Saranac Lake, or more precisely, Lower Saranac Lake, is one of three lakes in a chain: Upper, Middle, and Lower. Almost all of the vacation events took place on Lower Saranac Lake, usually called just Saranac Lake, or more simply The Lake. The nearby town is also named Saranac Lake; it lies about ten miles west of Lake Placid.
The lake itself is about five miles long and a mile and a half across at its widest point. It is situated obliquely on the map, from the East (or a little bit north of east) to the West/Southwest. Ampersand Bay, where we stay is at the eastern end.
The lake is dotted with about twenty named islands, from the largest, Eagle, to the tiny rocks: Otter and Mink. While the lake looks simple enough on a map: a long irregular oval with numerous bays, peninsulas, islands, the first time one goes out there in a rented motorboat, especially if it’s an overcast day, everything begins to look alike very quickly.
The islands lend a lot of interest to the lake, making it seem larger than it is, affording fabulous camping sites, and providing variety for the boaters. Generally speaking, the medium-sized islands all fit the same pattern: boulders at the water’s edge and pine trees covering them thickly. While Bluff Island is large and distinctive, and Eagle, being so close and so big, is also easy to remember, it’s generally the smaller ones that are memorable. Aptly named Gull Rock sits alone in the middle of the western half of the lake. A pyramidal rock no more than six feet high, covered with with bird dropping, and usually one Ring-billed Gull perched on top. The Sister Islands, like a pleasant Charybdis, beckon the boaters to stop for a bit. Otter and Mink, befitting their names, are virtually identical little discs, with about a twenty trees each, and sitting out by themselves. But Fern, Sable, Halfway, Green, Partridge, Duck, Goose, and the rest are damnably difficult to tell apart, for the first few seasons.
But the river channels connecting it to other lakes are what makes Lower Saranac Lake so wonderful. A bit more geography here. While “Lower” is indeed the lowest and last of the three lakes named “Saranac,” it also connects to some other lakes near the eponymous town. In fact, we can dismiss Upper Saranac Lake completely; it’s another world, of old money and restricted great camps. For us, “Lower” is the center of all things. Go up the distant western river, and you arrive at the nearly empty Middle Saranac Lake, with its marvellous sandy beach. And if you go down the other river channel, the one that heads south from Bluff Island, you can go all the way into the village, past the houses, marinas, and busy roads, to tie up your boat at Mountain Mist, and have a frozen custard sundae.
That’s the key to Lower Saranac Lake; it links rustic, natural, “get-away-from-it-all” unspoiled beauty with motorboats, jet skis, and soft ice cream. One would not mistake downtown Saranac Lake for New York City, but it’s an actual town, with a main street, a Sears, a hotel, a bakery, a library, etc. As for the other end – Middle Saranac Lake – there is nothing there: no automobile access, no houses, nothing but water, sand, boaters, and Bald Eagles.