July 2019 - CANOEING, KAYAKING & SUP
Cedar River Flow
By Rich Macha
Over the past ten years, I have probably paddled Cedar River Flow and the Cedar River more often than any other water body in the Adirondacks. From a strictly paddling perspective, it has most everything I desire from a paddling destination: a varied shoreline, mountains that rise over 1,600 feet above the flow, some twisty stream paddling, a few backcountry campsites, and a variety of wildlife.
The Cedar River drains from the Cedar Lakes in the West Canada Lake Wilderness and flows north. Wakely Dam backs up the river into a three-mile-long lake-like impoundment, the Cedar River Flow. The put-in next to Wakely Dam is reached by driving west of Indian Lake on NY Route 28/30, and turning left on Cedar River Road, then continuing for over 12 miles – the last five miles on a decent dirt road.
In the area of the dam are several primitive car-camping sites, which are sometimes occupied by RVs as well as tents. The last time I camped here I was bothered by loud music and talking and a generator that came on at 5am – this is not my style of camping as I prefer the sounds of nature and enjoying some peace and quiet. It usually does not take long to escape the mayhem though. Motors are allowed on the flow, but you don’t often see any since the put-in is not the most conducive to launching motorboats.
As you paddle south away from the dam you enter another world and it gets better the further you go. Soon, Payne Brook enters from the southwest and you can paddle a short distance to a beaver dam that is four feet high – I’ve gone up and over the dam but the brook gets too shallow very quickly. However, someone once told me they saw a moose in this area so I keep checking.
The flow passes some islands, makes a jog left and soon jogs right, opening up into the main part of the lake. Prevailing southwest winds often produce some chop – check the forecast before you start and avoid winds much over 15 mph. There are several backcountry campsites along the east shore – some have small sandy beaches which tempt the paddler to stop and go for a swim. The west shore has only two campsites – the most heavily-used one is where the Northville-Placid Trail comes close to the flow, hence the campsite is used by both paddlers and backpackers. Loons are often seen and heard.
About two miles from the dam, Buell Brook enters from the east, its mouth hidden somewhat by grasses – depending on water level, it is possible to paddle up the brook for up to one-mile. The south end of the flow is grassy and full of bur-reed – pied-billed grebes nest in here and if you camp or spend some time near here, you will hear their distinct whinnying and cooing.
To continue upstream on the Cedar River and enter into the West Canada Lake Wilderness, stay close to the east shore and follow the open water as it snakes its way through the grassy area. Look for a long row of alder bushes that protrudes into the marsh – the river enters through these. You can then paddle up the river for close to two miles. A piney campsite is on the left after the river makes a fairly sharp U-turn. If you paddle into the back bay just past the campsite, you can find a path that leads to an old road that headed up the valley of Little Squaw Brook – it is also a good route if you wish to walk to remote Carry Pond.
As you paddle upriver, the shores are of spruce and balsam fir, and the stepped east flanks of Manley Mountain stand out to the south. The Carry Lean-To is reached after paddling the river for 1.5 miles and, again, serves paddlers and Northville-Placid Trail hikers – I’m not sure how well it deserves its reputation as “the lean-to that hums” but be ready for some biting flying insects. The river gets too shallow and rocky about a half-mile past the lean-to.
For the adventurous, you can carry your canoe or kayak north on the NPT for less than a half-mile, and drop it into a small unnamed stream that passes under a wooden bridge. This stream parallels the Cedar River and enters the flow where the river enters, however its character is much different as you have to go over several beaver dams, then push through lily pads before re-entering the flow.
On the return, you can get views of the Wakely Mountain to the northwest – it is easy to spot since it has the tallest fire tower in the Adirondacks. Buell and Lewey mountains dominate to the east and southeast, respectively. Outside of the High Peaks, you are surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the Adirondacks!
Besides the wildlife previously mentioned, you can expect to see osprey, bald eagles, cedar waxwings, northern flickers, wood ducks, black ducks, common mergansers, northern harriers and gulls. Summer flowers include bullhead lily, Joe-Pye weed, turtlehead, bottle gentian, goldenrod and bladderwort.
Nine years ago, I found solitude here on July 4th – I’m not sure if I could duplicate that again due to the rise in the flow’s popularity but a mid-week visit would be a good bet – give it a try.
A lover of wild places, Rich Macha has led many trips for the Adirondack Mountain Club, and has spent 20 years in the paddlesport/snowsport business. More of Rich’s adventures can be found at northeastwild.blogspot.com.