June 2018 - CANOEING & KAYAKING
Exploring the St. Regis Canoe Area
By Rich Macha
The St. Regis Canoe Area covers over 18,000 acres and is the only designated canoe area in New York State. There are over 50 motor-less ponds of various sizes within the SRCA and you can find 70 designated primitive campsites spread out over 20 of those ponds – camping is limited to eight persons per site. Marked “carries” of varying lengths and difficulty connect many of the ponds. You can easily spend as much time on your feet as on your butt while traveling through the area. St. Regis Mountain (2,874’ elevation) and Long Pond Mountain (2,530’) are the notable peaks in the SRCA and both have marked hiking trails to their open summits.
The SRCA is managed similarly to designated “Wilderness Areas,” but the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan allows for mountain biking on designated trails within a “Canoe Area,” as well as the use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment, and aircraft by administrative personnel for purposes designed to preserve or enhance the water or fishery resources. These uses are restricted primarily to the 4.7-mile Fish Pond Truck Trail and the 0.25-mile St. Regis Pond Truck Trail. That being said, on all of my visits I have never seen a vehicle nor a bike.
For the purposes of this article, we will travel across the area from east to west. You can start on Lower St. Regis Lake at Paul Smith’s College or on Upper St. Regis Lake at the end of St. Regis Carry Road, at a boat launch next to the post office. You will have to share these lakes with motorboats and sailboats, especially in summer. The shores are developed but the fancy “camps” found along the shoreline can be visually entertaining. If you have time, a detour to the west end of Upper St. Regis Lake will bring you to Camp Topridge, an Adirondack-style great camp consisting of 60 buildings. A little south of Topridge, in Spring Bay, is the start of a trail up to the summit fire tower on St. Regis Mountain where views include most of the SRCA, the Saranac Lakes, as well as most of the High Peaks. The mountain and fire tower are often in view from many of the ponds in the SRCA.
The first carry of our journey starts after paddling 0.7-mile from the boat launch, passing Roiley Bog, and a couple of islands. The carry to Bog Pond is short and sweet. Bog Pond is tiny but you may want to take things slowly so as to examine the fascinating plants along its boggy shores. Technically, you are not yet in the SRCA.
Another short and easy carry leads into Bear Pond, where the water is clear and deep – quite a contrast from Bog Pond’s brown water. The lean-tos seen here are on private land, but the west and south shores are state land, and are in the SRCA. On most of my trips, I like to paddle unhurriedly the long way around each pond to see what I may find, and to maximize my time in the canoe.
Next, there is a moderate 0.2-mile carry to Little Long Pond. Fish can be seen swimming by, darting in and out of the lily pads, in the pond’s shallow east end. Loons and osprey nest here and civilization now seems far away. Little Long, at 1,654’, is the highest elevation pond along our route.
Another 0.2-mile carry leads to Green Pond. The water of this small glacial pond is deep, clear and green, as its name implies. A little-used 0.7-mile carry leads south to Little Clear Pond. Most folks take the short carry to St. Regis Pond.
On St. Regis Pond, a west wind can create some choppy waters as it blows across its 1.5-mile-long length, but the prudent paddler can hide behind an occasional island and make some headway into the wind. St. Regis has 12 campsites and one lean-to, and is one of the most popular ponds in the SRCA. When I last visited, the loons were quite agitated, prolifically vocalizing their tremolos. After pulling out my spyglass, I spotted a pair of bald eagles flying above, and waiting for an opportunity to snatch a loon chick for their next meal.
From the south bay, a 0.6-mile carry leads to Little Clear Pond and one of the most-used entry points to the SRCA, a sandy beach at its southwest end. Camping and fishing are not allowed on Little Clear because the nearby state fish hatchery uses it for breeding land-locked salmon.
Moving west from St. Regis Pond, you have some choices. It is a smooth, “wheelable” carry of over two miles to Fish Pond, along the St. Regis Pond and Fish Pond Truck Trails. For those who prefer to stay in their boats, you can try paddling the outlet of St. Regis Pond, the West Branch of the St. Regis River, below the fish barrier dam. The last time I tried this, it took me 30 minutes to get to Ochre Pond – I went over five beaver dams and some shallow obstructions. I returned to St. Regis Pond on the 0.6-mile carry trail, which took me 12 minutes with the canoe over my head. I enjoyed the stream paddling more than the carry though.
From Ochre, the carry trail to Fish is 1.4 miles-long, and goes along an esker – and through some beautiful old-growth forest. You can break up the carry by detouring through Mud Pond; you may find some mud but the pond is serene and scenic.
Fish Pond has two lean-tos and a couple of designated campsites. Short carries lead into Little Fish, Little Long (not the same as the one to the east) and Lydia Ponds. There is a good chance you won’t see other people on these as you are now well away from civilization. When I camped on Little Long (west) the campfire ring was inhabited by snakes.
From Little Long, a short carry leads to Kit Fox Pond, then another 0.27-mile carry drops you at Nellie Pond. From Nellie it is a rough 1.2-mile carry to a beaver pond. Soon after leaving Nellie, a short detour goes to Bessie Pond – this lovely pond is worth the side-trip and makes for a good spot to take a break.
After the beaver pond, it is another 0.35-mile walk to Long Pond. One of the larger ponds in the area with over eight miles of shoreline. Long Pond is very popular because relatively easy access makes it a desirable destination for both campers and day-trippers. It is an easy 0.25-mile carry from a parking area on Floodwood Road or a hop, skip and a jump via Turtle and Slang ponds from an access on Hoel Pond.
Long Pond’s attractions include a route into Pink and Little Pink ponds, a great swimming beach at the start of the carry to Slang Pond, and a 1.6-mile hike past Mountain Pond and up Long Pond Mountain. Many loons make their summer homes on Long Pond. I’ve witnessed a fight over territory between two of them; this was quite the spectacle to watch as they poked at each other with their beaks and punched with their wings.
My preferred map is the Adirondack Paddlers Map – North or Adirondack Paddlers Map – St. Regis Canoe Wilderness (Close-Up Series) by Paddlesports Press, which can be found at outfitters. More info and a map of campsites can be found on NYSDEC’s website at dec.ny.gov/lands/70572.html.
A lover of wild places, Rich Macha has led many trips for the Adirondack Mountain Club and has spent 20 years in the paddlesport business. More of Rich’s adventures can be found at northeastwild.blogspot.com.