Known for its high alpine summits and forested valleys, the Adirondack High Peaks Wilderness is one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the Northeast. Due to the remoteness of many of its mountains, visitors often choose to overnight camp in the backcountry, making places like Marcy Dam and Lake Colden a popular destination for these experiences. Because the High Peaks Wilderness is so popular, it is important that we follow local regulations and Leave No Trace outdoor skills and ethics in order to protect this landscape into the future. Here are five tips for camping safely and responsibly in the High Peaks Wilderness.
1. Camp Below 4000 feet
Though it might sound appealing, camping at high elevations is not only risky, but also puts sensitive ecosystems at risk. Many of the Adirondack Park’s highest mountains, including Mt. Marcy and Algonquin, have fragile alpine vegetation that can be easily killed by trampling. Additionally, weather changes quickly at higher elevations, bringing lightning, heavy rain, and even snow in the summer months.
In order to keep people safe and to minimize impacts to alpine vegetation, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) requires overnight backpackers in the High Peaks Wilderness to camp below 4000 feet at all times and only at designated sites, which are marked by yellow discs with a tent icon.
2. Bring a Trowel (and hand sanitizer!)
Especially given the pandemic, it is understandable why hikers and backpackers might take care of their business in the woods instead of using backcountry privies or thunderboxes. However, for the health and safety of others, it is crucial that we properly dispose of poop. If not buried in a “cathole”—a 6 to 8 inch deep hole for human waste (see more in the graphic to the right)— poop can run off into water sources, infect wildlife, and create a negative social experience for other hikers.
3. Pack a Camp Stove
If you are camping in the Eastern High Peaks—which includes popular backcountry camping areas like Marcy Dam, Lake Colden, Feldspar, and Slant Rock—be aware that campfires are not allowed. This is mainly to preserve the health of the forest understory; before this regulation existed, parts of the Eastern High Peaks were stripped of their understory by high numbers of campers looking to create campfires. Bring a camp stove with you instead so that you can cook your meals while on the trail.
If you are camping in the Western High Peaks region or the Dix Mountain Wilderness, then you can have a campfire. However, be sure to only collect wood that is dead, down, dinky (no bigger than the diameter of your wrist), and distant. This means that it is wood that is dry, has fallen from a tree naturally, is small and easy to break, and far away from your campsite. Following these “4 D’s” of making a campfire will help minimize fire risks and local impacts.
Be sure to check what the local wildfire risk is as well before heading into the backcountry; if there is a moderate to high fire risk, it would be best to avoid having a campfire.
4. Use a Bear Canister
Bear resistant food canisters are an easy way to store your food, toiletries and trash while camping. Bear canisters are required by state law to overnight camp in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness and are strongly encouraged in the Western High Peaks. These canisters protect wildlife by preventing black bears and other animals from accessing human food, toiletries, and other scented items that they might be interested in. This not only protects the health of animals but also protects your experience in the backcountry by keeping your food safe.
ADK rents and sells the Garcia Backpacker’s Cache at the High Peaks Information Center, and also supports the use of the Counter Assault Bear Keg and the Wild Ideas Bearikade. The BearVault and Frontiersman bear canisters are not effective in the High Peaks Wilderness. Bear hangs, including Ursacks, are not legal alternatives.
You can read more about bear canisters here.
5. Pack It In, Pack It Out
Wrappers, orange peels, empty bottles: if you brought it in, please make sure to bring it out. Waste harms wildlife and the experience of other visitors. If you want to take your Leave No Trace ethics to the next level, bring out more than you brought in. Bring a waste bag (and gloves) with you and pick up any trash that you find along the trail in order to leave things better than you found them for future visitors.
Photo Credit: Seth Jones
Learn more: High Peaks Wilderness Regulations
For trail information and suggestions, contact our High Peaks Information Center at: 518-523-3441 ext. 2 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For backcountry emergencies, please contact DEC Region 5 Dispatch at 518-891-0235.