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Top Paddling Destinations

With more than 3,000 lakes and ponds, and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, the Adirondacks offers enough paddling destinations to keep you in a boat and on the water for a very long time. While every waterway is beautiful in its own unique way, some stand out as truly exceptional places to dip your oar. From the vast open waters of Lake Champlain to remote ponds and narrow streams, you can explore almost every corner of the Adirondacks in a canoe or kayak – or even on a stand-up paddleboard! Discover which top paddling destination is right for you, and get ready to hit the water.

canoe sitting in an Adirondack paddling destination

Lakes & Ponds

Lake life is the good life. Luckily, the Adirondacks boasts many lakes to explore! Join countless others who have paddled before you on well-known waterbodies like Lake George, Raquette Lake, Long Lake, or Lake Placid. Enjoy a mixed view of pristine wildlife and architectural elegance when you paddle the Saranac Lakes. Start on Upper Saranac and you can paddle all the way to Lake Flower in Saranac Lake, passing through the hand-operated locks between Middle Saranac and Lower Saranac along your way. Schroon Lake also offers excellent paddling supplemented by beautiful mountain views. With a charming town nearby, complete with a public sand beach, it’s the perfect place to escape to during the summer months.

When you think of ponds, you might imagine small pools in backyards. While the Adirondacks has plenty of those, it also has some large ponds with lots of paddling intrigue. Osgood Pond near Paul Smith’s combines open waters and lily-pad dense channels for a perfectly balanced canoe or kayak adventure, and it offers a close-up view of White Pine Camp, a historic Adirondack Great Camp that President Calvin Coolidge used as his summer White House. In Tupper Lake, not far from the Wild Center, lies Simon Pond. A flood plain of the Raquette River, it can be reached by paddling through a grassy span between Big Simon Pond and Tupper Lake. While much of the shoreline is private land, it is a prime spot for water-based birding.

If you want to escape the wake of passing motorboats and jet skis, consider a remote backcountry paddle. There are plenty of wild places where you can drop in a canoe or kayak. In fact, the Adirondacks are home to New York State's only designated canoe wilderness area, the St. Regis Canoe Area. Spanning 18,400 acres, St. Regis encompasses an intricate network of lakes and ponds where you can spend a day or retreat for longer canoe camping trips. Stick to the interconnected waterways or portage to reach new areas of opportunity. Scattered throughout St. Regis are 75 primitive tent sites and three lean-tos where you can relax for a spell or spend the night.

Other top paddling destinations in the backcountry include the Essex Chain Lakes, complete with 18 waterbodies that range in size from three-acre ponds to 216-acre lakes. Wedged between sections of the Hudson River and Cedar River, it is a hidden gem brimming with beauty and wildlife. Moose River Plains, just outside Inlet, NY, is another great place to put in, and Helldiver Pond is a popular place to spot – you guessed it – moose!

paddling in a lake in the Adirondacks

Rivers & Streams

Paddle downstream and you’ll experience all the joy of being on a boat with half the work! With enough river miles to cover the circumference of Earth, it’s hard to know where to begin with river paddling in the Adirondacks. Sections of the lower Raquette River near Tupper Lake are a paddling dream come true. Slow waters carry you through varied forests, and camping spots along the river’s edge provide exceptional picnic spots. The Saranac River offers 81 miles of pristine water paddling, passing through several lakes on its way to its terminus in Lake Champlain. The river is also part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, which stretches 740 miles from Old Forge through the Adirondacks and all the way to Fort Kent, Maine.

 If you’re staying near Lake Placid, consider floating down the West Branch of the Ausable River. Put in at the launch on River Road, not far from the iconic Olympic Ski Jumps, and mosey your way past rocky beaches and sand bars, through small rapids and around sweeping bends, to the take-out where River Road meets Route 86 in Wilmington. Water depths vary dramatically through this portion of the river depending on recent rainfall and seasonal melts, so be sure to check conditions before you begin your journey. At just over a mile, the curvature of the river closely mirrors the road, but you will be amazed how peaceful and tranquil it is!

Black River encompasses a wide variety of river types as it flows from the northwestern Adirondacks to Lake Ontario. A fun canoe camping trip complete with several dams, camping sites, and portages if you attempt the full length, smaller segments of the river also make for fun day trips. The middle section from Lyons Falls to Carthage is perhaps best suited to single-day adventures, as there are no dams interrupting the flow. This section is also very popular with fishermen seeking to reel in walleye, bass, and brown trout.

Have a need for speed? Seeking a thrill? Whitewater kayaking and canoeing is an up-and-coming hobby for expert paddlers in the Adirondacks. These treks are less about the views and more about the rugged waters you navigate. Take, for example, the upper section of the Raquette River. Unlike its lower counterpart, the first 18 miles feature raging rapids and tumultuous waterfalls that only the most advanced paddlers should even consider taking on. Hanging Spear Falls on the Hudson River, the steepest mile of whitewater in New York State, is so epic it was recently featured by Pro Red Bull athlete and documentary filmmaker Steve Fisher. Whitewater kayaking and canoeing is a variation of paddling that isn’t for everyone. If you wish to pursue rapids, consider making your debut alongside a professional guide.

canoeing through the Marion River in the Adirondacks

Paddling Safety

No matter where, what, or how often you canoe or kayak, certain paddling safety measures should always be followed. Whether you’re going out for a couple of hours or a full day, make sure you bring the following essentials on your trip.

  • A properly fitted Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is a must for each member of your group. It’s not meant to be a seat cushion, either. The only way for it to help you is if you’re wearing it!
  • Pack plenty of water and snacks. Paddling works up an appetite, and staying hydrated is always important. Don’t rely on lake or river water for drinking, as they could contain harmful bacteria. Bring purified drinking water and, for longer trips, a purification system for filtering additional water.
  • Bring a dry bag to store food, extra clothes, electronics, and other gear. Not only does it save your stuff from dripping paddles, it will also mitigate damage if you happen to flip!
  • As with any Adirondack adventure, a map should always be within reach. Unlike trails with markers, there are very few signs along waterways to assist with wayfinding. Knowing your route ahead of time and having a map to reference will prevent a lot of confusion and turnarounds.