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High Peaks Wilderness Area

State Land Master Plan February 2014 Description

This is the Park's largest Wilderness area and it 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 Pine Pond Road, which runs from Oseetah Lake to Averyville Road, the Adirondack Loj property at Heart Lake, the Mount Van Hoevenberg Intensive Use Area and Route 73 near the Cascade Lakes. Private lands to the west of Route 73 form the eastern boundary. The southern boundary is also formed by private lands, including the Adirondack Mountain Reserve, The Nature Conservancy, NL Industries and Huntington Wildlife Forest, managed by the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Much of these private lands are encumbered by conservation easements held by the State or are held in trust for the People of the State of New York. This Wilderness is bounded on the west by Long Lake and the Raquette River.

The topography ranges from small areas of low lying wetland (e.g., along the West Branch of the Ausable, 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. It ranges from young hardwoods, to mature, large diameter hardwood and softwood stands, to the spruce fir of the subalpine region and the alpine meadows above timberline.

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. It will take many years for enough soil to develop to support a forest. 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 Peak are above the timberline and a number of other mountain tops are at, or close to, timberline. The subalpine 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 Peaks region and close observation of unique plant associations. Overuse threatens the continued existence of some of these associations. The Department has a long-standing partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Adirondack Mountain Club which places stewards on a number of these alpine summits to educate hikers, interpret the alpine ecology, and monitor plant populations. This partnership has significantly improved conditions on a number of the high peaks.

The Range Trail, which traverses a series of mountain summits from Keene Vally to Mount Marcy, 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 Management Zone of the area receives sub-stantially less public use than the Eastern Management Zone (Mount Marcy region) and affords one of the greatest senses of remoteness obtainable in the Adirondacks.

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 of the Clouds, the source of the Hudson River, lies at about 4,300 feet in altitude on a flank of Mount Marcy.

Recreationalists find an abundance of scenic spots such as Wanika Falls, Indian Falls, Indian Pass, the Duck Hole, Avalanche Pass, and Panther Gorge, in addition to numerous mountain peaks.

Hikers and mountaineers probably outnumber all other user groups. Skiing and snowshoeing throughout the area, particularly the Eastern Management Zone, had increased in popularity in the late 1960's through the 1980's. Winter mountaineering and winter camping continue to be highly popular.

The most heavily used trails in the entire Adirondacks are those to Mount Marcy from Adirondack Loj via Marcy Dam or Lake Colden. The heavy public use near Marcy Dam, Lake Colden and in the John's Brook Valley threatens to destroy the wilderness character of these sections. Management recommendations adopted in the 1999 Unit Management Plan (UMP) have identified appropriate management actions to minimize or eliminate many of the threats to the resource. Subsequent to the adoption of the UMP for this unit in 1999, the Department developed a comprehensive campsite plan for the Eastern Management Zone. To date, this plan has been implemented, with the exception of the camping sites along Meadows Lane (formally known as South Meadows Road).

The ranger station at Marcy Dam will be phased out in accordance with the policy of achieving peripheral control. Due to the expected degree of use of the Lake Colden area, particularly in the winter months, Wilderness guidelines permit the indefinite retention of the Lake Colden station. The ranger station at Raquette Falls on the extreme western boundary of this Wilderness is considered a peripheral control facility as the Raquette river is open to motorboats. While the necessity of the retention of the Lake Colden and Raquette Falls ranger stations has been identified in the existing UMP for the area, their continued usefulness will be subject to periodic review.

An on-ground telephone line exists between The Garden Parking Lot and the Johns Brook Ranger Station to provide reliable communication. All other, on and above ground, telephone lines in the unit have been removed. Adequate communication is now possible between other stations using the the Departments' VHF radio network or the existing private land cellular network. At such time as cellular coverage is available at the Johns Brook Ranger Station, the remaining lines will be removed from this area.

Meadows Lane is a town maintained public road which extends about a mile east into the Wilderness from Adirondak Loj road. This road should be closed to conform to Wilderness guidelines. The Department of Environmental Conservation has committed to work with the Town of North Elba towards this closure. Closure of Meadows Lane will enhance the wilderness character of the South Meadows area, which is frequently used as a jumping off point for trips into the Eastern Management Zone.

The level of public use in the High Peaks Eastern Management Zone has attained levels where trail erosion, soil compaction and generalized resource problems are readily apparent. Group camping in the Lake Colden/Flowed Lands area has already been restricted in peak periods by the Department of Environmental Conservation and this measure has been generally accepted by users. Measures to control or limit public use in particular areas were adopted in 1999 through the Unit Management Plan

In l978 and l980, the State acquired 9,3ll acres of land in fee from the Adiron-dack Mountain Reserve (AMR). Approximately 6,039 acres have become part of the High Peaks Wilderness, including the following summits: Haystack, Little Haystack, Basin, Saddleback, Sawtooth, Gothics, Armstrong, Upper Wolfjaw and Lower Wolfjaw mountains. The State received, by gift, a conservation easement on the remaining AMR lands, limiting future development while permitting public access across AMR property to reach adjacent State land.

A number of remaining interior private parcels (generally located in the John's Brook Valley) could pose a threat to the surrounding State lands, if the owners or future owners decide to establish any one of several non compatible land uses that might serve their particular interests.

Fee title or conservation easements should be acquired by the State on other key parcels of privately held land within or adjacent to this Wilderness as outlined in the New York State Open Space Conservation Plan.

The following non conforming uses have been removed from the area: 19.3 miles of State truck trails, 35.1 miles of jeep trails, two fire towers, two observer cabins, two ranger cabins telephone lines, four tent platforms, two lean to clusters, and ten lean tos above 3,500 feet in elevation.

A minor change in the boundary of this area was made in 1979 recognizing a small segment of a public road near Walton Brook in the Town of Keene. Also in 1979, two sub lots adjacent to the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Recreation Area consisting of approximately 260 acres were reclassified from Wilderness to Intensive Use in recognition of an improved cross country ski trail that has been mechanically maintained in this area since 1966.

In 2009 New York State acquired 6,806 acres from the Open Space Conservancy, Inc. (OSC). These lands were classified as Wilderness and included in the High Peaks unit. Within this addition are 3 inholdings: one parcel contains a fire tower on the summit of Mt. Adams, the second contains remnants of two fire tower observer cabins, and the third is a shoreline parcel along Upper Preston Pond with a small log cabin. Each of these inholdings will be subject to a conservation easement held by the State of New York. The State holds a purchase option for the Upper Preston Pond parcel. A fourth private parcel, which adjoins the Tahawas/Henderson Lake tract, includes the Masten House on Henderson Lake. This parcel has been retained by OSC.

In light of the Wilderness and Primitive Area classification of lands surrounding Henderson Lake, DEC will manage the waters as Wilderness.

The newly acquired parcel contains several trails already maintained by NYSDEC and includes structures such as a lean-to and pit privy on Henderson Lake, bridges (including cable suspension bridges), historical remnants of old roads, road culverts, water pipelines and other remains found from when mining occurred on the site.

Public access to the perimeter of the area is generally good.

A Unit Management Plan was adopted for this area in 1999.

Mapping Resources:
(Not from the State Land Master Plan or Unit Management Plans)

Recreational Opportunities Map

View larger map with additional options

Soils and Wetlands

View larger map with additional options




High Peaks area statistics:

State Lands 203,526 Acres
Private Inholdings (9) 3,743  Acres
Bodies of Water (128) 2,037 Acres
  (minimum) 1,040 Feet
  (maximum) 5,344 Feet
Foot Trails 249 Miles
Horse Trails 52 Miles
Lean‑tos 85
Impoundments 2
Non‑conforming Uses:  
  Ranger Cabins * 2
  (Marcy Dam and Lake Colden)
  Telephone Lines
    On-ground line * 4.0 Miles
  Roads (public) 1 Mile
*Non‑conforming uses whose removal cannot be scheduled by a fixed deadline.


DEC Unit Management Plan Link


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