This floatplane camping trip in the Adirondacks offers a remote, away-from-it-all getaway.
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Camping in the Adirondacks near a body of water, with a travel via a Floatplane
Credit: Lauren Breedlove

"Was it what you thought it would be?" the pilot asked as we soared over the vast Adirondack wilderness that bore a striking resemblance to a huge swath of beautiful broccoli. Dirt was wedged under my fingernails, I wore bathing suit bottoms as underwear, and my teeth were in desperate need of a proper brushing. And yet, I said, "Oh, it was even better."

My voice was tinged with the kind of happy-tired tone that comes from a satisfying adventure. We had just been plucked from the shores of Big Rock Lake in Adirondack Park, where, for three whole days, we didn't see a single other soul. It was exactly what we had set out to do.

It had hardly been an ordinary camping trip. A tent, beer, and bug spray were involved, sure, but it also required a fair amount of extra planning, a pilot named Tom, and a floatplane.

Camping in the Adirondacks near a body of water, with a travel via a Floatplane
Credit: Lauren Breedlove

Three days prior, I sat shotgun in the cramped cockpit, though I was no copilot. We were high, quite literally, traveling thousands of feet above the mountains, treetops, and sprawling landscape that I had tromped around since I was a young girl. Our destination was the notoriously unspoiled West Canada Lakes Wilderness, an area we had agreed upon while pouring over a worn paper map during two planning phone calls with Tom Payne, owner and pilot of Payne's Air Service.

Despite having six million or so acres, summer in the Adirondack region seemed to be perpetually crowded in all of our usual spots, particularly since the start of the pandemic. We were seeking a sense of real adventure; a remote, off-grid exploit. We craved summer solitude and took a floatplane to find it.

Camping in the Adirondacks near a body of water, with a travel via a Floatplane
Credit: Lauren Breedlove

Tom pointed out the myriad of lakes and rivers as we flew; Squaw Lake, the wild Moose River Plains, West Canada Creek, and Metcalf Brook all looked like some sort of cinematic set from our bird's-eye perspective. We flew by T Lake Falls — apparently the tallest in the state — and one that I had never heard of. This wasn't a side of the Adirondacks that I was familiar with; a mere 15-minute flight can land you worlds away, it turns out.

Two very vocal loons served as the welcome brigade as we touched down on the water.

"They like to yell at the planes," Tom explained as we taxied to the campsite, nestled in the northeastern corner of the lake.

Camping in the Adirondacks near a body of water, with a travel via a Floatplane
Credit: Lauren Breedlove

A small hunting camp was the only structure on the lake, sitting on the edge of where private and public-use lands meet. Actually, that private land was the reason we could touch down at all since the rest of the lake resides within one of the 20 protected wilderness areas in the Adirondacks, all of which restrict any sort of aircraft landings. Any worry that someone would be there was squashed immediately; it was desolate, save the sassy loons. We had the place to ourselves. There was no cell service either, and the quickest way out on foot was an eight-mile bushwhack, at best.

It was the most remote place I had ever been in my own backyard.

Our group of four was transported in two separate flights, with our camping gear in tow: chairs, coolers stuffed with provisions, and a giant tent we dubbed "the nylon palace" on account that it was comically large. Tom commented that we had "packed light," but that's what happens when you mix up the weight limits, thinking 225 pounds per person, including gear, was the cutoff, instead of the actual 325 pounds it turned out to be. That's why 90% of our diet for the trip was set to be freeze-dried meals, and beloved bricks of cheese were sadly left behind.

Our drop-off was all said and done in just over an hour, and then we were at the mercy of Tom (and the weather) for our retrieval out of the wilderness, approximately three days later. We waved farewell enthusiastically.

Camping in the Adirondacks near a body of water, with a travel via a Floatplane
Credit: Lauren Breedlove

Weather was on our side. By day, we swam, cliff-jumped, and hiked. We explored the shoreline, quickly discovering why it was named Big Rock Lake. The giant boulders proved to be the perfect sunset happy hour spot, with our canoes docked on one and the four of us sipping drinks on another. We played card games by the glow of the campfire, laughed heartily at inside jokes, and befriended some of the camp critters (here's looking at you, Doug the slug).

We couldn't get enough of the canoes, going on morning and evening expeditions, keeping an eye out for possible moose, and uncovering art in nature as we paddled through an area with heart-shaped lily pads. We set out to find Farmers Vly, which turned out to be a stunning wide-open field with vibrant hues of green that seemed to magically appear after trekking through the thick woods. We laid by the water's edge and stared up at the incredibly dark night sky, picking out constellations like we did as kids. It was simple summer fun that felt like it belonged to only us.

Camping in the Adirondacks near a body of water, with a travel via a Floatplane
Credit: Lauren Breedlove

Tom showed up in the early afternoon sporting a big smile to expertly fly us out of our private paradise. This came as no surprise, given that he's been piloting floatplanes out of Inlet, New York, for the better part of the last 40 years. He transports people interested in backcountry fishing and camping to various locations in the spring, summer, and fall. Some of the 10 or so total campsites have lean-tos, some don't, and a few are blessed with canoes that he himself flew in. We were obviously in the presence of a legend.

Pricing varies, depending on how far your destination is. Our particular jaunt cost us $210 per person, which included round-trip flights, Tom's expertise, and camping gear transport (well worth it for three days of solitude). It's best to call Payne's to inquire about pricing and customize your floatplane adventure. Most camp ventures don't come with a scenic flight on either end, and I have to say, it was pretty fantastic.

We didn't just go on a summer camping trip; we saw the Adirondacks with fresh eyes. Next time, we'd be seasoned floatplane campers, ones that know to bring actual food. Next time, those bricks of cheese would certainly make the cut.