If you’re a paddler, you may have heard about the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Perhaps you’ve even thought about canoeing the whole route.
What a great idea—if you have two months to spare.
Actually, it’s a great idea even if you don’t. Like the Northville-Placid Trail or the Appalachian Trail, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail doesn’t have to be done in one continuous trip. It can be broken into a series of trips that can be completed in a day or long weekend.
Of course, there’s no law that says you have to do the whole thing. Each segment of the NFCT is enjoyable in its own right. Find a section that matches your skill set and have a blast.
A new guidebook published by The Mountaineers Books makes the job of paddling the NFCT, whether for two hours or two months, a lot easier. At 304 pages, it describes each part of the trail in detail, including put-ins, takeouts, carries, and rapids. It’s meant to be used with a series of full-color foldout maps (thirteen in all), also published by The Mountaineers Books. The book sells for $24.95. The maps are sold separately for $9.95 each, but you can save money by purchasing a set.
Completed in 2006, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail stretches 740 miles across four states and one Canadian province, following ancient water routes used by Native Americans. The organization that maintains and promotes the trail has placed kiosks in several communities along the way.
Through paddlers travel west to east, starting in Old Forge, in the western Adirondacks, and ending in Fort Kent, Maine. Going in this direction involves less upstream travel. The trip includes sixty-two portages that add up to fifty-five miles.
The New York leg of the trail—147 miles—lies almost entirely within the Adirondack Park. For much of the way, from Old Forge to Saranac Lake, paddlers basically follow the route of the Adirondack Canoe Classic, a three-day, ninety-mile canoe race held at the end of each summer.
The Old-Forge-Saranac Lake section is almost all flatwater, with several carries around rapids and between watersheds. Paddlers have numerous options for easy day trips or longer weekend trips. This section is covered in the first two maps of the NFCT series.
One my favorite spring trips in this region of the NFCT is to put in at Stony Creek Ponds, paddle to the Raquette River (often meandering through a flooded forest), and take out at Axton Landing or the boat launch on Route 3.
Click here to read about another trip along this part of the NFCT. The paddlers began and ended in the village of Saranac Lake, canoeing across Lower Saranac Lake and then down the Saranac River to Oseetah Lake and Lake Flower. The story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.
From the village of Saranac Lake, the NFCT follows the Saranac River for sixty-three miles to its end in Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain. The river has many rapids navigable only by expert whitewater paddlers, but there are several flatwater stretches as well. This section is covered in the third map in the series.
One idea for a flatwater trip is to put in the river in the village of Saranac Lake and paddle downstream for nine miles to Moose Pond Road near the hamlet of Bloomingdale. Take a side trip up winding Moose Creek for magnificent views of Moose and McKenzie mountains.
Adirondack Lakes and Trails, an outfitter in Saranac Lake, will host a fund-raiser for the Northern Forest Canoe Trail on April 16 at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. Several paddling movies will be shown from 7-9 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, through the LPCA, or $12 at the door.