Google Map Links
High Rock on the Oswegatchie
High rock has been a destination or at least a way point for many outdoor enthusiasts for many years. For canoeist and kayakers today, it is a resting or camping spot for those heading up the Oswegatchie river to High Falls or five ponds. For hikers headed to High Falls as part of the loop or working on the Cranberry 50, also take the 1/10th mile spur to the rock. This would have been the same for the sportsman many years ago staying at the hotel at Inlet, on their way to hunt & fish the great Southwoods with their guide. This is a unique destination due to the fact you can get there by land or water. This past August (2017), I decided to visit High Rock from both avenues, both in the same week.
There is a ton of history concerning Wanakena, and I’m not going to even try to cover all of it here. For a more in depth look at the hamlet, see my article devoted to all things Wanakena here- https://hikingthetrailtoyesterday.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/wanakena/ . Regarding the trek to High Rock, you are hiking on the remnants of the Rich Lumber companies railroad bed. There were some forty miles of tracks winding through the forest to bring the logs to the Ford Brothers sawmills, and several other specialty mills. The only thing that is left of those times is the Skate creek mill pond. In later years this was maintained as a truck trail for the Wanakena water district.
If you are going to High Rock by water, you will start at what is today called Inlet. This is the Oswegatchie river, and it flows into Cranberry lake at Wanakena. This is also the start for the paddle to Five Ponds and High Falls. This is the former sight of the Inlet house hotel (also known as Sternberg’s). George Sternberg started construction on the Inlet house in 1884. This was the location of the Albany road which was constructed during the war of 1812 for troops to move troops and supplies between Albany and the St. Lawrence river. It eventually led through Russell where the state had established a three -story armory. The Albany road (or sometimes known as the old military road) was the first road in the town of Fine, which was known as Scriba at that time. Today there is still a footbridge there, going to a private camp known as Knollwood.
(for more on Knollwood- https://hikingthetrailtoyesterday.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/knollwood-on-the-oswegatchie/ ).
The Hotel was the starting point for many of the local hunting & fishing guides and their clients (or sports as they were often referred to). There were two hotels here, the second one replacing the original that burned. The hotel was later purchased by Loren and Mary Moore. The final owner was John Sevey, who operated the establishment until that structure burned as well. In the 1960’s the state purchased the property. In November of 1922, there were meetings held regarding the idea of damming the river at Inlet for a hydro-electric development. Fortunately, the idea never came to fruition. There were many camps along the river and the forests before the state purchased the property. These camps catered to the hunters and fisherman that came to the area in pursuit of game. Some of the camps were camp Betsy, Carter camp, Amber camp, Moore’s camp and the Dobson camp at High falls. For a very good read about this time and place, I suggest you look into Herbert F. Keith’s Man of the Woods.
If you are going to High rock on foot, from New York State Rt. 3, turn onto St. Lawrence county RT. 61. Follow this, continuing straight onto Main street. This will take you across a bridge, (which at one time was a train trestle) and onto the South Shore road. Shortly after crossing the bridge, you’ll find a parking area near a tennis court on the right. There is a kiosk located there as well. You will need to walk back down the road (towards the bridge) and take your next left. This road has a trail sign up high on a light pole, and leads past a private residence. There was a young bull moose sighted recently in the yard of this home. Continuing ahead to the south-west, you will go around a yellow gate. This is part of the Wanakena primitive corridor, and is used for the hamlets water supply.
If you choose to paddle to high rock, from New York State Rt. 3 take the Sunny Lake road, and then immediately onto the Inlet road. This is marked with a D.E.C. Five ponds wilderness area Oswegatchie river access sign. Follow this road to the end (about 3 miles) and there you will find the parking area and launch sight. This is where the Hotels stood.
On the trail
On foot you head down the red marked trail past the Ford Brothers mill pond, which is an impoundment of Skate creek. This is a wonderful place to be as the sun rises. The geese and ducks were making plenty of racket as they prepared for their day. The trail is fairly overgrown here – but easily followed. You cross some slight beaver flooding not far ahead. As you continue the trail widens and you can discern the railroad bed quite easily. It is a mix of hard and soft woods, with plenty of small streams and glacial boulders strung around. You will notice several blue well casings along the trail on your right. I hiked in August and it stayed pretty dark and shaded for plenty of the trip. You will see trail markers for the Cranberry Lake 50 as well as the red markers for the High Falls loop. http://cranberrylake50.org/ .
At 1.85 miles the trail bears West, and there is a slight trail heading South (possibly the Larkin trail?). The trail continues Southwest, and at around 2.8 miles you get some amazing views of a large bog. If you had time to explore this, I’m willing to bet you’d find some amazing flora such as pitcher plants and bog cranberry, as well as cotton grass later in the season. At 3.2 miles some views of Skate creek can be seen on your right. (I have seen this erroneously referred to as the Oswegatchie river). Just after the four-mile mark, you will see a sign for the high rock spur trail- your destination is 1/10th of a mile ahead. From High Rock you can see the Oswegatchie river as it winds and bend through the river plain. The river has a little bay at the bottom of the rock. This gives you a wonderful view of this region of the Adirondacks. Around you, lie one of the largest state wilderness areas, comprising more than 130’000 acres (five ponds & Pepperbox wilderness areas). Round trip back to the parking area is 8.4 Miles.
On the water
The paddle up the Oswegatchie from Inlet is one of the classic Adirondack treks. This can be a very busy stretch of water, especially around holiday weekends. This was my first time to paddle these waters in a kayak. I have been on this stretch many times, but always in a canoe. I am a dyed in the wool canoeist, but I have to say that I am really enjoying the kayaks. You are paddling upstream here. The flow of the river can work both ways. We made this trip in late August, and we had experienced a great deal of rain prior to our run. The river was running quite high for that time of year. So, although it was somewhat of a strong flow to paddle against, the water was deep enough that the stones and beaver dams were easily paddled over. Years before the river could be a rock garden and require you to carry over the dams. All things considered, it was the best trip up river ever for me.
When you leave Inlet, the river is fairly wide and open. The Oswegatchie is a very winding and rambling river and upstream that really becomes apparent. The scenery is magnificent, the banks are lined with giant white Pine and Spruce trees. You get the feeling that you are a million miles from civilization. The entire trip peaks all your senses. As you round the sharp bends, often you’ll stir up some wood ducks that call off in protest. We saw several herons. Beaver activity is so abundant that you can occasionally smell the musky scent of the scent mounds that the beaver makes to mark their territory. The castor (scent glands) of the beaver is of value and is sold for use in the fragrance industry. Many wonderful campsites are numbered along the banks of the river, spaced far enough apart to offer plenty of privacy & seclusion. As you get closer to High rock, the terrain becomes more of a river plain, with tag alders lining the low banks. The switch-backs also get tighter here as well. The paddle upstream wasn’t that tough, though you would lose ground when stopping for a photo if you didn’t get into an eddy or grab some brush.
When you come to High rock, it’s pretty narrow on the river by this point. There is a little backwater just past the rock that offers easy beaching of your boats. From there following the trail up to the top of the rock is easy. The views are just the same as they were a few days before when I hiked in, but give you a different appreciation of the river that you have paddled. The trip downstream is a wonderful slow paddle, with the current doing the lion’s share of the work. It is around 3 ¾ miles each way, so while not a super long trek, it’s still a good workout through amazing scenery. Take your time to soak in all the river has to offer and savor the day.
It’s not often that one gets to experience the same destination by both trail and water. For me it was a great experience. I walked the trails that the local Adirondack guides used a hundred years ago. I was on the rail-bed that the Rich Lumber company used to haul the timber to the sawmill. I paddled the waters that sportsman have paddled for years. I was at the sight of the war of 1812 era military road. It all combined to make a just wonderful outdoor experience. If you get the opportunity to travel to High rock, take it. Either route or both, you’ll enjoy it, I’m sure.
For more on this area, see my other related articles here:
A special thanks to
Mark Friden (Clifton town Historian) and
Shirley Meek (Fine town historian)
They were able to offer me some very vital parts of this story.
References and sources
Clifton Fine ADK
New York State D.E.C.
Man of the woods by Herbert F. Keith
Discover the Northwest Adirondacks By Barbara McMartin
Adirondack Guides from the town of Fine by Jean Grimm
Hotels & Churches in the Town of Fine by Jean Grimm
About the Author