PackBasket Lodge

Canoeing in the Adirondacks

By Mike Ives

March 1, 2011

Canoeing in the Adirondacks

Photo by Christopher Howell

GETTING THERE Head west out of Burlington, Vermont, in weathered Corolla. Stop for chocolate creemees, extra sprinkles, near the Lake Champlain ferry, and for Lower East Side-style corned beef in the town of Saranac Lake, New York. Frantically hunt for fishing licenses. Wind through mist past Tupper Lake toward sleepy Wanakena. Check in to rustic but cozy log-cabin-style lodge. Listen to thunderstorm from screened-in porch. Nod off while perusing dog-eared field guide to Adirondack ferns.

BEST MOMENT As we disembarked from our canoe to eat sandwiches and fresh-baked cookies atop a boulder beside remote, wind-ruffled Cranberry Lake, a stranger paddled up. "Fellas," he asked, "is this not what it's all about?"

WORST MOMENT Paddling through London-strength fog and pulling ashore, soaked and starving, to a lean-to and fire pit . . . and realizing we had no matches. (Runner-up: Paddling back into said fog in search of better-outfitted strangers at a nearby campsite.)

FAVORITE CHARACTER Rick Kovacs, Packbasket's trusty host, fishing guide, and trip planner. When he's not fishing or running his general store, Kovacs, a Vermont expat, roams on his mountain bike. "Burlington used to be the hippie capital of the Northeast," he said. "Now it's the yuppie capital."

map of PackBasket Lodge

Map by Peter and Maria Hoey

LOCAL LORE On a fabled Adirondack hunting expedition, President Grover Cleveland bagged a deer. There was a dispute about the animal's weight, so the guide, Mart Moody, of Moody, New York (also the town's assessor, highway commissioner, and justice of the peace), balanced the butchered carcass against a pile of stones using a makeshift scale. "Two hundred and ninety-seven pounds," he pronounced. Asked how he knew the deer's precise weight, Moody said he had eyeballed the stones.

WHAT'S GREEN All food scraps are composted. Fly-fishing is catch-and-release only, in float tubes, sans motorized boats. The lodge is a stone's throw from the Five Ponds Wilderness Area, one of the only places in the Northeast that still has virgin stands of spruce and pine. And a bookshelf in the lodge's cozy study brims with antiquarian natural-history sketches.

WHAT'S NOT GREEN Getting there from major metro areas requires a tank of gas each way. The riverside lodge has energy-efficient windows and insulation but no solar panels or micro-hydro system. And its furnace burns oil.

PLANET SAVING OPPORTUNITIES Visit the Saturday farmers' market in Saranac Lake Village (open June to October) and sip organic coffee with Gail Brill, founder of the local environmental group Adirondack Green Circle. Brill encourages visitors to help with recycling projects, trash cleanup, and other eco-initiatives.