Jessup River Wild Forest

The Jessup River Wild Forest is less a landscape unto itself, and more an association of Forest Preserve fragments sprawled along the NY 30 corridor from Wells to Indian Lake. Never remote, these lands nevertheless contain some outstanding features, with trails that range from enormously popular to barely known.

Its size rivals – and often exceeds – that of several protected wilderness areas, but there is no mistaking this discontinuous string of wild parcels as a connected landscape. The Jessup River Wild Forest consists of three major blocks of land, as well as a variety of isolated parcels. The largest “chunks” occur near Wells, Piseco, and Indian Lake, and none of it is far from a paved highway. In a way, these are the “leftover” lands orphaned after the creation of the adjacent Silver Lake, Siamese Ponds, West Canada Lake, and Blue Ridge wilderness areas.

But describing the Jessup River area as “surplus” undersells the outstanding quality of its forests, as well as its often rugged terrain. This is hardly a no man’s land, made up of scraps and wastes. Nor is it merely a backdrop to one of the most scenic state highways in the Adirondacks. This is a mature forest, much of it having been in state ownership since the 1890s, with boundaries that preserve many outstanding features.

If a designated Wild Forest, as defined by the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, is intended to represent the less remote (and therefore more accessible) portions of the Forest Preserve, few such areas meet these expectations as well as Jessup River. One could quibble over some of the details of its boundaries, but for the most part the Wild Forest classification is well-earned. With parcels that bracket some of Hamilton County’s busiest hamlets, these lands offer recreational opportunities not available in the adjacent Wilderness areas.

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Jessup River Wild Forest at a Glance

Size: 47,350 acres

First Designated: 1972

Unit Management Plan Status: Completed in 2006, with amendments in 2010, 2015, and 2017

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

Documents

The Jessup River rises from an obscure point in the West Canada Lake Wilderness and then flows eastward through the managed timberlands of Perkins Clearing. Its waters spend very little time in the river’s namesake Wild Forest, and somewhat surprisingly not a single mile is covered by the state’s system of Wild, Scenic, and Recreational rivers. But what has been protected is a stunning section of wild waterway, bisected by the short bridge carrying NY 30. Most of it is navigable by canoes and kayaks, though recreational usage is light.

Other features make a bigger impression, though. These include Indian Lake, a reservoir with a shoreline mostly in state ownership; the summit of Snowy Mountain, the highest in the Adirondack Park south of the High Peaks; and Fawn Lake, a large backcountry pond located just a short walk away from the county seat.

Snowy Mountain is not entirely within the Jessup River Wild Forest; its southern slopes (including the distinctive slides and scars visible from NY 30) fall within the West Canada Lake Wild Forest, and the northern slopes remain privately owned (though protected by a state-held conservation easement). Only a wedge on the eastern side of this 3899-foot mountain fall within the Wild Forest, but this includes the summit itself, and particularly the century-old fire tower overlooking Indian Lake.

The state acquired most of the lands in the Snowy Mountain Range in a single transaction in 1897, and judging by the current condition of this part of the forest it seems unlikely that much logging occurred prior to that date. The purchase was part of a deal made with Glens Falls loggers that permitted the companies to construct the dam at Indian Lake to regulate the flow of the Hudson River.

Although not entirely within the Jessup River Wild Forest, manmade Indian Lake is nevertheless its largest body of water. Named (indirectly) for Sabael Benedict, an Abenaki who fought in the American Revolution, this lake is often overlooked by paddlers, even though it is among the Adirondack Park’s most scenic large lakes. Like Middle Saranac Lake many miles to the north, Indian Lake is surrounded by large mountains, with a shoreline managed as though it were a campground; for a modest fee, boaters can reserve specific campsites. The fluctuating water levels may turn off some wilderness purists, but the lake is an underrated gem.

Mason Lake and Fawn Lake or more traditional bodies of water. The former is a scenic waypoint along NY 30, and the latter is a popular hiking and snowmobiling destination near Lake Pleasant. Dunning Pond near Gilmantown anchors the southernmost portion of the Jessup River Wild Forest.

A core parcel centered on Mason Lake was part of the original Forest Preserve and was likely never logged. But even if much of the remaining forest doesn’t technically qualify as “old growth,” it is nevertheless a noteworthy addition to the Forest Preserve, in public ownership for well over a century. Part of this acreage was ceded to International Paper in 1983 as part of a voter-approved land exchange, mostly to consolidate the state’s holdings in the nearby West Canada Lake region. But thousands of acres of primeval forest remain, much as it has since the last ice age. The observant explorer may even notice a few mature elm trees – rare survivors of an arboreal disease that has decimated this species across North America.

All photos © Bill Ingersoll. Site visitors are permitted to download an unlimited number of images from our website for personal, educational, scientific, or professional use only, with attribution. Commercial use and further distribution of images is prohibited without express written permission.

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