Paddling the Adirondack Canoe Classic – Again!

As Labor Day came and went, thousands of visitors poured into and out of the Park to enjoy hiking, swimming, boating, paddling and perhaps a last ice cream of the season, as overnight lows now begin to dip into the 40s. For many local businesses and seasonal residents, this weekend signifies a time to close up shop for the summer. However, for a motivated few, the culmination of summer is yet to come.

The Adirondack Canoe Classic

Each year, the weekend following Labor Day marks a highly anticipated and long celebrated event (now entering its 40th year): the Adirondack Canoe Classic, otherwise known simply as the “90-miler.” The Northern Forest Canoe Trail recently took over as the official race organizers, though Brian and Grace McDonnell still continue to play a large role in the success of the event. Hundreds of individuals come from all over to compete and range widely in skill level – it is a true melting pot of recreationists!

View of one day of the start of the 90 Miler canoe race

There are a variety of boat classes including 1-4 person canoe teams (not to mention the 6+ person voyageur canoe class), guideboats, and a brave few that don the stand-up paddleboard. Most “teams” have a support group (or pit crew) to set up camp, provide food or water along the route during the race and help maintain morale over the 3 days of the event. Here my wonderfully supportive parents deserve some credit, for hustling to campgrounds to set up and break camp around catching glimpses of the race at a handful of popular spectator hangouts along the way.

Day 1

My sister Alex and I prepared to depart Old Forge on Friday morning in my We-No-Nah Adirondack canoe on our second 90-miler journey; this was my third time making the trip, though my first time on the route was to paddle NY’s three sections of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail at a more leisurely pace.

Alex Neumann in the front of the canoe during the Adirondack Canoe Classic

The first day covers 34 miles (including a daunting 3.5 miles of carries) from the start line at Old Forge to the take-out in Blue Mountain Lake. The route takes paddlers through the numbered lakes of the Fulton Chain right into the most sinuous river section of the course: Brown’s Tract. While this section has given many a voyageur canoe heartburn, Alex and I handled the turns capably in my short and wide canoe.

After Brown’s Tract, we crossed Raquette Lake (which was fortunately far less windy than our last crossing of South Bay) and headed into the Marion River toward the Eckford Chain. By this point, forearm cramps had set in, but snacks and intestinal fortitude, as well as getting to point out landmarks of the watershed I work in to my sister provided the needed boost to finish our first day strong.

Day 2

The second day starts with the herculean task of paddling the length of Long Lake, a roughly 14 mile affair, culminating in a paddle along an additional 5-mile section of the Raquette River before the carry. For those that have not paddled this kind of distance in a morning, imagine a three to four hour refrain of “are we there yet?” Included in the day’s 33-mile count is an extremely unpleasant, notorious 1.25 mile carry around Raquette Falls, which is muddy, narrow and practically impossible to pass other boats.

After trudging through the Raquette Falls carry and slamming some gels and electrolyte tablets at the other end, the day concludes with another long, but incredibly scenic and gorgeous ~12 mile paddle along the Raquette River to the eventual takeout at the “Crusher” boat launch, which is named for its proximity to a former gravel crushing operation. Although evident everywhere along the course, the camaraderie of the racers is on full display here, as other paddlers cheer on finishers pulling up to the boat launch and help to quickly shuttle boats out of the way for other incoming teams.

Day 3

The final day of the race feels more like a victory lap after the prior two days. After nearly 8 hour and 6 hour days of paddling (respectively), the four-ish hours it takes to complete the final 22 miles from the Fish Creek Campground to the center of town in Saranac Lake felt mostly like a blur – but another scenic and gorgeous blur through the Saranac Lakes into Oseetah Lake, concluding in Lake Flower.

Alex and Blake Neumann during the Adirondack Canoe Classic

Alex and I couldn’t help looking over our shoulder a few times to make sure the unbelievable weather wasn’t a mirage. Last year, immediately after turning onto Upper Saranac from Fish Creek we were met with an almost unbelievable headwind that made for a long slog to Middle Saranac. As we made the turn onto Middle Saranac, that headwind turned to whitecaps (which were fortunately in our favor), but it was all we could do to keep the boat upright. The moderate temperatures, overcast sky and celebration at the finish line this year made for a much more pleasant conclusion to the weekend.

Events like the 90-miler underscore the connectivity of a variety of systems here in the Park, from waterways, to communities, to local economies. We are fortunate to work among other great stewards and conservation-minded groups (such as the Adirondack Watershed Institute, which staffed the many aquatic invasive species inspection stations along the race course). The 90-miler is a great reminder that with the support of communities and our partners, and with an eye toward prevention, we can continue ensuring that there are ample sustainable opportunities for all to recreate here in the Park.


Blake Neumann

Blake Neumann joined the Council in 2021 as the Clean Water Advocate. A Kentucky native, his deep love of the Adirondacks comes from his childhood summers spent paddling and camping with family around the Park. Blake holds a Master’s in Public Administration from Syracuse University and a Master’s of Science in Water & Wetland Resource Studies from SUNY-ESF. He most recently was doing similar watershed planning for The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin. When not working, Blake can be found running or skiing nearby trails, swimming anywhere he can, or in his canoe with his furry co-pilot, Jackson.

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