In Adirondack Canoe Waters: North Flow, Paul Jamieson describes the West Branch of the St. Regis as the “most tightly locked-up river of the northern Adirondacks.” The first forty miles of the river lies within the Adirondack Park, but only a little over a mile of it flows through public land.
Thanks to an agreement between Lyme Timber and the state, however, about eight miles of the West Branch is now open to the public. Much of this length contains rapids, but flat-water paddlers can enjoy a 3.5-mile stretch that winds through a wild and scenic floodplain.
If you’re interested in exploring this little-traveled river, you’ll have to wait until next spring. Under the agreement, the river is open to the public only from May 1 through September 30.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has constructed four parking lots on the Main Haul Road running through the Lyme Timber property. Near each lot is a carry trail leading to put-ins on the river. The best flatwater paddling is between the second and third put-ins.
Theoretically, you could do a downstream float from the third to the second put-in, but this requires a long, nasty portage along overgrown, slash-strewn logging roads. Also, a seven-mile round trip gives you twice as much time on the river.
So we recommend an up-and-back excursion. It begins with a portage of less than a tenth of a mile around some rapids to bedrock outcrops along the shore. The little-used carry trail begins near the junction of the Main Haul Road and a secondary road that crosses the river. Look for DEC’s yellow disks along the secondary road a little before the bridge. The parking area is actually a tenth of a mile before the road junction, but you can drop off your canoe at the start of the trail and drive back to the lot.
As you head upriver, you’ll enjoy fine views of waving marsh grasses, pristine forests, and low hills. At 0.4 miles, you pass a log cabin on the right, which the timber company leases.
The current is hardly noticeable as the broad river winds through marsh and past sandy banks topped by tall pines. Rounding a bend at 1.6 miles, you may glimpse ahead the buildings of a hunting camp at the confluence of the West Branch and Long Pond Outlet. The public is not allowed to paddle past the camp. Signs on the right indicate the start of a carry trail. Take out in the marsh grass and portage 0.3 miles through a spruce forest to a put-in upstream of the hunting camp.
From here on, the West Branch is narrower and often lined with alders. The views are not as good, but it’s still an enjoyable paddle. You also may find the current stronger. In fact, you’ll have to paddle hard in a few places to make progress.
The third put-in is not obvious. Look for a grassy island and a large solitary boulder. The put-in is to the right and just upstream of the boulder. A little farther upriver you can see rapids. If you make it this far, you’ll have traveled 3.5 miles, but given the strength of the current at the end, you may want to turn back a little earlier. Heading downriver, the return trip will be short and sweet.
DIRECTIONS: From Route 3 at Sevey Corners between Tupper Lake and Cranberry Lake, drive north on Route 56 for 12.8 miles to Stark Road. Turn right and go 8.1 miles to Sterling Road. Turn right and go 0.7 miles to the Main Haul Road, marked by a DEC sign for the “Five Mile Conservation Easement.” Turn right and go 3.1 to a parking area on the right for the second put-in. To reach the start of the carry trail, continue another tenth of a mile to a junction with a secondary road on the left. Look for DEC disks on the right side of the secondary road, a short distance before a bridge over the river. Note: parking is not allowed along the road, so you must return to the lot after dropping off your boat.