As we rolled along Route 3 across New York, the dense growth of pine lining the roadside gradually thinned as small ponds and gentle streams sprouted outside our windows. The horizon opened to reveal low mountain ranges in the distance surrounded by fields of wild flowers blooming golden yellow and creamy white. A couple of road signs warned us to be wary of deer, as well as looming “Bumps” – but an upstate New York Bump is nearly imperceptible compared to a Pennsylvania Bump, as we’ve learned. We’d officially entered the Adirondacks.
When I imagine a fishing retreat in the mountains, this is the picture that comes to mind. These aren’t the breathtaking Rocky Mountains of Colorado, but rather a more subtle, softer type of mountain – tall enough to be noticed, yet not intimidating. Ponds speckle the valleys but don’t overwhelm like a choppy lake covered with motorboats and jet skis. This fictitious fishing retreat rests along the bank of one of these ponds, under a canopy of white pine, red spruce, and eastern hemlock dense enough to block out the undergrowth and provide a soft bed of pine needles underfoot. And while this retreat is far enough from civilization to feel secluded, it’s really only a short twenty minute drive to the nearest town.
That’s the essence of Buck Pond Campground, shared of course with any number of campers during your visit. Buck Pond lies about twenty minutes outside of the town of Saranac Lake, which had we planned better we would’ve liked to explore during our stay (we’re learning as we go). The campground features 116 primitive sites (no electricity) spread through four loops, with no real standard for size or flatness shared among them. We noticed some very large sites directly across from tiny sites, some sites that slanted side to side, and others that were essentially level. We scoped out our site on campadk.com before we made our reservation, but we didn’t scan through every single site in an attempt to find the “best” available. Site 38 turned out to be moderately sized and generally level, with enough break in the tree canopy to get some full sun on the solar panels for a couple of days.
The camp offers flush toilets and hot showers, a bit rundown and rustic but in working condition. Bordered by Lake Kushaqua on the east and Buck Pond on the west, the campground provides plenty of opportunity for fishing and boating (very good rental rates on kayaks, canoes, rowboats – $20 for 24 hours, $30 for standing paddleboards) but despite having a designated “bathing” beach, no swimming was allowed. The signs at the beach warned would-be swimmers that the lifeguard was off duty and the signs were built in such a way that they could be switched to “On Duty,” yet the spiderwebs steadily encasing the signs proved that no lifeguard had been around in quite some time. Intrepid beach-goers brazenly ignored the warnings and some swam anyway, as well as played with their dogs on the beach and engaged in sporting activities on the sand – all things prohibited by the many signs and rules of the Buck Pond bathing beach. No one really cared anyway, except maybe Ashley who has a phobia of being hit in the face by a wayward Wiffle ball (which pairs nicely with my phobia of being set on fire by a child with a flaming marshmallow).
The sites at Buck Pond are separated by thick walls of space and vegetation, making your personal site seem quite private. It was also a quiet campground compared to some of our recent stops, and the little bit of silence was welcome. While we did have a small amount of cell reception, we didn’t have a signal anywhere in camp for our Verizon mobile internet (just a warning in case a potential visitor needs to plan ahead for that kind of thing). At the north end of camp, an old road now only usable by pedestrians and bicyclists leads out of Buck Pond and into the Adirondacks beyond, providing a convenient way to explore a bit more of the area. After signing the official New York State Bear Warning and Guidelines sheet when we checked in, I was completely prepared to see a bear along a pond, or rummaging through someone (else’s) cooler, yet at no point in our visit did we spot a bear. It’s probably better that way.
The Adirondack region of New York evolved a bit differently than the Allegheny Forest of Pennsylvania. In the 1800s, when the Pennsylvania hillsides were being stripped of lumber and other natural resources, concerned preservationists and influential merchants in New York worked together to create protections for the Adirondacks. The area known as Adirondack Park is a collection of both public and private lands in the Adirondack Mountain region collectively referred to as the Forest Preserve. This preserve was created by New York State Legislature in 1885, along with similar designations for lands in the Catskills. Widespread tree cutting in the 1850s to support lumber, paper, leather tanning, and iron mining industries in the Adirondacks created concern among preservationists. Merchants feared that continued logging would reduce flows in the Hudson River and Erie Canal, the major upstate transportation corridors at the time. Both groups worked together to achieve one of the earliest acts of public land preservation in the nation.
Further attempts to weaken the law that created the Forest Preserve prompted the state of New York to grant even stronger protection to the region in 1894. The words below are now part of the New York State Constitution:
“The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.”
This short paragraph helped shape a 700,000 acre area into a 2.6 million acre landmass over the span of the past century, making the Adirondack Forest Preserve the largest complex of wild public lands in the eastern United States. It’s an idyllic place, and easy to see how this protection served to maintain the pristine nature of the region.
If you’re looking to retreat to a quiet place in the mountains of upstate New York for a few days, Buck Pond Campground would make a great starting point. Ashley and I barely saw any of the Adirondacks, but this brief glimpse made me anxious to discover more about this region. Buck Pond is just one small state park among millions of acres of wilderness. The mountains are probably hiding thousands of perfect little fishing retreats, tucked away under the trees at the base of yet another calm pond just waiting to be discovered – just keep an eye out for bears.