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The best of the Adirondacks is on full display at Cranberry Lake. Located near the edge of six-million-acre Adirondack Park, Cranberry Lake is one of the least developed lakes in the region. Although the Adirondacks are known as a resort area, the majority of the shoreline of Cranberry Lake is in state hands, and few of the former 'lodges' still exist. Instead, Cranberry Lake anchors thousands of acres of wild forest lands, complete with a number of hiking trails to please outdoor enthusiasts. Covering almost 7,000 acres, Cranberry Lake offers plenty of space for primitive camping, canoeing, kayaking and fishing. The sole New York State Department of Environmental Conservation campground is extremely popular among those who want a quiet campsite surrounded by nature. And nature is in its full glory here.
Originally, Cranberry Lake was less than half its current size. The lake along the Oswegatchie River grew considerably when the first crude log dam was built across the outlet in 1864. The modern dam was constructed in 1916, and the first campsites were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression. Cranberry Lake Wild Forest occupies much of the shoreline, with the 118,000-acre Five Ponds Wilderness Area along the south shore. A few private properties are located along the 70 miles of lakeshore, with a couple of remaining commercial lodges still offering accommodations, food and possible guide service. Only two small towns command a small portion of the heavily forested shoreline; the village of Cranberry Lake is located on a northwest arm, and the community of Wanakena is on a southwest arm. Two SUNY (State University of New York) College of Environmental Science & Forestry facilities are located along the shore: the NY State Ranger School and a boat-in only Biological Field Station.
Cranberry Lake allows all types of boats, including motorized boats, although limited launch facilities keep the numbers down. One public launch site is located near the dam at Cranberry Lake village. The lake's only marina is also located near here and sells boat gas and rents lodge rooms, small boats and canoes. The commercial lodges allow guests to bring their own boats. Most of the lake traffic is fishing boats, canoes and kayaks. Nearly a dozen canoe launch areas are maintained on the lake. The many arms, coves and bays are ideal for paddling, and several publicly-owned islands on the lake allow canoe camping and exploration. The campground has many waterfront campsites where it is easy to launch a canoe or kayak directly from the campsite. Several of the streams and the Oswegatchie River lend themselves to canoe trips, often to secluded campsites. Three public swim beaches are located on the lake-one near each village and the third at the DEC Day Use area near the campground.
Fishing is a big draw to the lake. Trout were stocked for many years, and both brown trout and brook trout can be caught in the lake and the inflowing streams. Smallmouth bass and panfish offer plenty of sport for still fishermen. A fishing dock at the Day Use site is perfect for children and the disabled to try for the big catch. Northern pike were illegally planted in the lake at some point and have continued to thrive. Special regulations allow for ice fishing for the pike with no size limit. Kayak fishing is quite popular, especially in the shallow areas which hold many old tree stumps in some areas.
Camping facilities at Cranberry Lake run the gamut from regular tent and RV sites near flush toilets and showers to lean-to campsites and primitive canoe camping and hike-in sites. Picnic tables and grills, a playground, RV dump, amphitheater and pavilions make the well-shaded Cranberry Lake Campground a fine base camp for exploring the many trails, ponds and streams in the area. The trails offer beautiful views and are one of the most spectacular attractions to the Cranberry Lake area.
Bear Mountain commands the peninsula where the Cranberry Lake Campground is located, with a trail leading from the campground to near the summit and on north along the lakeshore where it eventually meets up with State Highway 3. Other trails on the west side of Cranberry Lake village travel south along the west side of the lake. The Cranberry Lake 50 Trail leaves the lakeshore trail near the Day Use area and meanders in a 50-mile loop around Cranberry Lake, skirting a number of ponds and mountains while providing the perfect wild forest experience and a variety of spectacular views. The Cranberry Lake 50 is a favorite backpacking/camping trail for those who wish to spend several days in the Wilderness Area. Permits and regulations must be obtained from Adirondack Park staff.
Although the campground closes to camping in winter, the trails are often used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Nearby, snowmobile trails cross the area and range as far north as Canada. Some of the local lodges stay open in winter to accommodate snowmobilers, and a number of private cottages or 'camps' are available by the week. The nearest larger city is Watertown, about 70 miles to the west. Adirondack Park has a large number of 'inholdings'-private properties within park boundaries-so guest cottages and small motels are numerous not far from Cranberry Lake. Several small towns in the area offer local cafes and grocery stores, while farm markets and small inns provide a fine place for a lovely lunch and perhaps some antique shopping.
One side trip any visitor to Cranberry Lake is advised to make is to The Wild Center at nearby Raquette Pond. The Wild Center/Natural History Museum near the Town of Tupper Lake is one of two museums maintained by the Adirondacks Park management and is dedicated to the natural history of the Adirondack Mountains. Exhibits allow visitors to view a variety of native animals in a natural setting and to learn about the area's past and its future. About an hour south of The Wild Center, the main Adirondack Museum is open summers as are some of the remaining Great Lodges. There is never a shortage of things to see and do around Cranberry Lake. In fact, they only thing you are likely to find yourself short of is time.
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