High Peaks Wilderness Complex
DEC is currently working with Otak, Inc. to draft a Visitor Use Management plan for the High Peaks Wilderness Complex. Learn more about the planning process and opportunities for public feedback and involvement.
- Open for recreation: Year-round
- Fees: Free
- Contact Information:
- Location: Town of Harrietstown in Franklin County, Towns of North Elba, Keene, Elizabethtown, North Hudson and Newcomb in Essex County and the town of Long Lake in Hamilton County.
- Wildlife Management Unit: 5F
- Map: Google Earth || DECinfo Locator
The 275,460-acre High Peaks Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in New York State and the second largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi.
The unit significantly increased in size when the following tracts were added to the wilderness area in 2018:
- 45,208 acres that was formerly the Dix Mountain Area;
- 11,411 acres of the Boreas Pond Tract;
- 4,418 acres of the MacIntyre East Tract; and
- 1,490 acres the former Casey Brook Tract.
The High Peaks Wilderness lies within the area bounded largely by State Route 3, State Route 86, State Route 73, the Northway (Interstate 87), Blue Ridge Road, State Route 28N, State Route 30, and the Raquette River.
As its name implies, the Wilderness is known for its mountainous terrain and contains most of New York State's highest summits including the two highest: Mt. Marcy (5,344 feet) and Algonquin Peak (5,114 feet).
Many crystal-clear streams cascade from the mountain slopes, providing numerous scenic waterfalls, deep pools and brook trout fishing opportunities. Such streams as the Opalescent River, Johns Brook, Klondike Brook, Marcy Brook, Cold River, Moose Creek and Cold Brook are photographers' favorites. Lake Tear O' the Clouds, the highest elevation water body in the Hudson River watershed lies at about 4,300 feet altitude.
Recreational Webpages for the individual High Peaks Wilderness zones are currently under development. Once complete, individual webpages will include trail descriptions, maps, camping, and other recreational opportunities and descriptions specific to that zone.
Current recreational pages:
- Winter Hiking Safety
- Adirondack Hikes Under 2,500ft
- Disposing of Human Waste Outdoors
- Reducing Human-Bear Conflicts
- Bear Resistant Canisters
- Spring Recreation Tips
General information on animals includes links to information about birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians and insects that inhabit or migrate through the state.
The Adirondacks contain large tracts of wildlife habitat with some boreal, bog, alpine and other unique habitats. Many species of birds and mammals are unique to the Adirondacks or are mainly found here. More than 50 species of mammals and hundreds of species of birds inhabit or pass through the Adirondacks at one time of the year or another so it is not unlikely to catch site of wildlife during your trip. Peregrine Falcons are known to nest in the area.
More information on Adirondack Flora and Fauna (Leaves DEC Website) from the SUNY ESF Adirondack Ecological Center.
You can protect wildlife and wildlife habitat when viewing them.
Wildlife Found in the Adirondacks:
New Management Zones:
The High Peaks Wilderness is divided into three management zones with the 2018 amendment: Central Zone, Outer Zone, and the Adirondack Canoe Route.
The Central Zone is the former Eastern Zone which contains most of the highest peaks and trails.
The Outer Zone encompasses the former Western High Peaks, the former Dix Mountain Area, Boreas Ponds Tract, and MacIntyre East Tract.
The Adirondack Canoe Route parallels the western boundary of the unit for 23 miles along the eastern shores of Long Lake and the Raquette River. This section is a major link in the 90-mile canoe route from Old Forge to Saranac Lake and the much longer Northern Forest Canoe Trail.
Rules, Regulations and Outdoor Safety
All users of the High Peaks area must follow all State Land Use Regulations. The regulations for each zone below are the most current regulations.
- No campfires in the Eastern Zone of the High Peaks Wilderness
- Group Size Maximums
- Day Trip - 15
- Overnight - 8 (Permits for oversized groups are not available in the High Peaks Wilderness)
- No camping on summits
- No camping above 3,500 feet (except at lean-to)
- No camping in areas with "No Camping" signs present
- Whenever possible, camp in designated sites. If necessary, at-large camping is permitted as long as campsites are at least 150 feet from any road, trail, water body, or waterway. Place your tent on a durable surface, such as hardened soil, leaf litter, or pine duff. Do not place your tent on vegetation.
- Bear canisters are required for all overnight campers in the Eastern Zone of the High Peaks Wilderness
- Carry out what you carry in. Properly dispose of waste and pack out all gear and garbage. Do not leave waste at trailheads.
- Dogs must be leashed at all times in the Eastern Zone of the High Peaks Wilderness and at trailheads, campsites and above 4,000 feet everywhere else
- Please note: If accessing the High Peaks from the AMR trailhead, dogs are not allowed on AMR property.
- Bikes are prohibited
- Drones are prohibited
- ATVs are prohibited
- No fixed anchors for climbing on Forest Preserve at this time
- Skis and Snowshoes required when snow depths are at least 8 inches
- Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) Rules
- Reservations are required for parking, daily access, and overnight access between May 1 and October 31. Reservations can be made as early as two weeks in advance at hikeamr.org. Walk-ins are not permitted.
- No Camping
- No Dogs
- No Drones
- No Off-Trail Travel
Adirondack Canoe Route
- The maximum capacity of any lean-to site (including associated tent camping) shall not exceed 12 persons
- Campfires permitted in designated fire pits
Check the Adirondack Backcountry Information for the High Peaks Region for important general notices and information which apply across the Adirondacks.
Backcountry conditions can change suddenly. All users should plan accordingly, including bringing flashlights or headlamps with extra batteries, first aid equipment, extra food and clothing. Weather conditions may alter your plans; you should always be prepared to spend an unplanned night in the woods before entering the backcountry. Backcountry hiking trails can be rugged and rough- wear proper footwear.
Free Rt. 73 Hiker Shuttle Resumes Sept. 23 - The shuttle will operate from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from September 23 through October 8, and on Monday, October 9. A route map and shuttle schedule (PDF)
Practice Leave No Trace
Please abide by the Leave No Trace Seven Principles when recreating in the Adirondacks.
Do not attempt any trips in the High Peaks without current USGS topographic maps and/or a good guidebook for the area. Maps and guidebooks may be purchased at local stores or suppliers of outdoor recreational equipment.
Planning and Management
DEC manages these lands in accordance with the 1999 High Peaks Wilderness Unit Management Plan (UMP) (PDF). The UMP was amended in 2000 (PDF) to reroute the Little Porter Mountain trail, and again in 2018 (PDF) to incorporate recent acquisitions into the unit. In addition to management objectives, the UMP contains detailed information on natural features, recreational infrastructure, geology, natural & human history, habitats, wildlife, fisheries and much more.
Visitor Use Management
DEC has awarded a Visitor Use Management (VUM) Planning contract to Otak, Inc. to assist with projects for a high-use portion of the High Peaks Wilderness Complex. Otak, Inc. has over two decades of experience conducting visitor use planning and research on wilderness and other recreation lands managed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and other federal agencies.
Otak will use the federal Interagency Visitor Use Management Framework to facilitate inclusive and transparent collaboration between DEC and stakeholders and to deliver data-driven insights to help inform and develop visitor capacities, adaptive visitor use management strategies, and long-term monitoring plans to help DEC measure the effectiveness of each management action.
For more details on DEC's work with Otak, please see our recent press announcement.
Public Participation Opportunities
Please visit the High Peaks VUM website for more information about the planning process and opportunities for public feedback and involvement.
Nearby State Lands, Facilities, Amenities and Other Information
State Lands and Facilities
- Adirondack Mountain Reserve Conservation Easement Tract
- Essex Chain Lakes Complex
- Giant Mountain Wilderness
- Hoffman Notch Wilderness
- Hammond Pond Wild Forest
- John Brown Farm State Historic Site
- McKenzie Mountain Wilderness
- Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex
- Olympic Jumping Complex
- Saranac Lake Wild Forest
- Sentinel Range Wilderness
- Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest
- Wilmington Wild Forest
- Fish Creek Campground
- Frontier Town Campground
- Lake Harris Campground
- Lincoln Pond Campground
- Meadowbrook Campground
- Rollins Pond Campground
- Saranac Islands Campground
- Sharp Bridge Campground
- Wilmington Notch Campground
Gas may be obtained in the nearby communities of Keene, Elizabethtown, Lake Placid, North Hudson, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, and Long Lake
Food and supplies may be obtained in the nearby communities of Keene, Elizabethtown, Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, and Long lake
Dining is available in the nearby communities of Keene Valley, Keene, Elizabethtown, Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, and Long lake
Lodging is available in the nearby communities of Keene Valley, Newcomb, North Hudson, Keene, Elizabethtown, Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, and Long lake
Adirondack Regional Tourism Council, Essex County/Lake Placid Tourism, and Adirondack Mountain Club can provide information about other recreation, attractions and amenities in this area. Numerous guide books and maps are available with information on the lands, waters, trails and other recreational facilities in this area. These can be purchased at most outdoor equipment retailers, bookstores, and on-line booksellers.
Additional information, outdoor equipment, trip suggestions and guided or self-guided tours may be obtained from outdoor guide and outfitting businesses. Check area chambers of commerce, telephone directories or search the internet for listings.
Consider hiring an outdoor guide if you have little experience or woodland skills. See the NYS Outdoor Guides Association for information on outdoor guides.