ESSEX CHAIN LAKES canoeing in the central Adirondacks.

Sep 30, 2021 - Bushwhacking POLARIS MOUNTAIN (2,507').  One member of our group was driven to do this & the rest of us reluctantly went along.  I just wanted to make sure the Polaris Club camps were gone & see what things look like in the area.  Drove dirt Chain Lakes Road North & Drake's Mill Road 2.7 miles from Goodnow Flow to gate.  0.3-mile walk to the Polaris Bridge.  Took a R after the bridge & then the first left - all woods roads.  Reached a clearing (you can see all this if you look at a satellite view online), from there it was a bushwhack altho there were times that we were on overgrown old logging roads.  Mostly hardwoods but got into spruce near the top.  Only got minimal views: Snowy Mtn & Vanderwhacker.  Took a route down a little south of our route up so ended up on dirt road maybe a half mile south of the bridge - no GPS was used, just map & compass.  About 1,000' el gain.  3.8 hours.


Sep 29, 2021 - Paddling.  Wheeled our boats from the Deer Pond gate - don't know what happened, perhaps just brain fade, but we missed the turn to go to Third Lake (we had walked it the day before!) & rolled for 45 minutes to the culvert between Fourth & Fifth - probably a bit more scenic with a pond & meadow along the way, smoother trail/dirt road too.  Paddled thru to Seventh, good views of Vanderwhacker Mt., loon on Fifth.  Back thru the lakes to Third (4 loons) & over to the new lean-to (occupied) at the old Gooley Club camps site - nice view.  Back on the lake, passed osprey nest on a point & new campsite #2 (occupied).  Into Second where a beaver hut guards the SW end.  0.1+mile carry to First.  The 2 floatplane campsites looked cleaner, still boats stashed there.  Went down the outlet, the "Chain Drain", about a mile - slid over 2 beaver dams & squeezed past a sweeper.  Hit a big beaver dam & turned around since we had hit turn-around time anyway.  Took out on Third & 30-minute roll to the gate - I don't like that last 0.3-mile uphill to the gate.  Back at camp ~6pm.


Sep 28, 2021 - Camped at one of the primitive car camping sites on Deer Pond Rd - sites have fire ring & thunderbox.  Took a walk on the DEER POND LOOP TRAIL, an old woods road.  Some interesting wetlands, side-trips to Third Lake & Deer Pond along the way.  Found a couple of raspberries.  4.5 miles.  Coyote calls at night, temp dropped to high 30's.


September 2021 - ESSEX CHAIN COMPLEX - The Outer Gooley Club building is being removed & Chain Lakes Rd South will be closed until late September past the rafting put-in.

June 2021 - Materials for the new lean-to at the old Gooley Club camps site on Third Lake are there, it just needs putting together - Lean2Rescue is planning to erect it June 19 weekend.

Dec 10, 2020 - the APA has approved the campfires.

NYSDEC is taking comments until 8/14/2020 on allowing campfires at lakeside campsites.

The Gooley Club buildings on Third Lake have been removed:

You no longer need to reserve a campsite ahead of time - basically 1st come 1st served.

Aug 23 & 24, 2015 - ESSEX CHAIN LAKES canoe camping. Reserved (free) a campsite on Third Lake. No campfires allowed at lakeside campsites. From Goodnow Flow it is a 5.3 mile drive on dirt roads. 0.25 mile carry to Deer Pond, paddled around the long way, lovely pond; 0.5 mile carry (with some stops to pick wild raspberries) to Third Lake; the campsite half way looks like it has never been used & the thunderbox is sitting trailside?! Paddled Third Lake to Seventh Lake with view to Vanderwhacker Mtn & back. Channels between lakes are filled with lily pads. Dun Brook Mtn (rises almost 2,000' above the lakes) dominates the view to the W & Blue Mtn sometimes appears to its L. Swam from camp & enjoyed loony antics. Monday paddled past the Gooley Club cabins then carried 240 yards to First Lake & down its outlet for 0.7 miles going over 2 beaver dams. Lunch at a day use area with great view on W end of Third. Saw 7 other paddlers over 2 days (all day trippers), no other campers. Garter snake, osprey, harrier, merlin, kingfisher, gb heron; saw quite a few loons incl. 6 hanging out together, no juveniles tho; thought I saw a juvenile but when I got the binos out I could see it was just a cormorant hanging out with a pair of loons. Light to moderate (at dusk) mosquito activity; no-see-ums in the morning; no biting bugs on the water . The campsite on Fifth is being made handicap accessible - work is in progress, wheelbarrows, etc at the site.

Aug 3&4, 2014 - ESSEX CHAIN LAKES canoe camping, S of Newcomb.  Free camping permit can be picked up at the Adirondack Interpretive Center (can also be emailed) - we got site #1 on Third Lake.  5+ mile drive from Goodnow Flow on dirt road (there are 6 primitive campsites along the way, with fire rings), 10.5 miles from Rt.28N.  0.25 mile carry to Deer Pond, some interesting rock on its S shore.  0.5 mile carry to Third Lake.  Carries mostly on cartable dirt roads, but off-road paths near the waters are a bit rough, with lots of juicy raspberries along the way.  Set up camp then paddled to Sixth Lake stopping at all the campsites, all have privies of the thunderbox type.  Short winding channel thru water shield & waterlilies between Third & Fourth.  Thru a culvert into Fifth.  Boggy channel to Sixth past pickerelweed and some smartweed.  Thunder & rain made us retreat to camp.  Beavers swam by our campsite in the evening.  No other campers Sunday night.  After a showery night, Monday's weather was good.  The net that had been in the narrows between Third & Second has been removed.  240 yard carry around big beaver dam & rocks to First Lake which had 4 crazy loons.  Paddled the outlet, aka the "Chain Drain",  less than 2 miles going over half a dozen beaver dams & one downed tree to the top of a spectacular 50' waterfall & ultimately reached the Rock River on foot, wading in the stream to top of falls then bushwhacking down thru the woods on river R.  The Rock River here is a 50' wide flat stream with a good current & grassy shores.  Cardinal flower.  Back on First, stopped for lunch on the westernmost of 2 trashy campsites reserved for folks who arrive by float plane.  Hiked the 0.4 mile carry trail to Grassy Pond, at one spot one has to walk a slippery log across a wet & muddy area (imagine it must be extremely tenuous if carrying a canoe).  The piney campsite at the end of the trail has a nice view of Dun Brook Mtn - do not expect a flat tent spot tho.  Saw 1 canoe & 2 rowboats stashed here.  .2 adult loons with 2 chicks on Third, stopped at a day-use spot on a point with picnic table & great view, swam from here.  Saw no-one all day until we were leaving Third Lake after breaking camp.  Light to moderate bug activity incl. mosquitoes, deerflies & no-see-ums.  The lowdown on the campsites... in general, don't have high expectations, there are few flat spots & campfires are not allowed.  Deer Pond: wood dock, piney, 2 slopey tent sites, good view, large outhouse.  The campsite halfway along the carry from Deer to Third is a joke, you may not even notice it, no permit needed.  Third Lake #1: roomy, on the water, bear scat.  Third Lake #2: poor landing, one flat tent spot next to large rock good for 2 small tents right next to each other or 1 big tent, next to water, view across the lake is of the Gooley Club buildings. (site may have been moved).  Third Lake #3: decent tent spots, next to water, decent landing & view.  Third Lake #4: roomy, tent spots spread out, decent landing, limited views.  Fourth Lake: met backcountry steward, small site for 1 tent.  From culvert between Fourth & Fifth, walk E on dirt road uphill for a quarter mile & the poor, buggy site is back in the woods on the L - no permit needed.  Fifth Lake: 3 tent spots, 2 of them flattish, decent landing & view.  Sixth Lake #1: close to water, 2 slopey tent spots (may now be closed).  Sixth Lake #2: 2 unflat tent spots, nice view.  First Lake #1:  1 lumpy tent spot & 1 flatter, view down the lake.

June 29, 2014 - ESSEX CHAIN LAKES.  The dirt road in has been closed all spring but now repaired & opened June 27.  From Goodnow Flowage in Newcomb one drives a dirt road for over 5 miles, the road getting rougher the further one goes, there are a few new primitive campsites along the road.  Easy 0.3 mile carry mostly on dirt road to pretty Deer Pond, paddled the long way around.  Half mile carry, much of it on dirt road, to Third Lake.  Over to Second Lake then 100 yard carry around beaver dam & rapids to First Lake.  Stopped at one of the 2 old campsites for lunch; had picnic table, fire-ring & 4 rowboats.  The other campsite (reserved for float plane users!) had a dock & some "improvements".  FL has had float plane access for many years, half the lake has been state land for a long time & not owned by Finch.  Down First Lake's outlet going over 3 or 4 beaver dams & turning back at a downed tree.  Thru all the "lakes" to Seventh Lake checking out some of the 10 new campsites (on First thru Seventh) along the way (camping is by permit only, 3 day max, no campfires) - sites generally have 2 raked spots for tents & a toilet.  Gooley Club has ~10 buildings in the large bay on Third's SE side, these will be removed after their lease expires in 2018.  A wide channel with waterlilies & watershield leads into Fourth.  Go thru a culvert into Fifth, there is a rope hanging from the top which makes it easier to slide your boat thru.  More lilies plus floating bog mats to Sixth.  Seventh is just an extension of Sixth & has boggy shores.  Stopped at a campsite on Sixth with nice view W to Dun Brook Mtn which rises almost 2,000' above the lakes.  Campsites are well-spaced assuring privacy.  Could not find a good place to swim from - no sandy beaches or sloping rock.  Minimal bad bugs: no blackflies, a couple of mosquitoes, deerflies (mostly on the outlet) not biting.  Sheep laurel & blue flag flowering along shorelines.  Mountain views include: Vanderwhacker, Blue, Snowy.  Whitetail deer (twice); loons & 2 eggs in nest.  A few other paddlers, 1 small motorboat (Gooley Club members allowed thru 2018, electric only July-Sept).  8.3 hours.  Swift Keewaydin 15, a lightweight solo canoe.

The Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area is a recent addition to New York State's Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks located north of the village of Indian Lake and south of Newcomb. A 'primitive' designation is given to areas that are managed essentially as wilderness but contain structures, improvements or uses that are inconsistent with wilderness like snowmobiling or mountain biking. A revised Unit Management Plan (UMP) for the area should be completed by this fall and the public will have a chance to make comments before it is finalized.

In the meantime, an interim access plan is in effect which dictates how the public may recreate in the area. Day use access began on October 1, 2013 and camping has been allowed since the beginning of July. The 13 on-water campsites are by free permit only; the permit system being administered by the Adirondack Interpretive Center (AIC) in Newcomb. Campfires are currently not allowed at these sites and that might never change.

I visited the area for the day in late June and for an over-nighter in early August. From Route 28N in Newcomb it is a 10.5 mile drive to the parking area, the last half of which is on dirt roads around the west end of Goodnow Flow and are somewhat rough but should be manageable with care by most passenger cars. The dirt road was washed out in several spots this spring and the state did not officially open it up until June 27. Along this access road there are 6 new primitive campsites where campfires are allowed.

From the parking area one has to carry or wheel one's boat on the continuation of the dirt road downhill (uphill at the end of the trip) for a quarter mile then drop to the right on a rough path down to Deer Pond. The start to the next carry is just a few strokes across the pond but it is worth spending some time exploring the pond's lovely shores; look for some interesting rock formations on the south shore. There is one designated accessible campsite with a wooden dock at the pond's east end.

The 0.5 mile carry from Deer Pond to Third Lake starts with a narrow and sometimes rough path for a couple of hundred yards before taking a right on a dirt road for about 0.4 miles then a left on a grassy path down to the lake. In early August there were large quantities of juicy wild raspberries along the way and I was glad I was doubling the carry allowing me some time when I had two free hands to pick at will.

1.25 mile-long Third Lake is the largest of the Essex Chain lakes and now has 4 designated campsites all with a thunderbox-style privy (imagine an outhouse without roof or walls). The Gooley Club still occupies a number of camps in the south bay but these will be removed after the club's lease runs out in 2018. Mountains rise up to 2,000' above the lake and Vanderwhacker Mountain can be seen in the distance. A day-use-only spot on a point has a picnic table, a lovely view and is good to swim from. Good swimming spots are rare in the Essex Chain.

A wide channel with waterlilies and water shield leads into Fourth Lake. Then one paddles through a culvert into Fifth Lake, there is a rope hanging from the top which makes it easier to pull your boat through. There are more lilies plus floating bog mats in the channel to Sixth Lake which has a great view of Dun Brook Mountain to the west. Seventh Lake is just an extension of Sixth & has boggy shores. While paddling back to Third Lake look for views of Blue and Snowy Mountains in the distance.

In June, sheep laurel and blue flag decorated the shorelines and we twice saw whitetail deer. Loons were often seen and heard and beaver became active in the evening.

A short wide channel separates Third and Second Lakes. A large beaver dam blocks the way out of Second Lake and one has to carry 150 yards around the rocky channel into First Lake. First Lake has 2 old campsites reserved for folks who come in by float plane. We found several aluminum canoes and rowboats stashed here as well as some trash and structures.

The adventurous can paddle the outlet of First Lake for almost 2 miles going over one tree and a few beaver dams. Pickerel weed and cardinal flower color the way. The outlet then goes over a spectacular waterfall and a short bushwhack on foot leads to the Rock River.

From end to end it is only 4 miles of paddling in a direct line from First through Seventh Lakes but if you explore the shorelines you can easily cover 10 miles. The Essex Chain Lakes are a very worthy and scenic destination but don't expect great campsites or spots to swim from.

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