It was a clear, warm day in late August when I headed out on a new paddling adventure with my trusty sidekick, Cedar. My destination was an area on the Bog River I had never visited before. It’s funny how we can get set in our ways, I grew up near Upper Saranac and have paddled the Floodwood Loop dozens of times and explored the St. Regis Canoe Area. But a mere 12 miles south, and I’ve never dipped paddle there before.
Armed with my tried and true Sawyer DY Special solo canoe and a floppy-eared beagle, I headed off. The Bog River Flow is located just outside of Piercefield, off of a one-lane dirt road, which is off of a two-lane dirt road, which is off of a "paved" county road, which is off of a rural state highway. As is the case with many of the best Adirondack adventures, getting there is half the fun! Just keep following the brown and yellow DEC signs and you'll be rewarded with a great day of paddling.
Parking was a hoppin' this busy August morning, with cars lining the road leading to the small ten car parking lot. At least three boats were prepping to launch for multi-day excursions just during the few minutes I was there. The Bog River Flow, in the Horse Shoe Lake Wild Forest, is one of the main launching points for access to Lows Lake and the Five Ponds Wilderness Area, which is host to dozens of primitive first-come-first-served campsites and days of paddling adventures.
The Bog River Flow is an interesting microcosm of the Adirondacks. Formerly a small river, it was dammed up twice — once in 1903 (lower dam) and again in 1907 (upper dam) by Abbott Augustus Low’s Horse Shoe Forestry Company to create power for logging and what was once the world's most extensive maple sugaring operation. A forest fire ended operations in 1911, but the miles of flooded river remain as an amalgamation of human development and nature, one of the hallmark features of the Adirondacks that, for me, makes it such a great place to live and an interesting place to explore.
Photo: (left)looking downriver of the dam you get an idea of what this river may have looked like over a century ago when A.A. Low chose this spot. (right) The dammed up river provides smooth paddling with only a slight current and no rapids.
There are a couple different reasons this adventure made it on my list. First, to me this is the absolute best type of paddling. Relatively narrow, small bodies of water creating a route which keeps you close enough to the shore on either side to appreciate the wilderness up close and also protects you from large waves and wind should the weather turn ugly. I like to think Cedar appreciates the sights and smells that come from being closer to the shore as well. More on the second reason in a moment.
Let the paddling begin!
Shoving off and bidding farewell to some other adventurers at the launch, Cedar and I started on our journey. The river starts out quite close and wooded for the first half mile or so before opening up to an expansive winding wetland area. A ways further and you’ll cross under the railroad that once served the operations here. From this whole section of the flow I was treated to expansive views of marshland. The flooded river is only a few inches to a few feet deep so there's also a lot going on beneath you as well. Keep an eye out for a few large rocks that can sneak up on you and bear the markings of prior boats that were not quite so diligent. I'm not much of a fisherman, but I imagine some of these well protected grassy areas make for some prime angling as well.
I took some time to scope out a few of the campsites along this lower section of the river. Seen above in the background is Low's Ridge from campsite three. Below, a better view of the campsite. Not a bad place to pull up for the night.
A paddle and a hike — two for one!
Winding through the rest of the lower section of the Bog River Flow, we came out in Hitchins Pond, an expanded section of the flow with bogs to the east and Low's Ridge rising sharply from the westerly shore. This is the end of the line for this section, with a wide sandy pull out and carry at the western end to get above the second 'Upper Dam.' Here enters the second attraction for this trip: the Hitchens Pond Overlook on Low's Ridge. A day spent paddling AND hiking, what more could you ask for!
Pulling my canoe up to rest with another waiting for its owners to return, Cedar and I headed up the trail. The trail is a bit rocky with several switchbacks and only a minor incline. At just over a mile in length, this was an easy hike. Although there were a lot of canoeists out, the Overlook was surprisingly empty with only one other couple and their dog on the trail and summit while I was there. After a thirty minute walk through a bright and airy deciduous forest, the trail opens up onto a long open ridge sporting expansive 180-degree views of the surrounding lowlands. We ran into our fellow hikers at the summit but at over one hundred yards long, it was no trouble to find our own private section of ridge.Looking east off of Hitchens Pond Overlook. Someone was ready for a cold drink once we reached the top. A review of the route I took to get here, and some High Peaks in the distance. In another month, I imagine the leaf peeping up here will be phenomenal. Can you spot the Osprey?
112 Years Later...
A relaxing lunch at the summit had us refreshed and ready to head back down. But, just as we were about to leave the summit something caught my eye. Carved into the granite on the back side of the ridge was a message.
May • 1 • 1906'
Humans have been in the Adirondacks for millennia, and European settlers for hundreds of years. But it's rare you come across such a specific and indelible mark on someone's passing. 112 years ago F.M, probably an associate with the Horse Shoe Forestry Company, stood on this same spot and took in the same view. Other reminders, such as the ruins of an old boarding house along the Upper Dam carry, where Mr. or Mrs. Shemeley likely stayed (see fireplace below) have nearly crumbled back into the earth. A cool discovery and connection to the history of this place, but also a reminder why today we carve our memory into the wilderness through conservation and sustainable practices, not chisels.
Heading back down the trail, Cedar and I made a quick pit stop by the Hitchens Pond pull out (you'll find an outhouse about 20 yards from the pull out) and then headed back down Bog River Flow.
The trip back was downriver so it was a slightly quicker and easier paddle. All told, this was a leisurely five hour trip with blue skies, clear water, and smooth sailing. The best way to spend the day on the water in the Adirondacks!