July 2016 - Hiking & Paddling
Exploring the Boreas Ponds
By Bill Ingersoll
This spring, New York State closed on one of the most anticipated land acquisitions of our times: the 20,758-acre Boreas Ponds Tract located between North Hudson and Newcomb. Since the purchase was announced, the main question that has been on many people’s mind is how to best access this new addition to the Forest Preserve.
Currently, the answer to that question is by foot. Much of the publicity leading up to the purchase portrayed Boreas Ponds as a paddling destination, and many people assumed there would be road access to facilitate this form of recreation. So far there is no indication the gates will be opened, however, and this means that anyone who is eager to experience this stunning place will first need to lace up his or her hiking boots.
Having been to Boreas Ponds in this fashion, I can attest that the hike is a rather brisk and enjoyable one. The total distance from the trailhead to the dam that creates the ponds is 6.6 miles. True, this distance is entirely along a gravel road, but the quality of this road improves significantly as you progress further into the backcountry. You can breeze right along, reaching the outlet in little more than two hours’ hiking time.
Note that this is an interim management period for the Boreas Ponds Tract. Several hunting clubs will remain through 2018, and members have rights to use the roads and surrounding trails. Public access is by foot only - bicycles, horses, and vehicles are prohibited. At large camping is permitted, but there are no designated campsites; be sure your site is 150 feet from the nearest water, road or trail. There is no access to any of the hunting camps.
The trailhead is located on Boreas Road, which is also called Blue Ridge Road. Follow Interstate 87 to North Hudson and take Exit 29. Turn west onto the county road and follow it for 7.3 miles to the start Gulf Brook Road on the right. You can drive this gravel lane for 400 feet to a small parking area just before the gate.
Gulf Brook Road to Boreas Ponds
The continuing road beyond the gate is wide and obvious, surrounded by a young forest that has a long way to go before reaching maturity. A climb of 470 feet begins almost immediately, but this ascent - the most notable on the entire route - is protracted over 1.9 miles. The road descends to the northwest and winds past a large clearing or two, as well as a pair of hunting camps, until reaching a second gate at 3.1 miles. It may take only an hour to reach this spot.
Beyond the gate, Gulf Brook Road becomes a wonderful hiking route. The area was logged in the past, yes, but the woods are mature enough to form a canopy over much of the way. You first traverse along the southern foot of Boreas Mountain, and then switch to the north side of an unnamed hill. Given a little bit of time, this portion will revert to an excellent trail.
You round a corner of the hill, and then the first water body comes into view through the trees to the right. The road descends to meet it at 5.6 miles, where a steel crib structure on the Boreas River backs up a small pond called LaBier Flow. The view of Boreas Mountain to the northeast is outstanding! Unless you are wheeling a canoe on a cart, you can be here in less than two hours.
Boreas Ponds is still a mile away. Continue along the road to a four-way junction at 5.7 miles, where you should turn right. The next cabin that you pass was once part of a lumber camp dating to the 1890s, if not earlier. You pass another corner of LaBier Flow, and at 6.6 miles you arrive at the gravel dam that creates Boreas Ponds.
The dam might lack the romance of a wilderness destination, but the view lives up to all of the hype. As you move from one end of the causeway to the other, your eye follows the tortuous ridgeline of the Great Range, from Sawteeth to Gothics, Saddleback, Basin, Haystack, and Mount Marcy. The presence of Skylight and Allen seems almost gratuitous.
Canoes can easily be launched here, but land-bound explorers will need to head off-trail to seek out other vistas. I know of at least one campsite on the shores of Boreas Ponds; it is located on the southeast shore of the lobe known as Second Pond, near the end of a long peninsula. There you will find a campfire ring and some uneven ground that seems to be as good a place to camp as any. Much of the shoreline is either thickly wooded or wet and marshy, so additional camping opportunities are sure to be limited.
One of the bonuses of the Boreas Ponds Tract is Ragged Mountain, which looms a short distance above the trailhead. The summit is thickly wooded, but open ledges at the southern end of the mountain offer outstanding views of the Hoffman Notch Wilderness.
Follow Gulf Brook Road for 0.7 mile, partway up the initial climb. Look for a side trail leading right (southwest) into the woods. This is an ATV trail that passes through a logged forest to the foot of the mountain and climbs 330 feet in 0.4 mile to a saddle on the mountain. The main summit complex is above you to the left; there is at least one hidden view up there, but the best and most accessible ledges are a short distance to your right.
Leave the ATV trail and bushwhack southwest through glades and pockets of brambles. There is no trick to finding the ledges; just head to the highest ground and look for the openings, 0.1 mile from the trail. There is not one ledge to find, but several. The main vista encompasses a long stretch of Boreas Road, bracketed by Hoffman Mountain on the left to a distant Vanderwhacker Mountain on the right. One ledge, a little harder to find, extends the view northward past Boreas Mountain all the way to Nippletop.
Bill Ingersoll of Barneveld is publisher of the Discover the Adirondack’s guidebook series (hiketheadirondacks.com). For more on this region, consult Discover theAdirondack High Peaks.