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Adirondack Mountains

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Adirondack Mountains

Adirondack Mountains
Highest point
Peak Mount Marcy
Elevation 5,344 ft (1,629 m)
Map of the main regions of the northeast Appalachians.
Country United States
State New York
Borders on
Orogeny Grenville Orogeny
Period Tonian

The Adirondack Mountains are an unusual geological formation located in the northeastern lobe of Upstate New York in the United States. The mountains rise in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Warren, and Washington counties.

Unlike linear mountain ranges that form along tectonic plate boundaries, the Adirondack mountains resemble a dome. They were formed by the recent uplift and exposure of previously deeply buried metamorphic and igneous rocks over a billion years old. The same rocks can be found in the Green Mountains in Vermont. They are bordered to the south by the Mohawk Valley, and to the west by the Tug Hill Plateau, separated by the Black River. This region is south of the Saint Lawrence River.

A mountaineer near the peak of Basin Mountain


State park

The Adirondack Mountains are contained within the 6.1 million acres (2.5×10^6 ha) of the Adirondack Park, which includes a constitutionally protected Forest Preserve of approximately 2,300,000 acres (930,000 ha). About 43% of the land is owned by the state, while 57% private inholdings, heavily regulated by the Adirondack Park Agency.[2] The Adirondack Park contains thousands of streams, brooks and lakes, most famously Lake Placid, adjacent to the village of Lake Placid, two-time site of the Olympic Winter Games; the Saranac Lakes, favored by the sportsmen who made the Adirondacks famous;[3] and Raquette Lake, site of many of the first Great Camps.


The Adirondacks do not form a connected range such as the Rocky Mountains of the Western United States. They are instead an eroded dome consisting of many peaks, either isolated or in groups, often with little apparent order. There are over one hundred summits, ranging from under 1,200 feet (366 m) to over 5,000 feet (1,524 m) in elevation; the highest peak, Mount Marcy, at 5,344 feet (1,629 m), is near the eastern part of the group. Only two mountains, Mount Marcy and Algonquin, are over 5000 feet.

High peaks

The high peaks region, seen from a distance.

Forty-six of the highest mountain peaks are considered "The 46" Blake Peak, Cliff Mountain, Nye Mountain, and Couchsachraga Peak) are in fact just under 4,000 ft (1,219 m).

Other noted High Peaks include:

Some hikers who enjoy the Adirondack Mountains make an effort to climb all of the original 46 peaks, and there is a Forty Sixers club for those who have successfully reached each of these summits. Twenty of the 46 mountains remain trailless, so climbing them requires bushwhacking or following officially designated herdpaths to the top. Many of the Adirondack Mountains, such as Whiteface Mountain (Wilmington), Mt. Pisgah (Saranac Lake), and Mt. Morris (Tupper Lake) have been developed as ski areas.

Climbing is also very popular in areas throughout Keene Valley, NY, including a site called Bark Eater. The word 'Adirondack' is a Native American expression applied to the Algonquians by the Iroquois, who intended it as a derogatory name meaning 'the ones who eat bark'. Porcupines are the animal the word 'Adirondack' was first applied to.


South Pond, Central Adirondacks in the autumn

The Adirondack Mountains form the southernmost part of the Eastern forest-boreal transition ecoregion.[4] They are heavily forested, and contain the southernmost distribution of the boreal forest, or taiga, in North America, with the exception of isolated mountains, such as Mount Greylock, located in the Northwest corner of Massachusetts. The forests of the Adirondacks include spruce, pine and broad-leafed trees. Lumbering, once an important industry, has been much restricted since the establishment of the State Park in 1892. The Adirondack area was made a park mainly because of the effect lumbering was having on the area and Hudson water supply.

Approximately 260 species of birds have been recorded, of which over 170 breed here. Because of its unique boreal forest habitat, the park has many breeding birds not found in most areas of New York and other mid-Atlantic states, such as boreal chickadees, gray jays, Bicknell's thrushes, spruce grouse, Philadelphia vireos, rusty blackbirds, American Three-toed Woodpeckers, black-backed woodpeckers, ruby-crowned kinglets, bay-breasted warblers, mourning warblers, common loons and the crossbills.

Geology and physiography

The Adirondack Mountains are a physiographic province of the larger Appalachian physiographic division.[5]

The mountains consist primarily of metamorphic rocks, mainly gneiss, surrounding a central core of intrusive igneous rocks, most notably anorthosite, in the high peaks region. These crystalline rocks are a lobe of the Precambrian Grenville Basement rock complex and represent the southernmost extent of the Canadian Shield,[6] a cratonic expression of igneous and metamorphic rock 880 million to 1 billion years in age that covers most of eastern and northern Canada and all of Greenland. Although the rocks are ancient, the uplift that formed the Adirondack dome has occurred within the last 5 million years — relatively recent in geologic time — and is ongoing. The dome itself is roughly circular, approximately 160 miles (260 km) in diameter and about one mile (1600 m) high. The uplift is almost completely surrounded by Palaeozoic strata which lap up on the sides of the underlying basement rocks.[1]

The Adirondack Mountains from the top of Whiteface Mountain
Lake Placid from Whiteface Mountain
Aerial view, 3D computer generated image

The rate of uplift in the Adirondack dome is the subject of some debate, but in order to have the rocks which constitute the Adirondacks rise from the depth where they were formed to their present height, within the last 20 million years, an uplift rate of 1-3mm a year is required.[7] This rate is greater than the rate of erosion in the region today and is considered a fairly high rate of movement. Earthquakes in the region have exceeded 5 on the Richter scale.

The mountains form the drainage divide between the Champlain, and on the west they flow directly into that stream or reach it through Lake Ontario. The source of the Hudson is near tiny Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds, nestled in the heart of the High Peaks area between Mt. Marcy and Mt. Skylight. The most important streams within the area are the Hudson, Black, Oswegatchie, Grasse, Raquette, Saranac, Schroon and Ausable rivers.

The region was once covered by the The Fulton Chain, the Upper and Lower Saranac, Big and Little Tupper, Schroon, Placid, Long, Raquette and Blue Mountain. The region known as the Adirondack Wilderness, or the Great North Woods, embraces between 5000 and 6000 square miles (13,000 km² and 16,000 km²) of mountain, lake, plateau and forest.

Mining was once a significant industry in the Adirondacks. The region is rich in magnetic iron ores, which were mined for many years. The Benson Mines was an open pit iron mine extracting magnetite and hematite ores from the Grenville gneiss in St. Lawrence County on the northwestern portion of the Adirondack uplift.[8] Other mineral products are graphite, garnet used as an abrasive, pyrite, wollastonite, and zinc ore. The Balmat-Edwards district on the northwest flank of the massif also in St. Lawrence County was a major zinc ore deposit within Grenville age marbles worked during the mid twentieth century.[8] There is also a great quantity of titanium, which was mined extensively. The Sanford Lake district was a significant titanium ore producer during the 20th century. It is in Essex County within the anorthosite bodies on the east flank of the range.[8]

Naming, spelling, and pronunciation

The mountains were given the name "Adirondacks" in 1838 by Ebenezer Emmons;[9] the name is sometimes spelled "Adirondaks", without a "c". Some of the place names in the vicinity of Lake Placid have peculiar phonetic spellings attributed to Melvil Dewey, who was a principal influence in developing that town and the Lake Placid Club. The Adirondak Loj (pronounced "lodge"), a popular hostel and trailhead run by the Adirondack Mountain Club in the high peaks region, is one example. The word carries stress on the third syllable: .

The name "Adirondacks" is an Anglicized version of the Mohawk ratirontaks, meaning "they eat trees", a derogatory name which the Mohawk historically applied to neighboring Algonquian-speaking tribes; when food was scarce, the Algonquians would eat the buds and bark of trees.[10] Adirondack is also the Mohawk word for "porcupine" whose diet mainly consists of bark. By 1634, the word was being used by the Mohawks, when speaking among the Dutch, to refer to French and English. The Dutch transliterated the word Aderondackx at that time.[11]

Tourism and recreation

Ski jumps
Tupper Lake Country Club
Northern Yellow Spotted Turtle at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, NY.
Northern Yellow Spotted Turtle at the Wild Center

The mountainous peaks are usually rounded, though not the easiest to scale given the steep nature of the trails, humid climate in the summer, very cold and snowy in the winter, remoteness of many of the peaks, and round-trip trail lengths that often exceed 15 miles (24 km). There used to be many railroads in the region but most are no longer functioning. The surface of many of the lakes lies at an elevation above 1,500 ft (457 m); their shores are usually rocky and irregular, and the wild scenery within their vicinity has made them very attractive to tourists. Cabins, hunting lodges, villas and hotels are numerous. The resorts most frequented are in and around Schroon Lake and the St. Regis Lakes.

Although the climate during the winter months can be severe, with absolute temperatures sometimes falling below −30 °F (−34.4 °C) pre wind chill, a number of sanatoriums were located there in the early twentieth century because of the positive effect the air had on tuberculosis patients.

Hunting and fishing are allowed in the Adirondack Park, although in many places there are strict regulations. Because of these regulations, the large tourist population has not overfished the area, and as such, the brooks, rivers, ponds and lakes are home to large trout and black bass populations.

The varied birdlife within the park attracts birdwatchers.

Flatwater and whitewater Personal watercraft are a controversial subject in the Adirondack Park at this time.

Cliffs with rock climbing[12] and ice climbing routes are scattered throughout the park boundaries, most notably around Keene Valley, Cascade Pass, Wallface, Pok-O-Moonshine Mountain, Moss Cliffs, and Rogers Rock.
Though restricted from much of the park, snowmobile enthusiasts can ride on a large network of trails centered mainly around the towns of Old Forge, Speculator, and Saranac Lake.

At the head of Lake Placid stands Whiteface Mountain, from whose summit one of the finest views of the Adirondacks can be obtained. Two miles (3.2 km) southeast of this lake, at North Elba, is the old farm of the abolitionist John Brown, which contains his grave and is frequented by visitors. Lake Placid outflow is a major contributor to the Ausable River, which for a part of its course flows through a rocky chasm 100 to 175 ft (30 to 53 m) deep and rarely more than 30 ft (9.1 m) wide. At the head of the Ausable Chasm are the Rainbow Falls, where the stream makes a vertical drop of 70 ft (21.3 m).

Another impressive feature of the Adirondacks is Indian Pass, a gorge between Algonquin and Wallface Mountains. The latter is a majestic cliff rising several hundred feet from the pass. Keene Valley, in the center of the High Peaks, is a notably picturesque region, presenting a pleasing combination of peaceful valley and rugged hills.

The Wild Center in Tupper Lake offers extensive exhibits about the natural history of the region. Many of the exhibits are live and include native turtles, otter, birds, fish and porcupines. The Center, which is open year round, has trails to a river and pond on its campus.

Human history

The Algonquian and Mohawk nations used the Adirondacks for hunting and travel, but they had no settlements in the area. Samuel de Champlain sailed up the Saint Lawrence and Rivière des Iroquois near what would become Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain in 1609, and thus may have been the first European to encounter the Adirondacks. Jesuit missionaries and French trappers were among the first Europeans to visit the region, as early as 1642.

Adirondack guides (standing) and their sports
1876 map of the Adirondacks, showing many of the older, now obsolete names for many of the peaks, lakes and communities.

Part of the Fort Ticonderoga after it was captured by the British. In 1757, French General Montcalm, captured Fort William Henry.

At the end of the 18th century rich loggers deeper into the wilderness. Millions of pine, spruce, and hemlock logs were cut and floated down the area's many rivers to mills built on the edges. Logging continued slowly but steadily into the interior of the mountains throughout the 19th century and farm communities developed in many of the river valleys.

The area was not formally named the Adirondacks until 1837; an English map from 1761 labels it simply "Deer Hunting Country." Serious exploration of the interior did not occur until after 1870; the headwaters of the Hudson River near Lake Tear of the Clouds on the slopes of Mount Marcy were not discovered until more than fifty years after the discovery of the headwaters of the Columbia River in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia.

Prior to the 19th century, mountainous areas and wilderness were viewed as desolate and forbidding. As Romanticism developed in the United States, the writing of James Fenimore Cooper and later the transcendentalism of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson began to transform the popular view of wilderness in more positive terms, as a source of spiritual renewal. Part of Cooper's 1826 The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 is set in the Adirondacks. Frederic Remington canoed the Oswegatchie River, and William James Stillman, painter and journalist, spent the summer of 1857 painting near Raquette Lake. The next year he returned with a group of friends to a spot on Follensby Pond that became known as the Philosophers Camp. The group included Emerson, James Russell Lowell, Louis Agassiz, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s brother John.

Although sportsmen had always shown some interest in the Adirondacks, the publication of Joel Tyler Headley's Adirondack; or, Life in the Woods in 1849 started a flood of tourists to the area, leading to a rash of hotel building and the development of stage coach lines. Later writings on the Adirondacks, such as clergyman William H. H. Murray's Adventures in the Wilderness; Or Camp-Life in the Adirondacks in 1869, helped to increase Adirondack tourism. Thomas Clark Durant, who had helped to build the Union Pacific railroad, acquired a large tract of central Adirondack land and built a railroad from fashionable Saratoga Springs to North Creek. By 1875, there were more than two hundred hotels in the Adirondacks, some of them with several hundred rooms; the most famous was Paul Smith's Hotel. About this time, the "Great Camps" of the Adirondacks evolved near Raquette Lake, where William West Durant, son of Thomas C. Durant, built luxurious compounds. Two of them, Camp Pine Knot and Sagamore Camp, both near Raquette Lake, have been designated as National Historic Landmarks, as has Santanoni Preserve, near Newcomb, NY. Camps Sagamore and Santanoni are open to the public seasonally.

An Adirondack guide (left) and his sport

In 1873, Verplanck Colvin developed a report urging the creation of a state forest preserve covering the entire Adirondack region, based on the need to preserve the watershed as a water source for the Erie Canal, which was vital to New York's economy at the time. In 1883, he was appointed superintendent of the New York state land survey. In 1884, a commission chaired by botanist Charles Sprague Sargent recommended establishment of a forest preserve, to be "forever kept as wild forest lands."[13] In 1885, the Adirondack Forest Preserve was created, followed in 1892 by the Adirondack Park. When it became clear that the forces seeking to log and develop the Adirondacks would soon reverse the two measures through lobbying, environmentalists sought to amend the State Constitution. In 1894, Article VII, Section 7, (renumbered in 1938 as Article XIV, Section 1)[14] of the New York State Constitution was adopted, which reads in part:

The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.

The restrictions on development and lumbering embodied in Article XIV have withstood many challenges from timber interests, hydropower projects, and large-scale tourism development interests.[15] Further, the language of the article, and decades of legal experience in its defense, are widely recognized as having laid the foundation for the U.S. National Wilderness Act of 1964. As a result of the legal protections, many pieces of the original forest of the Adirondacks have never been logged; they are old-growth forest.[16]

See also


  1. ^ a b Isachsen, Yngvar W. (Editor) (2000), The Geology of New York: A Simplified Account. New York State Museum Press. See also The Andirondack Mountains: New Mountains From Old Rocks
  2. ^ Adirondack Park Agency
  3. ^ Adirondack Enterprise
  4. ^ Olson, D. M, E. Dinerstein et al. (2001), "Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Life on Earth",  
  5. ^ "Physiographic divisions of the conterminous U. S.". U.S. Geological Survey. Archived from the original on 5 December 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-06. 
  6. ^ Physical Geography of New York
  7. ^ Adirondack 1995 GPS Results
  8. ^ a b c Ridge, John D., ed., Ore Deposits of the United States, 1933-1967, Vol 1: Zinc Deposits of the Balmat-Edwards District, pp. 20-49; The Benson Mines Iron Ore Deposits, pp. 49-72; Titaniferous Ores of the Sanford Lake District, New York, pp. 140-153; American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers, 1968
  9. ^ , Rensselaer Polytechnic InstituteEbenezer Emmons (1799-1863)
  10. ^ Donaldson, Alfred L., A History of the Adirondacks, New York: Century, 1921. OCLC 1383265. (reprint), pp. 34-35
  11. ^ Van den Boagaert's 1634 glossary of Mohawk vocabulary, included in "Narratives of New Netherland", edited by J. Franklin Jameson, 1909 Chas. Scribner, New York, page 161.
  12. ^ A Guide to Rock Climbing and Bouldering in the Adirondack Park, New York. Adirondack Rock. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  13. ^ Terrie, Phillip G., Forever Wild, Environmental Aesthetics and the Adirondack Forest Preserve, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985, p. 98, ISBN 0-87722-380-7
  14. ^ McMartin, Barbara (1994), "Introduction", in McMartin, Barbara; Long, James McMartin, Celebrating the Constitutional Protection of the Forest Preserve: 1894-1994, Silver Bay, New York: Symposium Celebrating the Constitutional Protection of the Forest Preserve, pp. 9–10 
  15. ^ Woodworth, Neil F. (1994), "Recreational Use of the Forest Preserve under the Forever Wild Clause", in McMartin, Barbara; Long, James McMartin, Celebrating the Constitutional Protection of the Forest Preserve: 1894-1994, Silver Bay, New York: Symposium Celebrating the Constitutional Protection of the Forest Preserve, pp. 27–37 
  16. ^  



External links

State agencies

  • NYS Adirondack Park Agency - Extensive park information


  • Adirondack Interpretive Center
  • Adirondack Museum
  • The Wild Center


  • Adirondack History
  • Adirondack History - Guides and Guiding
  • Geological history
  • Santanoni Preserve
  • Lake George Historical Association
  • Adirondack Architectural Heritage
  • Oral History of Franklin County Listen to and read the history of Franklin County NY in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries


  • SUNY-ESF Northern Forest Institute
  • Paul Smith's College
  • SUNY-ESF Ranger School


  • SUNY-ESF Adirondack Ecological Center
  • Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies
  • Adirondack Research Consortium

Advocacy organizations

  • Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks
  • Adirondack Council
  • Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks

Adirondack Ambassadors

  • PureADK - An insider's perspective on experiencing and exploring the Adirondack Park

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