From Saranac Lake 6 to CATS Trails on Lake Champlain, Adirondacks of Northern NYS Offer Unparalleled Hiking

The Adirondack Region of New York, which boasts the largest trail system in the state, winding more than 2,000 miles through mountains, rivers and lakes, offers unparalleled hiking experiences for all abilities. From the newly crowned “Saranac Six,” to the Champlain Area Trails system (CATS), now is the time to get outside and explore in the Adirondack Mountains

The CATS trails, located along the coast of Lake Champlain, offer some new hiking experiences up Boquet Mountain, around Beaver Flow and through the Splitrock Wild Forest. Find easy-to-moderate hiking trails perfect for families with children. The Saranac Lake Six, a new hiking challenge for visitors to the Adirondacks, kicked off the summer hiking season in May, challenging hikers to conquer six of the highest peaks in the Adirondack Lakes Region. Complete all six and become an official “6er.” Climb all six and one day and earn one of the first spots on the “Ultra 6er” list.

With a total ascent of more than 18,000’, the Saranac Lake Six present a challenging hiking experience for a weekend or summer spent in the Adirondacks. They are:

  • McKenzie Mountain – the tallest 6er and the longest trail at 10.6 miles round-trip, begin at the trailhead located on NYS Route 86 between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
  • Ampersand Mountain – its bald summit offers panoramic views. Begin the 5.4 miles round-trip hike at the trailhead located on Route 3 between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.
  • Scarface Mountain – a moderate 6.8 mile round-trip hike, with great views of the lakes, the trailhead is located on Old Ray Brook Road, just 0.1 miles from Route 86 in Ray Brook.
  • St. Regis Mountain – offers a steep climb to the summit crowned by an old fire tower. Begin the 6.6 mile round-trip hike at the trailhead located on Keese Miles Road.
  • Haystack Mountain – located about half-way along the McKenzie Mountain trail, Haystack offers 180-degree views and is 6.6 miles round-trip.
  • Mount Baker – one of the quickest yet steepest trails at 1.8 miles round-trip. The trailhead is located on Moody Pond Road in Saranac Lake.

Experience the thrill of discovery on an Adirondack hiking trail and find unique attractions and family-friendly outdoor recreation. In each Adirondack Region, adventure can be found at trailheads, summits and on winding paths that lead into the unknown.

Some of this summer’s top hiking adventures in the Adirondacks include:

Canoe and Climb at Valcour Island on the Adirondack Coast of Lake Champlain. From the town of Peru’s boat launch on Lake Champlain, sea kayak for one mile across Lake Champlain to Valcour Island. Distinguished by the historic lighthouse that rises from its shores, the island was the site of the first naval battle during the Revolutionary War. More than 7 miles of hiking trails circle the island, winding along cliffs, around a heron rookery, stopping at sand beaches and sheltered bays. Crossing conditions can be dangerous for amateur paddlers, so consider joining a guided paddling trip to the island with the staff from The Kayak Shack in Plattsburgh.

Furry Fun for Families at Up Yonda Farm in the Lake George Region offers a different kind of hiking excursion, one that includes wildlife exhibits, nature programs, bee-keeping and more. Up Yonda is a 72-acre facility in Bolton Landing offering lessons on honey-bees, trees, butterflies, planets and constellations, as well as wild things like turtles and newts. Enjoy wildlife viewing and bird watching, and hike trails that wind through fields, meadows, old forests and even a cemetery. There is a small fee, around $4 per person, to join in any one of the public programs. Up Yonda offers visitors the chance to connect with the living animals and plants of the Adirondacks while enjoying the great outdoors.

The Waterfall Challenge in the Adirondack Wild Region takes visitors to the heart of the Adirondack Park and explores the cascading waterfalls of Hamilton County. Home to the greatest number of waterfalls in the region, the Adirondack Wild offers pristine hiking to some of the most breathtaking waterfalls on the east coast. To begin, download the waterfall hike guide for detailed trail instructions. Complete the waterfall challenge brochure and submit the information to Hamilton County Tourism to receive a waterfall challenge patch.

Horseback Riding and Hiking in the Adirondacks Tug Hill Region’s Otter Creek Trail System. One of the only recreational areas of its kind in the Adirondacks, Otter Creek is a series of interlocking horse and hiking trails that wind for nearly 65 miles through woodlands, around backcountry ponds and rambling rivers. Primitive camping is available at a designated assembly area located in the Independence River State Forest area. Accommodations for those traveling with horses include 100 roofed stalls, two stud stalls as well as a potable water system for everyone.

Bushwhacking the Backcountry in the Lake Placid Region takes skill and a fair bit of planning – though the rewards are expansive views and a notch in your belt for tackling some of the most remote peaks in the Adirondack Mountains. Bag a couple peaks in Wilmington – also home of Whiteface Mountain Downhill Bike Center – such as Morgan Mountain and Wilmington Peak. Both trails are less than 5 miles round-trip, yet challenge hikers to use orienteering skills, hack through underbrush and scramble across difficult and often steep terrain.

In the Adirondack Seaway Region, Stone Valley Recreation Area in Colton offers a moderate hiking trek across 7.5 miles of trails. Follow the historic Raquette River and glimpse whitewater rapids, waterfall gorges and rock ledges. Watch for adventurous kayakers shooting the rapids during the spring and summer months.

The Adirondack Region is a six-million-acre park offering limitless recreation amid 2,000 miles of hiking trails and 3,000 lakes and ponds. Part of the largest temperate forest in the world, the Adirondacks are also home to 103 towns and villages. Connect with the Adirondacks on Facebook.com/visitadirondacks or Twitter.com/visitadks. Search Adirondack events, attractions and Adirondack vacation packages at VisitAdirondacks.com.

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5 Stellar Hiking Trails On National Wildlife Refuges

Fall is a great time to hike in the national wildlife refuges © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Why see Labor Day as an end to the outdoors season? One of the year’s best hiking times is about to begin. For a treat this fall, explore some standout trails on national wildlife refuges. Refuge trails can be just as scenic as national park or national forest trails, but tend to be less well-known. All the better for wildlife viewing.

So says Mike Mullaley, who in 2011 helped survey more than 1,500 miles of trails at 234 national wildlife refuges with his Student Conservation Association team. “Many of these places are off the beaten path,” he says. “With fewer people on site, there is a great chance to experience nature.”

Here are some outstanding hiking trails of varying length, difficulty and terrain on wildlife refuges nationwide. (For other trails in the National Wildlife Refuge System, visit http://go.usa.gov/w9O.)

Alabama

Trail: Pine Beach Trail, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 4 miles roundtrip
Difficulty level: Moderate. Sandy terrain
Wildlife to watch for: Bobcats, coyotes, red fox, osprey, shorebirds, neotropical migratory birds
Trail details: In refuge brochure, available at the refuge office or trailhead. A separate Pine Beach trail guide identifies plants along the way.
Trail map: http://www.fws.gov/bonsecour/trails.html

Enjoy a hike to what Mullaley calls “one of the finest beaches I have seen in this country.” The popular trail begins in a coastal forest and passes a saltwater lagoon on one side and a freshwater lake on the other. It proceeds south through small, rolling dunes to a great vista of the Gulf of Mexico. Says Mullaley, “You can hike right into the water and cool off!” Respect signs asking you to stay on the trail and avoid disrupting the fragile dune ecosystem.

Alaska

Trail: Skyline Trail, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 2 miles roundtrip
Difficulty level: Strenuous. Elevation gain: 1,800 feet.
Wildlife to watch for: Dall sheep, moose, brown bear.
Trail details: Trailhead is at mile 61.0 on the Sterling Highway. Use parking area on south side of the
road. Trailhead begins on the north side, to the left of the guardrail. See also http://go.usa.gov/wI9

Trail map: http://go.usa.gov/wI8

Gain quick access to mountains in the Mystery Creek unit of the Kenai Wilderness. This heart-pumping trail begins in forest and emerges above tree line in about three-quarters of a mile; one half-mile further, the trail gradually disappears in an alpine area. Above timberline, see spectacular views of the Kenai Mountains, the Kenai Peninsula lowlands and Cook Inlet. Mt. McKinley (Denali) is visible to the north on clear days. Steep, rocky hikes to the tops of several nearby peaks are possible.

Arkansas

Trail: Champion Cypress Tree Trail, White River National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 1.2 miles one way
Difficulty level: Easy
Wildlife to watch for: Black bear, white-tail deer, coyote, bobcat, red or grey fox, woodpeckers, neotropical migrant birds such as prothonotary warblers, indigo buntings, Carolina wrens, northern cardinals
Trail details: http://go.usa.gov/wII
Trail map: http://go.usa.gov/wX4

The trail leads through a swamp to a bench overlooking a small stream and a mammoth cypress tree (43 feet around, 120 feet tall) ─ the largest in the state of Arkansas. Writes Mullaley, “Elsewhere in the South, you can find cypress ‘knees’ (vertical root protrusions) that reach one to two feet above the ground or water. The knees of the Champion Cypress Tree must be somewhere between seven and ten feet tall. It is a wonderful spectacle.”

California

Trail: Tidelands Trail, Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 1.8 miles (with up to 6 miles of optional add-ons)
Difficulty level: Easy to moderate
Wildlife to watch for: Shorebirds including western sandpipers and black-neck stilts; waterfowl such as
northern shovelers and ruddy ducks
Trail details: http://www.fws.gov/desfbay/basic.htm#Trails or download a brochure from the refuge website
Trail map: Available at the visitor contact station

This figure-eight trail ─ popular with pedestrians, cyclists and dog-walkers ─ passes through several types of habitat and offers great views of the bay. The trail goes over the Newark Slough, a tidally influenced natural channel that allows saltwater to penetrate inland. It also passes a salt pond. In winter, look for lots of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl. The Tidelands Trail was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1981.

Florida

Trail: St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail
Length: 40 mostly flat miles; shorter out and back hikes are possible
Difficulty level: Easy
Wildlife to look for: Alligators, night herons, black bears, raccoons, turkey, deer, owls, woodpeckers,
waterfowl
Trail details: http://go.usa.gov/w9L
Trail map: www.florida‐trail.org

This piece of the 1,400-mile Florida National Scenic Trail offers primitive hiking through Gulf coastal pine, dense stands of leafy trees and a saltmarsh wilderness. The refuge trail crosses marshy areas via boardwalks and bridges. About 15 miles of trail follow refuge roads that are closed to vehicles. You’ll need a boat (ask locally) to cross the St. Marks River. Campers: Get an overnight use permit from the refuge web site. SCA interns Mullaley and Alex Aaker say their 15-mile hike on the trail in late April “allowed us to see a vast extent of Florida’s wildlife, wilderness and coastline.” Fall hikers may see migrating monarchs. Packing note: Bring bug spray. Writes Mullaley, “It was my first experience with ticks (15 total in both ankles!), but it does not hinder the excitement of the trail.”

Hawaii

Trail: Kanuimanu Ponds Trail, Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 0.8 mile
Difficulty level: Easy
Wildlife to watch for: Hawaiian stilt (ae”o), Hawaiian coot (‘alae ke’oke’o), Pacific golden plover (kolea), ruddy turnstone, sanderling, wandering tattler, northern shovelers and northern pintails
Trail details: http://www.fws.gov/kealiapond/visit.html
Trail map: Information available at refuge visitors center

This trail provides the best wildlife viewing and photography access at the refuge. Visitors hike along the perimeter of refuge ponds to view one of the largest concentrations of endangered water birds, migratory waterfowl and shorebirds in Hawaii. The trail is set away from two nearby highways, providing for an usually quiet opportunity to appreciate the natural environment. Another easy refuge trail worth investigating: the Kealia Coastal Boardwalk.

Idaho

Trail: Old Humpback Trail, Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 1 mile each way
Difficulty level: Moderate
Wildlife to watch for: Moose, ducks, geese, eagles mule deer, elk, peregrines, warblers, black swifts
Trail details: http://www.fws.gov/kootenai/recreation.html
Trail map: Available at refuge office or trailhead kiosk

One of several scenic trails at this refuge in the panhandle of northern Idaho, Old Humpback Trail winds its way up steeply through conifer forest. Short spur loops offer picturesque overlooks of the Selkirk and Purcell Mountain Ranges. Selkirk Mountain is important grizzly habitat. For a bonus, add in the quarter-mile Myrtle Creek Falls Trail, leading to an overlook of a falls with a drop of more than 100 feet.

Minnesota

Trail: Bluff Trail, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 7 miles out and back
Difficulty level: Easy to moderate
Wildlife to watch for: Waterfowl, songbirds, woodpeckers, bald eagles, wetland birds such as egrets and
herons
Trail details: The trail is in the refuge’s Long Meadow Lake unit ─ the unit closest to Minneapolis.
Trail map: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/minnesotavalley/long_meadow.html

Find escape just steps from the city. This trail offers surprising solitude for a place within two miles of the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. The hilly trail skirts the base of the bluffs along the Minnesota River, weaving in and out of forest and ending near a historic bridge closed to traffic. A trail spur leads to an observation overlook that juts out into a river-fed marsh. In case of recent heavy rains, check with refuge staff on trail conditions before you go. Sometimes flooding closes the trail.

Montana

Trail: Wildlife Viewing Area Nature Trail, Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 2.5 miles round trip
Difficulty level: Easy, flat
Wildlife to watch for: Pileated woodpecker, American dipper, black-headed grosbeak, Bullocks oriole, Vaux’s swift, Lewis’s woodpecker, willow flycatcher, pygmy nuthatch
Trail details: http://www.fws.gov/leemetcalf/visit.html
Trail map: Available at trailhead. Access the trail from Wildfowl Lane, the county road that bisects the refuge.

This scenic trail began as an access trail to the Bitterroot River, a world-class trout fishery, for local farmers. It was designated a National Recreation Trail in 2005 by Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton. It offers spectacular views of the Bitterroot Mountains and excellent birdwatching; some 80 percent of Montana’s breeding birds use this habitat for nesting, and the refuge forms the core for the Bitterroot River Important Bird Area. The trail ─ originally part of Stevensville, the first European settlement in Montana ─ leads through a fragrant forest of ponderosa pine and black cottonwood. The first half-mile of the trail is paved and wheelchair-accessible. The refuge is also along two National Historic Trails ­– the Lewis and Clark Trail and the Nez Perce Trail – and the Glacial Lake Missoula National Geologic Trail.

New Hampshire

Trail: Wapack Trail, Wapack National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 4 miles one way (trail continues 17 miles past the refuge)
Difficulty level: Moderate to challenging, with elevation gain of 900 feet in less than a mile.
Wildlife to watch for: Migrating hawks, eagles and other raptors in fall, songbirds in spring, bobcat,
moose, black bear, deer
Trail details: http://go.usa.gov/w52
Trail map: http://www.fws.gov/wapack/visit.html

One of the oldest trails in the region, dating back to 1923, the Wapack Trail heads south from the refuge’s northern boundary to the peak of North Pack Monadnock. This small mountain offers great views of the surrounding area and higher Mount Monadnock to the west. SCA interns Stefano Potter and Toji Sakamoto, who surveyed the trail in 2011, called the refuge “one of the most spectacular of our trips…Wapack Refuge had spectacular trails that went precipitously up a mountain whose summit held rocky outcroppings and stunning vistas.” From North Pack Monadnock, the trail continues south into northern Massachusetts.

As a bonus, refuge manager Graham Taylor recommends adding the 1.1-mile Cliff Trail, a spur off the Wapack Trail. “It’s a talus slope with granite outcroppings and spectacular views of Miller State Park, to the south,” says Taylor. “The trail will be a great spot to watch hawks and eagles migrating down the ridge in the fall.”

New Mexico

Trail: Chupadera Peak Trail, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 9.5 miles roundtrip
Difficulty level: Strenuous
Wildlife to watch for: Desert birds such as the cactus wren, greater roadrunner and Gambel’s quail. Jack rabbits, lizards, rattlesnakes, coyote, javelina. Seasonal wildflowers and cactus including claret cup cactus, fourwing salt brush and yucca.
Trail details: Trail guide available in the visitor center nature store. The trailhead is on a gravel road about one mile north of the visitor center.
Trail map: http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/newmex/bosque/index.html

This trail through a Southwest wilderness area winds through the Chihuahuan Desert up a steep volcanic canyon. The first 1.5 miles climb gently to a bench with a great view of the refuge. After that, the trail steepens, gaining more than 1,700 feet of elevation from the valley floor to the peak. The reward at top is a 360-degree panorama of the refuge and the Rio Grande, surrounding mesas and the majestic Magdalena and San Mateo Mountains to the west. The trail was designated a National Recreation Trail in 2008 by Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kepthorne. It’s best used in the fall, winter and spring, when temperatures are below 100 degrees. Watch out for rattlesnakes in the late spring and early fall. Take plenty of water and wear adequate footwear.

Oklahoma

Trail: Charon’s Garden Trail, Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 4.4 miles out and back
Difficulty level: Moderate
Wildlife to watch for: Bison, rattlesnakes, longhorn, eastern collared lizard, canyon wrens (called by
some “the sound of the Wichitas”)
Trail details: http://www.summitpost.org/charon-s-garden-wilderness/274583
Trail map: http://www.summitpost.org/charon-s-garden-wilderness/274583

“I always imagined western Oklahoma’s terrain was flat,” says Mullaley. “I was definitely wrong.” This hike in the Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area, he says, “climbs into the heart of the mountains. There, a boulder field tests your sense of direction, adventure, and quality of shoe! The hike to the boulder field is well marked; the walk through it, not so much. After traversing some narrow gaps and rocky terrain, you come round the mountain to find small streams and waterfalls and stunning mountain views.”

Randy Hale, refuge environmental education specialist, calls the hike “probably the jewel of the Wichitas. There are places where you wonder, ‘How am I going to get from here to there?’ It’s really rugged.” Note: Bring plenty of water. If the lot is full at the Sunset Picnic Area, at the base of Elk Mountain, park instead at Treasure Lake and hike south to north. Roadside parking is not allowed.

South Carolina

Trail: Trail network, Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 2 to 10 miles
Difficulty level: Easy, flat
Wildlife to watch for: Wading birds such as white ibis, wood ducks, herons and egrets. Alligators,
shorebirds, turkey, deer.
Trail details: See trail guide at http://www.fws.gov/pinckneyisland/publications.html
Trail map: http://www.fws.gov/pinckneyisland/publications.html Also available at parking lot kiosk

Pick from an easy network of trails on a coastal island closed to vehicle traffic. The island’s salt marsh and upland habitats teem with birds and other wildlife. One route popular with even hiking novices follows a gravel maintenance road (about one mile each way) to Ibis Pond. Narrower dirt trails lead off into areas of live oaks, slash pine and cedar.

Washington

Trail: Dungeness Spit, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 11 miles out and back from the parking lot
Difficulty level: Moderate. Best done at lower tide
Wildlife to watch for: Seals, deer, seabirds such as pigeon guillemots, shorebirds such as black
oystercatchers
Trail details: http://www.fws.gov/washingtonmaritime/dungeness/
Trail map: Available at the trailhead or refuge office

For saltwater hike lovers, here’s a gem: a scenic hike in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, along the longest coastal spit in the continental United States. The refuge trail leads half a mile through forest to an overlook before it drops to the beach at the foot of tall bluffs. Continue on toward the spit’s end, where a lighthouse has kept guard since 1857. The inside and tip of the spit are closed to the public to protect wildlife habitat. Volunteer keepers offer daily tours of the New Dungeness Light Station.

West Virginia

Trail: Middle Valley Trail, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 6 miles one way
Difficulty level: Easy to moderate
Wildlife to watch for: White-tail deer, black bear, beaver, wild turkey, vesper and savannah sparrow, American bittern. In late summer and early fall, see bog goldenrod and cottongrass.
Trail details: http://www.fws.gov/canaanvalley/CVNWR-trails.htm
Trail map: See link above. Also available at kiosk on A-Frame Road

This open trail on a low sandstone ridge near the Dolly Sods Wilderness offers solitude and excellent wildlife viewing. It goes through forests, grasslands, streams and wetlands, and past a massive complex of beaver lodges. The trail provides views of surrounding mountainsides that rise nearly 800 feet above the valley floor. Stream crossings along Sand Run and Glade Run may require wading, and beaver damming can sometimes flood trail segments. Wear blaze orange during deer-hunting season, Sept. 1 to Feb. 28, and during spring turkey-hunting season, usually in April and May. The trail is also used by horseback riders and cyclists.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information visit www.fws.gov. Connect with the Facebook page, follow  tweets, watch its YouTube Channel, and download photos from Flickr page.