Category Archives: Paddling

Essex Chain Lakes – A Paddling Paridise

Located in the center of the Adirondack Park lie a dozen pristine backcountry lakes. The Essex Chain Lakes were recently purchased by NYS and opened to the public in fall 2013. The primary attraction are the six interconnected lakes (2nd-7th) that make a great day paddle or overnight trip.

Getting There: The Path to the Remote Lake

Remote lakes are not located off main highways, otherwise they would not be remote. Accessing the Essex Chain Lakes begins by driving into the heart of the Adirondacks, Newcomb. From Newcomb you travel south along local roads for approximately 4.5 miles before turning right on Goodnow Flow Road. From here it another six miles, on ever narrowing and dirt roads. A high clearance vehicle is helpful, but a car can make it if taken slowly and not overly loaded down.

Essex Chain Lakes - Map
Map of Essex Chain Lakes – Download PDF

Once at the Deer Pond Parking Area, Deer Pond is only 0.25 miles away. For most though, this is not the goal. Because there exists a three main options to reach the main lakes.

  • Option 1: Carry to Deer Pond (0.25 miles), paddle across Deer Pond (a few hundred feet), then carry to Third Lake (0.5 miles).
  • Option 2: Using the road that goes around Deer Pond, Carry from the parking lot around Deer Pond’s east side and into Third Lake. 1 Mile
  • Option 3: Carry along the road from the parking lot to where the road bisects Fifth and Sixth Lakes at the Culvert. 1.5 Miles

If your goal is to reach third lake and you have wheels, detouring around Deer Pond (option 2) is probably the best option. The path down to Deer Pond from the road and up from Deer Pond to the road on the other side are not overly wheel friendly. If you are carrying your boat and more nimble, it may be worthwhile to take the shorter route through Deer Pond.

Lakefront and Roadside Campsites

There are numerous campsites located along the road into the Deer Pond Parking Area and along the lakes. Under the interim management plan, you must reserve lake-side campsites through the Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb. Permits are free, and can be reserved up to 10 days in advance by calling 518-582-2000 or emailing [email protected]. You must pickup your permit during normal hours or arrange after-hours pickup via phone. As of late summer 2016 permits are no longer needed. Campsites are on a first-come first-serve basis like most campsites throughout the Adirondacks. 

Most campsites are new and have an outhouse. No campfires are allowed within 500 feet of the lakes, including at campsites.

Essex Chain Lakes Gooley Club
Gooley Club located in the southern bay of Third Lake.

Gooley Club

Located in the southern bay on Third Lake is the Gooley Club. Founded over sixty years ago, the sportsman club has exclusively fished the Essex Chain Lakes and hunted the surrounding woods. Like other sportsman clubs located on land bought by New York, their camps and exclusive use are non-conforming to public use. Therefore all buildings will be removed when their existing license expires in 2018.

Until then, the club enjoys exclusive use of their camps and immediately surrounding property. They also enjoy certain rights, such as the ability to drive on the backcountry roads, and operate motorboats on certain lakes.

My Comments on Essex Chain Lakes Management Plan

Editorial note:  The following are the comments I sent to the DEC regarding the draft management plan for the Essex Chain Lakes on 07/25/14.
Dear Josh Clague,
After reading the draft management plan for the Essex Chain Lakes I would like to make the following comments:
1.) I support the multiple use groups facilitated in this plan, including but not limited to the nearby parking (for those unable to hike/portage long distances), equestrian use, mountain biking, paddling, float plane access, etc.  I think this is the right path forward for this region and strikes the right balance between conservation and access.
2.) I strongly disapproved of the camping permit system when it was first introduced.  I feel it is unnecessary long-term, and adds unnecessary red-tape for a camping trip.  Further, I have been monitoring the reservation list published by AIC daily and at no point has there been more than 60% occupancy in the 4 weeks that camping has been open. Typically it has been less than 50%. This alone shows that concerns of overuse are unfounded.  Furthermore most of the overnight visitors have come because it is new, which will die down in the coming weeks/months.  After talking with a few who have stayed, many are not planning on coming back anytime soon — no disrespect to the lakes, rather there are numerous other offerings in the park to explore. 
My second concern with the permit system is best demonstrated by an experience at JBL about 6 weeks ago.  As a group of 8, we reserved a lean-to in advanced.  Unfortunately the limit was 6 people and the other lean-tos were already reserved.  Therefore my wife and I hiked about .4 miles to a nearby campsite and setup a tent.  The issue was that the other group who reserved the nearby lean-to never showed up (there was rain in the forecast). Therefore, the reservation system backfired – holding a site for no-one.  We hiked a significant distance and setup a tent, when we could have remained close and stayed in a lean-to (preferred).  I see similar issues happening here.
For these two reason I feel strongly that a first-come, first-served strategy should be paramount.  Regarding the desire to monitor the use of the area, if the self-registration kiosks are not sufficient, I would not be opposed to self-registering permits posted at the entrance for overnight guests – similar to what was used in the high peaks in the early 2000s. This provides an equal balance of protection, access and enjoyment.  
3.) While I truly understand the concern of preventing camp fires when the use is significant (see #2 above).  Given the low usage of the outer lakes/ponds, I do not see the rationale for restricting fires there in any way.  For instance, there has been virtually no camping at 6th Lake (1 party – me), Grassy Pond (1 party).  That would mean less than 4 days (generously) of fires in the month of July.  Therefore I propose limiting campfires only on the “primary” lakes (3rd, 4th, 5th and Deer Pond). This would strike an appropriate balance, and perhaps even out the camping pattern slightly.
Therefore I would like to recommend the majority of the management plan remain unchanged. That said, I feel that at least one of the following should be removed immediately: reservation system or fire restrictions, with the other to be reviewed annually to determine its merit. Long-term I do not see the need for either of these restrictions.  Unfortunately this region was marketed as to be a boon to tourism, and protected as such.  The camping traffic is not living up to the hype, and therefore the protection needs to realigned with the actual use, not forecasted usage.
Thank you,
Gregory Moore, Ph.D.