CANOEING, KAYAKING & SUP
Buck Pond Camp and Paddle
By Alan Mapes
Hanging out with 1920s gangster Legs Diamond? It was an unexpected part of our August paddling week last year. We based the trip out of Buck Pond State Campground in the Adirondacks. Legs himself was not around, but we stopped for lunch at the site of his camp on Clear Pond.
Each August, I organize a car camping and paddling week with folks I know through Atlantic Kayak Tours and the Adirondack Mountain Club. We usually camp at Rollins Pond State Campground, but we decided to try a new location this past August – Buck Pond Campground near Onchiota – about 20 minutes north of the village of Saranac Lake.
Buck Pond turned out to be a great spot for our trip. Three full days of paddling allowed us to explore a good bit of the local water, but still have more to explore this year. Let me give you a snapshot of our experience.
Rollins Pond is hard to beat for a paddling base. Most campsites are right on the water so you can access other area ponds and lakes without portaging your boat. The problem is that Rollins is so popular! You must reserve a campsite on the very day that reservations open (9 months before your arrival), and you’d better do it in the first hour of that day. Campsites get snapped up that fast.
At Buck Pond, we did not have the luxury of being right on the water, but everything else was great. We had beautiful campsites in the “B” loop and no reservation pressure. During our week in late August the loop was well less than half full. The individual sites were large and flat, nice for putting up our small tents. On my site, we put up a screen house and an awning over the picnic table, so everyone could gather for joint meals.
Folks arrived and setup on Monday afternoon and evening, coming from as far as Buffalo and northern New Jersey. We had three full days available for paddling, with people leaving on Friday morning. The campground was filling up as we left on Friday as it was the start of the Labor Day Weekend.
For Tuesday’s paddle, our target was the north branch of the Saranac River. We launched from the boat ramp in the campground and into the western “narrows” of Lake Kushaqua. Heading west, we passed through a large culvert running under an old rail bed, and into the narrow end of Rainbow Lake.
The major land features in this region, besides the many lakes, are the eskers. These long, narrow, winding ridges are perhaps 50 to 100 feet tall. The ridges formed during the last glacial period, as material was deposited by rivers running through the melting glacier. At Rainbow Lake, a long, winding esker runs all along the north shore of the four-mile long lake.
In the Rainbow Narrows, we kept to the right and into a bay that marks the beginning of the river. We made slow progress upstream, not that the current was very strong – it’s a slow gentle river. We took our time to appreciate the wild and beautiful scenery. We worked our way through the breaks in several beaver dams, ultimately finding our way blocked by a more substantial dam.
This became a theme of our paddling week – beaver dams signaled the turnaround spot on each of our three paddling days. People paddling canoes have it a little easier landing on beaver dams, pulling the boat over the dam. and getting in again. From a kayak this is more of a challenge, especially for our not-so-young legs. We happily let the first substantial dam be our turning point.
After a lunch stop along the bank of the Saranac, we worked our way back downstream. Before returning to the launch spot, we continued east into the main body of Lake Kushaqua, finding the shores mostly wild, with only a couple of private camps on the shores. Our day’s trip totaled a leisurely seven miles.
Our Wednesday target was to explore more of Rainbow Lake, and the connected waters of Clear Pond and The Flow. From our launch spot on the far west end of Rainbow Lake, we made a loop, starting with a paddle up the main lake. We passed many nice, older camps along the way. Motorboats were very few, thankfully, and the paddle was peaceful all day. I expect it may be less so on a weekend day.
Halfway up Rainbow, we located the narrow break in the esker ridge, and paddled through into Clear Pond. Other than a few camps on the far eastern end, Clear Pond has wild shorelines owned by the state. Our lunch stop was at the west end of Clear, landing at some old concrete and stone foundations, which line a passage into The Flow. These foundations are from a former camp were Legs Diamond is reputed to have stayed. The passage between waters provided a quick escape in either direction if the G-Men should appear, or so the story goes.
The afternoon brought an exploration of The Flow, an entirely wild channel leading north from Rainbow Lake. Our return to the launch involved working our way through some deadfall trees along a large floating bog, complete with pitcher plants, and other bog specialties.
A nice dinner out at the Blue Moon Cafe in Saranac Lake village that evening prepared us for our third day of paddling. I had a really wild treat in store for the group – a trip up the Osgood River. This is one of the wildest, most beautiful paddles in the park, yet it is very easy to access. There are two launch options, one puts you right into Osgood Pond from the White Pine Road near Paul Smith’s College.
Instead, we launched on tiny Church Pond and made our way through a narrow canal (dug in Paul Smith’s day), and into Osgood Pond. A loon surfaced near us as we worked our way across the pond, which is really a good sized lake. We passed the White Pine Camp with its signature gazebo on a small island just off shore. This was once the summer White House of President Calvin Coolidge in 1926.
Continuing north, the shores are entirely wild, draped with wispy tamarack and black spruce trees. Wide bog mats of sphagnum moss line the edges of the rivers. A close look revealed pitcher plants, sundews and other bog plants.
It was a cloudy day with periodic drizzle, but that just enhanced the wild feel of the river. We hoped to see some of the rare gray jays that we had found on other trips here, but would not have luck that day. Water lilies and the white puffs of cotton grass lined our passage.
You can only go so far on this section of the Osgood River. Then it starts to tumble over rocks and becomes impassable. The Osgood becomes good for paddling again further downstream, and you can make a nice trip up from Meacham Lake. We stopped near the end of navigation, taking a lunch break at the site of an old logging camp.
Each of our three days of paddling were easy paddling – under ten miles – but gave us wonderful waters to explore. You can be sure that we will be back at Buck Pond Campground again this August.
Details for paddling in the Rainbow Lake and Osgood Pond area can be found in “Adirondack Paddler’s Guide: Finding Your Way by Canoe and Kayak in the Adirondack Park,” by Dave Cilley, owner of St. Regis Canoe Outfitters in Saranac Lake, and his accompanying “Adirondack Paddler’s Map.”
Alan Mapes (email@example.com) is a sea kayak instructor and guide, certified by the American Canoe Association and the British Canoe Union. He lives near Delmar and offers kayak instruction through the Capital District Kayakers Meetup Group.