Towering above New York's diverse landscape, the Adirondack Mountains stand as a monument to the ice age. Five million years ago, small alpine glaciers carved their way through the Northeastern United States. As they moved through what is now the Adirondack Region, glacial erratics—stones deposited by the glacier—were scattered across the landscape. Massive chunks of ice broke away from the glacier, and were buried beneath sand and gravel washed from the ice. As these ice chunks melted, depressions, called kettle holes, were formed. When the kettle hole extended below the water table, a pond was created. Many of the small, circular ponds you see while hiking in the high peaks began as kettle holes.
Over millennia, as glaciers carved away the landscape, mountains began to take shape. Unlike the Rockies and the Appalachians, the Adirondack Mountains do not form a connected range, but rather a 160-mile wide dome of more than 100 peaks. Although the mountains are formed from ancient rocks more than 1,000 million years old, geologically, the dome is a newborn. The Adirondack Peaks can be anywhere from 1,200 feet tall to well over 5,000 feet tall, and the 46 tallest summits above 4,000 feet are called the High Peaks. Although four peaks were later discovered to measure less than 4,000 feet, they are still considered Adirondack High Peaks.
The highest of them all is Mount Marcy, towering 5,344 feet above sea level. It is one of the most distinctive features of the Adirondack landscape. Mount Marcy is home to Lake Tear of the Clouds, the highest lake in New York State at 4,292 feet, and the source of the Hudson River.
Forming the southernmost part of the Eastern forest-boreal transition eco-region, the Adirondacks are part of the largest boreal forest in the world. The word ‘Adirondack' is thought to be a derogatory term given to the Algonquin tribe by neighboring Mohawk, meaning "barkeaters." Often misspelled as Adirondak or Adriondack, a geologist, Ebenezer Emmons, named the region we know as the Adirondack Park in 1838. The park was first deemed Forever Wild in 1885 when New York State established the Forest Preserve, yet timber cutting was still allowed. To counteract clear cutting of the wild forests, and pollution of rivers and streams, New York State declared the Adirondack Park truly Forever Wild in 1894, prohibiting the sale of state land and the timber thereon. Often delineated by a blue line on maps, the Adirondack Park's 6 million acres of private and state-owned land is easily found on any map of New York State.
Without the continued threat of massive clear-cutting, forests of spruce, pine, white birch, maples, beech and hemlock have flourished. People flock to the region for the spectacular Adirondack fall foliage, boreal birds and native flora such as lady slippers and trillium. It is truly a wild place.
It took millennia to create the Adirondack Mountains. One of the first places to receive Forever Wild status in United States, these mountains have been cherished as an outdoor playground, accessible and open to all, for centuries. Whether you're a life-long resident or a first time visitor, the Adirondack Mountains are yours to explore.