If you haven’t been on the water this summer, it’s high time to give the canoe in your garage a day out.
I recently paddled on Union Falls Pond and was reminded what an easy and beautiful destination it is.
Although called Union Falls Pond, it’s actually more like a small lake. It lies between two dams on the Saranac River, about halfway between Saranac Lake and Plattsburgh. The upstream dam at Franklin Falls dates back more than 150 years.
Depending on the length you want to paddle, there are put-ins at both the southwest and northeast ends. Seeking a full-day excursion, my group paddled roundtrip from the northeast end.
We put in just beside the Union Falls dam at a small, unmarked dirt entrance. There was barely room for three vehicles, but an obvious, unobstructed access to the water made the start easy. A notable sign restricting motorized boats to 10 HP assured us we wouldn’t be up against big boat wake.
Union Falls Pond lies in the patchwork of public and private land that makes up the Taylor Pond Wild Forest. Much of the private land is under conservation easement, giving the feeling of wilderness in which people are among the inhabitants.
As we first set out toward Little Bear Bay, we encountered a wide, shallow area that was strewn with oversized driftwood and guarded by a blue heron. The extensive natural sculptures made of weather-worn root flares and etched, gray branches seemed like relics of trees that must have been standing before dams flooded the area.
As we continued to paddle we saw evidence of last year’s high water and winds on a few severely eroded sandy banks. Within the first hour of paddling we were circled by a mature bald eagle and heckled by kingfishers.
We made good progress to the southwest despite going against the wind and the flow. By midday, after exploring most of the inlets, we headed into the narrow stretch below the Franklin Falls Dam and pulled ashore to picnic.
On the return we paddled the north shore, escorted by helicopter-like green darner dragonflies. Much of the shoreline is completely wild but the private camps that have frontage were neat and quiet. Looking back across the water we enjoyed a perfect view of Esther and Whiteface mountains.
For a shorter trip, follow the north shore from the Union Falls put-in. After passing a stretch of private camps, paddle into Grassy Bay or continue into the next bay. We discovered thousands of small damselflies that had recently hatched. The crusty skins they emerged from were still stuck to the rushes in the shallow water. Maybe we had them to thank for the absence of mosquitos. Both dragonflies and damselflies eat mosquito larvae in the water as well as adults once they hatch.
Good fishing reports abound from Union Falls Pond. The underwater terrain is varied and there are plenty of structures to shelter wary fish, although boaters should be careful. The Unit Management Plan for the Taylor Pond Wild Forest is currently being reviewed and changes may allow for more camping opportunities, all less than one hour from Plattsburgh.
Union Falls is an easy half-day outing if time is short, but offers plenty to fill an entire day with scenery, wildlife and either exercise or rest - whichever you seek.