Essex Chain Lakes Complex
- Open for recreation: Year-round
- Fee: Free
- Contact Information:
- General Information: DEC Region 5 Office Warrensburg (M-F 8:30am-4:45pm): (518) 623-1200 or e-mail (Info.R5@dec.ny.gov)
- DEC Emergency & Enforcement Dispatch: 518-897-1300 or 911 (24 hours a day) Report: Lost, Injured, and Stricken People/Forest Fires/State Land Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Violations
- Location: Town of Indian Lake in Hamilton County and the Towns of Minerva and Newcomb in Essex County
- Wildlife Management Unit: 5H
- Map: View Essex Chain Lakes Complex Map (PDF, 760 KB) || Google Earth || State Lands Interactive Mapper
The 19,600-acre Essex Chain Lakes Complex is part of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. It is comprised of the lands and waters of the Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area, the Pine Lake Primitive Area and the recently classified portions of the Blue Mountain Wild Forest. Located in the central Adirondacks, it contains the eight lakes of the Essex Chain, a number of other ponds & lakes, and the Hudson River forms its eastern boundary. The lands are mainly low lying hills.
Trail Information for the Eastern Adirondacks provides general information regarding backcountry and seasonal conditions; specific notices regarding closures and conditions of trails, roads, bridges and other infrastructure; and links to weather, state land use regulations, low impact recreation and more.
General information on paddling includes how-to and safety tips and links to rules & regulations.
Note: Public use of motorized boats is not permitted on waters. However, members of the Gooley Club and Polaris Mountain Club are permitted to use motorized boats on the waters within their leases until October 2018.
The Essex Chain Lakes Complex contains 18 water bodies totaling 785 acres that range in size from 3-acre Chub Pond to 216-acre Third Lake. Ten miles of the Hudson River on the eastern boundary and four miles of the Cedar River in the southern section make this is a paddler's paradise.
Essex Chain Lakes
Paddlers can carry their canoe or kayak 0.25 mile to Deer Pond from the Deer Pond Parking Area at the end of the Cornell/Deer Pond Road. The 0.5 mile carry from Deer Pond to Third Lake is located directly across the pond on its southern shore.
Once in Third Lake paddlers can access Second Lake by water and from there travel to First Lake using a 0.1-mile carry trail. On the northern shore of First Lake near its western end is the 0.4 mile carry to Grassy Pond.
In the other direction, paddlers can travel from Third Lake to Fourth Lake. Fifth Lake can be reached by paddling through the large culvert under the roadway or during high water portaging over the road. Paddlers can reach Sixth and Seventh Lakes directly from Fifth Lake.
Hudson River Access
Paddlers can travel nearly 12 miles on the Hudson River from Harris Lake in Newcomb to a landing just above the confluence with the Indian River. There are several stretches of flat but moving waters that people of all skill levels can enjoy, especially in the upper portion.
The river also contains numerous rapids and shallow rocky areas. Depending on water levels, the rapids are mostly rated Class 1, 2 or 2+. Under the certain water levels a few of the rapids may rate Class 3, such as Long Rapids and Ord Falls. Currently portages around these rapids have been flagged but carry trails have not been developed.
During low water conditions (water levels below 4.0 at the North Creek gage) a considerable amount of portaging, dragging and lining of kayaks and canoes will be required especially in the lower portion of the river.
Paddlers may put-in at the Town of Newcomb Boat Launch on Harris Lake and paddle across the lake and down the outlet to the Hudson River.
Another access point is at the Polaris Bridge (aka Iron Bridge) which is reached via 0.3-mile carry from the Hudson River/Polaris Bridge Parking Area located along Drakes Mill Road off the Chain Lakes Road North.
Less adventurous paddlers can take advantage of a long stretch of flat water above and below 28N or the Blackwell Stillwater section above and below the Polaris (Iron) Bridge landing site. Paddlers may also access the lower Goodnow River from the Blackwell Stillwater. The paddler put-in/take-out is located just south of the bridge on the west side of the river.
Trips shorter than the entire 12 miles can be taken by paddling from Harris Lake to the Polaris (Iron) Bridge Landing or from the Polaris (Iron) Bridge Landing to the Hudson River waterway access site just before the confluence with the Indian River.
The Outer Gooley Parking Area is located along the Chain Lakes Road South at the Old Gooley Farmhouse in the southern portion of the complex. The parking area is a 0.1 mile carry from the take-out point on Hudson River just above the confluence with the Indian River.
Paddlers may park at the Old Red Finch Gate Parking Area along the Chain Lakes Road South. It is a 0.7-mile carry away from the take-out point on the Hudson River.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Paddlers who do not exit the Hudson River at the waterway access site before the confluence with the Indian River will paddle several miles of the Hudson River Gorge before reaching another point where they can exit the river.
Essex Chain Lakes Paddle
Paddlers can access the Cedar River from the Outer Gooley Parking Area along the Chain Lakes Road South, at the Outer Gooley farmhouse. It is a 2.6-mile carry from the parking area to the Cedar River.
There is a flatwater section that stretches a short way upstream and downstream of the site where the road reaches the Cedar River.
Paddlers are asked to please give wide berth to anglers so as not to become entangled in the lines or disturb fish they are trying to catch.
General information on backcountry camping includes how-to and safety tips and links to rules & regulations
There are 32 designated primitive tent sites currently available in the Essex Chain Lakes Complex.
There are 13 designated tent sites (map of tent sites (PDF 1.5 MB) along the shores of the waters of the complex which require a free permit between May 15 and October 15.
The permit system is administered through a partnership with the Student Conservation Association Back Country Stewardship Program and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry's Adirondack Interpretive Center (AIC) facility in Newcomb.
Campers must call 518-582-2000 or visit the AIC facility at 5922 State Route 28N in Newcomb, NY, to reserve a tent site. Campers can pick up their reserved permit at the AIC facility between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Tent sites may be reserved no more than 10 days in advance.
Aerial photo of Essex Chain Lakes
Campers may visit the AIC web site (leaves DEC website) for maps and information about camping, the tent sites and the permit system. The AIC website will track tent sites that are occupied or reserved to assist campers in choosing a campsite. Campers that will arrive before or after the operational hours of the AIC can make arrangements to obtain their permit via e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Campers must abide by regulations and conditions of the permit system:
- Camping around the Essex Chain Lakes and other nearby lakes & ponds waters is allowed only at designated tent sites;
- Campers must obtain a permit before entering the Essex Chain Lakes for overnight use;
- Campers may spend no more than three nights at a tent site;
- Campfires are prohibited at tent sites that require a permit; and
- No more than eight campers may stay at a tent site.
Camping at these 13 sites between October 16 and May 14 will not require a permit, but all other restrictions listed above will apply.
Camping at the 21 other designated primitive tent sites within the Essex Chain Lakes Complex do not require a permit. These tent sites are provided on a first-come/first-served basis, the same as other primitive tent sites in the Adirondacks. Campfires are allowed at these tent sites and campers must comply with general state land use rules.
Six tent sites are located off the Cornell/Deer Pond Road.
One tent site is located near the Polaris (Iron) Bridge.
Two tent sites are located on the north shore of First Lake and may only be used by float plane customers. Those wishing to experience camping by float plane should contact one of the Adirondack float plane operators.
Four tent sites are located along the Camp Six Road which is open to public motor vehicle usage during the Northern Zone Regular Big Game Hunting Season. The tent sites are available year round but can only be accessed by hiking outside of the hunting season.
Two designated roadside pull-off tent sites are located along the Chain Lakes Road South, between the Rafters Parking Area and Old Red Finch Gate Parking Area.
Four tents sites are located along the Chain Lakes Road South north of the Outer Gooley Parking Area. Three of these tent sites are accessible by motor vehicle during the Northern Zone Regular Big Game Hunting Season, but can only be accessed by hikers during the rest of the year. The other one is north of a seasonal parking area and gate and can only be accessed by hikers year-round.
Two tent sites are located on the shores of Pine Lake. One on the western shore is reserved for float plane customers only. The one on the eastern shore is accessed by hiking the Chain Lakes Road South to a trail to Pine Lake.
General information on horseback riding includes safety tips and rules & regulations
Horses are allowed on all trails that allow biking.
General information on biking includes how-to and safety tips and links to rules & regulations. Nearly 20 miles of administrative roads in the Complex are open for bicycling.
Administrative roads open for bicycle use within the Essex Chain Complex are:
- Chain Lakes Road North provides 8.5 miles of trail from the Goodnow Flow Road to the Cedar River.
- Chain Lakes Road South provides 3 miles of trail from the Outer Gooley Parking Area to the Cedar River.
- Chain Lakes Road North to the Deer Pond Parking Area is a 2.5 mile connecting trail.
- Deer Pond Trail provides for a 2.5 mile trip around Deer Pond.
- Drake's Mill Road is 1.5 miles of trail connecting the Chain Lakes Road North to the Hudson River/Polaris (Iron) Bridge.
- Pine Lake can be biked to by a 1 mile trail from the Chain Lakes Road South.
- Jackson Pond can be biked to by a 0.3 mile trail from the Chain Lakes Road North.
The Essex Chain Lakes Road South can be accessed from the nearby community of Indian Lake and the Essex Chain Lakes North and the Deer Pond Parking Area can be accessed from the nearby community of Newcomb.
Biking is prohibited beyond the Polaris (Iron) Bridge into the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest.
Hunting & Trapping
Two seasonal access roads are opened for the Northern Zone Big Game Hunting Season. The roads are closed to motor vehicle access outside of the hunting season.
Camp Six Road (PDF 1 MB) extends one mile from a gate on the Chain Lakes Road North to the four vehicle parking area. The parking area provides access to thousands of acres of lands between the Essex Chain Lakes and the Hudson River including Cedar Mountain.
Motor vehicle access is extended another 1.5 miles past the gate at the Outer Gooley Parking Area on the Chain Lakes Road South (PDF 1.4 MB) during the big game hunting season. Motor vehicle access ends at a gate at a four-vehicle parking area. The parking area provides access to thousands of acres of forest preserve lands south of the Cedar River and west of the Hudson River which include Pine Lake.
These seasonal access roads are dirt and gravel roads and may be rough and muddy with rocks sticking up in locations. Pickup trucks, SUVs and other high axle vehicles are recommended - four wheel drive vehicles will serve even better.
Big game hunters may obtain a permit from the local Forest Ranger to camp on Forest Preserve lands in this unit for the length of the Northern Big Game Season, except at tent sites in the camping permit system.
General information on fishing includes fishing tips with links to seasons, rules & regulations.
Anglers can fish for landlocked salmon and rainbow trout in Third Lake and Fifth Lake; and brook trout in Pine Lake, Eighth Lake, Deer Pond, and Jackson Pond; or native lake trout and rainbow trout in Clear Pond.
The flatwater sections of the Hudson River provide good fishing opportunities for smallmouth bass, northern pike and panfish. In the stretch just south of Route 28N anglers may find walleye and an occasional largemouth bass.
The Hudson River between the Cedar River and the Indian River contains brown and rainbow trout.
Anglers can fish the Cedar River for brook and brown trout. The river can be accessed along the Elm Island Trail or from the Outer Gooley Parking Area.
Bullhead Pond contains brook trout and can be reached from the Rafters Parking Lot on the Chain Lakes Road South via a 0.6 mile trail, through easement lands. Anglers should stay on the trail and avoid trespassing on private lands.
Several other rivers and streams flow into and out of the Complex including the Goodnow River, Rock River, Indian River, and a number of small streams.
Adirondack/Lake Champlain Fishing provides information on fishing in the Adirondacks and links to top fishing waters, stocking lists, public fishing access and waters open to ice fishing listed by county.
Protect Native Adirondack Fish; populations of brook trout, round whitefish and other native Adirondack fish species have severely declined due to introduced fish.
General information on hiking includes how-to and safety tips and links to rules & regulations.
The Essex Chain Lakes Complex has a network of old logging roads that are open to hiking. These roads are neither maintained nor marked at this time.
The Upper Hudson Loop Trailhead and parking area, located off the Goodnow Road, provide access to the Upper Hudson Loop Trail (PDF, 1 MB)The trail is 4.2 miles and parallels the Goodnow River (south side) to the Hudson River. The trail heads north along the Hudson for a short distance before looping back and reconnecting with itself 0.5 mile from the trailhead. Vehicles should not be parked on nearby lands posted by the Goodnow Flow Association.
Elm Island Trail is accessed from an informal parking pull-off at the end of Pelon Road. The trail is a 1.2 mile loop which parallels the Cedar River for a stretch before looping back to Pelon Road.
Goodnow Mountain Trailhead and parking area provides access to the Goodnow Mountain Interpretive Trail and fire tower. A brochure for the trail can be obtained at the trailhead. The 1.9-mile trail ascends 1,060 feet to 2,685-foot summit of the mountain and the base of the 60-foot fire tower. The cab of the Goodnow Mountain Fire Tower is open and provides 360 degree views of Central Adirondacks. Kempshall Mountain, Caitlan Lake, Arbutus Lake, Rich Lake, Harris Lake, the southern High Peaks, Vanderwhacker Mountain, Goodnow Flow, Goodnow Pond, and Fishing Brook Mountain Range can all be seen from the fire tower on a clear day.
General information on fire towers includes historic and current uses of fire towers and links to other locations with fire towers.
The 60-foot tall Goodnow Mountain Fire Tower is listed in the National Historic Lookout Register. The cab of the fire tower is open to the public and provides a 360 degree view of the Central Adirondacks.
The current steel AerMotor Model #LS‐40 fire tower was constructed in 1922 to replace a wooden fire tower on nearby Dunn Brook Mountain. The fire tower was staffed and used for fire observation until 1979. The fire tower and Goodnow Mountain are part of the 15,000-acre Huntington Wild Forest managed by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry's Adirondack Ecological Center (AEC) (leaves DEC website).
The trail to the summit and the fire tower are maintained by AEC. The trail is an interpretive trail and a brochure may be obtained at the trailhead. Interpretive information in the fire tower's cabin informs visitors about the tower's history and provides guidelines for identifying the surrounding landforms.
Cross-country Skiing & Snowshoeing
General information on cross-country skiing and snowshoeing includes how-to and safety tips and links to rules & regulations.
The network of many miles of former logging roads in the Essex Chain Lakes Complex is open to the public for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. These roads are neither maintained nor marked at this time.
The Upper Hudson Loop Trail and the Elm Island Trail, as described in the Hiking section, are also recommended for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
General information on animals includes links to information about birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians and insects that inhabit or migrate through the state.
The Adirondacks contain large tracts of wildlife habitat with some boreal, bog, alpine and other unique habitats. Many birds (Common Loon, Peregrine Falcon) and mammals (Moose, Black Bear) are unique to the Adirondacks or are mainly found here. Over 50 species of mammals and hundreds of species of birds inhabit or pass through the Adirondacks at one time of the year or another.
The main point of entrance to the northern portion of the Essex Chain Lakes Complex is by the Goodnow Flow Road which is reached by turning south onto Pine Tree Road, a short loop off State Route 28N in Newcomb. The main point of entrance to the southern portion of the Essex Chain Lakes Complex is the Chain Lakes Road South off Route 28 in Indian Lake.
All coordinates provided are in decimal degrees using NAD83/WGS84 datum.
- Deer Pond Parking Area along the Cornell/Deer Pond Road is the main point of access for the Essex Chain Lakes and surrounding water bodies (43.8866° N, 74.2640° W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
- Hudson River/Polaris (Iron) Bridge Parking Area along the Chain Lakes Road North is the main motor vehicle access for the Blackwell Stillwater section of the Hudson River. (43.8954°N, 74.16843° W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
- Town of Newcomb Boat Launch is located on Harris Lake/Beach Road and is the main point of entry to Harris Lake and the section of the Hudson River between the lake and the Iron Bridge. (43.9717° N, 74.1459° W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
- Pelon Road River Parking Area is located at the end of Pelon Road off State Route 30 (43.79797°N, 74.27505°W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
- Old Red Finch Gate Parking Area is located on the Chain Lakes Road South about three miles from Route 28 and provides access to the Hudson River take out site (43.81685° N, 74.20685° W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
- Old Outer Gooley Club Parking Area provides access to the Hudson River take out site, the waters of the Pine Lakes Primitive Area and the Cedar River (43.82751° N, 74.20081° W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
- The seasonal hunter access parking area on the Chain Lakes Road South is 1.5 miles north of the Outer Gooley Parking Area. The parking area is only open during the Big Game Hunting Season (43.8407° N, 74.2206° W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
- Upper Hudson Loop Trailhead and parking area is located on the left side of the Goodnow Road just before it crosses the bridge over the Goodnow River. (N 43.91499°, W 74.18550°) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
- The seasonal hunter access parking area is located at the end of the Camp Six Road Parking Area extends one mile from a gate on the Chain Lake North Road. This parking area is only open during the Big Game Hunting Season (43.87816° N, 74.19486° W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
Rules, Regulations and Outdoor Safety
Practice Leave No Trace (Leaves DEC website) principles when recreating in the Adirondacks to enjoy the outdoors responsibly; minimize impact on the natural resources and avoid conflicts other backcountry users.
The 13 designated tent sites along the shores of the waters of the Essex Chain Lakes Complex require a free permit between May 15 and October 15. The permit system is administered through a partnership with the Student Conservation Association Back Country Stewardship Program and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry's Adirondack Interpretive Center (AIC) facility. See Camping section above for more details.
Biking is prohibited beyond the Polaris (Iron) Bridge into the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest.
Motorized boats are not permitted by the public in any of the area waters. The lessees' (Gooley Club and Polaris Mountain Club) motorized boat provisions will expire when the lease expires in 2018.
How We Manage Essex Chain Lakes Complex
DEC manages these lands in accordance with the management activities described in the Essex Chain Lakes Complex Stewardship Plan (1.39 MB). In addition to management objectives, the UMP contains detailed information on natural features, recreational infrastructure, geology, natural and human history, habitats, wildlife, fisheries and much more.
Nearby State Lands, Facilities, Amenities & Other Information
- Blue Mountain Wild Forest
- Camp Santanoni Historic Area
- Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest
- Hudson Gorge Wilderness
- Adirondack Interpretive Center (leaves DEC website)
- Lake Harris Campground
- Indian Lake Islands Campground
Gas, food, supplies, dining and lodging may be found in the nearby communities of Minerva, Newcomb, and Indian Lake.
Adirondack Regional Tourism Council (leaves DEC website) and the Hamilton County Tourism Office (leaves DEC website) provide information on recreational opportunities, attractions, lodging, dining and other amenities in the area.
Numerous guide books and maps are available with information on the lands, waters, trails and other recreational facilities in this area. These can be purchased at most outdoor equipment retailers, bookstores, and on-line booksellers.
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.
Consider hiring an outdoor guide if you have little experience or woodland skills. See the NYS Outdoor Guides Association (leaves DEC Website) for information on outdoor guides.