I packed my camping gear and trusty little Perception Acadia (12.5') kayak on the car and drove from Philadelphia up through PA and NY to Old Forge, which is a town on the west side of Adirondack Park where many people begin their paddle, travelling northeast through the Fulton Chain of Lakes. (This was a 7-hr trip.) Though that would be a great trip to make with friends in canoes over the space of four or more days, I was alone and more interested in exploring just a few places in the Central Adirondacks and camping in one place. So I continued on 28N/30, through the community of Blue Mountain Lake almost to Long Lake, where there is a turnoff onto North Point Road. Buttermilk Falls (a sizeable and powerful falls with great big slabs of granite to play on -- well worth a picnic stop!) lies about 5 miles down the road and the Forked Lake Campground landing is about 7 miles.
I had reserved a campsite (#68) on the south side of Forked Lake (locally pronounced For-ked to distinguish from Fourth Lake nearby.) The lake occupies 1248 acres, is about 4 miles east to west, and has a wonderfully irregular (forked) shape. The campground is labeled 'primitive', having what I consider the primary luxuries: a bear box, a stone fireplace, a picnic table, and an outhouse. There was also delicious, potable lake water and high-quality dry fire wood available at the landing near the office. Briefly, considering that it rained for the first four days of my week's stay -- the weaknesses of my campsite were two: no sun and no dock, which made loading/unloading difficult. Many of the campsites on the lake are only accessible by water and some of those are the best. I had already surmised this, but going there for the first time, being alone and unable to carry very much in a small kayak, I opted for a site that was also accessible through a path in the woods (a 20 minute walk through exceptionally beautiful woods.) The office can tell you which sites have docks, though they don't have the info on which have good mud or beach landings. Motors are allowed. Nonetheless, the loons call. Ahh! This is what I came for!
The first rainy day, I surveyed the numbered campsites for future reference. They are all around North Bay at the eastern end of the Lake. On the south side, the sites (#75 - 63) are well-spaced and a few have docks. A path runs through the woods at a distance from the sites which are all along the shore (enough to maintain privacy). The beautiful woods are dense; the ground springy under foot with constant surprises of new mushrooms in a momentary shaft of light. (There were so many mushrooms of different kinds that I took a mushroom census at my campsite every day!) Those sites on the eastern shore (#9 - 34) are too close for privacy, but a few are nice and some have docks. Again, a path runs through the woods to all of these. Then there are those with no path (only reachable by boat). #35 at the north end is considered one of the best. On the west side of North Bay #40 - 45 are all very nice and all have docks. #46-49 are not good. #53 - 62 are a good set most with docks. Predictably, the promontory sites are often the nicest. There are three island campsites, and these are exceptional, with sweet fragranced white pine and lots of sun. I picnicked here and lay in the welcome rays when there was no one occupying them. In addition to these numbered sites, there is one good leanto on a nice large site near the Raquette River outlet, across from #62. This is used primarily by through-paddlers who have just portaged from lower on the Raquette across a clearly marked carry a little farther west on the lake. And there are a few wilderness campsites (free) at the far western end of the lake north of the Brandreth Lake outlet. This is a little area that might be well worth exploring. It is probably the only publicly-accessible virgin forest on this lake.
I had looked forward to exploring the irregular bays and in particular was interested in paddling up to Little Forked Lake and perhaps walking over to Plumley Pond. Everything looked just right. I observed on the map that Little Forked Lake was at the same elevation as the big lake so thought I might not even have to carry at all. I kept asking paddlers if they'd gone up that way, but for some reason no one seemed to know anything about that area. When I struck out west, away from North Bay, I discovered why. The entire north shore was posted 'Private - No Trespassing'.
I asked two people who were canoeing very efficiently into the north fork who the land belonged to? Perhaps I could just ask the owner's permission and then go up that way? They said, "Whitney family they control the dam down there. No, I don't think you could find out who to ask" (At the east end of the lake, there is a small dam that controls water levels not only on F L, but on LFL and even large Raquette L.) Hmmmm A little later, I met a motoring fisherman who suggested that I take the no trespassing signs seriously as the owners actually had armed guards (!!) on patrol and had prosecuted some paddlers for trespassing.
I saw some boathouses on the north fork and went up a little ways more signs of the Whitney's large Deerland Camp. Sure enough, the passage to LFL is gated even across the water. (This is probably illegal, but the money behind the owners' side seems to insure their ability to have it their way.) These are the same Whitneys who sold to the state some years ago the land now called the William C. Whitney Wilderness Area.
I looked at the map again and, sure enough, all the north side except a small triangle at the west end of the lake is still private. I traced the northern shore around Squirrel Point, which has, to my mind, the prettiest shore, with many large granite slabs and boulders at the water's edge and went a ways into the marshes at the western end near the Brandreth Lake outlet. By this time the wind had really picked up and I was ready to seek shade as I traced the south side of the lake to return.
At the canoe carry (from Raquette, the signs had another annoying but less troubling message. They said 'Private Park'. In other words, there were a few maintenance buildings and a small parking area, a concrete pier and beach with a few small boats resting - all private Whitney property -- but the public was allowed through for the sake of the canoe carry. On North Point Rd, if you took the left fork of the road where the Campground is announced, and you turned at the phone booth, you would arrive at this place. I swam in the lovely, cold water there and ate, considering the history of wealth and tourism and ecosystem before continuing home to my campsite.
WHITNEY WILDERNESS AREA
For those interested in wilderness canoe camping, the Whitney Wilderness Area at (not so little) Little Tupper Lake is the likely place to go, though the campsites which you could walk into near the access road were nothing to brag about. Lake Lila, in this area, also has camping. The day I was there, there was a strong wind and significant waves, so I chose to hike instead of paddle.
BLUE MOUNTAIN LAKE
I was also interested in Blue Mountain Lake -- the community and the lake itself. The town is surprisingly non-commercial. It has the Adirondack Museum which gives an extremely interesting view of the whole history of the area's development. It has as public put-in beach area and dock, and some nice half-day hikes to Blue Mountain and to Castle Rock, both having extraordinary views of areas lakes.
There are some wilderness campsites (4 or 5) on the long island in the lake (first-come-first-serve and free). Some other little islands are great for picnicking.
Altogether, Forked Lake was a good place to kayak-camp. I think it's the only public 'primitive campground' in the Central Adirondacks, and despite the frustration of running into the limits posed by private interests, it's a lovely place to hang out with the loons!
primitive campground, many campsites accessible only by boat, motors allowed.
$18 campsites on North Bay, one leanto, and a few free wilderness campsites at the west end.
At the south end of the town of Long Lake, take North Point Rd (marked with a sign for Buttermilk Falls and the campground) for 8 miles to Forked Lake Campground office and landing.
Forked Lake Office: 518-648-5616
National Geographic's Central Adirondacks/ Old Forge area or topos.