Family Fun From The Inside...OUT!
***UPDATE 4/7/17*** A video tour of the Bog River Flow is now posted on our YouTube channel! The video features footage from the hike to Low’s Ridge [a.k.a. Hitchens Pond Overlook], paddling almost the entire length of the Bog River Flow, and several campsites.
I have added the video to the end of the post as well in case you want to read about the area, first.
Hello friends, it’s been far too long since we have posted! Not because we are not getting out though. We are squeezing in outdoor time every chance our crazy lives allow – which simply leaves us very little time to write about it.
Anyhow – in early May, with mud season in full swing, the ice FINALLY out on the Adirondack waterways, and the stresses of work weighing heavy on both of us, we decided to challenge ourselves to an overnight paddle trip.
The temps during the day had been in the low to mid seventies, the nights, still cool, in the thirties and forties. Luxurious after a long season of Winter camping! We went for it.
We only purchased our kayaks last year, and our paddling experience has been limited to a small local lake, and the salt marshes of Assateague Island. Easy stuff for beginners, so we looked for beginner-friendly water.
After browsing our many paddling books and cross-referencing with trip reports, maps, ice out reports, and weather forecasts on the web, we chose the Bog River Flow. Roughly 15 miles of nearly continuous, gentle waters, no motorboats allowed, and plenty of NYSDEC-designated primitive camps along the route. It was such a perfect choice for our first kayak camping trip ever!
Click here for directions to Horseshoe Lake and the Bog River Flow! Just input your starting location in the box on the top left for directions. You will pass by Horseshoe Lake and see a DEC sign that directs you to the Low’s Lower Dam canoe access. I will add this link at the end of the post as well if you want to read on first! 🙂
We didn’t get to the parking area until around 3:30PM that Saturday. Fortunately, it was still early enough in the season that we were able to park in the small lot near the canoe access. Very small…so get there early during peak season for sure, especially if you intend to camp in the area.
You can get some idea as to the location and availability of campsites by checking the register at parking, but not every camping party will note which camp they intend to use. Have a plan B and leave yourself time to paddle back if your search for a site within a reasonable paddling distance is unsuccessful. Low’s Lake proper can be quite windy with a nasty chop and it is quite expansive, it is not something you want to attempt in a last-minute scramble for a site.
There are about forty primitive campsites along the paddle route. The first eight sites between the put-in and Low’s upper dam fill up very quickly on a nice weekend. The nice part about the limited number of sites is that NYSDEC did a marvelous job of spreading them out. We felt like we were completely alone in the wilderness – and saw fewer people there than we did when we winter camped in John’s Brook Valley! This was of course VERY early into paddling and warm weather camping season, I expect we will see more people on trips later in the summer. The portion of this paddle from the lower dam to Hitchins Pond and the upper dam, in particular, is very popular and prone to overuse during peak season. Less so the deeper into the interior you go, or so I have read.
There are also 17 or so drive up primitive campsites spread out around Horseshoe Lake, which you pass on your way to the canoe access for the Bog River Flow.
On our first trip in early May, we paddled all the way to Low’s Lake proper and camped. It took us about four hours – with some stopping to shoot but mostly hustling, to make it to the first camps at Low’s Lake proper. I will note that we had almost NO wind. The prevailing west winds of the area can definitely slow you down on the upstream paddle to the interior camps; be sure you check the forecast right before you leave so you understand the conditions you will face, and plan your travel time accordingly.
On our second trip two weeks later, we camped at one of the Horseshoe Lake drive-up camps. We made a last-minute decision to go and get more information for the blog on a Saturday afternoon, and arrived around 7:30pm. Paddling to a camp was preferred, but it was just not a safe option, so the Horseshoe Lake camps were a very convenient alternative. These camps are also perfect if you want to do an extremely lovely hike and forgo the paddle. I will tell you all about the hike in a bit.
The plan for our second trip was to camp close to the canoe access so we could get to parking and get out on the water early on Sunday morning. This worked out very well! As you can see in the photos, there are some lovely lakeside camps although they are not as secluded as the interior camps along the Bog River Flow. You are camping along the road to the access. We did find one trashed campsite – so the trade for that easy access is, as always, higher use and less respectful visitors. Bring a trash bag just in case and help out should this happen – we consider it our thanks to the park service for their efforts to make this a great place to explore.
On another note – at campsite #1, it was not obvious at first but the previous occupants had actually left their campfire smoldering. We put some sticks we cleared off the tent site into the fire pit, planning to start the fire after we pitched the tent, and were very surprised to turn around and find they caught fire a few minutes later! Always make VERY sure your campfire is 100% out before you leave it.
At the Horseshoe camp, we awoke to what we first thought was a motorcycle starting up. Then it happened again…and again….and….AGAIN! What on Earth….then it dawned on me. I had read about Grouse drumming but had never heard it before, and I guessed that’s what it was. A quick Google once we got home confirmed this! We heard at least two near our camp.
Here’s an excellent quality, and fascinating video I found on YouTube in case you have never heard it either!
A few photos taken at the Horseshoe Lake campsite:
On our second trip in mid-May, the black flies and mosquitoes were out BIGTIME, so be sure you pack DEET! We had a nice breeze off the lake which really helped keep them at bay, and night temps dropped enough to keep them away right through the morning.
Here is a photo of the canoe access (put in) at Low’s lower dam:
Now…on to THE PADDLE!
The Bog River Flow: Kayak Camping at Hitchins Pond, Bog River, Low’s Lake, Adirondacks, NY
The Bog River Flow, which includes Hitchins Pond and Low’s Lake, was once part of a very large industrial land holding belonging to Abbot Augustus (A.A.) Low back in the late 1800’s. In the early 1900’s, Low utilized the rich resources of the area for timber, maple syrup, and even bottled spring water businesses. He dammed the Bog River, creating Hitchins Pond and Lows lake to support his business operations. I recall reading that his business thrived for only fifteen or so short years, before a forest fire ravaged the area and put him out of business. There are remains of the buildings and operations still around which make an interesting stop to explore, and I’ll get to that shortly.
While the majority of the Bog river Flow is now managed as Wilderness by New York State, a large portion of the northern shore of Low’s Lake, and a few of the islands are privately held, including a Boy Scout camp. There are many, MANY more miles of undeveloped shore than there are developed shore, so the private holdings do not detract at all from the very wild feel of the area as you paddle into the heart of it.
Despite the mixed reviews found around the web, we fell in love very quickly with this area. With every twist and turn of the river, there are new habitats, forest creatures, birds, and aquatic plants and animals to discover. A real treat for nature nerds like us!
The put in is next to Low’s lower dam, easy with only a very short carry from parking. Downstream from the dam you see shallow rapids, but upstream, just gorgeous, gentle water.
And so we launched on our first ever paddle trip in the Adirondacks! Launching upstream from the dam is no problem, the current is barely noticeable. And I am a huge chicken about water, so take comfort knowing I pushed through my fear of being pulled over the dam with my first few paddle strokes! It has been an exceptionally dry Spring, but I could not find a single report on the web or in my guidebooks describing this current as anything other than very easy to paddle against.
At first, the river is narrow and quite shallow, passing through very old evergreen stands and granite boulders.
One particularly narrow spot, very soon after you leave the dam, has a pile of boulders VERY close to the surface of the water and nearly dead-center…with the paint of many boats clinging to their rough edges so do be very careful there!
This was the one place of real concern that we encountered, but much of this paddle is quite shallow, so always be vigilant, especially close to shore.
The river soon turned and widened, and we passed a few campsites.
We soon came to a bridge, part of a now abandoned railroad that once ran through the area to support A.A. Low’s business operations and the town of Horseshoe.
Not long after passing under the bridge, we had our first LOON encounter! This was so exciting! One surfaced pretty close to Chris’s kayak while he had the GoPro going…they are typically very shy and keep their distance, so this was special.
Please note that Loons are a “Species of Special Concern” in New York State, an official conservation designation. They are also protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty, and they are listed as threatened or endangered in some other northern states. The Bog River Flow is one of the largest Loon nesting areas in New York state. Loons nest close to the water because they do not get around on land very well. Be very mindful of this when you encounter Loons along your paddle.
You will also get your first glimpses of Low’s Ridge as you make the final turns before Hitchins Pond. Read on for information on hiking to that amazing viewpoint!
We paddled on maybe another 30 minutes, crossing Hitchins Pond to reach the landing for our carry around Low’s upper dam.
Stopping here to explore can take you several hours! There is a picnic spot, a very nice campsite a short walk away, and here you will find stone foundations left behind by A.A. Low’s Horseshoe Forestry Company empire.
You can also hike to the Hitchins Pond overlook (a.k.a. Low’s Ridge) if time allows, and we highly recommend making the time. The view of the Bog River Flow from the ridge is breathtaking! On our first trip, we arrived too late to include the hike, but we did return to complete it and I am so glad we did! It is about 2.2 miles, round trip, from the trail register at the landing for the carry. The trail gets a bit steep and has a few switchbacks, and in May it was muddy in spots. Hiking poles would have been useful but we didn’t bring them and we managed.
The reward was well worth the challenge! From the ridge, you can see a lot of the route you just paddled to the east, and you can see the Adirondack High Peaks. To the west, there are views into the interior of the Bog River Flow and even peeks of Low’s Lake. It is a seemingly endless wilderness vista before you, one which left me with an even deeper appreciation and sense of stewardship for our wild spaces.
While there is ample safe space on the ridge, stay vigilant up top and keep your little ones close because there are cliffs with significant drops. Do not let this deter you from doing this wonderful hike, just be aware and ensure everyone understands and respects the hazards.
If you are not a paddler, you can still reach the upper dam area and the hiking trail on foot. There is a gated truck road in the Horseshoe Lake camps area. I plan to go back and confirm, but I believe the truck road is about two miles from the gate to the ridge trail register. So, to go from the gate, up the trail to the ridge, and return, would be about a 6.2-mile round trip hike. Please note that I have not confirmed this mileage yet though!!
A few photos from the upper dam area and the hike:
Once you are finished exploring the many sights at the landing, you can make a short (about 100 yards), wheel-able portage around the upper dam to explore the interior of this area!
Not far past the dam, near campsite #9, we arrived at a floating bog. This was actually part of a much larger bog located much farther west in Low’s Lake proper. This part broke off and drifted downstream, eventually wedging itself in the narrow part of the river where it is today.
There were none yet on this early May day, but from other accounts I have read about this paddle, this bog is home to the fascinating and carnivorous pitcher and sundew plants. Can’t wait to return soon and bring Dora to see them!
In low water conditions, you may have to carry through this spot. When we were there in early May, we got out of the boats and floated them through VERY narrow, shallow channels – first on the left bank, then immediately crossing to the right bank for another section. The crossings were maybe 10-20 feet each where we had to get out of the boats, tops. If you find you have to carry here, I suggest staying close to the river banks to avoid possible injury, I have no idea how deep the water is, or what else lies beneath the bog should you fall through (I am thinking rocks & fallen trees, not man-eating plant life haaahahaa!).
Having started our paddle around 4:00pm and paddled several miles at this point, we began to think about about finding a camp before dark. We had a plan to begin the search for real at 6:30pm, and take the closest camp no matter what at 7:30pm, which would give us plenty of time to pitch the tent and have something to eat before dark.
We looked at the map and determined that we were near several camps, and kept heading upstream, passing by sites 10, 11 and 12. We wanted to check each out and get as far as we could upstream before stopping. We knew 12 was the last campsite for several more miles, and when we found it, it was occupied. It was now close to 7:00pm I think, so we had a quick review of the maps and decided the miles between us and the Lake did not look difficult at all. We knew there were at most two or three parties out and we had already passed two, so we were confident we would find an available camp without having to search all over Low’s Lake. Rather than turn back for one of the unoccupied camps we had passed, we decided to pick up the pace a bit and press on toward Low’s Lake!
The river eventually split and we were pretty sure from the maps that we had reached the island where camps 13 and 14 are located. Having read another paddler’s account of this area, we knew we had to stay right. Even though it looked as though left was a shorter route to the camps, what the maps do not show is a boggy area full of blowdown, pretty much impassable. Given our late arrival, I was very glad to have done this extra research, because on the map, it really looks like a quick shortcut to campsite 14.
We paddled through some narrows, around a point, and at roughly 7:45pm, we arrived at our HOME SWEET HOME for the night! Fabulous campsite 13. The site faces west, thus offering us maximum benefit of the remaining daylight for setting up our camp, and charming us with a wonderful sunset view while we had dinner.
A note about this western exposure should you visit: the winds also come from the west, which can become problematic for tents and unsecured items in your camp. On this wonderful weekend, the wind was barely present so it was not an issue, just know that it can be. Check the forecast before you leave, have a solid plan based on the conditions, and have a backup plan in case your chosen site is occupied or conditions are different than expected.
We beached the boats, unloaded the gear, and got busy setting up camp, stopping now and then to admire and shoot the ever-changing twilight skies. We started to hear the loons calling back and forth, which was absolutely magical! A first for us both, and a must-add to your bucket list if you have never experienced this!
Later that night, as we played with night sky photography, we set up the GoPro on the shore to capture their calls so we could share this beautiful experience with you!
Listen to the Loon calls we captured with the GoPro on the shores of Low’s Lake Campsite #13 right here!
A few photos of the beautiful sunset taken from our campsite:
Although day temperatures had reached the mid seventies and higher, night temps were still pretty chilly and I was very glad I chose our winter sleeping bags. It was already pretty late, so we decided to use the abundance of firewood in camp for a breakfast fire and just added clothing layers to keep warm while we star gazed.
Our camp had a wide open view of the heavens over the lake and there was nobody around. We could not have asked for a better spot on such a beautiful night!
Some night sky shots, nothing award-winning, but this was fun to do. The moon was full, so even though some of the photos look like dusk, they were actually taken quite late at night!
I am not sure what time we finally went to bed – we stayed up waiting for the moon to clear the trees until around 1:00am I think! We could have had that campfire. We may not have enjoyed the night sky as much if we had, though!
We fell asleep to the calls of the loons, and awoke to a peaceful, picture-perfect morning on Low’s Lake.
With a bit more light to explore by, I discovered a lovely spot to sit for coffee off to one side of our camp. The light was amazing and the water was like glass! These were my favorite cups of coffee EVER and if I could be there right now, I would be. It was that special.
Notice how clear the water is – you can always see the bottom. I am now so spoiled by these gorgeous waters!!
This site was very wooded and private, so the privy was not enclosed, just placed over a hill in the middle of the woods a hundred feet or so away from camp. BYOTP! 🙂
We decided to leave the firewood for the next campers so we could pack up and explore the lake a little before heading back to the Lower Dam and home. By the time we got on the water it was after 10, and the wind had picked up some. We stayed by the north shore, behind a small chain of islands for a while so this was not much of an issue. When we did venture into the lake on the paddle back to the dam, the wind and waves quickly reminded me that I need a lot more practice in those conditions when I am NOT loaded with gear, miles from help, and exploring 40-ish degree water. We retreated back to the protection the islands offered and stayed there.
We stopped by campsite #20, one of three on a narrow peninsula farther west on the lake. It has a wide, sandy beach right on the eastern point of the land and wonderful eastern views of the lake and islands. A beautiful place to see a sunrise, we think, and kiddos would enjoy this beach very much!
While we really wanted to get to the western shore of the lake, we were running out of time. We left a great deal of Low’s Lake for exploration another time, and began the eightish-mile paddle from campsite #20 back to where we began our adventure at the lower dam.
A few photos from our return paddle:
We are pretty sure we spotted a bald eagle ahead of us on the paddle back, but it stayed too far ahead to know for sure, or to get a photo. It is not uncommon to see them in this area!
I expected more of a ‘free ride’ returning with the current, but, gentle as it was, it did not make our return trip noticeably easier or faster, although we occasionally took advantage of the light west winds.
It was just as beautiful and fun and fascinating as the trip out, and we truly cannot wait to go back, with Dora, to finish exploring this gem of a wilderness. Although I think to really finish exploring it, we would need years.
Click here for directions to Horseshoe Lake and the Bog River Flow! Just input your starting location in the box on the top left for directions. You will pass by Horseshoe Lake and see a DEC sign that directs you to the Low’s Lower Dam canoe access.
Here is the video! If you have any questions about the Bog River Flow area, feel free to contact us!
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