INDIAN LAKE paddling & camping

Indian Lake is a 14-mile long body of water in the south-central Adirondacks. Seventy-five percent of the lake’s 49-mile shoreline is state land and comprises the Indian Lake Islands Campground. The primitive (no showers or running water) campsites are scattered around the 4,365-acre lake, primarily on the east shore and on the islands. In summer, these accessible-by-boat only campsites are much in demand and can be reserved through The camping season is mid-May through Columbus Day – before and after that the camping is free. The campsites have a picnic table, fire pit, and outhouse. The fact that there is only one public boat launch on the lake limits the number of boats, whether motorized or not, that can be on the water at any one time. The paddler will not have to deal with a lot of motor-boat traffic and noise especially compared to other larger lakes like Lake George and Great Sacandaga Lake. There is a parking fee in-season for day users and there are several designated picnic sites scattered around the lake, some with sand beaches good for swimming. On Indian Lake you are never too far from civilization or wilderness. NY Route 30 runs close to the west shore yet, to the east lies the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area. Dominating the landscape to the west is a long ridge of mountains, most notably Snowy Mountain, which at 3,899 feet is the highest mountain in the Adirondacks south of the High Peaks. The National Geographic Trails Illustrated #744 Northville/Raquette Lake map shows the hiking trails and offers a good overview of the area. You can also pick up a free campsite map at the entrance station or peruse it at

Folks who like to fish can try for lake, brown and rainbow trout, landlocked salmon, rock bass, smallmouth bass and northern pike. Birdlife to look for includes loons, wood ducks, mallards (so bold they might walk right into your campsite looking for a handout), common mergansers, osprey and merlin. Chipmunks, red squirrels and beaver are commonly seen. On a recent visit, I found some fresh moose tracks. Because of the lake’s orientation, winds greater than 15 miles per hour can produce waves of over one-foot, especially if the wind is coming from the southwest, south, north or north-east. Novice paddlers should probably get some experience on smaller bodies of water before venturing out onto Indian Lake. Note also that calm mornings can morph into blustery afternoons. I often carry a weather radio to check on the latest forecast for the Adirondacks.

I will describe a paddling route going clockwise around the lake, starting at the state boat launch just off Route 30, 12 miles north of Speculator, and 12 miles south of Route 28 in Indian Lake Village. Obviously, the average canoeist, kayaker or SUPer is not going to paddle 49 miles in one day, so repeat visits or a camping stay of a few days will allow one to explore different sections of the lake.

Immediately after launching into the southwestern arm, the outlet of Lewey Lake comes in from the left. Early in the season or after much rain you may be able to paddle over a broken concrete dam under the Route 30 bridge and into Lewey Lake. Continuing north on the left shore you pass lakeside campsites, which are part of the Lewey Lake State Campground, unfortunately, they are also highway side too. Soon the shoreline pulls away from the road then a small island is passed at Poplar Point about 1.5 miles from the start.

Some private land comes next as you paddle past the lodge and cabins of Timberlock summer family resort in Sabael. Long Island, with six campsites, is seen to the east. While rounding Watch Point you’re now in the main body of the lake. In a small cove is a picnic area next to a waterfall on Griffin Brook. Campsite 11, the only campsite on the west shore, is on a point just past the cove, and has a sandy beach on the north side of the point. The High Peaks can be seen in the far distance. You are now about four miles from the launch.It is not long before Route 30, private land, and cottages dominate the shoreline all the way to The Narrows and the dam – built in 1898, at the lake’s north end which controls the level of the lake. Usually, lake level is drawn down somewhat later in the season – not a bad thing since you will find more sandy beaches to stop at. Now heading south along the eastern shoreline you reach campsite one – an eight-mile direct paddle from the launch – then Norman’s Cove after going about two miles from the dam. Here you find a picnic site and the trailhead for a hike to Baldface Mountain. The 1.1-mile trail gains 580 feet to the 2,230-foot summit, which has an excellent view of much of the lake and beyond to Snowy and Blue mountains. Back on the water and out of the cove you pass Kirpens Island. Shoreline and especially island campsites become more numerous. Snowy Mountain’s rock face overlooks the lake, rising 2,250 feet above lake level, providing for photo opportunities galore. On a point is a picnic area at Long Beach. This can be a very popular spot on a warm sunny summer weekend. Around the corner, the 1.8-mile trail to scenic Crotched Pond starts next to Campsite 14.

More islands are passed as you continue south and into John Mack Bay. On the bay’s east shore next to campsite 27 is the 1.4-mile hiking trail to John Mack Pond. Nearby are John Mack Island and campsite 28, a very desirable site with a beach and magnificent view. To the southeast of the bay, an interesting river-like channel eventually leads past an island, and the paddling ends at John Mack Brook. Back to the bay and out toward Long Island, you round the point north of Gates Hill and campsite 33, which has a commanding view up the lake.

Turning south-southwest, down a long narrow arm, it is five miles to where the Jessup River flows into the lake. There are several desirable campsites on the east shore on this more secluded section of the lake. Campsite 50 is at Chocolate Bar, a wooded knoll – I only mention this because I like the name. The waterway becomes narrower and rockier as we enter the Jessup River. I have reached Indian Lake a couple of times by paddling down the Jessup from Route 30. In high water I’ve run the section of rocky rapids before the lake, but in low water you must likely portage on the river right. There is another picnic area where Dug Mountain Brook enters the lake at a small but pretty falls. A 0.4-mile trail walk along the north side of the brook brings you to 40-foot waterfalls.

Starting back north on the west side of this Jessup arm, you pass the emancipation Island picnic site. The rocky south side of the island is a pleasant place to relax and gaze into the clear water. A small piece of private land is then passed before you round Indian Point, and start back down the southwest arm checking out a couple of coves on the south shore before returning to the launch. Whew! My arms are falling off – that was quite a day’s paddle!

Sep 6-10, 2012 - INDIAN LAKE. 4 nights at campsite #35 at N end of Long Island. Water level drawn down 7' below normal summer level - exposed more interesting rocky shores & beaches. Day 2: Visited the waterfalls on Griffin Brook on W shore before crossing & paddling along W side of islands. Hike to Baldface Mtn - climb of 580' in 1.3 miles - very nice views. Paddled further N but turned around before the narrows. 14 miles paddling. Day 3: Very windy. Waiting out the tornado watch. (24 boats capsized on Long Lake during the 90 Miler race - story). Day 4: Emancipation Island. Jessup River very shallow - had to line the canoes 100' to land at the picnic area. 0.3 mile hike to 30' Dug Mountain Brook falls. Stopped at Chocolate Bar (campsite #50). Nice view of High Peaks (incl. Algonquin, Colden, Marcy) on way back to camp. 15 miles. Day 5: High temp in the 50s & windy too! Ankle-biting flies when sunny & warm (above 70F); no mosquitoes. Some motorboats. Swift Keewaydin 16, a lightweight 16' tandem canoe.

May 14, 2012 - INDIAN LAKE from Lewey Lake campsite #2 on Rt.30. Some drizzle in the morning but got some sun when I got out to paddle. Fresh moose tracks going right thru the campsite. S wind 0-10mph. Headed to John Mack Bay. SW part not too interesting but channel to the SE of the bay was nice - saw wood ducks & peepers were peeping. Stopped at John Mack Island (campsite #28) with sand beach & view across the bay to Snowy. Back around N & W sides of Long Island. Saw 3 motorboats (2 of which were campground workers), no other paddlers. 10 miles, 3.4 hours.

May 13, 2012 - INDIAN LAKE from state boat launch off Rt.30. Camped for 2 nights near the launch - technically part of Lewey Lake Campground, roadnoise, view of Snowy Mtn. Spring peepers & loons provided the music. Boat access campsites on the lake are part of Indian Lake Islands Campground & should be reserved ahead of time (May 17-Oct 7 season, free outside of that time span). Some development mostly on W shore & at N end of lake. Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area is to the E. Paddled NE, then E of Long Island, then up E shore past several islands. Stopped at Long Beach picnic area. Turned back around Doherty Island (campsite #7) & crossed to W side. Stopped to check out falls on Griffin Brook in a small cove S of campsite #11. View of Snowy Mtn much of the way - rises 2,250' above the lake. SW wind 5-15mph - waves less than 1'. Mergansers (males in breeding plumage), gulls, hairy woodpecker, osprey, merlin, sandpipers, hummingbird, mallards, C geese, chipmunk, red squirrels, beaver; red & painted trillium. Some blackflies on land but they didn't seem very hungry - quite bearable - no need for DEET or the Original Bugshirt - did pre-impregnate some of my clothing with permethrine tho. Saw 3 motorboats, no other paddlers. 14 miles, 5.5 hours. Wilderness Systems Zephyr 155, a 15.5' sea kayak, more maneuverable than most - the 155 is the smaller version, I am 5'11" & had 240 lbs on board comfortably, I still think I like the roomier 160 better. Check out the old map at the boat launch & the cute local names; examples: Baldy Mtn instead of Baldface, Dorothy - Doherty, Johnny Mack Bay, Popple Point - Poplar.

Aug 29, 2011 - INDIAN LAKE from Rt.30. Winds 5-15mph, waves up to 1' - lots of puffy clouds on a blue background, temp in the 60s. Visited the falls on Diamond Brook ~5 miles N on the W shore. Crossed to the E shore, stopped for lunch on a sandy beach then headed S thru the islands. Great views of Snowy Mtn. Down the S (Jessup River) arm a ways. Took long break sunning myself on a smooth rock. Saw maybe a dozen motor boats & a handful of paddlers, most campsites unoccupied. Float plane took off. Loons. 14.5 miles, 5+ hours. Dagger Alchemy, a 14' touring kayak.

May 23, 2010 - JESSUP RIVER & INDIAN LAKE from Perkins Clearing. Some blackflies & mosquitoes at start but minimal during trip - started out wearing my Original Bugshirt but eventually took it off. Several pull-overs & one rough carry around a big logjam in first couple of miles. Scenery varies nicely on the narrow twisty stream. ~1.5 miles below Rt.30 is a class 2 ledge runnable on the R then ~0.5 mile of rocky rapids, water fairly low today so we hit some rocks but were able to stay in the boat. Most of the rest of group carried past the first half on the R then paddled/lined the shallow & rocky 2nd half. Indian Lake was just easy paddling in comparison. Distant view of High Peaks, Snowy Mtn nearby. $6 day use fee at boat launch. Mergansers with chicks, much birdsong incl. white-throated sparrow. 14.9 miles, 7 hours. Bell Chestnut Prospector 16' royalex canoe was an excellent choice - royalex is slippery, tough & light enough for short portages.

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