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2022 Adirondacks Spring Paddle:

to High Rock and Back

Oswegatchie River from Wanakena

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The marsh at Paul Smith's VIC supports floating bogs and diverse plant and animal species

2022 marked five years since we've been exploring the Adirondacks, mostly via our super lightweight Hornbeck boats, and the first year we've visited in the spring. On this trip, we focused on the Oswegatchie River, a beautiful, meandering body of water located in part in the Five Ponds Wilderness Area. This area lies in a region of the Adirondack Park well away from many of the most heavily-traveled highways, providing opportunities for solitude and quiet.

Rather than a detailed chronilogical accounting, this page captures highlights of our trip.

As with our other recent Adirondack trips, we spent our first night at Paul Smith's Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC), where we charged our all-electric car, and slept in the lap of luxury - aka a lean-to.

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The marsh at Paul Smith's VIC is circled by a walking path with bird watching perches

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Our lean-to offers added shelter at Paul Smith's VIC

The sun sets gently over the marsh at Paul Smith's VIC

The trails and lean-tos at the VIC seem to be lightly used and we had the place almost entirely to ourselves.

After a lovely sunset, we listened to a book together and then slept well in the relatively quiet setting.

Come morning, we packed up and headed south to Wanakena and to the real beginning of our several-day paddle on the Oswegatchie.

We arrived at Inlet, near Wanakena, a hamlet near Cranberry Lake in New York and off-loaded our boats and gear, getting ready to put in on the Oswegatchie River. Twyla couldn't wait for the boats and tested out the water ahead of time.

It's always exciting to embark on a paddle in a place we've never explored, and this was no exception. Some folks paddle from Inlet to High Falls and back in a day, but we planned a slow-poke version, with lots of time to camp and explore woods and wildflowers.


Glen is good at documenting signs along the way


We love the non-motorized waterways


Twyla tests out the water temperature


Glen works his way through some downed branches in the early spring river

River banks are just starting to green up, with spruce and pine in the uplands

Cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum)

The wildflowers were spectacular, especially the yellow trout lilyThere were vast carpets of them along the river bank and into the woods.


Goldthread (Coptis trifolia)

Yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum)

There are over 30 designated campsites between Inlet and High Falls, so finding a site was not a worry. Early spring does not seem to be the most popular time to paddle this river and, indeed, we saw few people on our several-day-trip.


A view of tender green tree leaf buds and green nubs of grass hint at spring at this Twyla-approved campsite #43

We stopped off at High Rock, a place we had visited on foot back in 2017, when we hiked the Cranberry Lake 50. As a matter of fact, it was there that we met a older couple who was out paddling on the Oswegatchie and I remember thinking "I want to do that!" And a few years later, we did. 

High Rock is a popular spot to stop and view the river as it meanders through the vast wetland complex

We encountered about 25 beaver dams along our paddling route (and encountered them the second time on the way back), only four of which required us to portage around them.


Since we were paddling in the spring, the water was relatively high. Paddling the river later in the season or during droughty periods would probably require many more portages to get around beaver dams, making the trip much more challenging.


Beaver lodges are plentiful in the watery landscape along the Oswegatchie

Paddling and hiking in the wilderness areas of the Adirondacks provides opportunities to see the woods and waters in their natural state. The utter beauty of the constantly regenerating ecosystem is awe-inspiring. Other than necessary cuts to keep the river and trails open, there is little sign of human intervention in the woods.

A mighty pine rests in the water, with Buck Brook lean-to in the background

The root wad of this tree was about 15 to 20 feet in diameter

Downed trees increase structural complexity and support a vast numbers of organisms

Behind the Buck Brook shelter, trees likely from the historic 1995 blow-down crisscross the landscape and regenerate

Camping at Buck Brook lean-to provided us the luxury of a covered campsite and a picnic table (unusual in the wilderness areas of the Adirondacks.)


The site was very peaceful, with towering pines and views out into the wetlands and beyond. We enjoyed  choruses of songbirds, and peepers in the evening. 


Our two boats remain at rest for the evening


Glen gets ready to go treat some river water for us to drink

Pines and spruce scent the air and provided shade 


It's hard to take a bad photo in such a gorgeous place!

The following day, we encountered a faster section of the river that was littered with boulders, making it somewhat dangerous for us to attempt to traverse with our ultra-light boats. We found a place to take out and then scouted the rocky shore to figure out a way around. After some rock-hopping and boat carrying, we found a calm place beyond the boulders to put in again. Once back in the water, it wasn't long until we encountered another challenge that required maneuvering around downed trees and branches. 

Glen and the dogs check out the work-around to bypass the boulders

Fast moving water and boulders are not the best conditions for our boats


Part of the fun of paddling on the river is puzzling through these dams

While not required in this area of the Adirondacks as it is in the High Peaks region, the hanging of food is a good idea. It's easy to become lax about making sure your food is well away from potential bear damage, but not after you see a pit toilet bit into by a bear with very strong jaw muscles!

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Bear bite marks are a bit sobering to encounter

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Relatively fresh bear scat confirmed bears were in the vicinity

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Ideally, a bear bag should hang ten feet away from the trunk and fifteen feet above the ground - and be located 200 feet away from one's campsite

Following the slowpoke schedule of not having to be anywhere at an particular time allowed us lots of time for woodland saunters. More species of wildflowers were to be seen, along with critters large and small.

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Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

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Painted trillium (Trillium undulatum)

Ants alive!

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High Falls can be heard - and barely seen - in the distance

Bubbles on the river's surface were a sure sign we were getting close to High Falls, just as the sun was beginning to ascend above the tree tops.

We paddled as close to the falls as the strong current would allow, appreciating the force of the rushing water and the beauty of the surrounding landscape.

As with much of the rest of the trip, there were no other humans in sight.

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Water rushes over High Falls in the early morning


Floating back downstream is a piece of cake

High Falls marked our turn-around point and we began to drift downstream with ease and enjoyment. And although we could have easily made it back to our initial put-in that day, we took it easy, knowing we wanted to camp at least one more night before heading out.


Glen and Nyssa drift lazily downstream from High Falls


The dogs settle in to the campsite for the afternoon


The black flies and mosquitos were, admittedly, pretty fierce, forcing us to seek the shelter of the tent in the afternoon


A carpet of trout lilies and Candada mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense) spreads behind campsite 19 on the Oswegatchie River


Glen and Nyssa approach Inlet and the end to our out-and-back paddle on the Oswegatchie.

The return trip to the car was leisurely. Many of the beaver dams and other obstructions that were challenging to navigate upstream were much easier to paddle over going downstream, with a little nudge from the current. We made it back to the car late morning and set about re-supplying our packs with more food for the second leg of our trip on Cranberry Lake.

Cranberry Lake to Site 39 on the Dead Creek Flow

Cranberry Lake is a body of water we have not explored much in the past, due mostly to its large size and the fact that motorized boats are allowed on it. The larger the water body, the better chance for high winds, something our lightweight boats do not do well in. However, the winds were calm and the skies were cloudy, so we decided to explore an area of the lake that would not be too likely to have large boats on it. Also, with storms moving in, we did not want to venture too far into the wilderness, should we have to end our trip early.


Mary paddles a section of Cranberry Lake, with Twyla on the lookout for trouble


Campsite 39 is a sheltered site on the Dead Creek Flow, tucked away from potentially windy conditions on the big lake


The weater forecast calls for several days of rain ahead and the clouds begin to gather in agreement


Lichens cover many of the evergreens and birches near our campsite


Rain begins to fall in the distance, moving our way

Thunderstorms moved in later in the afternoon, providing spectacular cloud formations and heavy rain, sending us scrambling for the cover of our tent. Nyssa is fearful of thunderstorms and likely found little comfort in the seemingly flimsy cover of our ultra light tent. 

Nothing like a thunder storm in a tiny tent to make one feel closer to nature


With the clouds continuing to threaten more rain, we stayed close to our tent, opting not to take an afternoon paddle


With for forecast calling for several solid days of rain, we wrapped up our trip, paddling out during a lull in the rain. The trip was a bit shorter than we had planned, but it was still a great pleasure.


How fortunate we were to be able to explore the Oswegatchie River, a bit of Cranberry Lake, and the peaceful lands that surround them.

Glen paddles through glassy water as we make our way out of Cranberry Lake and head home to Massachusetts

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