Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest
The 3,700-acre Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest is located in the eastern foothills of the Adirondack Mountains along the shore of Lake Champlain in the Towns of Essex and Westport, in Essex County. It is approximately four miles long north to south, and comprises the largest tract of undeveloped Lake Champlain shoreline in New York.
The wild forest is named for Split Rock Mountain, the main feature of the area, and refers to an unusual "split rock" formation and historic landmark found on private land at the northern end of the mountain where it meets Whallon Bay on Lake Champlain. The Lake Champlain Palisades and Webb Royce Swamp lie within its boundaries.
The Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest is rich in cultural history and biological diversity due in part to its proximity to Lake Champlain.
The Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest offers numerous recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, mountain biking, rock climbing, fishing and hunting in the warmer months; and cross country skiing, ice climbing, trapping and snowmobiling in the winter months.
NOTE: The Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest is home to Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) a threatened wildlife species that is fully protected by New York State law. Under NYS Environmental Conservation Law it is illegal to take, shoot, import, possess, transport, or sell a timber rattlesnake.
A timber rattlesnake is not aggressive and will attempt to escape when approached, but it will strike in self defense. Watch where you sit, step, and place your hands. Do not approach or molest a rattlesnake. If you see one, stay away from it. Keep pets under immediate command at all times.
A timber rattlesnake bite is a serious medical emergency, but is rarely fatal. If bitten:
- Stay calm
- Walk slowly back to your vehicle
- Go to the nearest hospital immediately
Visitors to the Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest should be properly prepared and equipped for a remote, wildlands experience. Visitors should expect to assume a high degree of responsibility for their own welfare and for environmentally sound use of the area. Know safe hiking practices, camping & hiking rules, how to avoid getting lost (PDF) (191 KB), state land use regulation and current trail conditions.
Use the links in the right column to obtain important information for recreating on these lands.
Report back country emergencies, such as lost or injured hikers, and wildland fires to the DEC Emergency Dispatch at 518-891-0235.
Accessible Features: A 700-foot long accessible access trail provides scenic views of Webb Royce Swamp for birders, wildlife observers and outdoor photographers of all abilities. The trailhead parking lot is located on the east side of Clark Road about 0.6 miles from Route 9/Lake Shore Road. Leaving the parking lot, the hardened access trail travels through a field in the early stages of succession, then crosses a hedgerow into another field that is actively mowed before ending at a raised pad overlooking the swamp. The pad provides unblocked views across a large expanse of the swamp and serves as a turn around spot for wheelchairs. The variety of habitats that can be viewed from the access trail provides an opportunity to view a wide range of bird species and other wildlife.
The nearby Westport Boat Launch Site is also designed to provide access for people with mobility disabilities. These include reserved parking spaces, floating metal docks and accessible restrooms.
DEC welcomes all visitors to explore outdoor recreation on state lands and we are committed to providing an ever-increasing range of accessible opportunities.
Full Listing of DEC's Accessible Recreation Destinations
Lake Champlain from Ore Bed Overlook
Eleven miles of hiking trails provide access to many locations throughout the wild forest and Lake Champlain.
The trail system provides for a number of loops, the primary one being the North Rim Trail - Robin's Run Loop Trail. Several spur trails end at overlooks that provide views of Vermont, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondack High Peaks. Two spur trails access the shore of Lake Champlain.
Four primitive tent sites are located within the Unit. These are located along the shore of Lake Champlain in the vicinity of Barn Rock Bay (2), the Palisades, and Snake Den Harbor. Although these sites are open to all on a first come, first served basis, they are most easily accessed from the lake. The southernmost tent site in Barn Rock Bay can be accessed by foot from the Lewis Bay Clearing Parking Lot on Lake Shore Road via the Barn Rock Trail.
Observe all campfire safety practices. Use only dead and down wood. Don't leave garbage in the fire pit.
Better yet, carry a portable stove. Stoves heat more quickly, are easier to clean and do not leave blackened rocks and partially burned firewood. They are useful in wet rainy weather.
Firewood Alert - Don't Move Firewood!
Regulation prohibits the import of firewood into New York unless it has been treated to kill pests. The new regulation also limits the transportation of untreated firewood to less than 50 miles from its source.
Bringing your firewood with you? Most people don't realize they move bugs along with their firewood. You could be spreading diseases or insects that can quickly kill large numbers of trees. Our forests are at risk from the transport of firewood infested with tree killers.
See Frequently Asked Questions for more information on firewood regulation.
Paddlers seeking a big water experience can enjoy paddling on Lake Champlain. However, paddlers should be aware that strong winds and large waves are not uncommon on the Lake. Paddlers should check weather forecasts and know their own abilities before setting out. Waters are typically calmer in the morning and evenings, plan accordingly. During periods of rough weather, paddlers are advised to stay near shore or not go on the water at all.
The Lake Champlain Paddlers' Trail is a water trail that leads to various locations on the lake. Five sites in the wild forest are destinations along the trail. Four tent sites provide camping opportunities and shelter for users of the trail. The ruins of a 19th Century iron mine at Lewis Clearing Bay (Ore Bed Harbor) offer a unique destination for day users. Use the link in the right column to obtain more information on the Lake Champlain Paddlers' Trail.
Paddlers may access Lake Champlain from the DEC Westport Boat Launch located approximately 4 miles south of Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest.
Boating of various forms is a popular activity on Lake Champlain. John boats to yachts, motor boats to sailing vessels all can be found plying the waters of the lake. Boaters may access Lake Champlain from the DEC Westport Boat which provides parking for 30 cars with trailers plus six vehicles without trailers. The parking area is paved and has reserved parking spaces for persons with disabilities.
People in small boats should be cautious. Strong winds and large waves are not uncommon on the Lake. Boaters should check weather forecasts and know their own abilities before setting out. Waters are typically calmer in the morning and evenings, plan accordingly. During periods of rough weather, small boats are advised to stay near shore or not go on the water at all.
Information on boating regulations and safety can be found on the Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation web site using the link in the right column.
Inspect your fishing and boating equipment and remove all mud, plants and other organisms that might be clinging to it.
- DRY your fishing and boating equipment before using it on another body of water.
- CLEAN your fishing and boating equipment if it cannot be dried before its use in another body of water.
More information on how you can avoid spreading aquatic invasives.
Lake Champlain has become a popular destination for anglers pursuing many kinds of fish. Lake trout and land-locked salmon are found in the deeper waters, while smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike and panfish lurk in the shallower waters along the shore. Anglers may access Lake Champlain from the DEC Westport Boat Launch located approximately 4 miles south of Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest.
During cold winters when ice is thick enough, anglers fish for lake trout, land-locked salmon and yellow perch. Ice anglers can access the ice of Lake Champlain in Lewis Clearing Bay and Snake Den Harbor via a 1.7 mile designated snowmobile trail from the Lewis Bay Clearing Parking Lot on Lake Shore Road.
Anglers should check the current fresh water fishing regulations for and know the statewide regulation and the regulations pertaining to specific waters.
Hunting & Trapping
Hunting and trapping is allowed on all forest preserve lands. Waterfowl hunting is popular in Webb Royce Swamp. DEC provides opportunities for pheasant hunters by releasing pheasants in the fields around Webb Royce Swamp each year.
All hunters and trappers much comply with all applicable State laws and regulation.
Rock & Ice Climbing
Rock and ice climbing are becoming increasingly popular activities in the Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest. The 200 feet high Champlain Palisades rises straight out of the waters of Lake Champlain, and plunge deep into those same waters. A short distance south along the shoreline is 60 feet high Barn Rock.
Climbers approach the cliff by land from the Lewis Bay Clearing Parking Lot on Lake Shore Road via the Lewis Clearing Bay Trail and the Barn Rock Trail. More adventurous climbers reach the bottom of the cliff by boat.
Boaters should be cautions. Strong winds and large waves are not uncommon on the Lake. Boaters should check weather forecasts and know their own abilities before setting out. Waters are typically calmer in the morning and evenings, plan accordingly. During periods of rough weather, small boats are advised to stay near shore or not go on the water at all.
All climbers should check guidebooks or other sources of information about climbing these cliffs. Inexperienced climbers should consider hiring a climbing guide.
Peregrine falcons, a threatened species, have nested on these cliffs in the past. DEC may close the cliff , or portions of it, during the falcon nesting season to prevent any disturbances that might interfere with the successful raising of the young peregrine falcons. DEC posts cliff and route closure notices at cliff access sites and on the DEC web site. Climbers that encounter agitated or aggressive falcons should leave the cliff face immediately and report the incident to DEC Wildlife staff at 518-897-1291.
The Champlain II Submerged Heritage Preserve is located just south of the Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest. It is the site of the wreckage of the Champlain II, a large passenger steamer that ran aground and sank in 1875. Marked with a buoy and interpreted through signs and a brochure, the preserve is open to scuba divers from May to September. Divers may access Lake Champlain from the DEC Westport Boat Launch located approximately 4 miles south of Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest.
Bicycles are allowed on approximately 5 miles of trail, mainly the North Rim Trail - Robin's Run Loop Trail. The loop trail may be accessed from either the Lewis Bay Clearing Parking Lot on Lake Shore Road. Bikers share the trails with hikers. Please be cautious when approaching and passing hikers. Politely make them aware of your presence when approaching hikers and slow down when passing them.
Skiing & Snowshoeing
Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are popular activities in the winter time. All trails are open to skiers and snowshoers. The 1.7 mile Lewis Clearing Bay Trail is shared with snowmobiles. Be aware of snowmobiles and move to the side to let them pass.
Snowmobiles are restricted to the 1.7 mile Lewis Clearing Bay Trail which connects the Lewis Bay Clearing Parking Lot on Lake Shore Road with Lewis Clearing Bay in Lake Champlain. The trail is mainly used by anglers accessing the ice to fish.
Eleven miles of trails, 5 tent sites, and 2 parking areas.
Neighboring DEC Lands & Facilities
Whallonsburg Fishing Access Site
The Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest contains the largest block of undeveloped and forested shoreline on the New York side of Lake Champlain. The original forests were cleared for farming, lumber, and charcoal production. Granite quarries and iron mines were also located on these lands. Current land cover consists of second growth forests, abandoned fields, and several open fields.
Lake Champlain from Split Rock Mountain
The steep, rugged terrain, dense forests, notable wetland communities, and adjoining private farm lands, all combine to create a unique and diverse setting. The unbroken forested components represent the largest single wildlife corridor in the Towns of Essex and Westport for wildlife traveling between the Adirondack foothills and Lake Champlain.
The moderating climatic effect of Lake Champlain allows species of plants and animals generally found further south to survive in the region along with northern species more common to the Adirondacks. Every tree species that is known to grow in the Adirondack Park, with the exception of sycamores, can be found here.
The eastern side of 902-foot Split Rock Mountain is extremely rugged with steep slopes, precipitous cliffs, and numerous rock outcrops. The lake shore is steep and densely wooded with deep bays. Several pockets of elevated wetlands are scattered in narrow ravines and in small flat areas.
Webb Royce Swamp is a regionally significant wetland, containing unusual plant species and communities such as a deciduous forested swamp. It consists of open water areas banded by a wet meadow complex, which provides important habitat for migratory waterfowl and other birds. It is one of the few known areas in the Adirondack Park supporting swamp white oak. Lands adjoining Webb Royce Swamp consist primarily of agricultural land supporting corn and hay fields and hedge rows of deciduous trees and shrubs. These conditions account for a great diversity of plant and animal species.
Split Rock Mountain is believed to contain the northern-most breeding population of the timber rattlesnake on the East Coast. It is listed as a threatened species by New York State and is protected under state law and regulation. It is illegal to harass, catch, injure or kill a timber rattlesnake.
It is also home to the northern-most breeding population of another reptile species. The five-lined skink is 5-8 inches long lizard that is highly variable in color depending on age and sex. The young individuals stand out because they have a blue tail. They are active during the day and typically are only glimpsed because they move very quickly. They like the dry boulder fields on Split Rock Mountain where they can retreat to mossy cover.
The peregrine falcon is another state listed endangered species which inhabit the cliff areas of Split Rock Mountain. This area provides the three basic habitat requirements necessary for nesting peregrine falcons: open country in which to hunt, sufficient supply of food (other birds), and steep, rocky cliff faces for nesting
Northern harriers, another bird of prey or raptor, is classified threatened in New York and nests in the open fields of the Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest.
Larger mammals living in this area include white-tailed deer, black bear, bobcat, coyote, red and gray fox, beaver, mink, muskrat, river otter, striped skunk, porcupine, cottontail rabbit and varying hare. The mountain likely supports a winter deer herd due to its warmer winter temperatures near Lake Champlain and forest cover types that offer food and shelter.
Rules and Regulations
Please do not Litter. If you carry it in, carry it out.
Camping for more than three nights at one location or in a group of ten or more requires a permit from a Forest Ranger.
Camping is prohibited within 150 feet of any road, trail, spring, stream, pond or other body of water except at camping areas designated by the Department.
No permanent structures should be established, including tree stands or blinds.
If you build a fire, do so with care and use wood from dead and downed trees only. Never leave a fire unattended.
Motor vehicle use is limited to snowmobiles on the Lewis Clearing Bay Snowmobile Trail during winter. All other motor vehicle use is prohibited.
It is illegal to harass, catch, injure or kill a timber rattlesnake.
DEC Forest Rangers are primarily responsible for search and rescue, wild land fire suppression and enforcing state land use laws and regulations. DEC Environmental Conservation Officers are primarily responsible for enforcing hunting, fishing, trapping and pollution laws and regulation. Both are state law enforcement officers and, as such, can and do enforce all state laws.
Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest can be accessed from Lakeshore Road in the towns of Essex and Westport, or from Clark Road in the town of Westport. Lewis Clearing bay Trailhead is located on Lakeshore Road approximately 6 miles south of the Village of Essex, and approximately 5 miles north of the Village of Westport.
Other Sources of Information
Adirondack Regional Tourism Council and Adirondack Coast can both provide information about recreating in this area and other amenities. Use the links provided near the bottom of the right column to access their websites.
Numerous guide books are available with information on the lands and waters in this area. These can be purchased at most outdoor equipment retailers, bookstores, and on-line booksellers.
Maps are available for downloading from this web page. Use the links at the top of the page to view the map or download a map for printing. The DEC State Land Interactive Mapper can be used to print maps showing state lands, trails and facilities for this area or any location within New York State.
There are also excellent printed maps and computer map programs from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), National Geographic and other sources. These are sold in outdoor retail shops, bookstores and on the internet.
Additional information, outdoor equipment, trip suggestions and guided or self-guided tours may be obtained from outdoor guide and outfitting businesses. Check area chambers of commerce, telephone directories or search the internet for listings.
Split Rock Mountain has been a conspicuous Lake Champlain landmark and meeting place used to guide Native Americans and Euro-Americans in historic times. The Mountain's actual "split rock" is a small island that served as an easily distinguished landmark at the southeastern tip of Whallon Bay as travelers entered the broad lake. Split Rock has been identified by Abenaki peoples as an area of spiritual and cultural importance.
For centuries Split Rock Mountain had been used as an unofficial division line between the Algonquin tribes to the north and the Iroquois to the south. Later it served as the boundary between French and English interests in New York and New England and then the provincial boundary between New York and Quebec prior to the American Revolution.
Following the Revolution, the Split Rock area was settled and farmed. Area forests yielded saw timber, maple products, wood for charcoal and potash. Charcoal was an important cash crop to support area iron forges, and potash was used as a source of potassium fertilizer. Pine logs were rolled down the mountain into Lake Champlain and rafted to nearby sawmills. Pine lumber was thence shipped via canal boats north to markets in Montreal and south to Whitehall.
Early rock quarries were established on the mountain to mine granite for local building use, but little was shipped on a commercial scale due to competition from Vermont. A large quarry was opened by the Lake Champlain Granite Company north of Barn Rock Bay in 1891. Rock was transported downhill via cable cars to a wharf on Barn Rock Bay and shipped south in canal boats. An on-site accident killed four men after its initial opening and the quarry was soon closed.
A number of historic archaeological resources have been identified on the property, most apparently associated with the iron ore extraction and primary processing which took place on the property in the 19th century. These include a number of building foundations, wells, mine cuts, road alignments and related features.
Several ore barges, mine railroad cars, rails and related materials were identified in the nearby waters of Lake Champlain by investigators from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. The Champlain II Submerged Heritage Preserve is located just south of the Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest. The Champlain II was a large passenger steamer that ran aground and sank in 1875. Marked with a buoy and interpreted through signs and a brochure, the preserve is open to scuba divers from May to September.
A 200 acre parcel at the southern end of Split Rock Mountain was the first addition to the forest preserve. It was acquired by the State in 1898 through a tax sale. In 1981, the State purchased 1,245 acres south and west of that parcel. This acquisition included such places as Barn Rock Bay, the Lake Champlain Palisades, a small portion of the defunct Adirondack Granite Co. Quarry, and Snake Den Harbor, and provided 1,100 feet of public road frontage and 2.4 miles of undeveloped shoreline on Lake Champlain.
In 1994, 1,823 acres were purchased from the Open Space Institute which included the northern portion of Split Rock Mountain and Webb Royce Swamp. The Open Space Institute retained agricultural rights on 197 acres of farm fields adjacent to Webb Royce Swamp. The Adirondack Nature Conservancy administers these lands for the Open Space Institute. As of 2001, only 73 acres (37%) of the total agricultural reservation are being actively managed for agriculture, the remaining 124 acres have reverted to forest.
Also in 1994, a conservation easement of 474 acres, known as Split Rock Farm, was purchased from Gary F. Heurich. The easement addresses development rights and does not provide any public access or recreation rights to the subject property.
The Adirondack Nature Conservancy/Adirondack Land Trust transferred a one acre parcel (Goldsmith) in 1998 on the west side of Lake Shore Road. One hundred eleven (111) acres were purchased in 1999 from Robert and Mary Davis to eliminate a partial in-holding in the southwest of the wild forest area that was enclosed by State lands on three sides.
DEC manages these lands in accordance with management activities described in the 2005 Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest Unit Management Plan.
Unit Management Plans assess the natural and physical resources present within a land unit. The plans identify opportunities for public use which are consistent with the guidelines of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. They also consider the ability of the resources and ecosystems to accommodate such use.
Important Phone Numbers
Forest Fire, Search and Rescue: (518) 891-0235 (24 hours a day) or dial 911
State Land Regulation/Backcountry Law Enforcement: (518) 897-1300
Environmental Law Enforcement: (518) 897-1326
Turn in Poachers and Polluters: 1-800-TIPP DEC (1-800-847-7332) - call the TIPPs hotline to report any environmental violations or report it online.