Tips for Hiking During Mud Season in the Adirondacks

Thursday, May 7, 2020
By: Julia Goren - Adirondack Council Director of Vision Project

“Mud, mud, I love mud. I’m absolutely, positively, wild about mud.
Can’t go around it, gotta go through it.
Beautiful, fabulous, super-duper MUD!
— Rick Charette, songwriter

This spring is unlike any other. Usually, as the days lengthen and the quality of the light changes, I know that soon enough, I’ll be hitting the trail to hike, look for wildflowers, listen for returning birds, and enjoy the view from my favorite summits. But this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives, even how we get outside. 

There are a few core recommendations for safely getting outside from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the Leave No Trace Center

  • First, consider your health. If you or someone in your household is sick, stay home.
  • Recreate local, if you wouldn't make the trip on a normal week-day, consider something closer.
  • Expect closures. Many parks, facilities, public bathrooms, campgrounds, and businesses are closed. Plan accordingly. 
  • Follow state and federal guidelines for avoiding the spread. Stay 6 feet from anyone else on the trail, wear a mask on your face, etc. 
  • Choose less difficult and remote recreation. Rescue personnel and supplies are being utilized in other areas right now, backcountry rescues endanger you and the rescuers.
  • Follow the Leave No Trace principles, as always pack out what you bring in, be considerate of other visitors... and so on.

Other COVID-19 Considerations

  • Wear a mask or bandana around your neck, and be sure to wear it when other hikers pass.
  • When passing other hikers on the trail, carefully step off the trail (on a durable surface if possible) to remain at a social distance.
  • Avoid challenging and remote trails, such as the High Peaks to relieve pressure on personnel. 
  • Respect firetower and other closures.
  • Staying local is important, if you need to stop for food or gas, you're putting yourself and others at risk. 

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/mud-season/ADK Mud Season.jpg

Mud Season Considerations

Many things are closed and canceled due to COVID-19, but not mud season in the Adirondacks. In the Northcountry, mud season occurs between the beginning of April and the beginning of June. (Exact dates vary depending on aspect, elevation, and the weather.) Sunshine thaws the surface, but it takes time for the frozen ground below to soften. Snowmelt and rainwater can’t seep into the frozen ground, so the surface essentially turns to a muddy soup.

Why Trails Are at Risk

For trails and hikers both, this is a problem. Trails are tremendously fragile at this time; walking on these muddy surfaces accelerates soil erosion, quickly turning a trail into an eroded gully. Hikers often seek to skirt the muddy spots by walking around the edge.

Doing so causes the mud pit to grow wider and wider, injuring the plants growing along the edge of the trail and causing irreparable damage to the trail itself. The harm done to trails at this time is so significant that many areas are subject to trail closures, both mandatory and voluntary. For example, the NYSDEC usually issues a trail closure and requests that hikers stay below 2,500 feet elevation. It is very important hikers respect this recommendation, even if they think conditions are “fine,” as conditions may change drastically from the trailhead. 

What You Can Do

As hikers, there’s a lot we can do to protect the trails at this time of year by following the Leave No Trace principle: Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. We can stay on the durable, or erosion-resistant surfaces, by sticking to drier trails. The DEC has a list of alternative hikes recommended during mud season hikes that are equally as beautiful that will keep your feet a little drier and our trails in better condition.

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/mud-season/Mud season.jpg

General Tips for Hiking During Mud Season 

When we encounter mud, we can make sure to walk directly through the center of the trail, wearing waterproof boots and gaiters to keep our feet dry. If there are stepping stones or bog bridges available, use them. 

Remember that mud-soaked boots are slippery, so expect to hike a little slower when it’s muddy. You might find trekking poles especially helpful when it’s muddy. I always throw a spare pair of socks in my backpack, so that even if my feet do get wet, I can have dry feet.

...Or, Not Hiking During Mud Season!

Personally, I think mud season is a fine time to ride my road bike, clean my yard, and start prepping my garden. It’s a great time to start planning ahead and preparing for future adventures, with maps and guidebooks spread across my dining room. If I go hiking, I’ll visit areas where I know the trails are less busy, drier and less fragile. Or, I’ll put on my rain boots, and, with my five-year-old son, go stomping in the puddles in our back yard. Especially this year, I know the summits will be waiting for me when the trails are dry and it's safer to do so, I’ll look forward to exploring them.

If we can all do our part to help protect each other and our trails during this especially difficult spring, by staying away from high elevation and muddy trails, wearing the proper footwear and making good choices, we’ll all enjoy better trails in the future.


Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/staff-headshots/Casey_Marvel2.jpgJulia joined the Adirondack Council staff in 2018 as the Director of the Adirondack Vision Project, a thirty-year strategic vision for the future. Julia holds an MS in Environmental Studies from Antioch University New England. Her previous work includes fourteen years with the Adirondack Mountain Club overseeing the Education Department and High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program, as an educator with the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, and as an interpreter and trail crew member. Julia loves hiking, skiing, paddling, working on the perfect backcountry cup of coffee, and meandering through the woods with her family.

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