July 2019 - HIKING
Little Woodhull Lake
By Bill Ingersoll
It was about 20 years ago that I first discovered this gem. My first visit to Little Woodhull Lake was in April 1998, but it was the following summer that something about this place clicked with me. At the time, I was not yet a guidebook writer, and I was still free to settle on a favorite place and return as often as I liked – as opposed to being motivated to continuously explore new places.
For me, the appeal of this place was its proximity to my home in Oneida County. The drive to the trailhead took about 40 minutes, and the 3.2-mile-long trail was just the right length for a weekend hike.
An additional bonus in those days was that solitude was virtually guaranteed, because the physical state of the trail was one of abandonment. It had once been a local snowmobile trail, but as the snowmobile riders lost interest in winding woodland trails, this route fell into utter disuse.
Twenty years later, conditions are noticeably better. The trail has been reclassified as a foot trail, and it is kept in decent shape. Entries in the register box show that more people do visit Little Woodhull today, but I have yet to meet any of them.
The trail to Little Woodhull Lake is very pleasant for hiking and skiing. It mostly follows the route of an old logging road, probably constructed over 60 years ago when fallen timber was salvaged from the Forest Preserve after a 1950 hurricane. In terms of scenery, I could recommend a dozen or two Adirondack ponds that are far more photogenic, but in all honesty the only thing lacking here is a mountainous backdrop.
North Lake Road runs northeast through the center of the Black River Wild Forest. From the hamlet of Forestport, turn east off NY Route 28 at the exit for Woodhull Road, near the bridge over Forestport Pond. Continue east for 1.2 miles to Forestport Station, where the tracks of the Adirondack Railroad cross at an intersection. Ahead of you, past the Buffalo Head Restaurant, North Lake Road veers left and ascends toward the high plateau of the western Adirondack foothills.
The Little Woodhull Lake trailhead is on the left side of North Lake Road at 13.3 miles, just as the road pitches down a short slope. There is ample parking at a larger turnout 100 feet up the road on the right.
Starting northwest, with a short ascent past trail signs and a campsite, the trail follows an old road through a tall hardwood forest. The trail levels, and then rises gently again after walking for 10 minutes. Keep an eye out for an old iron culvert and some wooden corduroy along the way, which are signs of the trail’s age.
At 1.3 miles, after about 30 minutes of walking, the trail makes a sharp turn to the right. Old blowdown in this area was likely caused by a storm that touched down at multiple locations near here in 1984. The old road continues straight for a short distance toward a wetland on Otter Brook, and if there weren’t signs and markers to indicate the correct turn, then this could be a confusing place.
Bearing right, you quickly pass out of the blowdown and cross Otter Brook, which is just a small woodland stream. Beyond, you begin to find huge hemlocks growing very close to the trail.
At 2.4 miles, or an hour from North Lake Road, the trail nears the edge of a wetland. Once, the trail led out left through the marsh grass to follow this major inlet of Little Woodhull Lake. As scenic as that was, it was a poor location for a trail. Now, it keeps to the coniferous woods south of the wetland on a hilly detour. The trail is narrow and winding for the next 0.6-mile to an intersection next to the creek, three miles from the road. A red-marked trail crosses the stream on rocks and continues on to the Sand Lake Falls Trail. In the near future, the North Country National Scenic Trail may follow that route, but in the meantime few people make that right turn.
A yellow-marked foot trail bears left and continues to follow the inlet quite closely. It dips sharply to stream-level, and then winds through a dark spruce-fir forest, before ending at 3.2 miles near the point where the inlet flows into the lake. There is an opening here, which is a pleasant place to sit and picnic, but it is a poor place to camp. (Note that as of May 2018, the pond’s high-water level was flooding a portion of the trail at this location.)
From this vantage you will have a view over much of the lake. There is a large beaver lodge not too far away, and you will find that these waterways are a haven for a variety of aquatic plants and wildlife. Little Woodhull Lake is shallow, and in the summer months thick mats of vegetation rise to the surface. In July you will find colonies of pickerelweed in bloom, as well as white and yellow pond lilies. The latter are scattered all across the lake. When the weather gets colder much of this vegetation disappears, leaving behind an open expanse of water.
Bushwhacking around Little Woodhull Lake is difficult, but such a beautiful place deserves further exploration. The long, narrow outlet is surrounded by acres of varied wetlands with a sculpture garden of dead standing timber, amidst the shrubs and grasses. Large rocks and bleached logs interrupt the swampy shoreline, and wildlife abounds. Winter travelers, of course, will find the going easier and may wish to go further and explore Lily Lake to the northwest. At their nearest point, the two ponds are separated by less than 200 feet of land.
Bill Ingersoll of Barneveld is publisher of the Discover the Adirondacks guidebook series (hiketheadirondacks.com). For more information on this region, consult Discover the Southwestern Adirondacks.