The Rollins Pond paddling loop is an 8-mile trip that passes through five scenic water bodies in the Saranac Lakes Wilderness. This is a very popular day trip through calm waters and meandering streams that can be fun for the whole family. Along the way there are lots of opportunities for birdwatching, fishing, and swimming. The entire area is one of the most favored in the Adirondacks, offering visitors lots of places to explore to create a unique adventure. It is easiest to navigate these waters in the clockwise direction given the flow of the various creeks, but you are welcome to entertain the counter-clockwise direction as well.
From Route 30, travel on Floodwood Road to the east for a little over 3 miles. This route is a wide, graded path that passes several lakeside camping spots along the way. Just before a railroad crossing there is a small watercraft launch area within site of the road at the northern tip of Floodwood Pond.
Set off onto the water and paddle in the southern direction. An abundant conifer forest sets a soothing backdrop lining the shores, and here you will see an island in front of you with a camping area to your left. Pass by on either side, and turn toward the east. This enters a second section of Floodwood Pond and some isolation from the road. Head from here toward the southeastern end to find the entrance to Fish Creek.
The water flow picks up as you leave the pond. A worn wooden bridge crosses in front of you so low to the water that you may need to duck your head to get under it. The stream narrows as the water pushes you past fallen trees and over shallow pebbles. You are likely to see small fish swimming about, and don’t be surprised to see a couple of larger ones hiding out in the shadows!
Fish Creek empties into Little Square Pond. To your right, along the northern shore, there is a scenic camping area over a large rock outcropping. If the site isn’t occupied, it is a great place to stop for a swim and a small divergence from the route. Continue straight across the pond hugging the eastern shore. Fish Creek continues here with a much wider flow. The western side has some shallow plant growth that may be easiest to avoid, but keep on the lookout for a sign above the reeds pointing to Copperas Pond and proceed through a narrow channel into this third body of water.
Copperas Pond is less than half a mile long. You will have to traverse the length of it to the western end. Upon reaching the shore, there is a sign indicating your first portage. This is the longest carry section on the trip at about one-third of a mile. The pine needles provide a nice cushion to walk on, but the bugs can be a bit annoying as you carry your watercraft. Follow the signs that lead right to Whey Pond and up and over a minor hill and you will see the water glistening through the trees. If you are carrying your boat over your head, be mindful of trees in the middle of the path and other oncoming traffic. Head down the slope, load back in the water, and head across to the other end. This region of the Adirondacks is known for its loon population and other waterfowl found here. These birds have a loud hoot call that can be heard echoing off the local mountains for miles. Whey Pond’s western side is quite shallow, and you may see some catfish nesting near the bottom. Here you will have to carry your boat out of the water for a second and much shorter portage.
You can almost see Rollins Pond from the beginning of this carry. Pass by some campground showers and over a paved parking area. Here the area becomes a bit more populated. There is a boat dock and a rental company associated with the campground. Load in heading west, staying somewhat close to the northern shoreline. By this point you’ve gone about 4 miles and are a little over halfway through the paddle circuit. Turn right and head north past a series of peninsulas. This is perhaps the most active of the five ponds. You will encounter more backcountry campsites along the western shore; however, the eastern shore is home to the Rollins Pond Campground, a huge family destination where people bring their campers, large tents, and all types of watercraft. While this activity tends to keep the waterfowl to the other ponds, there is still plenty of space for you to find peace and enjoyment.
At the northern tip of Rollins Pond, turn right and look for signs of a portage trail back to Floodwood Pond. If you wish to avoid the portage, there is a very narrow stream that connects these two water bodies that it is possible to navigate through. However, be warned that the channel moves very quickly and will require some skillful maneuvering to keep your boat upright. If you are uncertain of your abilities, use the short carry path, because once you start with the boat, you will probably not be able to turn back.
Returning to Floodwood Pond you will notice railroad tracks to your left. A few houses and private docks line this eastern shore. Keep paddling in the northern direction and you will soon recognize some of the islands from the beginning of your trip. Continue to the north, always keeping sight of the railroad tracks. You may find yourself slightly confused as you look for the unloading point. If you have some trouble spotting it, stay to the eastern shore and follow it to the northern tip, and you will eventually see the small beach appear through some tree cover.
All camping sites on the route are free-to-use and available on a first-come, first-served basis. They are each marked by a round 4.5-inch yellow marker. You must obtain a permit if you wish to stay at one location for more than three nights. Contact the Forest Rangers New York State Department of Environmental Conservation at 6739 US HWY 11, Potsdam, New York, 13676, for inquiries. Be extremely careful with fires, and do not transport wood from other locations to prevent importing damaging invasive species.
St. Regis Canoe Outfitters has various watercraft available for rent. They have an outpost location right next to the Floodwood load-in point, just over the railroad tracks, as well as a main store in Saranac Lake.