Enjoying the trails safely

At more than 6 million acres, the Adirondack Park is the largest publicly protected expanse of wilderness in the continental United States. Within its boundaries are approximately 2.6 million acres of public land, containing more than 3,000 lakes and ponds, over 1,500 miles of rivers, hundreds of mountain peaks (42 of them at elevations over 4,000 feet) and more than 2,000 miles of clearly marked and maintained hiking trails.

Whether you’re seeking the sanctuary of an easy access riverside or lakeside retreat or the solitude of a waterfall 5 miles into the backcountry; whether you’re looking for a short family hike to a hidden pond for an afternoon picnic, or searching for a panoramic mountain vista at the end of a difficult, but picturesque climb; whatever your interest or ability, there’s a hiking trail for you. From challenging overnight camping routes for the most experienced hikers to easy half-day round trips for novices and children, to trails with wheelchair-accessibility, you can ramble, roam and explore here, and you can do it to your heart’s content. With just a little bit of forethought and preparation, hiking and camping in the Adirondack Mountains can be an extremely rewarding experience.

Be prepared and know the rules

There’s little that compares to ambling alongside a cascading stream when the sweet smell of balsam is in the air, native wildflowers are in bloom and the sound of songbirds, the flight of a raptor, or the scurrying of animals in the underbrush, are filling up your senses and leaving you awestruck. But for the uninformed or inexperienced hiker, going off into the wilderness unprepared for biting insects and unseen dangers — such as hanging tree limbs in dangerous winds, high elevation summer snows, rapidly changing temperatures, thunderstorms, fog, slippery terrain or falling rocks — an Adirondack adventure could prove, instead, to be a series of regrettable discomforts or result in an otherwise avoidable injury.

It’s always best to dress appropriately and in layers. Wear comfortable, sturdy, properly fitting hiking shoes or boots. Keep in mind that cotton retains moisture. Carry a wool sweater or poncho, adequate rain gear, sunglasses if you wish, and a hat.

Learn basic first aid and carry a first aid kit with you, at all times. Learn how to use a compass or GPS. Take along a pocket knife, map, matches, field guides, flashlight, insect repellant, healthy high-energy snack foods such as trail mixes or fresh or dried fruit, and plenty of clean drinking water, even on short hikes. And don’t be surprised if your cellphone doesn’t function when you need to use it.

Leave an itinerary with someone you trust. Let them know where you’ll be and when you expect to return. Stick to the plan.

Always sign the trail registers. That way, if you do get lost, rangers can quickly find you.

If you think you are lost, stop hiking. Don’t panic. If you’re cold, put on your sweater or hoodie and if you think that it will be a while, start a small campfire. A fire will be visible from the air, making it easier for rescuers to find you, if you have to call for help or if you’ve been reported missing.

If a member of your hiking party is injured, don’t leave that person alone. At least one other person should remain with the injured hiker.

Should you choose to try to find your way out on your own, the rule of thumb is to find a stream and follow it downhill. You will almost definitely, eventually, come to a road.

You’re expected to know the rules and guidelines for visiting and using DEC managed public lands. Rangers and conservation officers patrol regularly. They will confront and redirect you if you are not behaving appropriately. There may be consequences for your behavior including being asked to leave and/or being arrested. Keep in mind that camping and fires are not permitted at elevations above 4,000 feet.

Unfortunately, cars parked at trailheads are sometimes broken into and valuables stolen. If you cannot remove them, lock your valuables in the trunk, before walking off.

Handicap accessible trails

Several truly offer outstanding, fully accessible trails with gentle slopes and flat, smooth surfaces, allow people of all abilities to experience the beauty of the Adirondacks.

These are a few that stands out.

— The Visitor Interpretive Center at Paul Smith’s College offers, among other things, a handicap-accessible trail with an extended streamside boardwalk and a viewing platform overlooking beautiful Heron Marsh.

— The Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb provides a handicap-accessible trail, which features a bridge and several charming lake views.

— The Wild Center (the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks) in Tupper Lake offers two accessible trails, the Greenleaf Pond trail (0.2 mile loop) and the extraordinary Wild Walk; an interpretive and interactive path which, despite rising from ground level to heights in and above the forest canopy and offering spectacular views of Tupper Lake and the mountains beyond, has an almost-unnoticeable grade.

Built with accessibility in mind

Located between Tupper Lake and Long Lake is John Dillon Park, a 200-acre staffed retreat that features several 6-foot-wide wheelchair-accessible trails, including the easy-to-roll-on, hard-packed-gravel, 2.5-mile (5-miles round trip) Handsome Pond Trail.

The park, which is funded by an International Paper Company endowment and managed by Paul Smith’s College, also offers campsites with lean-tos equipped with wheelchair-accessible ramps, sleeping platforms, picnic tables, outhouses and more.


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