Kayaking Hemlock-Canadice State Forest is a very unique Finger Lakes experience. The State Forest surrounds the two lakes that make up their names: Hemlock Lake and Canadice Lake. These two lakes are considered minor Finger Lakes, but to some (such as me) they are the stars. You see these two lakes are virtually undeveloped. While the other Finger Lakes all have vacation homes cramped together along most of their shorelines, these two lakes have an old-growth forest. Jet skis, party pontoon boats, and high power speed are common on the other Finger Lakes. The lakes of the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest only have small fishing boats and human-powered craft. Kayaking Hemlock-Canadice State Forest is like taking a step back in time. Hemlock Lake covers about 1,800 acres of the forest’s 6,849 acres; it is about 7 miles long and at its maximum width only about .5 miles wide. The lake is 91 feet deep at its deepest, the surface of the lake is 905 feet above sea level, and the tree-covered forest around the lake climbs another 600 feet. Canadice Lake is a bit smaller covering only 649 acres, being just 3 miles long and .3 miles wide at its widest part. Canadice Lake sits in a valley slightly higher at 1096 feet and the hills are not as high. Kayaking Hemlock-Canadice State Forest is truly special.
Kayaking Hemlock Lake South Launch
The kayaking around Rochester article talked about Kayaking Hemlock Lake from the North boat launch site. The south boat launch site presents a different experience. It is hard to explain, but it feels different. The lake is narrower at the southern end, the hills seem steeper, and there is more of an isolated feel. Much of the area around the launch is shallow, only a few feet deep. There are weed beds that can make getting started more of a challenge. Still not a daunting task. The launch is not as crowded as the north launch is, which is not overly crowded most of the time. Those who do use it are mostly paddlers. I have been here during the week and found myself alone or with just one or two kayaks in the water. There also seem to be more fishermen using kayaks. Kayaking Hemlock-Canadice State Forest is connecting with nature.
I had to stop paddling here earlier than I had planned, the water level dropped in a matter of a week leaving the launch unusable to small boats, and only useable for kayaks if you drag it in the mud for about 30 feet.
Kayaking Hemlock-Canadice State Forest Wetlands
Another benefit of using the south launch is that it allows you to enter Springwater Creek and the Wetlands. Kayaking Hemlock-Canadice State Forest Wetlands is another different aspect of Hemlock Lake. As you leave the boat launch and start across the lake, you will see a mass of cat tails. When you get past them, you will see a waterway going further south. This is where Springwater Creek enters Hemlock Lake. The creek starts south of Wayland and widens as it flows north. The paddle from the lake first takes you to a wetland. While following the creek is clear, you will see marsh in areas around you with some solid land. I favor paddling here when the wind is gusty or when the sun is very bright. The reeds and banks are higher, providing some protection from the wind and less reflection of the sun.
The current of the creek, at least in the summer, is slow, so there are no problems paddling against it. As you enter the marsh area, you will see many birds, large flocks of sparrows are common, especially near sunset. Sandpipers will rush along the edge of the creek in search of food. As you paddle, watch among the cat tails. You may see the long neck and slender head of a blue heron. Herons will build a nest high in trees, however, they will also build their nest on the ground in wetlands. They are graceful to watch as they take off and fly around. If you distress them, they will let you know with a very loud squawk that has been described as prehistoric and can last several seconds. At the southern edge of the lake, you will often see ducks and seagulls. While you may not see them on every trip, there are eagles in the area.
Springwater Creek is wide while near the lake and gets narrower as you paddle it. There are several smaller creeks feeding it, however, they seem too shallow in the summer to explore. Algae and weeds can be a problem in sections as well as a shallow spots. You can tell, from the banks, that the level drops several feet in the summer. According to my Fitbit connected to my cell phone’s GPS, I have paddled as far as 2 miles up the creek. That is up the creek WITH a paddle and not a straight line. The creek meanders. I have seen a couple of snakes out for a swim and even a few turtles. Trout comes into the stream to spawn in the spring and head back to the lake when the water warms. If you are paddling near sunset, you might need some bug spray.
Kayaking Canadice Lake
Canadice Lake, the other lake of the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest, is just a mile or so east of Hemlock Lake. It also has no development along the shoreline, however, there are a few isolated homes along the east side of the lake across the road. At Hemlock Lake, a simple access road leads to each launch point but has no through traffic. Route 15A runs the length of the lake, but is well away from the shore and much higher in elevation. Canadice Lake has Canadice Lake Road running very near the lake on the east shore and Canadice Haul Road on the west shore. Still, there is no development directly on the lake or in the area of the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest.
The various local Native American Tribes had slightly different pronunciations for the lake, with Ska-ne-a-dice being the most common. The words translate to Long Lake. Canadice is the smallest of the Finger Lakes; however, it is also very narrow, giving it a long appearance. While the hills around the lake are not as high as those around Hemlock Lake, the hillsides are steeper. These hills help keep the wind out of the valley, giving a mostly calm lake.
Canadice has two launch sites, one official and one unofficial. The DEC has a boat launch just off Canadice Lake Road that allows for trailer and hand launches. Parking is along the side of the road. Further south along the road is a hand launch site that is stewarded by Canadice Outfitters. Canadice Outfitters rents kayaks and canoes to be used on this lake and, with special arrangements, Hemlock and Conesus Lakes. Again, parking is along the side of the road. Kayaks and canoes need to be carried in from the road along a small trail.
Kayaking the lake is mostly the same from both launch points. The water is calm and mostly protected from the wind. My observation is that most of the kayakers are also fishing.
Kayaking Hemlock-Canadice State Forest is a very interesting experience. It is easy to feel free from the modern world and makes you wonder how the early inhabitants of the area must have felt.