February 2017 - XC SKIING & SNOWSHOEING
Open Spaces in Saratoga County
Interesting and Scenic Ski Destinations
By Rich Macha
Saratoga County is sometimes referred to as “The Gateway to the Adirondacks.” In fact, the county’s northwest sector is actually in the Adirondack Park and includes its highest point, Hadley Mountain. Population-wise, Saratoga is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation and now numbers close to a quarter million residents. Thanks to organizations like Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land And Nature), a private non-profit conservation organization, there has been a strong movement to preserve open spaces within the county to counter the suburban sprawl.
For cross country skiers and snowshoers, the natural areas and forests of Saratoga County have provided for places that fall somewhere between the groomed trails at the touring centers and the wild backcountry trails of the Adirondacks. For decades now, folks have been skiing places like the Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park, Saratoga National Historical Park, Saratoga Spa State Park, and the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve – whether you desire to ski an hour or several hours these open spaces provide for some interesting and often scenic destinations.
Some very attractive natural areas that might be of interest to skiers and snowshoers have been opened up in more recent times, a sampling of which follows.
Hennig Preserve and Homestead County Forest – Opened by Saratoga PLAN in 2011, the Hennig Preserve offers close to ten miles of trails over its 606 acres. The preserve is located in the town of Providence, about 15 miles west of Saratoga Springs. There is usually a small area of roadside parking plowed out on Centerline Road a half-mile east of Glenwild Road.
Trail maps can be found at most junctions so it is hard to get lost – you can also see a map and get more information at saratogaplan.org. The area is at elevations of over 1,300 feet, so you are likely to find more snow here than in the lower-lying urban areas – I found 15 inches here in December when Albany had no snow at all.
The trails north of Centerline Road offer novice (yellow and red trails) to intermediate (white and blue trails) skiing. The Upper Yellow Trail passes a cellar hole and well and slowly rises to the high point of the preserve at over 1,600 feet elevation. The Red Loop Trail leads to Round Pond which lies amidst a large open meadow. The Lower White Trail also overlooks a beaver meadow and the Upper White Trail climbs atop an esker – a ridge made of debris left behind by a sub-glacial stream thousands of years ago. Note that the white trail markers might be hard to spot when wind-driven snow is plastered to the sides of trees.
Good intermediate skiing can be found south of Centerline Road. The Green Trail drops down to Joby Creek. The Lower Yellow Trail connects to the Lower Blue Esker Trail which goes along the top of a steep-sided esker and through beautiful woods – by taking this loop clockwise you will be climbing the steepest and most-difficult-to-ski section of this trail rather than bombing down it.
As an added bonus, the adjacent 476 acre Homestead County Forest is found to the south and east of the Hennig Preserve. The 2.5-mile Lower Yellow Trail continues through this forest and loops back into the preserve, crossing Centerline Road a mile east of the main parking area. The Lower Yellow Trail has some lovely views of Cadman Creek and passes by some old mill sites along the way although they might be hidden when there is a lot of snow. Expect some short steep hills on this very scenic trail.
Lake Bonita and Lake Ann – Moreau Lake State Park is well-known to area residents. Easier skiing can be found in the main area of the park around its namesake lake. I have skied the ridge trails high up on the Palmertown Range but I would only recommend those trails to expert skiers.
A new area has been added to the southwest part of the park that includes Lake Bonita and Lake Ann. To get to the new trailhead take Exit 16 off the Adirondack Northway and drive west on Ballard Road; keep going straight on CR 101 (Corinth and Wilton Mountain roads); and look for the parking area on your right after driving four miles from the Northway. A trail map can be found at friendsofmoreaulake.org.
The trailhead is at about 1,000 feet elevation. The Lake Bonita Access Trail (white markers) drops 150 feet in 0.2 miles; halfway down there is a sharp right turn as the trail switches back from going west to east. If you make it down without too much difficulty then you have the skills to continue to Lake Ann. When I skied here in January there was too little snow on the 1.7-mile green trail that loops around Lake Bonita, so I just skied across the well-frozen surface of the lake. The ice should be sufficiently thick if you see ice fishermen or their footprints on the lake. Lake Bonita has several boggy islands – the tops of pitcher plants and sheep laurel can be seen above the snow. At the east end of the lake is a pump-house, a picnic table, and a bench with a view. The Lake Ann Trail (lavender markers) starts behind here.
The Lake Ann Trail was designed for mountain biking but also serves well as a ski trail. The trail starts by climbing away from Lake Bonita and soon reaches a spot where rocks have been piled at the edge of the trail to stabilize it – I took my skis off and walked this short section. The trail then continues winding through lovely hemlock woods with little under-story and passes some interesting rock ledges. About half way to Lake Ann the trail crosses a power line. The trail eventually joins an old woods road before reaching Lake Ann and its lopsided lean-to – a nice spot for lunch. It’s 1.2 miles from Lake Bonita, and at an elevation of 1,050 feet, Lake Ann is just a small pond with swampy shores in a fairly remote and peaceful location. With a ski of the perimeter of Lake Bonita on the way back I traveled a total of five miles.
Anchor Diamond Park at Hawkwood – Anchor Diamond Park is a new 246-acre natural area in the town of Ballston on Middleline Road, a short distance from NY Route 50, north of the hamlet of Burnt Hills – the large parking area is hard to miss. Good easy skiing can be had here on 4.5 miles of relatively flat trails. A trail map is at the entrance kiosk – I took a picture of the map for reference while I was out on the trails.
The wide Hawkwood Trail (white markers) goes along what used to be the main driveway into the Hawkwood Estate – the foundation of the mansion that burned down several decades ago can be seen to the right. Other trails loop off this main thoroughfare. The Hemlock Trail (yellow markers) takes you through hemlock and pine woods past an old fireplace and chimney.
In conclusion, we are fortunate to have a variety of quiet places close to urban areas that are open to passive recreation for those times that we don’t have the time or will to drive to the Adirondack High Peaks for some self-powered travel over snowy trails. Let’s hope for a snowy second half of winter!
Rich Macha is an avid backcountry skier and paddler who enjoys exploring the wild places of New York State. Rich has spent many years in the outdoors business and has led many trips for the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Albany Chapter.