Siamese Ponds Wilderness

The Siamese Ponds region is the Adirondack Park’s quintessential wilderness area: vast in size, diverse in both terrain and forest cover, and available to explore at any time of the year. Everything a wilderness should possess can be found here, and it seems impossible to ever tire of exploring this place.

Like the four other largest protected areas in the Adirondacks – High Peaks, West Canada Lake, Five Ponds, and Silver Lake – the Siamese Ponds Wilderness far exceeds the size of any National Forest wilderness in the Eastern U.S. While not quite a superlative area like the High Peaks region, it is based on the same foundation of anorthosite bedrock. It is also a land of extremes, with numerous high, densely-forested summits that few people visit, divided by wide valleys through which flow a vein-like network of wild streams. Elevations top out over 3400 feet but dip to nearly 1000 feet above sea level.

Named for the pair of large ponds located at dead center, this wilderness features nearly a hundred bodies of water. The name “Siamese Ponds” is probably an indirect reference to Chang and Eng Bunker, the famous conjoined twins who made a living touring the U.S. in the decades before the Civil War. Perhaps a dam on Lower Siamese Pond once raised the water level enough to “conjoin” it with its upper neighbor, but the ponds today are neither joined together nor exactly twins. They are merely close neighbors, shaped somewhat like a bird of prey swooping fast after a scurrying rodent.

Rather, one might say the Siamese Ponds Wilderness is itself a near-twin to the Silver Lake Wilderness to the southwest. Both are prominent headwater regions in the Sacandaga watershed, and each wilderness includes an entire branch of that mighty river – the West Branch for one, and the East Branch here. The two wilderness areas are similar in size and forest cover, and their mountains reach to about the same heights.

What makes the Siamese Ponds Wilderness distinctive, though, is its trail network, which is far more robust than that found in the Silver Lake region. An intriguing network of trails spans the northern half of the area, and all but one access point is maintained for public use year-round. These trails climb mountains and prowl alongside the ponds; they form companions to the East Branch Sacandaga River and sniff out the courses of old wagon roads. A few are marked as ski trails, but all provide good service to hikers and backpackers.

And to those people for whom solitude is a hard requirement: fear not! The trail network described above only hints at the full potential of this wilderness; much more waits to be found in the farthest reaches of the forest.

Please click through the tabs below to learn more about the Siamese Ponds Wilderness.

Siamese Ponds Wilderness at a Glance

Size: 112,883 acres

First Designated: 1972

Unit Management Plan Status: Completed in 2005, amended in 2017

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

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The Siamese Ponds Wilderness has it all, with ponds, mountains, and streams distributed evenly throughout. None of these may be the “biggest” or the “highest,” but all of it adds to the mosaic of wildness.

One of the most visible features is the East Branch Sacandaga River; every inch of this mighty, 24-mile-long stream either flows through or along the edge of the wilderness. Only a single highway bridge spans the river at the historic hamlet of Griffin; elsewhere there are only footbridges, and not many at that. The East Branch is easily the largest river in the area, with two distinctive gorges along its course. One of the most scenic trails follows the river for a few miles west of Eleventh Mountain, but one doesn’t need to hike to enjoy its charms – some 12 miles or so are easily viewed while driving the two-lane NY 8.

A far more reclusive stream sneaks its way across the western boundary of the wilderness. The Kunjamuk River begins its journey as the outlet of one of the remotest ponds in the Adirondacks, and for seven miles it flows through country few people see before entering the Speculator Tree Farm to the southwest.

There are numerous other streams as well, including a series of parallel brooks in the southern half of the wilderness that flow through deep mountain valleys. The most notable of these are Shanty Brook and County Line Brook with their distinctive cascades.

The ponds seem to get bigger as one traverses the wilderness from south to north. Those in the southern reaches are quite small, such as the trio of tarns known as the Buckhorn Ponds. The ponds stretched across the central zone are more moderate in size — think Long, Siamese, and Second ponds in this case.

But two relatively large bodies of water frame the northern half of the wilderness. Kings Flow is a man-made lake, probably dating to the logging days and still half-filled with rotting stumps. Thirteenth Lake (named for the historic tract in which it falls, Township 13) is the largest of all. Neither of these lakes is entirely within the wilderness, but while private property strategically controls access to Kings Flow, there is a short and universally-accessible trail to Thirteenth Lake, making this spot a popular wilderness gateway.

A few backcountry ponds have what might be called iconic mountain backdrops, and some are protected trout waters. But every single one seems to have at least one thing in common: spend too much time swimming in any pond in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness and you are certain to draw the attention of leeches.

Like the ponds and streams, the mountains in this region come in a variety of sizes. But while there are several high summits within the wilderness boundaries – Puffer, Bullhead, parts of Gore – it’s the mid-sized peaks that are the most notable. Peaked Mountain is exactly what its name promises, and Chimney Mountain is indeed capped with a column of rock (and riven with the largest concentration of natural caves in the Adirondack Park). The Long Pond Cliffs, Shanty Cliffs, and Pine Peak all resemble small mountains that have been split open by cataclysmic forces.

Forest quality throughout the area is mostly good, except within the footprints of the major historic sites. This wilderness excels at the “northern mixed hardwood” forest type, much of it in better condition than the area’s logging and tannery history would have one believe. Forest fires did scorch the fringes of the wilderness, but the interior is an unbroken expanse of mature forest.

One section of forest in the western wing of the wilderness deserves a special mention. The broad valley of the Kunjamuk River was once a pocket of stately elm trees, a species that was hit hard by an invasive disease a century ago. But the elms were not completely wiped from the landscape; the forest here is still rich with young specimens, maintaining their historic foothold within the backcountry.

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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