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High Peaks Wilderness Area

Note: The High Peaks receives extremely heavy use during weekends in the months of July and August and on holiday weekends, such as Victoria Day (Canada), Memorial Day, 4th of July/Canada Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day weekends, often resulting in all trailhead parking lots, lean-to's and designated campsites being occupied by early Friday evening. Please plan accordingly.

High Peaks Wilderness Locator Map

This is the largest wilderness area and is located in three counties and six towns; the town of Harrietstown in Franklin County, the towns of North Elba, Keene, North Hudson and Newcomb in Essex County and the town of Long Lake in Hamilton County. It is roughly bounded on the north by Route 3, the old Haybridge Road, which runs from Cold Brook to Averyville, the Adirondack Loj property at Heart Lake, the Mount Van Hoevenberg area and Route 73 near the Cascade Lakes. Private land to the west of Route 73 forms the eastern boundary. The southern boundary is formed by privately owned lands, including the Ausable Club, Finch Pruyn, National Lead Company and the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry's Huntington Wildlife Forest. This wilderness is bounded on the west by Long Lake and the Raquette River.

The topography ranges from small areas of low-lying swampland (e.g., along the Raquette and Saranac Rivers) to the highest point in New York State at the top of Mount Marcy. Although there is a considerable variety of topography, it is predominantly high mountain country.

Like the topography, the forest cover also varies from pole-size hardwoods to mature, large diameter hardwood and softwood stands to the spruce-fir of the sub-alpine region.

View from Indian Falls

Forest fires near the turn of the century were intense enough in some locations, such as the Cascade Range, to destroy both vegetation and topsoil, leaving bare rock which will require many more years for enough soil to develop to support a forest cover. However, the greater part of this area is predominantly forested with mixed hardwoods and softwoods. The higher elevations at and near most mountain tops have thick stands of stunted balsam with some spruce, white birch and yellow birch.

The tops of Mount Marcy and Algonquin are above the timberline and a number of other mountain tops are at or close to timberline. The sub-alpine and alpine vegetation on the tops of these mountains has been of interest to many people, including students of botany, ecology and zoology, as well as recreationists willing to hike to the mountain tops for superb views of the High Peak region and close observation of unique plant associations. Overuse threatens the continued existence of some of these associations.

The Range Trail, which traverses a series of mountainous summits from Mount Marcy to Keene Valley, has long been considered the most rugged and the most scenic trail in the state. This trail traverses eight of the mountain peaks in this area that exceed 4,000 feet in elevation. The western portions of the area receive substantially less public use than the Mount Marcy region and afford one of the greatest senses of remoteness obtainable in the Adirondacks.

image of High Peaks Wilderness Area sign

Many crystal-clear streams cascade from the mountain slopes, providing numerous scenic waterfalls, deep pools and brook trout fishing opportunities. Such streams as the Opalescent River, Johns Brook, Klondike Brook, Marcy Brook, Cold River, Moose Creek and Cold Brook are photographers' favorites. Lake Tear O' the Clouds, the source of the Hudson River lies at about 4,300 feet altitude.

Other Resources

Do not attempt any trips in the High Peaks without current USGS topographic maps and/or a good guidebook for the area. Maps and guidebooks may be purchased at bookstores or suppliers of outdoor recreational equipment. Additional resources include:

  • Guide to Adirondack Trails series from the Adirondack Mountain Club (814 Goggins Road, Lake George, NY 12845) and
  • The Discover the Adirondacks series from Back Country Publications (Box 175, Woodstock, VT 05091).
  • US Geological Survey Map Dealers

Also, you may wish to contact the Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers located at Paul Smiths: (518) 327-3000 and Newcomb: (518) 582-2000 for more information and suggestions.