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

Explore Connecticut's Litchfield Hills This Fall

Nestled in Connecticut’s rugged Litchfield Hills, the town of Kent is the postcard-perfect image of rural Southern New England. From its charming center at the intersection of US-7 and CT-341, bucolic farmland gives way to dense second-growth forests, rocky hillsides, and pristine waterways—all a study in contrast to the densely populated suburban tableau that the Nutmeg State typically evokes.

What local hikers, trail runners, climbers, and paddlers already know though, is that Kent is more than just a pretty face. Miles of trails, awesome climbing, and plenty of water—both technical and flat—make Kent a full-value day trip. Throw in some excellent restaurants and a destination-worthy brewery, and you’ve got yourself a fine spot for a long weekend.

The views from the Macedonia Ridge Trail will have you forgetting you’re in the fourth most densely populated state in the country. | Credit: John Lepak
The views from the Macedonia Ridge Trail will have you forgetting you’re in the fourth most densely populated state in the country. | Credit: John Lepak

Hiking and Trail Running

From hilltop to hollow, Kent’s state parks, forests, and private land trusts provide access to miles and miles of high-quality trail fit for hikers and runners of all abilities.

The centerpiece, of course, is the venerable Appalachian Trail. 51 of the AT’s 2,190 miles run through Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills offering some of the loveliest low-elevation day hiking and backpacking options in the northeast. If you’re looking for an easy and scenic stroll, head south from Bull’s Bridge to Ten Mile Hill (4.5 miles, out-and-back), taking in a 19th-century covered bridge and a beautiful section of the Housatonic River along the way. For something a bit more challenging, head south from the Saint John’s Ledges trailhead on River Road, traversing Fuller Mountain, Caleb Peak, and Saint John’s Ledges while you catch views on your way to the AT’s junction with CT-341 (4.3 miles, one-way). Looking to fill your weekend? Just north of Kent, in Sharon, the AT–Mohawk Loop (39.4 miles, loop), is an excellent backpacking route that connects the Appalachian trails of the past and present—today’s Mohawk Trail actually traces the original path of the AT before it was rerouted in the 1970’s.

The AT isn’t the only game in town though. Just around the corner, Macedonia Brook State Park boasts an impressive network of trails that offer a not-so subtle reminder that “low-elevation” doesn’t always mean “easy.” Varied terrain, outstanding views, and a climactic rock scramble characterize the Macedonia Ridge Trail—a part of Connecticut’s Blue-blazed Trail Network and one of the state’s finest—as it works its way up and over Cobble Mountain (6.4 miles, loop).

A few miles northeast, Kent Falls State Park and its dramatic, stepped, eponymous cascade drops over 250 feet as it flows into the Housatonic River. Linking the Park Path up with the Red and Yellow Trails makes for a lovely, easy hike up and around the falls (1.5 miles, loop).

Trail Magic (5.9-) at Saint John’s Ledges in Kent is one of the most enjoyable single pitches of climbing in the state. | Credit: John Lepak

Climbing

Connecticut climbing has a reputation for short routes, steep traprock ridges, and incredible sandbags, but Saint John’s Ledges, rising above the Housatonic River in Kent, offers climbers a bit of a diversion: slab. Right along the Appalachian Trail, a quarter mile in from the trailhead parking area on River Road, are the Upper Ledges, a long stretch of friction slab reaching well over 100 feet high in some places.

There’s a good range of difficulty but the majority of lines register as solid, enjoyable moderates with a mix of heady slab moves and jammable cracks—and though some are leadable, protection can be sparse (or non-existent), and top-rope is generally the order of the day. A 60-meter rope alone won’t do it on some routes so be sure to bring a 70 or plenty of static line to build anchors with. Everything is east-facing, and the top half of the Upper Ledges are sunny and warm in the morning, so climbing here can comfortably extend late into the season. Must-do’s include Half Bling (5.8+), Falling Bodies (5.6), and the excellent Trail Magic (5.9-).

There are a handful of areas, and a good amount of climbable terrain, at Saint John’s in addition to the Upper Ledges, including the Lower Ledges, a short, beginner-friendly cliff just off the trailhead parking area. With a pair of super-easy routes like Wilderness Crack (5.3) and Try (5.2), this is an excellent spot for first-time climbers—and if its popularity with groups and classes is any indication, the Lower Ledges may well be the best such area in the state. There is a little bit of something for everyone here though, and more experienced climbers headed for the Upper Ledges will enjoy a change of pace (and some shade) on stout face climbs like The Graduate (5.10-).

The Housatonic River, known for its quality fly fishing and kayaking, as seen from Bull’s Bridge. | Credit: John Lepak
The Housatonic River, known for its quality fly fishing and kayaking, as seen from Bull’s Bridge. | Credit: John Lepak

Paddling

From its headwaters in Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains, the Housatonic River travels 149 miles on its course to Long Island Sound, effectively halving the town of Kent from northeast to southwest in the process. Like the surrounding hills, the Housatonic is emblematic of Connecticut’s Northwest Corner—it’s also one of the finest destinations in the east to fisherman and kayakers alike. The river moves quickly and can be technical at several points, the most noteworthy of which is the Staircase, an obstacle just south of Bull’s Bridge, that heralds rapids up to Class V when the water’s high.

Those seeking gentler waters need look no further than Lake Waramaug State Park. Situated on the border of Kent, Warren, and New Preston, Lake Waramaug is a gorgeous lake in a stunning setting—absolutely perfect for an early morning paddle. The state park also has an adjoining campground, a great spot if you’re in for more than a daytrip.

Kent Falls Brewing Company, located on a working farm in Kent Hollow, makes some of the best beer in the state. | Credit: John Lepak
Kent Falls Brewing Company, located on a working farm in Kent Hollow, makes some of the best beer in the state. | Credit: John Lepak

Eating and Drinking

For a small town, Kent does really well on the food and drink. Get started in the heart of town at Swyft, a cool little joint in a restored 18th-century home that serves up modern, seasonal fare alongside a robust tap list. A local draft and one of their wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizzas tend to hit the spot after a big day on the trail or at the crag.

No trip to Kent is complete without grabbing a beer at Kent Falls Brewing Company. Located in Kent Hollow, just a hop, skip, and a jump from Lake Waramaug, Kent Falls Brewing Company is a brewery on a working farm specializing in locally sourced ingredients. Their beer menu is wide-ranging, ever changing, and always excellent and the setting is as bucolic rural Connecticut as it gets.


5 Best Fall Paddling Day Trips on the Hudson River Greenway Trail

From Constitution Marsh, where the launch is just steps away from a Metro North station, to the more rural Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, the Hudson River is a must-do for paddlers this autumn. Steep bluffs, forested islands, and otherworldly sunsets are the main attraction, but the historic sites dotting the river add a layer of intrigue to every trip. Think island-bound Bannerman’s Castle (which is said to be haunted) and the Clearwater, an 18th-century replica sloop that sails from port to port educating people about the environment.

Stretching from the Adirondacks to the tip of Manhattan, the Hudson River is fed by freshwater from the north and salt water from the Atlantic Ocean. Though you might feel far away from the ocean when you’re paddling, the River is subject to rising and falling tides and shifting currents. Checking tide charts before hitting the water is recommended to avoid working harder than necessary.

To ensure physical distancing during the pandemic, seek out launch points that are off of the beaten path. The Hudson River Greenway Water Trail runs the length of the river and is the ultimate guide to launches, take-outs, and overnight accommodations on 256-miles of the River. Use the trip ideas below for inspiration and use the Water Trail map to alter itineraries to suit your energy and skill level.

The author's husband at Constitution Marsh. | Credit: Carla Francis
The author’s husband at Constitution Marsh. | Credit: Carla Francis

Constitution Marsh

Accessed via a short jaunt on the main channel of the Hudson River, once you glide under the low-slung railroad trestle that separates the main channel from Foundry Cove you’ll have entered a different, quieter world. Officially known as the Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary, when you leave behind the river channel you encounter a tidal marsh that is home to countless species of birds, fish, amphibians and other creatures. “Paddle through the marsh slowly and quietly to increase your chances of seeing wildlife,” recommends the Audubon Center.

Paddlers might notice channels interlacing the marsh — remnants of an 1800’s-era wild rice farm. While the channels make travel easier, be aware of the tide which limits paddlers to 2-hours within the preserve. High tide blocks the passageway under the railroad trestle and low tide will leave you stuck in the mud. Enjoy fall colors and migratory birds as they pass through on their way south, and as you exit, take a moment to gaze north up the river at Storm King Mountain, one of the highest points in the area. To extend your trip, head south where you’ll quickly pass West Point, the revered United States Military Academy to the west.

Launch your boat for free at Scenic Hudson’s Foundry Dock Park in Cold Spring, steps away from the Metro North Station, where paid parking is available.

The Esopus Lighthouse from Espopus Meadows Preserve. | Credit: Carla Francis
The Esopus Lighthouse from Espopus Meadows Preserve. | Credit: Carla Francis

Esopus Lighthouse

Perched on the edge of an underwater meadow, the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse is one of the last remaining wooden lighthouses on the Hudson River. Visiting by kayak will allow you to pass over the same meadows that the lighthouse warned countless vessels to avoid. Mostly choked by invasive water chestnut now, the meadow was historically visited by cattle which grazed on the thick grass at low tide.

There are several ways to access the lighthouse, with the shortest paddle being a .5-mile trip (one way) from Scenic Hudson’s Esopus Meadows Preserve, about 5 miles south of Kingston. Launch your boat for free and head to the lighthouse where you can admire the meticulous preservation of the building, which was built in the late 1800’s. The lighthouse is operated by volunteers and only open during sporadic tours so plan to enjoy this landmark from your kayak. Gaze across the river to another historic site, Mills Mansion, a Gilded Age home now owned and operated for visitors by the State of New York.

To extend your trip, consider heading south towards Esopus Island near the Norrie Point Environmental Center. Hug the shore to avoid turbulence and the main shipping channel while enjoying the open water feel of the River and the changing colors of autumn. The island is a nice place to stop for a picnic and is located about 3 miles from the Esopus Meadows Preserve.

Courtesy: John Morzen
Courtesy: John Morzen

Bannerman Castle

What’s a castle doing in the middle of the Hudson River? Built in the early 1900’s as a weapons arsenal, the decaying castle sits on uninhabited Pollepel Island south of Beacon. While the castle itself is accessible only through tours with the Bannerman Castle Trust, views from the water are, of course, free.

Launch for free from Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park in Beacon and paddle about 3.5 miles south through a gorgeous stretch of river called the Hudson Highlands, so named for the mountains on both shores. To the east you’ll see Hudson River Highlands State Park and Breakneck Ridge and to the west you’ll see Butter Hill (the eastern summit of Storm King mentioned under the “Constitution Marsh” paddle). The river is wide at this point, about 1.5 miles across, offering a more open water experience. Circle the island to get the full view of the imposing castle.

On your way back to Beacon, stretch your legs by walking the Denning Point Trail at Hudson Highlands State Park. At just over a mile, this loop takes you near an abandoned brick works, evidence of which you’ll see long before the buildings come into view.

Credit: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
Credit: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation

Hudson River Islands State Park

Scenic year-round but most spectacular during fall foliage, Hudson River Islands State Park is a secluded set of islands accessible only by boat. If you launch north of the islands, consider visiting Stockport Middle Ground island to stretch your legs then continuing your paddle into Stockport Creek on the eastern bank for a more peaceful stretch of waterway. The islands are typically quiet, especially during the off-season, and chances are you’ll have your landing to yourself. Landings are plentiful along the shore of the islands, but beware of poison ivy before stepping out of your boat.

To extend your trip, bring your gear for an overnight stay. Camping is free and both sunrise and sunset offer some of the best views available on the Hudson River. Couple that with fall foliage, and you’ll have a trip for the ages.

A handful of kayak launches are available to suit different trip lengths, but the Coxsackie NYS Boat Launch and the Athens Boat Launch are good places to start. This map can help you determine the distance you’ll be paddling no matter where you decide to launch.

Courtesy: Hudson River Maratime Museum
Courtesy: Hudson River Maratime Museum

Rondout Lighthouse and Creek

A slightly more urban paddle than others on the list, the shipping vessels and pleasure craft that travel the Hudson and Rondout Creek are sights to see.

On river east, launch your boat at Rhinecliff’s Slate dock or from river west launch your boat at Scenic Hudson’s Sleightsburgh Park. Either way, steer your boat towards the mouth of Rondout Creek, where the Rondout Lighthouse is the star attraction. Operated by the Hudson River Maritime Museum (HRRM), you’ll have to enjoy it from the water because tours are temporarily closed due to COVID-19. According to HRRM, it is “still fully operational as a navigational light and one of only seven remaining on the Hudson River.”

After appreciating this historic landmark and the size of the Hudson River, head west into Rondout Creek. You’ll travel past Kingston’s historic waterfront, which experienced its heyday as a boatyard and manufacturing hub when the Delaware and Hudson Canal opened with its terminus at Rondout Creek. Nowadays, the waterfront has been revitalized as a commercial district. Urban trappings give way to forest as you head inland. In Eddyville, you’ll come across a dam which can be used as a turnaround point or portaged. If you turn around here, you’ll have traveled about 4-miles one way if you launched at Sleightsburgh Park or about 5 miles if you launched from Rhinecliff.


Video: Salad Days

One last river trip.


How to Choose a Kayak

Buying a kayak is a big investment, but with a little research you’ll ensure that it’s a wise one. Keep reading for guidelines to choosing a kayak that fits both your paddling bucket list and your budget.

Where will you use your kayak?

Your first step in choosing a kayak is deciding where you’re going to use it most often. Will you be paddling on sheltered ponds or Lake Champlain? Like Champ, a one-size-fits-all kayak is a mythical beast, so a good rule of thumb is to buy a kayak for the water you’ll paddle most often, and rent when you venture elsewhere.

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Sheltered lakes and ponds, slow-moving rivers, and marshes

Known as “flat-water,” these areas are known for calm water and relative protection from wind. Recreational kayaks are built for flat-water, with easy entry and exit suited to spontaneous swimming, wide seats for a relaxed ride, and durable construction that’s compatible with bumping along river shoals. Sold in both Sit-On-Top and Sit-Inside styles, recreational kayaks are great for relaxed days on the water, family outings, and beginning kayakers.

Exposed lakes, wide-open rivers, ocean

Known as “open-water,” this environment is characterized by windy, choppy conditions. Touring kayaks are sit-inside boats designed to slice through rough waters while stabilizing the paddler via a snug seat, allowing for efficient paddling. The extended length of touring kayaks creates increased storage space, making this a logical choice for overnight trips.

READ MORE: ESSENTIAL GEAR FOR KAYAK TOURING

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Your Favorite Fishing Spot

Fishing kayaks come in both recreational and touring models, the difference being enhanced features for anglers. Think molded-in rod holders, Captain’s chairs, and in higher-end models, pedal driven systems that allow for hands-free maneuvering.

GO: Recreational Kayaks | Touring Kayaks | Fishing Kayaks

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Sit-on-top vs. Sit-inside

Sit-on-Top Kayaks are straightforward and user-friendly. Designed for recreational use on lakes, slow moving rivers, and marshes, consider a sit-on-top if you’re looking for the following:

  • Stability: Getting in and out of the boat is easy from shore, or from the water in case you take a mid-paddle swim (intentionally or not).
  • Getting wet: The open design guarantees you’ll get splashed.
  • Self-draining design: Water drains through “scupper holes,” meaning that you’ll never have to pump water out by hand, and if you flip over, your boat won’t get swamped.
  • Freedom to move around: The open design gives you more options for lounging, dipping your feet in the water, or stretching out.
  • Beginner and kid-friendly recreation.
  • Sturdy design: Many are built from plastic, resulting in impact and UV resistant kayaks.

Sit-Inside Kayak sare streamlined and more efficient for paddling from Point A to Point B. They are designed to handle rough conditions, like those found in large lakes and bays, though designs vary from extremely lean sea kayaks to less-lean but more comfortable “day touring” kayaks. Consider a sit-inside kayak if you’re looking for the following:

  • Staying dry: Sitting in the cockpit, with the option to add a spray skirt, keeps you drier and warmer.
  • Long distance day trips: Multiple points of contact in the cockpit give you stability and control in rough water. A streamlined design also allows for more efficient paddling.
  • Multi-day capability: Bulkheads provide dry, interior storage for gear.
  • Intermediate to advanced trips: Knowledge of wet exits and solo kayak draining are necessary in the event that you capsize in open water.
  • Light weight options: High-end touring style kayaks come in lighter, albeit more expensive, materials like fiberglass.

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Storage Space

What do you need to take with you?

Recreational kayaks typically provide enough storage space for a half-day on the water, with features like a water bottle holder, a small bulkhead, and in sit-on-top models, deck space sized to carry a small cooler.

Touring kayaks typically sport at least two bulkheads capable of storing overnight gear. Unlike recreational kayaks, they are not designed for storing bulky items (like coolers) on the deck.

Fishing kayaks are designed with fishing gear in mind, with features ranging from storage space for live fish to transducer compatible scuppers.

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Kayak Specs

Materials

The most common materials used in kayak construction are plastic and composites consisting of fiberglass and/or carbon-fiber. The most noticeable differences between plastic and composite boats are weight, durability, and price. While plastic kayaks are heavier than composite, they are significantly cheaper. On the other hand, composite kayaks are much lighter and more graceful on the water. Plastic kayaks can be launched on rocky shores, tossed into the back of a truck, scraped over shoals, and rough-housed without much concern. In contrast, composite kayaks are more delicate, making encounters with underwater objects and rocky shores situations to be avoided. Generally, composite kayaks are a good investment for serious touring kayakers and experienced paddlers looking for an upgrade, while plastic kayaks are the recommended starting purchase.

Weight

Buy a kayak that you can haul and launch yourself if you plan to adventure solo. Will you just be dragging it from your backyard to the waterline or will you have to get the kayak on top of your car to transport? Check the kayak’s “Tech Specs” for weight information. In many cases, the lighter the kayak, the higher the price.

Length

The longer and narrower the kayak, the faster and more smoothly it travels through water. Touring kayaks range from about 14 to 18 feet, and while they take more effort to turn, they travel more efficiently. Most recreational kayaks are in the 8- to 13-foot range, sacrificing cruising efficiency for stability. Their shorter length makes it easier to make tight turns, a benefit when navigating marshes or downed vegetation.

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Kayak Fit

Not every kayak fits every body. Pay attention to a few specs, and sit in the boat if possible, to make sure it fits you and is comfortable to spend time in.

  • Weight: Kayaks are designed for a maximum load capacity, including you and your gear(don’t overlook this if you plan to overnight from your boat). Overburdening a kayak can cause you to sit too low in the water, compromising your ability to paddle.
  • Cockpit width: Especially important with touring kayaks, which are designed to fit snugly. You want enough contact with boat to maintain control without feeling like your circulation is being cut off. With other types of kayaks, however, a roomier cockpit allows for easier entry and exit.
  • Cockpit Length: This is something to be aware of if you have longer legs than the average person. Check the “Kayak Description” measurements to make sure you’ll fit, or to make entry and exit easier.
  • Number of paddlers: Solo or tandem kayak? Individual kayaks give everyone more freedom, but a tandem kayak is a good option for mixed skill levels.

READ MORE: BEST PADDLING ACCESSORIES FOR COMFORT IN THE COCKPIT

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Transporting your Kayak

How will you transport your kayak from storage to the water? Before you choose a kayak, consider whether your vehicle is capable of transporting it. Kayak racks exist for every type of vehicle, from trailers to rooftop docks, but it’s important to first make sure that your car can support the type of rack that your kayak requires. If transportation and storage are an issue, consider an inflatable kayak.

Try one on for size

If you’re still not sure which type of kayak you want to buy, try renting until you find a style you like. Rental fees are a small price to pay if it allows you to buy the right kayak on your first try. EMS Schools offers guided kayak outings in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as rentals at many locations.


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: A Family River Trip

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