A village of no more than 6,000 people in the northern Adirondacks, Saranac Lake is surrounded by wilderness, mountains, and dozens of lakes and ponds. Not to mention the Saranac River, part of the historic 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail, which runs through its downtown. As a result, the community attracts a wide range of paddling enthusiasts looking to take advantage of its canoe routes, outfitters and plentiful lodging options throughout the warmer months.
In fact, Saranac Lake hosts a month-long festival each June called Celebrate Paddling ADK. For this reason, there’s no better time to visit the area. Festivities include voyageur canoe rides, canoe and kayak demos, guided kayak tours, a trivia night, an instructional symposium and so much more.
Whether you’re visiting in June or during another month, though, you’ll want to know the best places to canoe in and near Saranac Lake. You’ll find below prime locations that offer day and overnight tripping options in abundance and showcase the area’s awesome beauty.
If you’re looking to canoe Saranac Lake, this roughly 80-mile waterway is a good start. It offers paddling trips through whitewater, lakes, ponds and slow-moving current. It runs through communities and forests, along the road and for stretches that feel miles from civilization. Find a couple route options below.
Downtown to Permanent Rapids
One of the coolest things about Saranac Lake is that you can start paddling right from downtown. How many other places allow you to put in right in the heart of the community? And then, how many places allow you to put in right in the heart of the community and then escape into the wilds in short order?
If you have your own boat, start your trip down the Saranac River at the Pine Street bridge or Dorsey Street Parking lot. If not, rent one from St. Regis Canoe Outfitters, located right on the waterway near Broadway. From any of these locations, you can ride the gentle current to the outskirts of town, where you’ll then travel into forests and wetlands.
This trip eventually lands you at a take-out upstream from Permanent Rapids, a class II whitewater run, about 10 miles downstream from where you started.
Franklin Falls Pond
Permanent Rapids empties into Franklin Falls Pond, a quiet water body that is used by anglers seeking walleye and solitude. The southern end of the pond has some campsites, while the northern end connects to Union Falls Pond via a carry around a dam.
Visit the bigger Union Falls Pond—it more resembles a lake—if you want to extend your trip. Both destinations offer views of Whiteface Mountain. An easy place to access Franklin Falls Pond is from the boat launch off River Road.
‘Round The Mountain
This 10.5-mile route is a classic Saranac Lake canoe route that is named after a popular paddling race that takes place in May. The journey starts at the Ampersand Bay state boat launch on Lower Saranac Lake. Head southwest from there through the islands and then turn east near Bluff Island into the Saranac River.
Continue downstream to Oseetah Lake, where you can take in views of McKenzie Mountain. From there, head to Lake Flower, where you’ll pass the Saranac Waterfront Lodge, before ending up at another state boat launch. An outfitter, Adirondack Lakes and Trails, is a short walk from the boat launch.
Saranac Chain of Lakes
The Saranac Chain of Lakes consists of three connected water bodies that exist because of a series of locks that dam up water from the upper reaches of the Saranac River. You can paddle them as one trip, as part of a journey, or separately as people commonly do.
The upper lake has first-come, first-serve campsites, while the middle and lower ones are part of the Saranac Lake Islands Campground, which is run by New York State. These sites require reservations. Paddlers often book one site for numerous days in a row and enjoy day trips from there.
Lower Saranac Lake
This lake is popular among paddlers who want to spend a few nights on the water because many of its campsites are on islands or scenic shorelines. The campsites make great spots for swimming during the day and stargazing at night. Enter the middle of the lake by putting in at the state boat launch on Second Pond, which is part of the Saranac River and located off Route 3 southwest of Saranac Lake.
Head upstream, and after a mile, you’ll be on the big water paddling through the heart of the islands. If you head southwest, you can paddle another three miles to the end of a lake, through a meandering river and to upper locks.
One of the best parts of this lake is how close the location is to many amenities. The Saranac Lake Marina, which offers boat and canoe rentals, is located on the eastern shoreline, and St. Regis Canoe Outfitters and Adirondack Lakes and Trails are located in the nearby village.
Middle Saranac Lake
Like Lower Saranac Lake, this lake is a state campground and is popular among people looking for overnight trips. Access this water via the South Creek boat launch, off state Route 3 between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake. From the put-in, you’ll paddle through a small winding stream before heading out into the big lake, which offers views of Ampersand Mountain from the northern side.
For a day trip, explore along the shoreline and take a diversion into Weller Pond, connected by a short channel. A beach on the southern edge makes for a fun spot to cool off from the summer heat.
Upper Saranac Lake
There are two main access points on the upper lake, one at the northern end at Saranac Inn and one at the southern edge at Indian Carry, which is part of many longer routes. The waves can be challenging on this eight-mile-long lake, but many of the islands and coves offer protection when it’s gusty at midday.
People looking for an end-to-end trip can connect the two main boat launches or simply turn around at any point to create a loop.
St. Regis Canoe Area
The only designated canoe area in New York state, this 18,400-acre paddler’s paradise and designated wilderness area consists of about 50 ponds, many of which are connected via carries. You’ll want a lightweight boat if you decide to pond hop, but you can also stick to one of the larger roadside water bodies.
Campsites are first-come, first serve. Mac’s Canoe Livery and St. Regis Canoe Outfitters are both within minutes of ponds and provide shuttles and rentals, as well as sell equipment, including maps.
This canoe route starts at either Little Clear Pond or Lower St. Regis Lake and passes through four ponds along the way. The trip can be done in a few hours or extended to two or three days. There are campsites on many of the ponds. You can also make a stop to hike up St. Regis Mountain, by way of a boat-access trailhead on Lower St. Regis Lake.
Northern Forest Canoe Trail
This 740-mile trail starts in the southwestern Adirondacks, passing through the Saranac Chain of Lakes and traveling along the Saranac River before reaching Lake Champlain where it finally heads east to its culmination in northern Maine.
The nonprofit Northern Forest Canoe Trail stewards the route, produces maps and provides online resources for trip planning if you’re looking for information about canoeing Saranac Lake and the nearby waters.