Island Camping on the Saranacs

Together, my mom and I had made plans for an epic weekend getaway in Montreal. I had already spent most of the week daydreaming about sipping a glass of chilled, crisp French Bordeaux, searching the entire city for the perfect steak tartare and wandering through art museums during the heat of the afternoon. I was even looking forward to the two hour drive.

Natasha Bristol

Where it all went wrong
When she pulled up to my apartment, the first thing she said was, "Hi, missed you. It's so nice out and I am so tired of being in the car... I kind of wish we had decided to go camping instead of Montreal. 

Of course, I had suggested that we go camping in the first place for our weekend getaway. She lingered in the sun outside my place, and commented on the warm breeze, lightly spiced with the scent of sun and pine.

I could see it happen – the moment when our whole weekend changed as she breathed in the scents of an Adirondack summer. For the next five minutes, we got busy cancelling our carefully laid plans, the adorable B&B, the fabulous restaurants with tables waiting for us. My bag full of sassy summer dresses and sparkly-heels was unpacked and replaced with standard hiking gear: shorts, tank tops, bug spray and bathing suits.

With only four hours of daylight left, we sipped a glass of wine at the Downhill Grill in Saranac Lake and formulated our new plan. We would spend the evening eating and dining at local restaurants, get a good night's sleep, and tomorrow head up to Lower Saranac Lake.

The evening filled with happy chatter fueled by our excitement for tomorrow's trip. We reminisced about my childhood camping experiences on the same lake. By then, thoughts of Montreal had been replaced by my dreams of catching big fish and watching the super moon rise over the lake.

The Big Day
Saturday morning we woke early and after a delicious breakfast of crepes and croissants at the local French café, The Left bank, we felt that we have fulfilled our fine dining needs for the weekend. With practiced efficiency, my mom booked a boat at Saranac Lake Marina at Crescent Bay and I drove up to the beautiful new NY State boat launch and DEC office to reserve one of the 89 available sites.

We were happy to pay for the expense of the boat as all of this costing much less than the planned, fancy weekend indulging in Montreal. The park ranger in residence advised me on the available sites left for that night. I gave him our criteria: island, views, good swimming, fishing and not too far up the lake. Once our campsite was secure, we grabbed supplies: wine, bright red, locally made Glazier hot dogs, and Lakeview Deli sandwiches, macaroni and potato salad. Next, we made a pit stop at the Blue Line Sports for last minute fishing gear, worms and a single day fishing license for my mom.
Before I knew it we were at the marina, and after quick introduction to the boat by the friendly staff, we were cruising up the lake with my beagle mutt Bella at the bow, staring at a blue sky filled with fluffy clouds on a lake dotted with perfect, little islands.

We booked spot 35 for the night. A private island with only our site on it, most people pay thousands for a night on a private island – ours cost less than $25! There was a pristine little beach in a hidden cove on one side and really nice big rock for sunbathing on the other. Adirondack heaven.

The rest of the weekend was amazing; Saturday had to be the most beautiful day in the history of Adirondack summer days. Seriously if there is a poll, I vote the 13th of July. We putted around in our little boat, going from Lower Saranac Lake all the way up through the channels and locks to Middle Saranac. We spotted a great blue heron, bald eagle, a family of wood ducks and a baby loon with its mother and father. We cruised around the Lake and shopped for the best site to reserve for next year, all the while singing songs about numbers – yes including, 867-5309. I think we settled on 72/73 for next year. The site is really two spots on one island joined by a narrow strip of land.

That evening, we tried our luck at fishing to no avail or reward. Instead of fish, my mom taught me how to make the top-secret family bake bean recipe. No I cannot tell you, it is top secret. Dreams of tartare were replaced with the delicious reality of Glazier dogs and beans, and drinking crisp wine from camp cups.

While we ate, the largest, pinkest moon I have ever seen rose through the clouds. We argued a bit about life, sung "Bye Bye Miss American Pie," and swapped family stories as Bella, who had exhausted herself in her search for frogs to play with, snored on my lap. With the loons calling, the breeze warm with the scent of towering pines, we said goodnight and snuggled into our tent.

Sunrise
I woke up at 5:30 to a beautiful sunrise, and reminded my mom that we had a fishing date. Didn't she remember we hadn't caught anything the night before? And of course we needed to catch breakfast! She growled about forgetting to pack coffee and more almond croissants from The Left Bank, and I left her to continue her dreaming.

Grabbing my fishing tackle and worms, I settled on a rock that I had scoped out earlier, knowing it would be prime bass territory. Twenty five minutes later I was backat the tent dangling a foot-long bass in my mom's face. I was childishly proud and grinning at my catch. Mom was not nearly as amused, but I am pretty I glimpsed a proud smirk before she pulled the covers back over her head. She had always been the one to catch the big fish on my childhood trips; I had finally had my glory.

As we began to pack up, I was surrounded by a feeling of rightness.

There's nothing like a weekend in the woods to simply enjoy the company of your loved ones.

About the Author …
Natasha Bristol
Natasha Bristol is a keen angler, camper and traveler. Since her childhood, she's been exploring the rugged beauty of the Saranac Lake Chain and island campgrounds.
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