The Adirondacks is a vast protected wilderness area in northeast New York State, part of the Adirondack Park, a state preserve. Of the 6 million acres of mountains, forests, wetlands and lakes, approximately 2.7 million acres are state land.
The Adirondacks are unusual mountains as they form a dome rather than a line of mountains like the Rocky Mountains. For five million years pressures under the earth have been causing the uplift of the Adirondacks Mountains. Studies also show that this uplift is continuing even now. If it were not for the uplift, the mountains would have been eroded away. Many of the smaller features of the Adirondacks came about through glaciation. As the glaciers moved, the glaciers picked up boulders and deposited them elsewhere. These re-positioned, or erratic, rocks can be seen scattered throughout the Adirondacks in fields and on mountain tops. The ice also carved out bowl-shaped hollows called cirques and melting ice water formed kettle ponds, many of which account for the ponds and wetlands in the Adirondacks.
The Adirondacks have thin soil not suited for farming. The Algonquian and Mohawk Indians used the area for hunting but did not settle there. Apart from some mining in the Champlain Valley at the end of the 18th Century, the area was left alone and viewed as a hostile wilderness until the 19th Century. It was in the 1800s that both loggers and tourists began to visit the area. The writings of William H.H. Murray’s and others helped popularize the Adirondack region. Wealthy families set up Great Camps for weekend retreats. Verplanck Colvin was the main driving force behind the formation of the state park. He surveyed the Adirondacks and developed a report emphasizing the importance of the area in supplying water to the city of New York. The Adirondack Park was founded in 1892 to protect the area from logging and development.
The Adirondacks support a wide diversity of plant and animal species. The combination of temperate forest and boreal forest found in the region provide a unique ecological condition for many flora and fauna. The boreal forests mean that the Adirondacks are home to many birds normally only found further north in Canada, such as the boreal chickadee, gray jay, spruce grouse, rusty blackbird, Bicknell’s thrush, and black-backed and American three-toed woodpeckers. Other wild species found here include moose, striped skunk, opossum, and varieties of shrew. Another feature of the Adirondacks are the wetlands. These areas are crucial in filtering water, preventing erosion and serve as a habitat for fish and wildlife.
Between 1918 and 1924 brothers Robert and George Marshall climbed what they believed to be the highest forty-six mountains in the Adirondacks, all over 4,000 feet. Despite getting some calculations wrong, the tradition of the brothers continues with the Forty-Sixers Organization which is made up of hikers who have climbed the forty-six high peaks of the Adirondacks. The highest peak is Mt. Marcy at 5,344 feet. Whiteface Mountain is an impressive peak and site of two Winter Olympic Games. Whiteface is only thirteen miles from Lake Placid and has seventy-six downhill ski runs in winter and a road to the top of the mountain offering splendid views year round. A very scenic but easy hike goes up Black Mountain.
There is a huge range of outdoor activities in the Adirondacks for all times of the year from hiking to climbing, mountain biking, horse riding and skiing. The Hudson River offers excellent white water rafting and canoeing and kayaking are very popular. For families there are many activities. The High Falls Gorge has walkways and bridges for exploring the falls. The Wild Center Museum gets rave reviews for its interactive exhibits, events and fun play areas. Fishing is allowed in some areas of the park and in winter there is downhill and cross country skiing plus plenty of hikes to do in snow shoes. Adirondack Beach on Schroom Lake has safe swimming in the summer.