Explore Follensby Clear Pond By Canoe

As the days grow longer, the temperature rises, and frozen lakes and ponds return to their liquid state, the serene waters of the Adirondack Mountains beckon the outdoor adventurer to stow away their snowshoes and skis and break out a canoe or kayak for long sunny days of aquatic exploration. Home to over 3,000 lakes and ponds (including classics like the Seven Carries), a paddling destination suited for every taste can be found in the vast Adirondack Park, but for a fine introduction to what backcountry canoe camping in the Adirondacks is all about, head to Follensby Clear Pond in the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest.

Credit: Joey Priola

Finding Camp

While small enough (roughly 1.5 miles from end to end) to explore in a day, the beautiful waterfront campsites, plentiful wildlife, and options for further exploration make Follensby Clear an ideal basecamp to call home for a few days. After launching from the parking area at the south end of Follensby Clear Pond on State Route 30 (where a dock facilitates the loading and unloading of boats), glide through the placid waters as you bid adieu to civilization. Trace the sinuous shoreline, keeping an eye out for herons hunting in the shallows, and scout out the numerous campsites that pepper the shore. Note: The DEC periodically closes campsites and builds new ones in popular locations such as Follensby Clear, so give the regional DEC office a call ahead of time to find out the most up to date status. Contact info and other details and regulations can be found at the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest DEC website.

While the closest campsites are a mere stone’s throw from the parking lot, press on to the quieter northern half of the lake to avoid most of the day-tripper traffic and to discover primo island campsites (including one of the only lean-tos in the area) as well as a large and beautiful campsite on a peninsula that extends from the western shore in the north end of the pond. All campsites are first come, first served and have an outhouse or open-air “thunderbox” as well as a fire ring, but no picnic table or food storage lockers. While bear canisters aren’t necessarily required in the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, they’re highly recommended to avoid having pesky rodents and raccoons getting into your food bag, even if it has been expertly hung.

Credit: Joey Priola

Side Trips

Once camp is established, spend your days either lounging around camp or heading out to some of the enticing destinations that make for perfect daytrips from camp.

Horseshoe and Polliwog Pond

For a half-day loop that visits three additional ponds and has very short portages, find the portage trail on the west side of Follensby Clear, located about midway up the pond and just southwest of the island that has the lean-to campsite. Take the short portage trail down to the landing at the eastern corner of lovely Horseshoe Pond and explore the interesting peninsula (complete with a killer campsite) that can be seen across the pond from the landing. After enjoying the solitude of Horseshoe Pond, paddle to the northwest corner of the pond to make the short portage to small and boggy Little Polliwog Pond. The portage trail intersects with the Horseshoe Pond Trail, which makes for a nice leg stretcher and heads north to Polliwog Pond or south back to Horseshoe Pond. Once on Little Polliwog Pond, paddle northeast to the downhill portage trail to much larger Polliwog Pond and take your time exploring Polliwog as you work your way to the northeast corner of the pond and the short portage trail back to Follensby Clear Pond.

Fish Creek Ponds to Upper Saranac Lake

For a longer, seven-plus mile excursion from Follensby Clear that’s best saved for a calm day, paddle back towards the launch site at the southern end of Follensby Clear and carefully work your way along the shallow creek that’s just east of the launch site and parking area. This creek section of the paddle is short but in late summer may require a wet carry through some shallow sections, so dress accordingly. After entering the east side of Fish Creek Ponds, head south to the channel that leads east to Fish Creek Bay on Upper Saranac Lake (be aware of motorboat traffic, particularly on summer weekends). Continue paddling east out of the bay, and if the weather is calm, continue to Buck Island and its interesting shoreline dotted with campsites and perfect picnic spots on sunny rock slabs. Return the way you came to arrive back at Follensby Clear.

Credit: Joey Priola

Whether the day has been spent paddling to distant waters or relaxing at camp, there’s no finer way to end a wonderful day on the water than by taking a dip and laying out in the sun to dry. As night approaches, light up a campfire and listen to it crackle as the haunting call of loons echoes across the lake, quite possibly the most Adirondack way to cap off an exhilarating day of paddling in the vast Adirondack wilderness.


Solitude in the Southeast: Paddling the Congaree River Blue Trail

After a year unlike any other, what you really need is a sandbar to yourself. What you need is a river you can’t rock hop across. What you need is a forest so dense that you can’t even see others nearby. Cue river trails, like the Congaree River Blue Trail in South Carolina for example. Wide enough to socially distance from start to finish, your chances of encountering crowds are slim while your chances of having a rivers-side campsite to yourself are high. But most importantly, the blue trail takes you to Congaree National Park, a pristine old growth forest set within 27,000 acres of isolation.

The author and her husband looking into Congaree National Park. | Credit: Carla Francis

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park didn’t exist 20 years ago. Sure, the virgin forest and its champion trees have been there forever, but it wasn’t until 2003 that the land was upgraded from a National Monument to a National Park. Twenty-seven thousand acres and the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the Southeast was preserved for you and me.

A 20 mile drive from South Carolina’s capital, Columbia, it’s an easy day trip by car. Schoolkids ride the big cheese out in the morning, attend a ranger-led program, and return to school before the bell rings. No knock on visiting by car—it’s free and the miles of boardwalk through the old growth forest immerse you into a primeval world of giant trees while protecting you from impaling yourself on a cypress knee. It’s good family-friendly fun if the Mosquito Meter is a 3 or below (levels 4 [severe], 5 [ruthless], and 6 [war zone] are to be avoided).

Checking the map on the Congaree River Blue Trail. | Credit: Carla Francis

The Congaree River Blue Trail

But the most adventurous way to access the park is by river, via the Congaree River Blue Trail. The launch point is in the capital city of Columbia but the takeout is in a different world, 50 miles downstream at the eastern boundary of Congaree National Park. A few outfitters offer shuttle service and gear rental, but if you know someone in town, try bribing them with Sushi Yoshi to shuttle your car to the takeout (with windows down and masks on).

Once you’re past the outskirts of Columbia you’re on your own; The next public bail point is about 47 miles downstream. Bring everything you need and know that drinking water from the Congaree is not recommended. The park itself is about 25 miles downstream, so the harder you paddle on the first day, the faster you’ll get there.

Most people overnight before entering the park, and luckily sandbars (aka campsites) pepper the length of the blue trail. Outside of the park, camping permits aren’t needed, giving the trip a “choose your own adventure” feel. This map shows all of the sandbars and has recommendations for keeping yourself safe and off of private land. The camping situation on the blue trail is one of the biggest perks—every night you have your own beach, a blazing fire, and what feels like your own riverside fiefdom. Just be sure to check the water level before setting out as all but a few larger sand bars will be underwater at around 10,000 cfs.

On my trip, taken in February to avoid mosquitoes, we traveled about 18 miles on our first day, anxious to get to the “good part.” Those first miles are decent; you’re out in the open enjoying the solitude and exercise, but you’re still passing through stretches of civilization. It’s not until you get closer to the park that things start to feel more remote, that the frog calls get a little louder, and that you start to feel like you’re out there.

Camping directly across the river from Congaree National Park. | Credit: Carla Francis

Beach Oasis

It’s a heady feeling visiting a new National Park, especially when you’re nearly alone to enjoy it. Around mile 25 when you come across an old access road next to a sandbar, you’ve arrived in Congaree National Park. Here, the blue trail meets the River Trail: It’s a 5-mile hike to the Visitors Center. Stretch your legs and experience one of the last remaining forests of its kind. Until about 150 years ago, 52 million acres of floodplain forest like this existed in the Southeastern US, most of which has since been lost to logging. Giant trees provide shade, which after a day or so on the river is a welcome reprieve.

For good reason, the park doesn’t allow backcountry campfires so we spent our second night on a sandbar across the river and downstream, out of the park boundary. From our perspectives, it felt equally remote but on the opposite side of the river from where we’d seen feral hog evidence while hiking. We spread out on the  “beach,” playing frisbee, reading, and as soon as sunset was on the horizon, building a fire from beach scraps. A barred owl called, asking the forest “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you alllll,” and as darkness settled in our headlamps began reflecting back at us in the eyes of raccoons.

Our campfire built and food secured against woodland creatures, we brought out the star chart. Even given its proximity to Columbia, the sky is much darker than most of America’s urban areas. We tried to identify the constellations that were rising from the park’s horizon: the Big Dipper, Taurus, Cassiopeia, and a lot of unknowns.

We woke in the morning to little hoof prints around camp—turns out feral hogs are on both sides of the river. Our last day was slow-moving as we didn’t have many miles to go but we wanted to enjoy the day. The left bank remained wild, and the right bank was mainly wild, but showed evidence of a local hangout or two. Even when we passed the Cedar Creek tributary, where paddlers who launch in the park spill into the Congaree, we didn’t see anyone.

Not too long later we arrived at the takeout, tanned, sandy, and planning our next river trip. And as always after visiting a national park, grateful to have visited one of our nation’s natural treasures.

Credit: Carla Francis

Escape the Leaf-Peeping Crowds by Boat and Boot at Indian Lake

Autumn is upon us, and the vast hardwood forests of the Northeast are putting on their annual show that rivals any natural spectacle in the world. While the fall season has always been a popular time for hikers and roadside tourists alike to get out and explore, larger crowds than usual are expected this fall due to COVID-19 and the fact that being outside is one of the safest ways to get away from home during these tough times. The Adirondack Mountains have long been a haven for stressed and overworked city dwellers to get back to nature, and unsurprisingly the ever-popular High Peaks region has been experiencing record visitation throughout the summer and early fall. Hoping to avoid the maddening crowds while simultaneously exploring a part of the Adirondacks that we had yet to properly experience, my wife, dog and I recently went on a canoe camping trip to Indian Lake that quickly became our all-time favorite camping trip.

Credit: Joey Priola

The Island Campground

Located in the Southern Adirondacks, approximately a 70-mile or 90-minute drive southwest from Lake Placid, Indian Lake is a 12-mile-long reservoir that runs southwest from the tiny town of Indian Lake. While not quite as wild (the west shore has some development) as some of the more remote ponds and lakes of the Adirondacks, Indian Lake still has a relatively remote feel to it, especially on the eastern shore which is largely Forest Preserve land. The lake is peppered with several rocky islands, ranging in size from nothing more than a few boulders to over 1,000 feet in length. The best thing about Indian Lake is that it possesses the Indian Lake Islands Campground, which consists of 55 campsites (each with a picnic table, an outhouse, and firepit) spread along the lakeshore and islands that can only be accessed via boat. Sites can be booked up to 9 months in advance, and while they’re incredibly popular during the summer, as the temperature begins to drop in the fall, so does the visitation.

Note: Due to COVID-19, the DEC and New York State Parks has temporarily lifted the 9-month reservation window restriction for camping at New York State Parks, including Indian Lake Islands, and bookings for 2021 are currently being accepted.

Credit: Joey Priola

Exploring Kirpens Island

While all of the campsites offer privacy and outstanding views, nothing can beat the experience of camping on your very own private island. Of the 55 campsites at Indian Lake, five of them are on an island with no other campsites. Of this handful of select sites, the most outstanding site might be campsite 2 on Kirpens Island, which offers several advantages compared to the other sites.

Situated due east from Indian Lake Marina, the campsite on Kirpens Island can be quickly accessed via a 20 to 30 minute, mile-long paddle if launching from the marina, as compared to the 8-mile-long paddle if starting from the access point and campground check-in center on the south end of the lake. Kirpens Island is also one of the largest islands on Indian Lake, with countless nooks and crannies along the shore to explore, as well as some informal trails that lead to the far reaches of the island from the camping area on the north side of the island. A number of smaller islands surround Kirpens and make interesting photography subjects, especially in the fall when the berry bushes, maples, and birches that are prevalent on the islands show off their fall colors.

The view from Baldface Mountain’s summit. | Credit: Joey Priola

Multi-Sport Adventure

What really sets Kirpens Island apart from the other sites at Indian Lake, though, is its proximity to the Baldface Mountain Trailhead. The trailhead is a quick five-minute paddle east from camp into a quiet bay and is only accessible by boat. This difficulty of access greatly minimizes the crowds, and on a beautiful Saturday with near-peak foliage conditions, we had the trail and summit all to ourselves. After beaching your boat on the shore near a large boulder marked with white paint, an easy 0.8-mile-long trail with red trail markers and 550 feet of elevation gain weaves through the forest before breaking out on a rocky ledge perched just above the treetops, with the long blue swath of Indian Lake and its islands spreading out in the distance. Fall views don’t get any better than this, as the predominantly hardwood forest that surrounds Indian Lake bursts with a vibrant array of red, orange, yellow, and purple in late September to early October. After enjoying the view from Baldface, head back down to the lake and explore the islands near Kirpens, marveling at the banded metamorphic bedrock that the islands consist of, which makes for fantastic photo opportunities.

Once back at camp, cap off a spectacular day of autumn exploration in complete solitude by watching the sun set over Indian Lake and Snowy Mountain from an open ledge high above the lake on the west side of the island, and perhaps raise a glass of your favorite beverage to toast your own private piece of autumn heaven.

Credit: Joey Priola

How to Find Secret Paddle-In Campsites

You know it when you’ve found it: a special and secluded campsite along the shore to spend a night at during a paddling trip. One where you won’t hear generators running late into the night or over-the-top camp setups, or find the amenities of a typical campground. The simplicity of a campsite only accessible by boat can isn’t appealing to everyone, but for those that do, the best sites stand out and are often returned to year after year. Most of these remote spots are quietly managed by National Forest or other public lands efforts. They’re treasures, part of which is discovering them. Which is why we can’t tell you where they are. But, we can give you some tools you can use to find them on your own.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

1. Pick up an atlas

In the age of digital media, one of the most effective ways to find backroads, campsites, and swim holes is still with an atlas or gazetteer. Familiarize yourself with the various symbols; often these campsites are designated with a square (“Point of Interest”), or tent symbol, not to be confused with that symbol for campground. If you already have a specific paddling trip in mind, like the Saranac River or Maine Isle Trail, a paper map designed for that trip should include smaller campsites that aren’t apart of a larger campground network.

2. Study Google Maps

It’s not going to show you private property boundaries but studying Google Earth is a great way to narrow down your search area away from vehicle-accessible areas. It’s easy to zoom in and download a certain spot to your phone so you can view it once you lose service. Look for coves, islands or other secluded spots along the water.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

3. Talk to locals

Some of the best spots are never written about on popular publications, and instead passed on by word of mouth. A good place to start is by heading into the local outfitter or rental shop. Explain that you’re looking for a remote waterside spot to spend the night (on the lake or river) and see what information they’re willing to give up. Some spots are kept pretty hush, but many folks will steer you in the right direction.

4.  Understand land management

Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service lands aren’t as prevalent in the Northeast compared to out west, but there are plenty of public lands maintained by other groups like the Maine North Woods. These areas often have the most strategically placed campsites, so don’t be surprised if there’s a small fee to stay at them (some can be paid retroactively, but have cash on hand). Otherwise, National and State-managed Forests will be your bread and butter. Understanding where these jurisdictions are, and how they operate will help you determine where to camp.

Courtesy: Dave Moore
Courtesy: Dave Moore

5. Read guidebooks

Paddling Guidebooks can offer some of the best intel on where you may want to be traveling and camping on the water. Even if you aren’t planning to do an entire trip, a guidebook covering a wider area, like the North Forest Canoe Trail or Adirondacks, will give you more than enough information to find the perfect spot for a night away.


8 Tips for Your Next Long-Distance Paddle

Don’t get us wrong, long-distance paddling trips are a battle. While they’re not necessarily physically hard, but they demand the skills and mental willpower to navigate a wide variety of circumstances. But for paddlers willing to take on the distance, the trials come with exceptional rewards: access to some of the most pristine wilderness in the world, genuine and informative interactions with small-town locals, uninterrupted views and plenty of vitamin D. A human-powered adventure of this nature, such as the Florida Saltwater Trail, Northern Forest Canoe Trail and rivers like the Mississippi, Susquehanna and Delaware, gives paddlers experiences to take with them beyond the water. For those ready to take recreational to the next level, here’s 8 tips to help you get there:

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

1. Be flexible

On a long-distance trip or any kind, there’s little guarantee that things will go according to plan. At some point, bad weather will roll through, gear will malfunction, and our bodies and mind will scream for a break. There’s only so much planning you can do to prepare for such a feat, so keeping an open mind is crucial. The more you can stop stressing about the circumstances outside of your control, and put your focus into problem solving as things come up, the greater joy you’ll get from the experience. That adaptability is the heart of endurance activities.

2. Know your vessel

Depending on the route and your personal preferences, you may opt for either a kayak or a canoe. Regardless, it’s important to understand your boat before setting out on a long trip. The longer the distance, the more variety in conditions you’ll experience. The size and type may vary from trip-to-trip and paddler-to-paddler, but remember that there will be give and take and nothing will be perfect in every condition. Take your boat out as much as possible prior to a big trip to better understand what it can and can’t handle. How stable is it? Is its composition durable enough to handle a rocky river at lower water levels? Know what elements you can and can’t take it through to avoid learning the hard way.

3. Pack light

It’s easy to cram too much gear into a boat. Lightweight tents, sleep systems and cooking equipment will simplify your portages and daily tasks in camp. Popular gear for backpacking and thru-hiking will work equally efficiently on a long-distance paddle, but keep everything in high-quality dry bags. Carry one set of clothes for paddling, and one for sleeping, plus a cold or wet weather layer. Since you’re on the water, rinsing clothes out couldn’t be easier that carrying extra clean options. Stick to the basics as best you can and remember that the longer you’re out, the less you’ll care about luxury items like camp chairs and books.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

4. Understand your partner well

Or, be ready to find out about them pretty quickly. If you’re in a tandem canoe (or kayak), prepare for long days with little space from your partner. An integral communication system needs to already exist between you, or have the patience to develop one while you’re out on a multi-week trip. A fluid understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses helps when dividing up responsibilities when it comes to paddling, navigation and camp. A long-distance paddle test any relationship but the skills gained from the endeavor will stretch beyond days on the water.

5. Practice navigation skills

Navigating hundreds of miles of waterways, often very remote, can be intimidating. While there are long-distance rivers and trails that already exist, many paddlers opt to map their own unique routes connecting waterways. Both will require sufficient navigational skills without relying on electronic devices. It’s advisable to practice general topographic map and compass skills, be familiar with waterway markers, and have an understanding of your pace in a variety of conditions. Pay attention and study you’re route as you go, so you recognize being off-course quickly.

6. Come up with a resupply plan

Resupplying on a long paddle can be challenging with a boat in tow. It’s easiest to map your route to hit boat launches within walking distance of town amenities (or, like the Mississippi or NFCT, plan your route to travel directly through towns). I’ve had great luck bringing a cable lock or chatting up folks at marinas or boat rental shops about housing our boat for a few hours while I run errands.

Water-Guages

7. Watch water levels

Unless you’re trip strictly follows lakes, oceans or large bodies of water, you should be aware of the water levels and what they mean. TheUSGS Water Datais a reliable resource for current water levels. Keep an eye on the CFS flow measurement (cubic feet per second) and gage height (feet). Directly after a big rainfall they will spike and then settle. They can vary but typically June is a great month for paddling after the snow melts in the mountains, but there can be great windows of opportunity later in the summer or fall after a good spell of rain. Late in the season, rivers will be become unpaddleable below 300 CFS. If you’re paddling water affected by tides, find an updated tide schedule.

8. Invest in a good cart

Chances are, you’ll be portaging your boat at some point. A wheel-able cartmakes things much easier, even for short distances around dams and bridges. Some avid paddlers will build their own custom carts, because many of the of the carts on the market today aren’t built with the durability to endure distance and variable terrain. Weight aside, pick a cart with at least 15-inch tires.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The Top 5 Shorter Trips Along the NFCT

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail, or NFCT, travels over 700-miles from upstate New York to the Canadian Border in Maine. It follows lakes, streams, ponds, and rivers to connect historic old trading routes. Paddlers who travel its waters experience solitude, joy, and challenges. But thanks to its length, few people paddle it in one go, end to end. Most will opt to paddle in smaller pieces in days or weeks, but even this isn’t easy: There are a number of spectacular sections of this trail, but not all are accessible to paddle in shorter chunks. Thankfully, some of the best pieces of the NFCT are do-able in a short trip, and are begging to be paddled.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

1. Fulton Chain of Lakes

Beginning at the Western Terminus of the NFCT, the Chain of Lakes connects eight flatwater lakes and ponds through the Adirondacks. This section requires some straightforward portaging through dense woods and is home to some of the most well-managed and pristine campsites around. There’s a reason thru-paddlers are captivated by this trail from the start.

Where: Old Forge, NY to Raquette Lake, NY

Distance: 20 miles (1-3 days)

Portages: Three; You’ll want a set of wheels for this section. The Fifth Lake (.4 miles) and Eighth Lake Campground (1 mile) portages are a short distance and wheelable, however the Brown Tract Carry from the north end of Eighth Lake follows a rougher trail that might require moving by hand for short distances.

When To Go: Late summer to fall. The bugs can be vicious and the lakes get crowded with visitors during early summer, meaning there could be lots of boats and jet skis.

Camping: Plentiful. Primitive lean-to’s at Seventh and Eighth Lakes between miles 13 and 17. State Campgrounds located on Alger Island (mile 5.5), Eighth Lake (mile 16), and Brown Tract Pond (mile 20) by reservation for a fee.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

2. Long Lake & The Saranac Lakes

In the heart of the Adirondacks lies one of the most pristine sections of the NFCT. The trail travels 9 miles across Long Lake to the winding and gentle Raquette River before entering the Saranac Lakes. This stretch is fairly wild and remote, with quaint waterside towns, and excellent swimming and camping. Depending on the wind, this can be a quick paddle.

Where: Long Lake, NY to Saranac Lake, NY

Distance: 42 miles (3-6 days)

Portages: Three or four. The first of them, the 1.3-mile Raquette Falls Carry isn’t easy. Most of the trail has too many roots and rocks to navigate, making wheeling unlikely. After allocating some time to this portage, paddlers are rewarded with views when they put-in below the falls. During high water in the spring, the bridges along the brief Stony Creek stretch will force paddlers to briefly portage around. Half of the 1.1-mile Indian Carry from Stony Pond is challenging to wheel and finally the Bartlett Carry is quick and wheelable on a road.

When To Go: Spring through fall. This area can be buggy so it might be best to wait until after all the snow has melted in the High Peaks for a more enjoyable experience.

Camping: Plentiful and spread out, but require some planning for the Saranac Lakes area. Many beautiful lean-tos placed along the shores of the 10-mile Long Lake and the Raquette River. There are several primitive campsites along the north shore of Stony Creek Pond and one at Huckleberry Bay on Upper Saranac Lake. On Middle and Lower Saranac Lakes, the sites are state-managed and require a reservation and fee. You can stop in at the State Bridge boat launch and if sites are available, and can register the same day. Once you re-enter the Saranac River, there’s a lean-to near Lower Lock.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

3. The Connecticut River

Sandy beaches along the winding Connecticut River offer a fun, leisurely trip for both new and experienced paddlers. It can be paddled in one long day or split into two. Through bright agricultural valleys and old trestles, New England’s longest river gives a peek into logging and railroad history. The river meanders south, with the occasional rips and osprey nests. As you approach Groveton, the NFCT turns left up the Ammonoosuc River, where you’ll have to travel 1.5 miles upstream before reaching the Normandeau campsite (the alternative is to take out at Guildhall).

Where: Bloomfield, VT to Groveton, NH

Distance: 22 miles (1-2 days)

Portages: None

When To Go: Late summer to fall. Water levels on the Connecticut are not a concern, so it can be paddled anytime between spring and late fall, but the camping areas along this section can be buggy May through July.

Camping: The Maine Central RR Trestle Campsite (7 miles in) and Samuel Benton Campsite (13 miles in) are primitive NFCT camping areas along the river. Both are located on private property where the landowners permit paddlers to stay assuming they pack out all trash and otherwise leave no trace. Remember to treat water from the river before drinking.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

4. The Maine Lakes

This is perhaps the most ambitious trip on this list, but not without great reward. It is mostly flatwater paddling across some of the most pristine immaculate lakes in Maine: Umbagog, Lower and Upper Richardson, Mooselookmeguntic and Rangeley. Paddling times can vary depending on the weather and wind, but the abundance of wild camping provides plenty of places to rest and relax. Most of these lakes are home to more wildlife, namely the Bald Eagle, and few people.

Where: Errol, NH to Rangeley, ME

Distance: 44 miles (3-6 days)

Portages: Three. You will want wheels for this section. The first portage, around Errol Dam, can easily be avoided by coordinating a shuttle. The largest portage of this stretch is the Rapid River Carry, which travels 3.2 miles along an unwheelable trail and then an old road. The Upper Dam portage to Mooselookmegntic (0.1 mile) and Carry Road to Oquossoc (1.5 miles) are easy and  wheelable along roads. Other portages may be required if water levels are too low.

When To Go: Summer and fall. Despite being quite remote, these lakes are popular destinations for travelers during mid-summer. Aim for August or September for ideal conditions.

Camping: Plentiful, but requires planning during peak season. Most of the remote campsites along this stretch are State or privately managed and require a small fee. The remote, water-accessed-only sites on Umbagog Lake, Rapid River, Lower and Upper Richardson Lake, and Mooselookmeguntic Lake are State- or privately-managed and require a reservation and small fee. In late season, it’s possible to pay for empty sites retroactively. On Rangeley Lake, The Rangeley Lake State Park is busy with RVs and car campers; it’s less-than-ideal for paddlers.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

5. The Allagash

Paddling the Allagash River in Northern Maine presents iconic backwoods paddling at its best. It’s on just about every Maine Adventurer’s bucket list and for good reason: Its remote and wild setting is the perfect place to unwind and relax. This marks the grand finale of the NFCT where paddlers are rewarded for weeks of hard work with frequent wildlife sightings, fishing, soaking in the river and stunning camping. There are some shorter sections of Class I to II rapids on an otherwise calm and easily traveled river. It’s an entertaining trip for the whole family, kids included!

Where: Chamberlain Lake, ME to Allagash Village, ME

Distance: 86 miles (5-7 days)

Portages: Three, maybe four. It would be helpful to have wheels here. The Tramway carry from Chamberlain to Eagle Lake is short and wheelable, and features some spectacular logging history. The portages around Churchill Dam and Long Lake Dam are very short (.1 mile), except if you want to avoid the whitewater at Churchill, which requires a longer carry. The final portage, around Allagash Falls, travels on a well-worn path through campsites and is fairly straightforward.

When T Go: Spring to early fall. Spring and early summer allow higher, more enjoyable water levels, but campsites can get full. If you’re looking for greater solitude and cooler temperatures, the Allagash makes for a wonderful fall trip as long as the water levels are above 300 to 400 CFS.

Camping: Plenty available for a small fee. The Allagash Wilderness Waterway sites cost $6/night per person for Maine residents and $12/night for non-residents. When you get to Churchill Dam, visit the Ranger Station and pay (cash or check only) for the number of nights you’ll camp along the river. Groups cannot exceed 12 people and children under 10 are free. The campsites include privies, picnic tables, and fire pits.


Video: Attach a Fin to an SUP

It’s paddle season! And if you’ve been thinking about picking up a new Stand-Up Paddleboard, now might be the time to do it. But before you dive into the local pond with your new toy, make sure you put it together fully. Having the fin on right can go a long way toward the board’s speed and control on the water. Here’s how to put it on.


Stretch Out: 7 Yoga Poses for Paddlers

Waters have thawed, temperatures are rising, and the days keep getting longer. So, it’s time to dust off your paddling gear and head to your favorite aquatic playground, if you haven’t already. While you have plenty of things to think about as you prepare for the start of paddling season, be sure to give your body the attention it deserves, too. To help you out, here are seven yoga poses to practice before your first (or next) paddling sesh—or after. Or, if you’re on a stand-up paddleboard, you can even practice these poses while you’re still on the water.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Thread the Needle

Strong shoulders are key for paddling, whether you’re in a kayak or on a paddleboard. This pose is a great way to both wake them up before getting onto the water and stretch them out when you get back to shore.

Begin on all fours in tabletop pose, with your knees directly under the hips and wrists in line with the shoulders. Use an inhale to lift your right arm out to the side, and then, send it underneath the left arm as you exhale. In the process, bring the right shoulder and the right side of your head to the ground, as the left arm reaches out in front of you. Rest here for about 10 breaths before returning to tabletop and repeating on the other side.

  • Variation: To make the pose a little more “active,” you can reach the non-threaded arm up toward the sky, or rest the back of that hand on your lower back.
  • Variation: To make it a little more “restful,” either begin in child’s pose instead of tabletop, or ease the hips down toward the heels once you’ve settled into the twist.
Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Side Plank

As with most sports, core strength is also vital for paddling. Standard planks are an efficient way to strengthen both the core and your arms, but since paddling’s mechanics mean that one side of the body works at a time, side planks are particularly beneficial for kayakers and SUPers.

From tabletop, step back into high plank, with your feet together, and press through the heels to create a strong, straight line from the heels to your head. Shift your weight into your right arm as you rotate onto the outside edge of the right foot, and lift your left arm toward the sky. Keep your feet stacked if you can, or take one of the variations offered below. Hold for as long as you comfortably can, and then, repeat on the left side.

  • Variation: Take things down a notch by bringing the right knee down to the floor, so that your lower leg and foot point behind you.
  • Variation: Challenge yourself (and work your core a little more) by lifting up your left leg.
cobra
Credit: Ashley Peck

Cobra

Sitting in your boat for hours at a time can lead to a stiff lower back. As well, keeping your arms raised in paddling position may leave your shoulders, chest, and arms feeling fatigued. Fortunately, cobra pose may help with all of that.

Lower yourself all the way to your belly from plank, with your legs together and stretched out long behind you. If you’re extra motivated, go ahead and throw in some push-ups here. Keeping your hands under the shoulders and elbows close to the body, press the tops of your feet, your thighs, and your pelvis into the floor, and push through the palms to begin lifting your upper body.

Lift yourself as far as is comfortable. You may be able to fully straighten your arms, or you may need to keep a bend in the elbows—either way is fine. Focus on opening up the front of your body by gently lifting your sternum while simultaneously “squeezing” your shoulder blades together. Hold for five breaths, and then, release back down to the floor on an exhale. Repeat two or three times. 

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Down Dog Twist

Even though it may feel like your upper body does most of the work, your legs also play an important role in paddling. They help steer and stabilize your boat while you’re kayaking, and they’re kind of important when it comes to the “SU” part of SUPing. The beauty of down dog twist is that it stretches the leg muscles just like traditional downward-facing dog while also stretching out the shoulders a little more and helping build rotational core strength, which is where your paddling power comes from.

When you’re finished with cobra, press back up to tabletop. Then, begin working your way into downward-facing dog, but with your feet a little bit wider apart than the usual hip distance. On an exhale, reach your right hand back toward the left leg, taking hold of your calf or ankle—whichever feels best—and let your gaze come under the left armpit. Hold for a few breaths, return to down dog on an inhale, and then, repeat on the opposite side.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Chair Twist

Similar to the way down dog twist addresses the shoulders and core while stretching the legs, chair twist does the same while strengthening the legs. In addition, both of these twisting poses can help strengthen the lower back, which in turn helps you avoid paddler’s back pain.

Start in a regular chair pose (feet together or hip-distance apart, lowering the hips toward the floor, and keeping your weight in the heels) with hands at heart center. Use an inhale to lengthen through the spine, and then, bring your right elbow toward the left outer thigh on an exhale. Peek down at your knees to make sure they stay facing forward and are even with each other. Keep pressing your palms into one another to stretch out your shoulders, or spread your wings (right hand toward the floor, and left arm reaching high) to open up through the chest. Stay here for about 30 seconds, and then, switch sides.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Boat Twist

Even if it weren’t so appropriately named, boat twist would still be an important pose for paddlers to practice. Just as traditional boat pose improves core strength and balance, so, too, does boat twist—with the added benefit of working the obliques to continue building rotational core strength.

Bring yourself to a seated position with your feet flat on the floor. Inhale to lengthen through the spine, and then, exhale to lean back into boat pose with the knees bent and lower legs parallel to the floor. Keep your core engaged, and twist toward the right on your next exhale, reaching your right arm back and sending the left hand toward your feet. Hold for five breaths before returning to center, and then, repeat on the other side.

  • Variation: If you can extend your legs in boat pose, try crossing your right leg over the left, and holding onto the inside of your left foot with the left hand as you twist to the right. When you switch sides, do the opposite.
Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Half Lord of the Fishes

We’ll wrap things up with one more twist, since having a strong, fully mobile torso is so vital to both kayaking and paddleboarding. Again, even if half lord of the fishes didn’t have such a perfect name, it would be a pose every paddler should practice regularly. In addition to the benefits of the other twisting poses we’ve done, this one also provides a gentle stretch through the hips, which will feel particularly amazing after you spend the day sitting in a kayak.

Start seated with your legs extended in front of you. Hug your right knee in toward the chest, and then, cross the right leg over the left, so that your right foot is on the floor next to your left thigh. Bend your left leg to bring the left foot toward your right hip. On an inhale, sit up nice and tall. As you exhale, twist toward the right, pressing your right hand into the floor just behind you for support and bringing the left upper arm to the outside of your right thigh. Hold the twist for up to one minute, and then, repeat on the opposite side.

  • Variation: If bringing the left arm to the outside of the right leg is too intense, simply use the arm to hug your leg instead.

How to Portage: 7 Tips for Moving Your Kayak or Canoe on Land

It’s inevitable. If you paddle long enough, eventually, you’re going to run out of water. As a result, anyone looking to lengthen their trip to the next pond or lake, bypass a dangerous rapid, or even simply carry a boat from the car to the water is going to need to know one dreaded but crucial paddling skill: the portage. And, doing it efficiently makes the carry move along easily and quickly.

Credit: Marcus Johnson
Credit: Marcus Johnson

1. Don’t drag the boat

Dragging the boat across the terrain may seem like the easiest thing to do, but it could result in damage that ultimately shortens the amount of time you can spend on the water. You don’t want to get to the end of your portage, only to find a fresh hole in the hull of your new canoe. If you’re paddling with a partner, share the weight. If you are solo, make sure you have a boat that you can carry by yourself.

2. Share the weight

Whether you have a kayak or canoe, there are multiple ways to carry the boat. If you are paddling with someone, each of you grabbing an end is the simplest solution. If you are paddling two separate boats of the same length, carrying both at the same time, with one in each hand, can be even easier than supporting one, as the weight distributed on both sides helps with your balance.

To carry, insert your arm into the cockpit, and rest the cockpit’s side on your shoulder to balance the boat. This can save a great deal of arm strength, and on narrower trails, having the boat up high may be easier than carrying it in your hands.

In a canoe, use the center yoke to balance the boat upside down on your shoulders. However, be sure to practice getting the canoe up by yourself first and keeping it balanced. You wouldn’t want to pull a muscle out in the backcountry when you’re trying to lift.

For any of the shoulder-carrying techniques, it helps to bring along some foam padding, such as a cut pool noodle or your life jacket, to add some cushioning between your shoulders and the boat. Two people sharing one canoe can do something similar: Rest the seats on your shoulders, or even on top of a backpack. 

3. Plan ahead

Unless you’re scouting unexplored water on Mars, you should always have a map for your paddling trip. As you plan, look at your route to see where your portages will be and what type of terrain you will be crossing. Then, ask yourself a few questions: What is the distance of the portage? Will it go through the woods or on a trail? Is there a road that can be taken? Is it dirt or pavement? How much elevation change does the portage involve?

Having the answers will further help you bring along the right equipment and get a better idea of what’s coming.

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4. Scout the portage

You might not always be able to answer those questions just by looking at the map, however. In that case, scout the portage without the boat before you go through it. Check for fallen trees that you may have to go over or under, as well as any number of natural obstacles. Sometimes, a planned portage route may have an unexpected gate or washed-out trail. It is better to find this out before you go through all the effort of carrying your boat halfway along, only to find the route impossible to pass.

5. Bail water

When you paddle up to the shore, your boat will likely have some water inside. Water is heavier than many people realize, so take a few moments to bail or dump it out. Your muscles will thank you later.

6. Carry your gear

Longer paddling trips may include a few bags’ worth of gear and food. However, keeping that weight inside during the portage makes the boat much heavier and more difficult to lift and maneuver. Instead, a dry-bag with straps that you can wear makes it much easier to move the boat on its own. If your bags are not wearable, on the other hand, consider making two trips to carry your gear and boat separately. Take your packs first, and consider that your scouting trip.

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7. Use portage wheels

For especially long portages, wheels or a cart will be helpful. First, however, make sure you know what kind of terrain lies ahead. A cart with small wheels, for instance, will be almost useless on a rugged trail or sand. On the other hand, if you have a long road portage, wheels may save lots of effort and time.

But, be sure that you know how to secure the boat. In the middle of your trip, it’s not any fun to realize that you need an extra strap in order to keep the boat from sliding around. As well, remember that the portage wheels need to come in the boat with you. So, make sure you have enough carrying capacity and can firmly fasten them.

 

Being able to portage your boat helps you reach those difficult-to-access lakes and waterways, and can mean finding better fishing spots or a quieter campsite. In any case, have fun exploring, and try not to drop the boat on your partner!