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Five Ponds Wilderness

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NYS map showing the location of Five Ponds Wilderness at the western part of the Adirondacks

The Cranberry Lake region is one of the largest remote areas remaining in the state. There has been only minimal encroachment of civilization on the lake itself. Just to the south of the lake lie thousands of acres of rolling hills, numerous lakes, ponds, and unbroken forest lands that show little or no marks of civilization.

Cranberry Lake, the northern gateway to the Five Ponds Wilderness Area, covers 11 square miles and has 55 miles of shoreline, of which more than 40 miles are state-owned. The original lake doubled to its current size in 1867 with the construction of a log crib dam for flow, navigation , and hydraulic power control. A concrete dam replaced the crib in 1916.

On July 15, 1995, the area changed suddenly and dramatically. A violent windstorm blew down thousands of acres of trees south and west of Cranberry Lake. Virtually all trails in the Five Ponds Wilderness were blocked and access to the interior ended for the rest of the year. Ecological impacts will mean more young forest growth, which will work to the benefit of wildlife such as deer and snowshoe hare. This kind of event is not unusual in the Adirondacks, though it may happen only once in a human lifetime. Trails have been cleared, but travel off the trails will be a challenge for decades to come.

Mature whitetail deer buck

Primitive tent sites, designated with yellow markers, have been established for the convenience of campers. Forty-six of these sites line the shore of Cranberry Lake. Campers may locate these sites on topographic maps displayed at the Cranberry Lake boat launch. Forty-five numbered sites serve the canoe route between Lows Lake and Inlet. Campers may locate these sites on topographic maps displayed at Inlet. Forty numbered sites serve Lows Lake, Bog River Flow and Hitchins Pond.

The trails are marked with red, blue or yellow discs three inches in diameter. Yellow markers imprinted with specific symbols mark ski trails and canoe carries; four inch orange markers designate snowmobile trails.

Five Ponds Wilderness Area Trails

Five Ponds Wilderness Sign

This 107,230 acre area lies between Cranberry Lake and Stillwater Reservoir and contains some of the best remote wilderness in the Adirondack Park. Trails are mostly in the northern part, leaving much of the area trailless. The remoteness of the area and heavy beaver activity provide more rugged trail conditions than on the Cranberry Lake Wild Forest to the north.

The High Falls Loop (red) (15 miles) - This trail begins at the parking lot on the South Shore road in the Hamlet of Wanakena at the start of the Dead Creek Flow Trail.

The first two miles follow the bed of a logging railroad constructed by the Rich Lumber Company prior to state acquisition of that parcel in 1919. In the mid-1930's, it was upgraded to a truck trail for state administrative use. It is now used only as a foot trail, in conformance with wilderness management guidelines.

After leaving the former roadbed, the trail follows old logging roads to meet with a short (0.2 mile) trail that provides access for boaters from Janack's Landing.

At the next intersection (Sand Hill Junction), a yellow trail provides access to the Cat Mountain Trail and Cowhorn Junction, while the red trail continues toward the Plains. A short distance later, the trail turns south to leave the former Plains Trail, which was abandoned due to excessive beaver activity. The new Plains Trail was constructed in 1986 on higher ground. This trail ends on the High Falls Trail, which shares its history with Dead Creek Flow Trail. From here, it is a short distance to High Falls.

On the return trip, a hiker may continue along an abandoned logging railroad that ran between High Falls and Wanakena. Adjacent to the Oswegatchie River, this trail will likely contain some beaver flooding. At the north end of this trail is the Wanakena primitive corridor, which is a one mile remnant of a former truck trail kept in driveable condition to allow the Wanakena Water Company to maintain its facilities. From the barrier at the north end of the corridor, it is approximately 0.5 mile along the South Shore Road to the parking lot.

Sand Lake (blue) (7.3 miles) - This trail begins at the southwest corner of the High Falls loop and crosses the only bridge over the Oswegatchie River within this wilderness. Beaver flooding is very common along the beginning of the trail. The trail runs southwest past Five Ponds and Wolf Pond, ending at Sand Lake. Lean-tos are located at Big Shallow, Little Shallow, Wolf Pond and Sand Lake.

Wolf Pond Trail (yellow) (3.5 miles) - This trail leaves the Sand Lake Trail 0.5 mile from Wolf Pond and continues to Buck Pond. Wolf Pond outlet provides a wide expanse of lowland that is usually wet and must be crossed on beaver dams. The remainder of the trail to Cage Lake is on high ground, but beaver activities on Hammer Creek often necessitate trail relocation beyond Cage Lake. At Buck Pond, it joins the Buck Pond Primitive Corridor.

Canoeing on Sand LakeBuck Pond Primitive Corridor (8.5 miles) - This undeveloped roadbed is used by the owners of Buck Pond to reach their property. From Buck Pond, it follows old logging roads until it meets the roadbed of the logging railroad constructed by the Post and Henderson Company around 1905. About 1.2 miles north of Little Otter pond, the route uses old logging roads again. Beyond this juncture it forks with the northern road continuing on to Youngs Road south of the hamlet of Star Lake. The Left fork leads to private property; but, before reaching the former state boundary line, it meets the Boundary Line Trail. Deep ruts are found in several places, especially at Little Otter Pond. Beaver activity is usually evident at Little Otter Pond Outlet.

Boundary Line Trail (yellow) (0.6 mile) - This trail shortened access from Youngs Road to Buck Pond Road. A parking lot is available at Youngs Road.

Cowhorn Junction Trail (yellow) (1.8 miles) - This trail connects the High Falls Loop with Cowhorn Junction. It provides access to the Cat Mountain Trail and passes Cat Mountain and Bassout Ponds.

Cat Mountain Trail (red) (0.7 mile) - This trail ends at the summit of Cat Mountain, where a fire tower was formerly located. A good view of the blow down is available.

Sixmile Creek Trail (blue) (5.3 miles) - This trail is accessible from West flow, passes the Olmstead Pond Loop and Cowhorn Pond and ends at Cowhorn Junction.

Cowhorn Pond Trail (yellow) (0.2 mile) - This short trail leads from Sixmile Creek Trail to the Cowhorn Pond lean-to.

Olmstead Pond Loop (yellow) (3.2 miles) - This loop begins on the Sixmile Creek Trail approximately 0.5 mile from West Flow. It passes Spectacle and Simmons ponds and joins the former Olmstead Pond Trail at the Olmstead Pond lean-to and continues to rejoin the Sixmile Creek Trail.

Darning Needle Pond Trail (yellow) (2.4 miles) - This trail provides access to Darning Needle Pond from Chair Rock Flow. It follows Chair Rock Creek and is subject to beaver activity.

Canoe Carry (3.5 miles) - This trail provide access for canoeists carrying between Lows Lake and the Oswegatchie River. Canoeists may enter the Bog River at Lows Lower Dam and paddle up the slow-moving river about 14.5 miles to the west shore of Lows Lake, where the canoe carry leads to Big Deer Pond and the upper reaches of the Oswegatchie River. The route continues downstream to Inlet, where it becomes unnavigable. Although beaver dams are often encountered, the only major obstruction is High Falls. Two minor rapids might not be navigable during periods of low water.

In case of an emergency (24 hours/day): Forest Fire, Search and Rescue - (518) 891-0235