Adirondack Nature Trails

Adirondack Nature Trails: Barnum Pond from the Boreal Life Trail viewing tower at the Paul Smiths VIC (6 June 2015)
Adirondack Nature Trails: Barnum Pond from the Boreal Life Trail viewing tower at the Paul Smiths VIC

The many hundreds of trails crisscrossing the Adirondack Park showcase the natural beauty of the Adirondack Mountains and provide opportunities to view, hear, photograph, and enjoy nature.  The trails fall roughly into several broad categories:

Adirondack Wildflowers: Pitcher Plant on Barnumg Bog at the Paul Smiths VIC
Adirondack Nature Trails: The Black Pond Trail – a backcountry hiking trail – is included in this web site, since the trail provides a convenient opportunity to view the Common Loon.

Walking Trails:

  These are generally well-surfaced trails that do not involve a major change in elevation and generally do not require hiking boots. Some may be used as cross-country ski or snow shoe trails in the winter months. Some walking trails make congenial nature trails.

Backcountry Hiking Trails:

  These trails are rough and often narrow paths, often involving a major change in elevation to reach the summit of one of the Adirondacks’ hundreds of mountains.  Not all backcountry hiking trails involve a mountain climb.  Some access a particular landscape feature, like the Black Pond Trail at the Paul Smiths VIC, which loops around Black Pond. Some backcountry hiking trails provide opportunities to view wildlife, plants, and geological structures that may not be readily available on walking trails. For example, some of the backcountry trails at the Paul Smiths VIC provide access to interesting geological features, such as kettle ponds, eskers, and glacial erratics. Hiking boots are recommended. Some backcountry trails are used as cross-country ski or snow shoe trails in the winter months.

Mountain Biking/Cross Country Ski Trails:

  These are trails created for and by mountain bikers and/or cross-country skiers.  Some are also used as snowshoe trails.  An example is the Jackrabbit Trail from Keene through Lake Placid and Saranac Lake to Paul Smiths, with many side trails and loops. Mountain biking trails can be rich in plant and animal life, but they may not be congenial for nature walking, especially when well-used by cyclists, since the botanist or birder must be constantly vigilant for oncoming cycle traffic.

This website focuses on a subset of walking trails:  those trails that are most congenial for people whose goal is the study and enjoyment of Adirondack habitats and the plants, wildlife, and fungi that flourish in them. 

What makes a trail a good nature trail?

Adirondack Wildflowers: Pitcher Plant on Barnumg Bog at the Paul Smiths VIC
Adirondack Nature Trails: Wide, hard-surfaced trails provide easy walking, so nature lovers can stop to study the environment without impeding other users. Loop Trail at Henry's Woods, Lake Placid

Varied Habitats:

  Trails that weave through woodland and marshland, offering access to ponds, brooks, and bogs, provide a window to the varied habitats in the Adirondack Park.  This means that trail walkers – whether they bird, botanize, wildlife watch, or photograph – have more opportunities to learn about Adirondack ecosystems.

Scenic Value:

    The most effective nature trails offer attractive vistas or restful views of Adirondack forest communities.

Easy Walking:

    The best trails for observing wildlife, plants, and fungi are those that do not require constant attention to footwork.  For that reason, the most congenial trails are those that are wide (especially important when used for guided nature walks) and well-surfaced.  Wide trails are particularly important for birders, who need to have space to move around to view the birds.  Wide trails also create edges, which tend to be rich in birds and plant life.  For that reason, parking lots tend to be great places to bird and to find sun-loving plants that cannot survive the deep shade of the woods. 

Single Use:

    The most congenial trails for studying nature are those limited to pedestrian traffic.  Bird and wildlife watchers, photographers, and those interested in examining plant life do best on trails where they do not have to compete with mountain bikers, horseback riders, unleashed dogs, or any kind of motorized traffic.  Multi-use trails, by their very nature, generally do not make effective nature trails. 

Wilderness Feel:

    The Adirondacks are best experienced in an environment where the sights and sounds of human habitation are minimized.  Road noise, construction sounds, and aircraft engines drown out the natural sounds of birds, animals, wind, and moving water. Trailside litter is a visual distraction. The best trails for nature study minimize such distractions. To some degree, the wilderness feel of a trail is undermined by manmade structures (such as boardwalks, overlooks, and trial signs) that promote study of certain habitats.  Benches (although manmade structures that somewhat undermine the wilderness feel of a trail) are a useful addition to nature trails, because they encourage walkers to stop, observe, meditate, and appreciate the natural environment. Maximizing the wilderness feel of a trail while incorporating manmade structures that enhance its educational value (such as signs, benches, and overlooks) is a delicate balancing act.

Interpretive Nature Trails

Interpretive Nature Trails in the Adirondacks: Interpretive Sign on the Penninsula Trail in Lake Placid (28 July 2015)
Adirondack Nature Trails: The interpretive trail signs on the Penninsula Trails in Lake Placid are legible, educational, and inobtrusive.

These trails are a special subset of nature trails.  An interpretive trail features a series of sign posts identifying key natural features.  These can be in the form of trail-side signs or numbered posts keyed to a hard-copy or online trail guide.  Ideally, trail-side signs should be both informative and inobtrusive – highlighting natural features (and manmade features when appropriate to clarify the nature of the habitat), educating, and provoking quiet observation and contemplation – without marring the natural feel of the landscape.

The interpretive nature trails covered in this website include:

  • Lake Placid Penninsula Trails
  • Paul Smiths VIC Intepretive Trails

Some of the interpretive nature trails covered on this site incorporate manmade elements allowing visitors close study of wetland habitats that are usually inaccessible to walkers.  The most effective of these trails position such elements in a way to allow scenic views which are not marred by manmade structures. 

The trails highlighted and described on this site are evaluated in terms of the characteristics summarized above. More trails will be added in future site revisions. 

Copyright 2017