Adirondacks State Park

Park Regions
Lake George, New York Balloonfest
Lake George Balloonfest (courtesy, Warren County Tourism)

The Adirondack Region is larger than many states. And like most states, it is far from being homogenous. The terrain ranges from some of the highest mountains in the eastern seaboard to lower lying valleys and foothills. Getting a handle on what's actually in the Adirondacks can be daunting.

One way to visualize the Adirondacks is as a slack, multi-poled tent—the kind a kid would pitch using an old tarp and an odd collection of found sticks. The highest points are in the middle with the lower points around the edge. The slackness of the tent causes a myriad of pockets of water to collect, with rivulets draining on all sides.

The tallest sticks would throw up the jutting High Peaks , the most famous area in the Adirondacks. This is where you'll find the highest mountains set against some of the most dramatic lakes in the range. In some ways this is the heart of the Adirondacks. It's been the stomping ground of generations of the rich and the rustic. The plants and animals of the high mountains are similar to those of Canada's North Woods, with conifers predominating, especially red spruce and balsam fir. Tiny, tiny alpine pockets crown the 11 highest peaks. Related in character, but with softer and lower peaks, the Central Adirondacks offer equally fine hikes and views, arguably better paddling, and less crowds.

Mixed hardwood forests and boggy wetlands, with pockets of farmland here and there, surround the high mountains. Moving clockwise around the mountainous interior, the Northwest Lakes Region has some of the wildest areas in the Adirondacks. Even though much of this region is privately owned, it is still sparsely developed due to its isolation, long cold season, and extensive wetlands. The Champlain Lake Valley to the east is historic and bucolic. It is also the most heavily farmed and industrialized section of the Adirondacks. The South is the area of the juvenile Hudson, with some good whitewater as well as fine wilderness hiking at the park's southeast corner. The rolling Western Foothills complete the circuit, with more scenic farmland as well as wild hardwood forests.

Northwest Lakes

North of Debar and Saint Regis Mountains, the land flattens out somewhat and becomes lushly sodden. This is a land of lake chains and marshes, beloved by paddlers, anglers, and duck hunters. Picturesque Tupper Lake marks the loose boundary between this region and the High Peaks. You can't miss it; Route 30 runs along most of its eastern shore. The St. Regis Canoe Area is a beautiful chain of ponds—paradise can be a week-long canoe trip where you explore a different pond each day. Big and wild Cranberry Lake beckons to those who want it even wilder: Venture here for some fine hiking and magnificent paddling. The Cranberry Lake area is where you'll find the Five Ponds Wilderness—one of the most remote in the park and largely trailless.

Cranberry Lake

Northwestern Lakes Roundup
Tupper Lake
Paul Smith's
Cranberry Lake

Central Adirondacks

South of the High Peaks, the mountains are lower and the climate is slightly gentler. Jewel-like Blue Mountain Lake is a major magnet. Not only is the lake exquisitely beautiful, but there's some superior hiking very near it. The Adirondack Museum is a final bonus. This state-of-the-art facility features inventive displays on Adirondack history, culture, and ecology—and it's a fun place to visit.

While it's still quite hilly, it's the lakes that stand out here. Long Lake, Indian Lake, Siamese Ponds Wilderness , North Creek and the Hudson River Gorge, Racquette Lake... the list goes on.

Blue Mountain Lake
Moose River
Siamese Ponds
Northville-Placid Trail

Bog River
Blue Mountain Lake

Western Foothills

The western foothills of the Adirondacks have pockets that are relatively well developed and populated. But then it has big areas of wild forest and wilderness. The hills tend to long and narrow ridges, with wetlands, streams, and lakes filling the bottom lands below. Old Forge/ Brantingham Lake is an example of this.

Fulton Chain—lakes separated by long ridges. Paddling. Bald Mountain—good views though only 600 feet high.

Raquette Lake—one of the largest lakes in the Adirondacks, with 99 miles of waterfront. Home to Sagamore, built by Durant, and bought by the Vanderbilts. Prototypical Adirondack Great Camp. Four other great camps: Camp Pine Knot, Camp Echo, Bluff Point, North Point.

Old Forge/ Brantingham Lake
Stillwater Reservoir

Fulton Chain
Raquette Lake
Stillwater Reservoir

Lake Champlain Valley

About 25 percent of the Adirondacks lies within the Champlain Valley. Lake Champlain is the largest freshwater lake in the U.S., surpassed only by the Great Lakes. It is 110 miles long and covers 490 square miles. Many historic towns lie near its shores: Ticonderoga, Crown Point, Port Henry, Westport, Elizabethtown, Plattsburgh, and Essex—maybe the loveliest of all. Generally, this is an area for people who like their outdoor recreation to be gentle and pastoral, with lots of human interaction and historical interest.

Lake George is the other star attraction in the area—a nice enough lake that's a haven for lovers of outdoorsy kitsch—you either hate it or you love it. It's not the place for a wilderness experience, but the hiking isn't bad. Hadley and Buck Mountains are both recommended. Paddling , though, is perhaps the best way to experience Lake George. Not only is the scenery good, you can get close to several "great camps" for an inspection of how the other half lives.

This is the best region in the Adirondacks for whitewater paddling . Recommended rivers include the Upper Hudson River, stretches of the Sacandanga, and the lower Shroon River.

And for some wilder hiking, don't overlook the trails around Schroon Lake .

Schroon Lake
Lake George

Lake Champlain & Vicinity
Lake George

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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