Best Places for Kayaking and Canoeing in the Lake George Region/Warren County
Lake George Kayaking, Canoeing and Rafting: Paddle on!
Looking for places to kayak, canoe and whitewater raft in Lake George and Warren County, NY? We’ve got ‘em! These rivers, lakes and luscious bodies of water that surround the “Queen of American Lakes” offer everything from morning to afternoon trips to day-long trips that range in levels from beginner to advanced. Here you’ll find relaxing journeys, combined paddling/hikes and camping trips, as well as exciting whitewater adventures. So whether you want to canoe, kayak or raft a heartier course or just sit back and relax while paddling, enjoying the gorgeous Lake George mountain scenery, the choice is yours. Here’s our picks for the Best Places for Kayaking, Canoeing and Rafting in and Around Lake George.
Maybe you’re the quiet type. Maybe your idea of paddling doesn’t involve wrestling for water-rites with powerboats or stressing out trying to avoid annoying wakes that send you swaying right off course—after all, you came to the lake to relax. Well if this is the case, you may want to avoid the areas along the main stretch of Lake George. As a premiere powerboat destination, it’s hard to get away from these engine-revving babies, unless you opt for paddling in the very early hours or spook out some quieter stretches (which we’ll tell you about here). But quieter places that aren’t directly on Lake George can also offer more relaxing journeys, one of which is Trout Lake Pond.
Located in Bolton Landing, on Trout Lake Rd (off of Rt 9N), Trout Lake Pond is a great place to head when you’re looking for a relaxing flat water paddling experience. The entrance is somewhat hidden and all too easy to miss, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled—you’ll come to it when you see an opening in a chain-link fence, and it’s right off the road. The pond is more the size of a small lake, and though there are some motorboats that do populate it, they’re few and far between. Trout Lake Pond also offers a few islands that you can paddle to. The stretch of the lake is about 3-4 miles, so traversing its entirety can make for a good half-day to day of paddling, and you can also bring along a picnic lunch, stop and enjoy it, as you’re letting the sun stream down on you, enjoying the day.
If you want to do a camping/paddling combo, and you’re up for a true island camping experience, then 13th Lake in the Gore Mountain Region is another great place to check out. Not only is the camping here isolated and about as rustic as you’ll find, but it’s also free. Okay, so island camping around the region isn’t all that expensive anyway, but really, how can you ever beat free? To get to the launch, you’ll want to take the Northway to Exit 23 (Warrensburg). From there, follow 28; you’ll pass through North Creek into the town of North River. Follow the signs for Garnet Hill Lodge. The road you’ll want to take is called 13th Lake Road, and it’s actually off the road to the lodge.
When you come to the lake, you’ll see it’s fairly small, stretching about 2-3 miles long. The upside of this is that there’s very little traffic—in other words, no motorboats on this one; you are likely to still see some other paddlers, however, this lake is one of the most unpopulated we’ve found. It’s so quiet in fact that you can actually hear your own voice echo. The trip offers some truly stunning mountain scenery, a variety of wildlife, including duck, ospreys and loons, and the trip’s biggest highlight may just be hearing the call of the loons on the lake. From what I understand, there’s also some pretty good fishing to be had—word is, the lake is flowing with trout, bass and bullhead. And don’t forget your camping gear—individual island campgrounds span the lake and make for a great night of camping if you’re feeling up for a little adventure.
If you want something more challenging, you may want to try the paddle/hike combination of Northwest Bay and Tongue Mountain. This is one of those quieter places on Lake George that I previously mentioned, though I wouldn’t necessarily call it a secret, as it really is a fairly popular spot for kayakers. The entrance parking lot is off Route 9N, a little north of Bolton Landing. From there, you can paddle up Northwest Bay Brook to the bay, which will lead you to Montcalm Point. Along the way, you’ll be privy to some truly picturesque scenery and wildlife, including flowering lily pads, lots of ducks, some otters and gorgeous views of the mountains (we can’t guarantee the otters will always be there, but we do get a peek at them from time to time). Depending on your skill level, you may find that it takes you about a half hour to forty-five minutes until you reach Montcalm Point, and from there, you can beach your boat and hike on up Tongue Mountain. Don’t be too nervous about the rattlesnake warning signs (I know that’s not much reassurance)—although Tongue Mountain is known for their rattlesnakes, they’re actually rarely seen by hikers. The mountain also has multiple summits, so you can hike as far or as long as you have energy for.
If moving water is your ultimate goal, three rivers run through the Lake George region: Schroon River, the Sacandaga River and the Hudson River. All offer glorious day-trip paddling, some more adventurous than others, and I’ll recommend a few different trips you can take here.
Schroon River, which runs about 45 miles long, has a good 4-mile trip that makes for good paddling both ways. The wind here doesn’t really rise above one knot (except for spring), which also makes it very comfortable. You’ll also be privy to a good deal of wildlife and scenery on this one. To get to the launching area, if you’re coming from the Northway, take Exit 26; from there take Rt 9N north for about 3/4 mile and then make a right on Schroon River Road. You’ll reach the lake and put-in about 1/4 mile down the road. There’s not a whole lot of parking available, so you’ll definitely want to arrive early on weekends.
Head south from the put-in to paddle down the river (north takes you up to Schroon Lake). One of the real perks about this trip are the large embankments that surround the area, many of which bubble with wildlife, like Jenks Swamp—here you’ll catch sight of plenty of herons and possibly some otter as well. This part of the river ends at a small dam—you can portage around it easily and head back up; further downstream there’s also some pretty impressive swells, well maybe more than swells, maybe more like serious white water, so if you’re feeling adventurous…well you know what to do.
As I mentioned before Schroon River is actually 45 miles long, so this is not at all the only access site along the river. This stretch just makes a particularly nice trip. There’s a few other places you can embark from in the Lake George region as well:
In Warrensburg, the put-in stands beneath Middletown Bridge, along East Schroon River Road. In Chestertown, there are actually two access sites—the first is at Starbuckville Dam, along County Rt 53, and the second is at South Horicon Bridge, along County Rt 30.
Now we come to NY’s biggest and baddest river, otherwise known as the Hudson, which yes, does run through the Lake George region/Warren County as well. Standing at 315 miles long, I’m quite sure that someone’s traversed the entire thing—the Indians, Henry himself, my braggart neighbor, that French guy who always does outrageous things? Anyway, I am not one of the above. I am simply your everyday day trip paddler (as I imagine most of you are as well), so that’s what I’ll recommend here.
If you’re looking to test your skills at whitewater, the Upper Hudson River Gorge has a pretty incredible 17-mile stretch where you can do so. A guided tour will run you about $80-$100/person. But if you’re really adventurous, you can also reach the gorge yourself, and it’s worth doing so if you’re an expert paddler and are comfortable and experienced with whitewater; incidentally, the Upper Hudson River Gorge is considered one of the top 10 whitewater trips in the US, so it’s definitely one you won’t want to miss. If you’re planning to navigate whitewater, I would highly recommend using an inflatable kayak. You can actually purchase a decent one for around $50-$100, and depending on the features you’re looking for, they’ll go up in price. Unfortunately the inflatable kayaks don’t work quite as well on flat water—you’ll be caught in wind gusts, and at the mercy of wakes and swells that will really send you spinning—so reserve it just for your whitewater trips.
To reach the Upper Hudson River Gorge, you’ll want to access it through Indian River in the town of Indian Lake. To do so, head North to exit 23 on the Northway; from there take 28N through Warrensburg and North Creek (see a map if you’re coming from a different direction to access 28). When you get to the Abenaki Bridge, cross over and make your next right, this is Chain Lakes Road. You’ll head down Chain Lakes Road about 2-3 miles until you see the Bullhead Pond trailhead. Just down the road from there is the put-in. You’ll also probably catch site of some large buses as well, as this is the access site many guided tour rafting companies use as well.
Along Indian River, you’ll experience about 3 miles of thrilling Class III rapids, getting you off to a great start. When you reach the Hudson River, you’ll notice that the water calms down considerably. Do not become sedated. This will change soon. The 650-foot pitch through the Hudson River is fast approaching, where you’ll be plunged down Class III, IV and sometimes V (depending on the season) rapids. If you’re like me, you’ll be wearing a big smile (and screaming a little—that’s what makes it fun). The water is absolutely gorgeous here, crystal clear, and you’ll be surrounded by granite cliffs that stretch about 500 feet high. You’ll pass through the Cedar and Blue Ridge sections, until you arrive at what’s termed “the Black Hole”—calm and deep water to swim. This is also where you’ll find Elephant Rock, you’ll notice it immediately, protruding from the cliffs, as many will be jumping from it. The remainder of the ride (about 4 miles or maybe less) brings you through Class II rapids, and when you arrive at the railroad trestle, you’ll know you’re almost done. If you’re with someone, you’ll want to leave one car at the put-in point and another at the take-out point (Rt 28 in North River), or else you might find yourself stranded. Maybe some of the rafting outfitters would be kind enough to let you hitch a ride back, but I’m not all too sure how that works.
The Sacandaga River is also known for its whitewater trips, offering Class II-III rapids along shorter stretches that last from 3-5 miles long. If you only have time for a morning ride or if you’re not as experienced in whitewater, this would be the place to go. This particular run lasts about 4.5 miles, spanning the put-in at Stewarts Bridge Dam in Lake Luzerne to the take-out along the Hudson River, where the Sacandaga and Hudson Rivers meet. To get to the area, your best bet is to take the shuttle at Sacandaga Outdoor Center, that way you won’t have to worry about parking in two places. To get to the shuttle, head north on 87 and take exit 21. Follow 9N for about 10 miles until you come to Lake Luzerne. Once you hit Lake Luzerne, head west on School Street (there will be a four-way intersection with a gas station). Where School Street turns 90 degrees to the right, you’ll want to make an immediate left onto Bridge Street. Cross the bridge over the Hudson, and then make a left; keep on this road until you reach Sacandaga Outdoor Center. The cost for the shuttle is $5/kayak and $4/tube, and they leave about every two hours, so you may want to give them a call to check times, so you can coordinate with your trip: 888-696-5710.
The first rapids you’ll hit will be Class II rapids. If you want to have some real fun, when you see the pillars of a former bridge, take the right side; here you’ll find an eddy where you can access some pretty awesome surfing sized waves. You’ll definitely want to hang out here for a while before heading back onto the main stretch, as this section is really one of the most fun along the trip. Once you’re on the main stretch again, you’ll notice that the water calms down a bit after you pass through the pillars. Don’t worry, it will build up. You’ll pass under a pulley cable, and this is where the rapids begin again, building from tiny waves up to Class II rapids. Right before a left bend (you’ll see some fenced grassy land on the right), you’ll feel the waves pick up, and you’re now entering the short stretch of Class III rapids, which last until the end of the trip. You’ll be able to spot the take-out, as you’ll see the outdoor center and the concrete landing.
Whichever trip you decide to take, I’m quite sure you’ll enjoy it. As I write this, I’m actually dying to head out there now.
Stay tuned for more paddling guides to the Adirondacks, Saratoga & other parts of Upstate NY!
Got a spot that you love that I missed? Let us know about it! Leave a comment or drop us a line at info at thefreegeorge dot com. Happy paddling!
–Monica Sirignano is Co-Publisher of The Free George.
The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.
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