I chose to do this route after my father asked me to plan a trip of a couple of days canoeing in the park. I got lots of info from this and other websites about the trip, and that was very helpful. The route features a long carry or portage between the Bog river system and the Oswegatchie, so we packed light. We both have solo boats but elected to take my Penobscot 16 tandem. The idea was to pack all gear into one small pack and single the carry. I packed light, my dad packed less lightly.
By the time we left a truck in Inlet, after talking to a family that was going upstream to High Falls, and made it to the put in at Low�s lower dam, (55 min. by road,) it was 6pm on a Friday. The parking lot was full, but I forced my truck in. We got started paddling West right away into great evening with the sun getting lower and the sky getting more colorful. We had forgotten to sign in at the register, oops. Hitchin�s pond was nice, I don�t know how long it took to get to the upper dam, but some of that time was spent �exploring� a beaver swamp. I got turned around and led us up an inlet in a direction that would eventually lead us to Lake Lila the hard way. When we found the dam there was a beach (look for it) and a nice short carry to Low�s lake. When I got back I was told the carry could be shortened by paddling right up to the dam and doing the carry on the other side (river right.)
The lake here has a riparian feel, it is narrow with banks that rise rather steeply. It was everything I imagined. There were a few marked camping sites and a few picnic only sites on the shore. As we moved West the lake broadened out and we met a small steady headwind. We worked our way through the islands, controlled by the Scouts, and started to look for a place to camp. As we passed the marked sites we noticed them full. These were the first people we saw, and now we saw then everywhere. Finally, as we lost the light we found an open site on the north shore, #20? A short walk into the trees led to a tidy but well used camp. There was lots of wood so we made a fire and cooked diner. Later we had a swim and bedded down. I slept very well in my bivy, and my father spent the night under a screened sil-nylon tarp both by Oware (Owareusa.com)
In the am. we packed up quick and had a cold breakfast, it had rained some in the night and we wanted to get going. The 3+mile carry was ahead of us and I did not know how long that would take us. After 1 hour of steady paddling with the sun at our backs we reached the West end of the lake and started to look for the trail. Some minutes of searching found the trail right where it was supposed to be. We stowed all of the loose gear and paddles, signed the register, and shouldered our burdens. My boat is not that heavy, but the stock Old Town yoke was digging into my neck in no time. I made a mental note to upgrade it on my way home. We switched boat for pack a few times and took a break on the benches located on the height of land (I think.) I wanted to write in the book in the mailbox at the halfway point, but there was no pencil, and we did not think to bring one. (Bring a pencil) We finished the carry in 2 hours. The deerflies were bad and I was grateful for the cool temperature of morning.
It rained hard on us at the finish of the carry. Fortunately, there was a log to sit on where we could relax sheltered by the canoe stuck in a tree overhead. There is a spring at the launch on the West end of this trail that may not be easy to find or use at differing water levels. I pump filtered the water from it but dad just added whisky (not bad.) After sitting out the storm and sipping on dad�s firewater for a while, we launched. When we stared on Friday I was in the bow, this was not working well for us so I took the stern for the rest of the trip.
The Upper Oswegatchie is a twisting river, small and slow, easily paddled in either direction. We encountered a few beaver dams and strainers, (around 30 we lost count) most were no problem, and we paddled over or around them. We only had to get out 3 times, and those were easy. Paul Jamison writes that the river is so twisty that if you pay attention you can see the back of your own neck. I agree. There are several indicated campsites above High Falls. They are difficult to find because we found only half of them. I think that they all would be a better idea that staying at the Falls.
We arrived at the Falls at noon, about 3 hours after reaching the river. High Falls is a nexus of trail and river that receives a lot of use, this is no surprise, this great waterfall is the only remarkable feature for miles. At this point we had only talked to 3 people, one kayaker on Low�s and two guys in a Grumman headed upstream from the falls to fish. We found the carry on river right and took the boat and paddles to the lower end. On the way we scouted for a camp. There are 2 lean-tos and several campsites. The Grumman boys had the lower lean-to and the upper one was open. We set up at the upper lean-to and had lunch and a swim.
High Falls is a great place to swim. There is a large pool above, watch out for the slippery rocks. Below the main drop there is a natural Jacuzzi. I bet I spent an hour in the bubbly water. There were many tents and some boats but the people were off hiking or fishing and we did not see anyone around the fall �til 4, when a party of 5 tandems landed at the upstream side of the carry. This was a nice group of guys, and we invited then to share the lean-to but they went off and camped above the falls.
Dad and I had a nice dinner cooked on dad�s ancient Svea stove, because there was not a scrap of wood available for a fire. He had lost the little key that adjusts the flame so he took out this giant set of channel lock pliers. I could not believe that I helped carry those pliers all day when we could have used my multi-tool. He slept in the lean-to as it started to rain again, The mosquitoes just ate the hell out of him. I was happy on the grass in my bivy. About 10pm., 3 hikers awakened us. They had come in after dark nine miles from Wanakeena in the pouring rain. They asked us if they could set up the tent near the leant-to. I said, �What the hell did you wake us up for? There is enough room for 10 tents.� I thought that they would set up the tent and go to sleep, but these guys were real keyed up. The first thing they did, was fire up a full sized Coleman Lantern, you know 10 million candlepower! They set up a tent, all of the time laughing and bitching up a storm about the rain, �Man� I am soaked etc.� This was annoying me, but I figured to each his own and tried to sleep. Then to my surprise they started a fire in the rain, I still don�t know how. They were yelling and cooking dinner and drinking tequila when my dad finally lost it. He got up, he is a big guy, and told them that they were done. �No more talking. Go to bed. Now!� I wondered what I would do if he hurt them badly. They shut up.
In the morning we packed and left early and quietly. We wanted no more from these clowns. The river below was more of the same, meandering with beaver dams and fallen trees. The campsites were easy to spot. We made it to Inlet before noon and headed for home. I stopped at an outfitter to look for a better yoke. I tried a few but my neck hurt so much that they all felt bad. I will try then out later.
If you want to see High falls, I think the best approach is by canoe from Low�s lake like we did it. Many people make a two-day journey up the river from Inlet, this is harder in my opinion, and you don�t see as much nice wilderness. I spoke to a woman who had come up from Inlet. She took a wrong turn and headed up Five Ponds outlet. This cost here party several hours. If you don�t want to do the carry, just backpack to the falls from Wanakeena.
Bring a pencil.
Buy and use a head net to keep the bugs at bay. A bug shirt is probably a good idea too. Make sure that your head net is black or one color green. Mine is �realtree camo� and when the sun is on it you cannot see out well.
Go light! It is a long carry.
Avoid camping at High Falls, anything is better. I was given this advice but was too stupid to fallow it.
Do not arrive at Low�s lower dam on a weekend, or you will have to park as much as a mile away and portage to the put in.
I want to do it again as a loop. I want to continue from Inlet to Wanakeena and Cranberry Lake. I plan to carry back to Low�s Lake from Chair Rock Flow, and return to my truck. Wanna go?
Camping is designated site only, no reservation system. Parking and sites will be loaded to capacity or beyond on summer weekends.
New York DEC publication "Trails of the Cranberry Lake region" is the best map and guide. Write for one they do not stock enough at the trailhead.