Monday, August 15, 2022

Three-Day Canoeing-Camping in Saranac Lakes: Locks-Pizza-Knots

Tim, Dundee, Paul, and I recently returned from a three-day canoe and camping trip on Lower and Middle Saranac Lakes in the Adirondack region of upstate New York. This area includes Section 2 of the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trip described in the below references. The trip was initiated and organized by Paul.

The above map shows our two campsites (82 and 70), Middle and Lower Saranac Lake Locks, and the Registration site. The put-in and takeout are in the same area.

This region is part of the Saranac Lake Islands Public Campground Area. All campsites must be registered. Given the demand for this beautiful area, we did an early campsite registration. Reservations can be made at

The weather was perfect for our three-day paddle and two nights of camping, EXCEPT for the return day. Our return four-hour paddle to the take-out started in nice weather, but the last two hours of this loaded canoe paddle were made in torrential rain and rolling waves. All of us had experienced this situation before, and we managed to keep upright but were exhausted from our vigorous and non-stop paddle.

Trip Highlights
  • A five-hour two-car trip from, NH, to Saranac Lakes, NY. The Registration Office is on Second Pond on Route 3 (see map.)
  • A three-day two- night paddling trip. Each morning we packed up our tents and moved to the next assigned site. We cooked all our meals over an open campfire.
  • Our day 1 paddle to our assigned site was 7 ½ miles and took about 5 hours of canoe paddling. This included passing through a lock from Lower Saranac Lake to Middle Saranac Lake. We operated the locks ourselves. Sometimes rangers are there, but this time we did it. A fun thing to do as we went up about five feet to reach the Middle Saranac Lake level. Upon our return in two days, we went through the same locks – this time dropping five feet by the locks.
  • Our day 2 paddle to our new campsite took about three hours. Once there, we set up again our campsite.
  • Our day 3 paddle took about 4 hours and was in the middle of a rainstorm. My son and I, as well as our two friends, had experienced this dramatic type of rain and waves before, so we handled it with no issue, but it certainly required more effort – meaning no leisurely paddling only strong paddling because we wanted to minimize the time to get back, as well as the wind and white caps were a bit challenging.


The trip detail is shown in the four below videos:
  1. Trip Summary (minus detail included in Videos 2, 3 and 4)
  2. Detail of going through Locks as we passed through Lower Saranac Lake to Middle Saranac Lake, and on day three a return trip through the same Lock. 
  3. Our campsite cooking experience was highlighted by Paul’s experiment with making a pizza from scratch (hint-it was delicious.) Plus our first dinner was steak and potatoes cooked over an open campfire, followed by breakfast of steak and eggs. 
  4. Paul’s tutorial on Knot Tying. Wilderness camping requires setting up tarps, and tents, and tying canoes and kayaks to the cartop. All necessities require knot tying.
1. Trip Summary Video (Detail included in videos 2, 3 and 4)

2. Passing Through the Saranac Locks

3. Cooking Pizza Over an Open Campfire

4. Knot Tying - Bowline and Truckers Hitch

Fun things we did:
  • Paul provided an instruction class on knot tying – Truckers Knot, clove hitch, etc. Paul usually uses these knots when we put up our tents and campsite tarps. We wanted to learn these knots for ourselves.
  • Paul, very creatively demonstrated and cooked a pizza over our campfire.
  • Went swimming.
  • Campfire evenings of memories and laughs from our many trips of years past.
  • Without assistance from a ranger, we twice took our canoes through locks. These manually-operated locks consist of a watertight basin known as a lock chamber, which is used to raise or lower the water level as required. Our canoes (and us) and other boats are raised or lowered by filling or emptying the lock chamber. Gates at each end of the lock chamber allow the canoes to enter and leave. First, we went from Lower Saranac Lake to Middle Saranac Lake. Upon our return to take-out, we went from Middle Saranac Lake to Lower Saranac Lake. The locks are there to allow boats to by-pass a series of rapids and waterfall which would require a portage and prevent most boats from traveling between the two lakes.
  • Dramatic Campsite Sunset 

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  1. Northern Forest Canoe Trail
  2. Evolution of the locks joining the Saranac River Locks
  3. How to tie a bowline – a tutorial
  4. How to tie a Truckers Hitch - Survival Skills - Knots
  5. Two Easy Ways to Tie a Clove Hitch Knot
  7. New York State Parks
  8. Three Generations Paddling in Saranac Lake
  9. Paddling the Northern Forest Canoe Trail Long Lake to Village of Saranac

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