As the days grow longer, the temperature rises, and frozen lakes and ponds return to their liquid state, the serene waters of the Adirondack Mountains beckon the outdoor adventurer to stow away their snowshoes and skis and break out a canoe or kayak for long sunny days of aquatic exploration. Home to over 3,000 lakes and ponds, a paddling destination suited for every taste can be found in the vast Adirondack Park. For a fine introduction to what backcountry canoe camping in the Adirondacks is all about, head to Follensby Clear Pond in the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest. While small enough (roughly 1.5 miles from end to end) to explore in a day, the beautiful waterfront campsites, plentiful wildlife, and options for further exploration make Follensby Clear an ideal basecamp to call home for a few days. Don’t have a canoe or kayak of your own? No problem, just head to St. Regis Canoe Outfitters in Saranac Lake or nearby Floodwood Pond for boat/gear rentals, guidebooks and maps, and trip details from the friendly staff. After launching from the parking area at the south end of Follensby Clear Pond on State Route 30 (where a dock facilitates the loading and unloading of boats), glide through the placid waters as you bid adieu to civilization. Trace the sinuous shoreline, keeping an eye out for herons hunting in the shallows, and scout out the numerous campsites that pepper the shore. Note: the DEC periodically closes campsites and builds new ones in popular locations such as Follensby Clear, so give the regional DEC office a call ahead of time to find out the most up to date status. Contact info and other details and regulations can be found at the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest DEC website.
While the closest campsites are a mere stone’s throw from the parking lot, press on to the quieter northern half of the lake to avoid most of the day-tripper traffic and to discover primo island campsites (including one of the only lean-tos in the area) as well as a large and beautiful campsite on a peninsula that extends from the western shore in the north end of the pond. All campsites are first come, first served and have an outhouse or open-air “thunderbox” as well as a fire ring, but no picnic table or food storage lockers. While bear canisters aren’t necessarily required in the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, they’re highly recommended to avoid having pesky rodents and raccoons getting into your food bag, even if it has been expertly hung.
Once camp is established, spend your days either lounging around camp or heading out to some of the enticing destinations that make for perfect daytrips from camp. For a half-day loop that visits three additional ponds and has very short portages, find the portage trail on the west side of Follensby Clear, located about midway up the pond and just southwest of the island that has the lean-to campsite. Take the short portage trail down to the landing at the eastern corner of lovely Horseshoe Pond and explore the interesting peninsula (complete with a killer campsite) that can be seen across the pond from the landing. After enjoying the solitude of Horseshoe Pond, paddle to the northwest corner of the pond to make the short portage to small and boggy Little Polliwog Pond. The portage trail intersects with the Horseshoe Pond Trail, which makes for a nice leg stretcher and heads north to Polliwog Pond or south back to Horseshoe Pond. Once on Little Polliwog Pond, paddle northeast to the downhill portage trail to much larger Polliwog Pond and take your time exploring Polliwog as you work your way to the northeast corner of the pond and the short portage trail back to Follensby Clear Pond.
Whether the day has been spent paddling to distant waters or relaxing at camp, there’s no finer way to end a wonderful day on the water than by taking a dip and laying out in the sun to dry. As night approaches, light up a campfire and listen to it crackle as the haunting call of loons echoes across the lake, quite possibly the most Adirondack way to cap off an exhilarating day of paddling in the vast Adirondack wilderness.
A version of this article can be found at EMS Go East Blog.