Paddling the ’Round the Mountain route

The dam and Lower Locks (right) that can be carried around is the only place on the whole 10.5-mile trip that requires a carry, although the locks could be utilized as well. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

SARANAC LAKE — It’s not often that a canoe route brings you back to within just a mile or so of where you started, but a three-lake loop out of Saranac Lake offers a long but convenient paddling excursion.

Called the ‘Round the Mountain route, in honor of a canoe and kayak race of the same name, this route involves four lakes, some river, and the whole thing makes a nice loop around Dewey Mountain. Covering about 10.5 miles, it may be a little on the long side for kids, but a couple of paddlers who’ve been on the water before should have no problem tackling it in half a day.

My friend Jason and I hit the water early when he picked me up across from the Lake Flower boat launch in Saranac Lake at about 5:15 a.m. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is overseeing a massive brownfield cleanup on Pontiac Bay in Lake Flower, so the boat launch isn’t open for parking. We knew we could pull the canoe out there, but my car would have to stay in the parking lot across the street.

After leaving our retrieval vehicle in town, we headed to Ampersand Bay to put in and hit the water before 6 a.m. There was a heavy fog that, when reflected off the glass-smooth water, made for an eerie and peaceful setting.

Making our way southwest on Lower Saranac Lake, we paddled past what we could see of Eagle Island and less than an hour after starting out, we hung a left and began paddling south into the mouth of First Pond, which is really just a slow and wide part of the Saranac River.

Little islands on Lower Saranac Lake are reflected in the smooth water under heavy fog, making for a setting that was both eerie and peaceful at the same time. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

As we paddled south, Jason said “What’s that flying?” I looked up to see a bald eagle easily soaring maybe 30 feet above our heads. It didn’t flap its wings until it was well behind us, and was our third serious bird sighting of the morning, having seen a couple of peaceful gulls and loons out on the lake.

We soon passed under Route 3 and into Second Pond — another slow and wide part of the river. For a shorter route, you can put in at the DEC’s Second Pond boat launch, where another vehicle could be parked.

Coming out of Second Pond, the channel narrows and we entered what looked like a watery graveyard for trees. The channel is marked with green and red buoys, but with a sturdy canoe, some of the winding of the channel might be avoided. Just be aware that rocks and stumps could make for a bumpy ride outside of the channel.

Having gone east for a little while, the DEC’s Lower Locks will soon be visible. If there’s a group of canoes or kayaks with you, the locks could be used. But just before the dam, on the south (right) shore, there is a short canoe carry that goes around the dam. Unlike many Adirondack canoe carries, there is a small dock at each end of the carry, which is very helpful.

We pulled the boat out of the water and navigated the carry just carrying the boat right side up with all of our stuff in it (coffee and paddles, mostly), and about two minutes later we were sliding the canoe back into the river below the dam.

Jason and I took a break at the dock, drinking some coffee and giving the mosquitoes their morning meal. Although the bugs were bad here, out on the water they were non-existent.

We paddled, using the weak current to our advantage, out onto Oseetah Lake and went generally northeast, following the shoreline. Running into the first camps and houses we’d seen pretty much all morning and although the solitude had been nice, it was cool to check out all of the little (and not-so-little) camps on the islands.

Going through another narrow channel, we entered Lake Flower, which sits in the heart of Saranac Lake. We rounded a corner and could see, and hear, traffic on state Route 86, and soon enough the brownfield site, with its massive white tent and crane, came into view, as did the newly refurbished sign for the Hotel Saranac.

We snapped pics of the brownfield site and pulled up in the canoe to the Lake Flower launch. I ran across the street and got the car, and within a few minutes we were headed back to Ampersand Bay. All in all, the route was about 10.5 miles and took us less than 3 hours, and that included a coffee break and taking some photos. And we were done while most people were still on their way to work.

‘Round the Mountain canoe race

Each spring, Mac’s Canoe Livery, based in Lake Clear, hosts the ‘Round the Mountain canoe and kayak race, which follows this same route. For a small fee, you can pace yourself against other paddlers in a short race right in Saranac Lake.

Mac’s also puts on the Adirondack Canoe Classic — better known as the 90-Miler — each fall, so they know a thing or two about hosting canoe races.

Although this year’s ‘Round the Mountain race has already taken place, visit www.macscanoe.com for information on how to register and when the race will be held in 2019.

If you go …

Activity: Canoe, kayak

Distance: 10.5 miles, one-way

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate due to distance

Directions: From Saranac Lake, go to the DEC’s Ampersand Bay boat launch on Bayside Drive in Saranac Lake. Travel generally southwest to Bluff Island and turn into the mouth of First Pond. Paddle south through First Pond and go under state Route 3 into Second Pond. Continue generally south/southeast on the Saranac River to DEC’s Lower Locks, and use the short canoe carry on the south bank. After entering Oseetah Lake, go northeast and then north into Lake Flower, continuing to DEC’s Lake Flower boat launch.