Blue Ridge Wilderness

If the Adirondack Park has a wild heart, it must beat somewhere deep in the Blue Ridge Wilderness. This area, which is nearly 48,000 acres in size, barely misses the park’s geographic center, skewing just a short distance to the southwest of that mark. But in many ways it is the region’s quintessential wilderness: vast, serene, and much of it seemingly untouched.

There is no doubt this area is aptly named; Blue Ridge, the mountain, spans at least half the width of its namesake wilderness. This multi-summited massif is seldom visited, both because of its remoteness and its lack of views. For most visitors, the mountain is merely the backdrop to several of the scenic ponds in its northern foothills, lurking far beyond the reach of any trail.

The shape of the Blue Ridge Wilderness is somewhat peculiar, with a vast western half that tapers to near nothingness as it extends eastward, almost to the hamlet of Indian Lake. On a map it looks vaguely like a giant whale, its maw prepared to snap on poor Lake Kora. In more practical terms, this size differential means that the eastern and western ends of the wilderness also provide different experiences, as well as somewhat different forested environments.

Despite its central location within the Adirondack Park, the Blue Ridge Wilderness is often overlooked by hikers, backpackers, and people of the sporting variety. Even the team of park planners who proposed the first wilderness areas in 1962 overlooked it at first; its potential was not recognized until a few years later. But this low-key nature is perhaps one of the Blue Ridge Wilderness Area’s best assets, for except at a few key locations solitude is a very good possibility.

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Blue Ridge Wilderness at a Glance

Size: 47,848 acres

First Designated: 1972

Unit Management Plan Status: Completed in 2006; draft amendment proposed in 2018

Special Regulations: None; standard Forest Preserve regulations are in effect

The western half of the wilderness falls predominantly in Township 6 of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase. William West Durant acquired this township in 1888 and sold most of it to the state a few years later, its forests still in their native, virgin condition. The tract contained many thousands of acres of broad valleys forested with dark, boreal stands of balsam fir and red spruce, with enormous white pines that were often double the size of their neighbors.

This remained one of the largest stands of virgin timber in the Adirondacks until 1950, when a November hurricane devastated the North Country and leveled many of these noble stands. In a controversial decision, the state attorney general authorized the old Conservation Department – precursor to the modern DEC – to conduct salvage operations on the Forest Preserve to remove the fallen timber. In doing so, the AG cited the fire hazard posed by the destroyed trees to the remaining forests and surrounding communities. Fortunately, plenty of tall pines and old-growth acreage still remain in this region, but the keen observer might otherwise be puzzled by the presence of tote road traces in an otherwise mature forest.

The eastern half of the wilderness falls within Township 34, which has a decidedly different provenance. The tract was logged several times, including operations conducted by James Ordway beginning in 1863. Durant purchased the tract in 1888 and also harvested trees to provide building materials for his elaborate Great Camps. The state acquired this land in 1906.

Both halves of the Blue Ridge region have notable wilderness values, but those of the western region can be through the roof, so to speak. This area has a few well-worn trails around its periphery, enough to tease the visitor into thinking they have actually seen all there is to see – while beyond lies a valley nearly two miles wide and so difficult to access that few people venture into it.

Most of the more familiar destinations are found in the eastern half, and most of them are reached with modest effort. The ponds here are small but quite attractive, each with its own character. By the time you work your way eastward to Sprague Pond and Sawyer Mountain, in the tail of the Blue Ridge Wilderness, the forest is not much more than a mile wide.

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