notice about Green Pond, assuming you are paddling in the spring or summer, is just how green the water appears to be, hence the name. The lush forest and small pond reflect the foliage intensely, thus giving the water a deep green hue. However, be careful not to take out at the wrong spot and portage back to Little Clear Pond. Rather, the correct portage is located at the pond’s northeastern corner (44.384037, -74.296923). A short 250-yard carry over a small hump gets you to the next paddle at Little Long Pond.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

This one-mile paddle takes you through the winding pond waters, and you will easily see how it got its name. There are also a few campsites here to settle on, if you decided against staying at an earlier spot. The campsite on the pond’s northern end has a great south-facing view of the open water and is sure to get lots of sunlight. For the interest of fishermen, this pond is also regularly stocked with brook trout, rainbow trout, and the popular hybrid, splake.

The carry (44.394463, -74.288661) from Little Long Pond to Bear Pond is short and sweet at 250 yards.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Exiting the St. Regis Canoe Area

Paddling into Bear Pond is also exiting the protected St. Regis Canoe Area, though it is difficult to tell. The most obvious sign is a very inviting campsite on a small peninsula in the center of the lake, which is unfortunately on private property. This 0.4-mile paddle cuts through the lake to the northeastern corner for the carry to the final pond.

The carry (44.399940, -74.284146) from Bear to Bog Pond is super short (less than 50 yards) and all downhill. In fact, you can see the water from Bear Pond seeping through the ground at the end of the trail and flowing into Bog Pond.

Bog Pond is the smallest of all the paddles. You may feel motivated to get through it quickly to get away from the bugs, but this amazing little pond has created its own ecosystem full of floating islands, tiny flowers, and carnivorous pitcher plants. It’s worth taking a few extra moments to observe and enjoy this incredibly unique little body of water.

The final 50-yard carry (44.400487, -74.280465) leads from here to Upper St. Regis Lake. The setting changes from raw wilderness to large open lakes with historic camps along the shores. This will also be the start of the trip’s longest paddle leg.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Wide Open Lakes

Paddling onto Upper St. Regis Lake, you can immediately tell the difference between it and the ponds you’ve been spending time in. To keep your wits about you, avoid any passing motorboats as you put into the lake. After launching your boat, keep the large Birch Island to your right side. Then, pass the island, and head NNE, which will lead you to a small, almost hidden waterway between some shoreline camps that connects to Spitfire Lake. Though this is the most direct route, being on the water allows you to see some of the Historic Adirondack Great Camps up close and appreciate the preserved North Country architecture.

Cross Spitfire Lake to the northeast, but look to the west to find St. Regis Mountain again, which was north of you earlier in the trip. Continue to the lake’s northeastern corner to access the thin and winding water passage that will lead you to Lower St. Regis Lake. Here, keep your eyes peeled for hunting birds of prey, such as hawks and bald eagles.

At the entrance of Lower St. Regis Lake, you can see the end of the trip across the water, at the site of the historic Paul Smith’s Hotel. Lower St. Regis Lake has far fewer structures along its shoreline, thus giving the college campus an even grander presence. The lake crossing is a bit farther than it looks, especially with your tired arms and a head wind. But, the calm shoreline is a welcoming finish to this classic canoe trip.


Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Kit

  • There are endless boat options for this trip. The best one is what you already have, but if you are looking for something new, the Perception Carolina 12 provides plenty of storage and stability. The longer length helps you glide easily through the water and save your energy for the carries.
  • The Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon Paddle has a blade designed for flat water tours, like the Seven Carries, and provides a smooth stroke. The carbon fiber-reinforced blade and pure carbon fiber shaft help save weight and keep your arms fresh all day long.
  • The NRS cVest PFD has plenty of pockets and storage to keep your camera and snacks handy during long tours. As well, the mesh back will be more comfortable while you lean back on the kayak seat.
  • The SealLine Boundary Pack has plenty of room to keep all of your camping gear dry while you’re out on the water. The integrated shoulder straps make carrying the pack much easier during the portages, as well.
  • There’s nothing worse than trying to relax at camp in the Adirondacks while being swarmed by black flies. Beforehand, treat your clothing and gear with some insect repellent, like Ben’s Clothing and Gear Insect Repellent, to keep the bugs at bay. The permethrin is odorless, and one application to your clothing will last for weeks. As such, you can spend time enjoying the ponds, instead of swatting mosquitoes and smelling like chemicals.
  • A day out on the water can give you a pretty good sunburn, even if it’s overcast. So, apply Sawyer’s Stay-Put Sunscreen to prevent yourself from looking like a lobster the next day. This sunblock is waterproof, which helps while you are paddling, and is easily packable, so you won’t have to think twice about bringing one extra piece of gear.
  • Try as hard as you like, but you will still get wet feet on this trip. Instead of dealing with soggy socks, wear a pair of Merrell All Out Blaze Sieve Shoes. These let your feet drain without compromising stability and traction on the trails.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Keys to the Trip

  • If you’ve never done a portage before, you will be an expert by the time you finish this trip. In any case, it helps to brush up on your portaging skills with some handy tips.
  • All of the ponds on this trip are pretty calm. However, the three larger lakes have a different temperament if things get windy, and on the St. Regis Lakes, the waves can be exacerbated by powerboat wakes. Make sure that you’re prepared to handle rough waters if the need arises, such as keeping your bow pointed into the waves and having a bailer at the ready to empty any water that may have splashed in.
  • In spring or fall, the water temperatures may be surprisingly cold. As a result, an unintended capsize or submersion becomes dangerous quickly. It’s a good idea to always keep your life vest on, even though it may seem like a harmless and easy paddle.
  • For pre- or post-paddle grub, nearby Saranac Lake has plenty of options. A personal favorite is the Blue Moon Cafe. A laid-back atmosphere and delicious food and coffee make this place a must-do.

Current Conditions

Have you paddled the Seven Carries recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!