New York

High Peaks Wilderness

Protecting New York State’s Highest Ground


The High Peaks Wilderness Area is home to 36 of the 46 “High Peaks” of the Adirondacks, some of the most prominent and popular features of the region. Each year, thousands of hikers travel to the area seeking striking views, beautiful alpine environments, and the personal accomplishment of scaling magnificent peaks. As the largest wilderness area in the state with over 192,000 acres, the topography of the area varies from low-lying wetlands to rocky alpine zones.

Why We Work Here

Alpine meadows and the plants that inhabit them are small relics from the tundra that covered much of New York during last ice age. Today, after glaciers have long since retreated northward, these small microclimate zones collectively cover approximately 85 acres on 20 of the tallest mountains in the Adirondacks. They provide habitat for rare plants, including mountain sandwort, bearberry willow, and Boott’s rattlesnake root—each a fascinating specimen uniquely adapted to extreme conditions. Most grow close to the ground, which reduces their exposure to high winds, and their unique chemistry allows them to photosynthesize more efficiently and shields them from harmful UV rays. Despite their resiliency to nature’s toughest elements, these alpine plants and the thin soils they grow in are particularly vulnerable to hiker trampling.

What We Do

The Summit Stewardship Program, a partnership between The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter, the Adirondack Mountain Club, and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, was established in 1990, following decades of plant degradation in the alpine zones caused by increasing numbers of hikers.

Working on the most popular of the Adirondack peaks, Summit Stewards educate hikers about the plants and natural history of the area while encouraging them to stay on bedrock instead of treading on the thin soils that support fragile alpine vegetation. Stewards also survey and keep records of the status of alpine meadows, stabilize eroded areas with rocks, and monitor for re-establishment of native species.
 

The High Peaks Wilderness Area is managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and has multiple access points, including trailheads at the Adirondack Loj, in Lake Placid, the Garden parking area, in Keene Valley, and the Upper Works, in Newcomb. It is popular for hiking, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, rock climbing, ice climbing, and more.

With an incredible variety of activities for people seeking any level of outdoor experiences, the High Peaks Area is one of the most quintessential areas in the Adirondacks.

Additional information about visiting can be found on NYSDEC’s website.

Discussion

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