The Adirondack Park

About the Adirondack Park

The Adirondack Park was created in 1892 by the state of New York. Containing six-million acres, the Park is the largest park in the contiguous United States. It covers one-fifth of New York State, is equal in size to neighboring Vermont, and is nearly three times the size of Yellowstone National Park!        

The Adirondack Park is best known for its expansive pristine forests, lakes, rivers, and outdoor recreation opportunities. Unlike a national park, the Adirondack Park has no entrance and no entry fee, as it not only contains public land, but private lands as well where people live year-round.

The Adirondack Park is unique in that it's a mix of private and state-owned land. This strategic model has allowed New York State to protect our beautiful forests while residents live and work in the Park and visitors enjoy exploring the Park’s lands and waters and experiencing its rural communities.

More than half of the Adirondack Park is private land, devoted principally Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/Park Map+Key 2016Web_small.jpg
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to the 105 towns and villages, farms, working forests, businesses, and communities. The Park is also home for 130,000 permanent and 200,000 seasonal residents and hosts 12.4 million visitors yearly. 

The remaining 45 percent of the Park is publicly-owned Forest Preserve, protected as “Forever Wild” by the NYS Constitution since 1894. These lands are one of only two constitutionally protected landscapes in the world.  

One-million acres of these public lands are protected as Wilderness, where non-mechanized recreation may be enjoyed. The majority of the public land (more than 1.3 million acres) is Wild Forest, where motorized uses are permitted on designated waters, roads and trails.

History of the Adirondacks  

The first users of this landscape were two Native American tribes, the Mohawks and the Algonquins. However, it is up for debate whether either tribe actually settled in the Adirondack mountains due to their harsh climate and rugged landscape. Nevertheless, the tribes did use the lands for hunting and fishing, and as a thoroughfare to other areas of the state.  In fact, it has been said that the word "Adirondack" means “Barkeater” or "those who eat trees" in the language of the Mohawks. It is assumed by many to be a pejorative term used to describe the Algonquins that settled to the North. Geologist Ebenezer Emmons officially named the region the "Adirondacks" in 1838.

The Adirondacks were also a major backdrop for the French and Indian War and later Revolutionary War. In fact, there are historical landmarks along the shores of Lake Champlain that still stand today.

The first European to visit the Adirondacks was Samuel De Champlain, and he discovered what is now Lake Champlain and the eastern border of the Adirondack Park. Slowly, colonization of the area began.

After the Revolutionary War, Adirondack lands were passed to the State of New York which then sold millions of acres to lumbermen with few restrictions to settle war debts. Initially, there weren’t many takers of this offerer, and the rest of the Adirondacks weren’t truly explored and settled until the 1830s. Once people took advantage of the virtually unlimited resources, a free-for-all lead to massive deforestation and overhunting of animals for food and fur.

After the 19th Century, great writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson published works that romanticized wilderness. This encouraged many city dwellers to retreat north to experience the outdoors. With the completion of a railroad that connected New York City and Quebec, travelers had easy access to the area for the first time. Enticed by the prospect of clean country air, droves of vacationers retreated to guest houses and great camps along Adirondack lakesides looking for a healthful and quiet retreat.

While tourism was climbing in the Adirondacks, valuable timber and water resources in the area were becoming degraded as mass deforestation was causing erosion and flooding. Downstate, this impacted valuable canal trade routes and drinking water. A prominent lawyer, Verplank Colvin, saw this destruction first hand and dedicated almost 30 years to surveying the area to catalog exactly what kind of natural resources existed. In 1873 he reported that deterioration of the watershed would in fact threaten the viability of the Erie Canal and he recommended the creation of a state Forest Preserve.

In 1894 the State of New York protected the Adirondack Park as “Forever Wild” under Article XIV of the New York State Constitution. This means that the public land is constitutionally protected from being sold or leased by the state.

After World War II, the construction of state highway I-87 or the “Adirondack Northway,”  changed the face of tourism in the Adirondacks. Tourists taste for hotel and motel accommodations over guest houses took precedence. The winter Olympics drew crowds when they were held in Lake Placid in 1932 and 1980. Now, the preference for a more personal stay has brought back bed and breakfasts, and more local home rental accommodations to fit the needs of those coming up to the Adirondacks for a visit.

Native Adirondack Wildlife   

There are 53 known species of mammals, 35 species of reptiles and amphibians and countless birds, insects and fish that live in the Adirondacks.  Some of the most iconic animals that live in the Adirondacks include: Moose, Bald Eagle, Common Loon, River Otter, Black Bear, Coywolves and Coyotes, Bobcat, Deer, and Beaver.

Landscapes, Forests and Flora  

While the rocks making up the Adirondack region are about one-billion years old, the mountains are relatively young. They are always growing too, as subsurface rock rises from the combined forces of friction between the continental and oceanic plates, and the relief of downward pressure that now-melted glaciers once imposed.  Unlike other mountain ranges in a long strip, the Adirondack mountains form a circular dome of mountains.  

The Adirondacks are part of the largest Boreal Forest in the world meaning it contains mostly pines, spruces, and larches. Old growth forests cover more than 100,000 acres of public land in the Park. Nearly 60 percent of the Park is covered in northern hardwood forest.

The western and southern Adirondacks are gentle landscapes of hills, lakes, wetlands, ponds, and streams. The northeast section of the Park is the highest in elevation and contains the High Peaks region. Forty-three of the high peaks rise above 4,000 feet and 11 have alpine summits that rise above the timberline. The eastern section of the Adirondacks borders Lake Champlain and the state of Vermont and is mostly composed of smaller mountains and valleys, which is popular for agriculture.

Miles of Pure Waters  

The Adirondacks include the headwaters of five major drainage basins. Lake Champlain and the Hudson, Black, St. Lawrence, and Mohawk Rivers all draw water from the Adirondack Park. Adirondack forests and wetlands filter and provide clean water for communities as far as New York City!  

Within the Adirondack Park are more than 2,800 lakes and ponds, and more than 1,500 miles of rivers, fed by an estimated 30,000 miles of brooks and streams.  

Tourism and Recreation  

It's estimated that seven to 12.4 million people visit the Adirondacks each year. That's more than the Grand Canyon! Many Adirondack towns serve as year-round destinations for those seeking outdoor adventure sports or just a weekend away.  

Some of the most popular destinations for visitors are Old Forge, Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, and Lake George. But there are many other Adirondack communities that make an amazing weekend getaway such as the town of Newcomb, Tupper Lake, Inlet, Speculator, and Schroon Lake.  

Visitors travel to the Adirondacks year round to enjoy many recreational activities including hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, ice skating, boating, canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, and bird watching. Before recreating in the Adirondack Park, make sure to learn about and follow Leave No Trace and NYSDEC rules and regulations.


The Adirondack Council is the largest Adirondack advocacy group working full time in the Adirondack Park and in Albany with members in all 50 states and some even around the globe. Through public education and advocacy for the protection of the Park’s ecological integrity and wild character, the Adirondack Council advises policymakers on ways to safeguard this last remaining great expanse of open space. 

Learn more on how you can help advocate for the Adirondack Park by becoming an advocate for the Adirondacks or by donating today.

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