Mountains in northeastern New York state, U.S. They extend south from the St. Lawrence River valley and Lake Champlain to the Mohawk River valley. The Adirondack region covers more than 6 million acres (2.4 million hectares). It has more than 40 summits higher than 4,000 ft (1,219 m); the tallest, Mount Marcy (5,344 ft [1,629 m]), is the state's highest. Samuel de Champlain became the first European to sight the Adirondacks in 1609. The area was sparsely settled when in 1892 the state legislature created Adirondack Park, which has grown over the years to become, at more than 5 million acres (2 million hectares), the largest U.S. state or national park outside of Alaska.
Learn more about Adirondack Mountains with a free trial on Britannica.com.
The Adirondack Mountains are a mountain range located in the northeastern part of New York, that runs through Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, Saint Lawrence, Saratoga, Warren, and Washington counties.
The mountains are often included by geographers in the Appalachian Mountains, but they are geologically more similar to the Laurentian Mountains of Canada. They are bordered on the east by Lake Champlain and Lake George, which separate them from the Green Mountains in Vermont. They are bordered to the south by the Mohawk Valley, and to the west by the Tug Hill Plateau, separated by the Black River. This region is south of the Saint Lawrence River.
The Adirondacks do not form a connected range, but is an eroded dome consisting of many summits, isolated or in groups, often with little apparent order. There are over one hundred summits, ranging from under 1200 to over 5000 feet (370 m to 1500 m) in altitude; the highest peak, Mount Marcy (sometimes also called Tahawus, although that was never its true name), at 5344 ft (1629 m), is near the eastern part of the group.
Other noted High Peaks include:
There are many fans of the Adirondack Mountains who make an effort to climb all of the original 46 mountains (and most go on to climb MacNaughton as well), and there is a Forty Sixers club for those who have successfully reached each of these peaks. Twenty of the 46 remain trailless, so climbing them requires bushwhacking or following herd paths to the top.
The mountains consist primarily of metamorphic rocks, mainly gneiss, surrounding a central core of intrusive igneous rocks, most notably anorthosite, in the high peaks region. These crystalline rocks are a lobe of the Precambrian Grenville Basement rock complex and represent the southernmost extent of the Canadian Shield, a cratonic expression of igneous and metamorphic rock 880 million to 1 billion years in age that covers most of eastern and northern Canada and all of Greenland. Although the rocks are ancient, the uplift that formed the Adirondack dome has occurred within the last 5 million years — relatively recent in geologic time — and is ongoing. The dome itself is roughly circular, approximately 160 miles (260 km) in diameter and about one mile (1.6 km) high. The uplift is almost completely surrounded by Palaeozoic strata which lap up on the sides of the underlying basement rocks.
The rate of uplift in the Adirondack dome is the subject of some debate, but in order to have the rocks which constitute the Adirondacks rise from the depth where they were formed to their present height, within the last 20 million years, an uplift rate of 1-3mm a year is required. This rate is greater than the rate of erosion in the region today and is considered a fairly high rate of movement. Earthquakes in the region have exceeded 5 on the Richter scale.
The mountains form the drainage divide between the Hudson watershed and the Great Lakes Basin/St. Lawrence River watershed. On the south and south-west the waters flow either directly into the Hudson, which rises in the center of the group, or else reach it through the Mohawk River. On the north and east the waters reach the St. Lawrence by way of Lakes George and Champlain, and on the west they flow directly into that stream or reach it through Lake Ontario. The tiny Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds, nestled in the heart of the High Peaks area between Mt. Marcy and Skylight, is considered to be the source of the mighty Hudson. The most important streams within the area are the Hudson, Black, Oswegatchie, Grasse, Raquette, Saranac, Schroon and Ausable River rivers.
The region was once covered, with the exception of the higher summits, by the Laurentian Glacier, whose erosion, while perhaps having little effect on the larger features of the country, has greatly modified it in detail, producing lakes and ponds, whose number is said to exceed 1300, and causing many falls and rapids in the streams. Among the larger lakes are Lake George, The Fulton Chain, the Upper and Lower Saranac, Big and Little Tupper, Schroon, Placid, Long, Raquette and Blue Mountain. The region known as the Adirondack Wilderness, or the Great North Woods, embraces between 5000 and 6000 square miles (13,000 km² and 16,000 km²) of mountain, lake, plateau and forest.
Mining was once a significant industry in the Adirondacks. The region is rich in magnetic iron ores, which were mined for many years. Other mineral products are graphite, garnet used as an abrasive, pyrite, wollastonite, and zinc ore. There is also a great quantity of titanium, which was mined extensively.
The name "Adirondacks" is an Anglicized version of the Mohawk ratirontaks, meaning "they eat trees", a derogatory name which the Mohawk historically applied to neighboring Algonquian-speaking tribes; when food was scarce, the Algonquians would eat the buds and bark of trees.
The word carries stress on the third syllable: [ədɪˈɾɔndəks]. A common nickname for the area is "Dacks" or "Dax". Also see the (Blue Line)
The mountain peaks are usually rounded and easily scaled. There used to be many railroads in the region but most are no longer functioning. The surface of many of the lakes lies at an elevation above 1500 ft (450 m); their shores are usually rocky and irregular, and the wild scenery within their vicinity has made them very attractive to tourists. Cabins, hunting lodges, villas and hotels are numerous. The resorts most frequented are in and around Lake Placid, Lake George, Saranac Lake, Schroon Lake and the St. Regis Lakes.
Although the climate during the winter months can be severe, with absolute temperatures sometimes falling below −30 °F (−35 °C) pre wind chill, a number of sanatoriums were located there in the early 1900s because of the positive effect the air had on tuberculosis patients. The heavily forested region is the most southerly distribution of the boreal forest or taiga in the North American continent. The forests of the Adirondacks include spruce, pine and broad-leafed trees. Lumbering, once an important industry, has been much restricted since the establishment of the State Park in 1892.
Hunting and fishing are allowed in the Adirondack Park, although in many places there are strict regulations. Because of these regulations, the large tourist population has not overfished the area, and as such, the brooks, rivers, ponds and lakes are well stocked with trout and black bass. Approximately 260 species of birds have been recorded, of which over 170 breed here. Because of its unique taiga habitat, the park has many breeding birds not found in most areas of New York and other mid-Atlantic states, such as boreal chickadees, gray jays, Bicknell's thrushes, spruce grouse, Philadelphia vireos, rusty blackbirds, American Three-toed Woodpeckers, black-backed woodpeckers, ruby-crowned kinglets, bay-breasted warblers, mourning warblers, common loons and the crossbills.
At the head of Lake Placid stands Whiteface Mountain, from whose summit one of the finest views of the Adirondacks can be obtained. Two miles (3 km) southeast of this lake, at North Elba, is the old farm of the abolitionist John Brown, which contains his grave and is frequented by visitors. Lake Placid outflow is a major contributor to the Ausable River, which for a part of its course flows through a rocky chasm 100 feet to 175 feet (30 m to 53 m) deep and rarely more than 30 ft (10 m) wide. At the head of the Ausable Chasm are the Rainbow Falls, where the stream makes a vertical leap of 70 ft (20 m).
Another impressive feature of the Adirondacks is Indian Pass, a gorge about between Algonquin and Wallface Mountains. The latter is a majestic cliff rising several hundred feet from the pass. Keene Valley, in the center of the High Peaks, is another picturesque region, presenting a pleasing combination of peaceful valley and rugged hills.
July 4th, 2006, marked the dedication and opening celebration of Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, also known as The Wild Center. The 30 million dollar facility is in Tupper Lake. The new museum, designed by the firm that built the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, has extensive exhibits about the natural history of the region. Many of the exhibits are live, including otters, birds, fish and porcupines. The Museum has trails to a river and pond on its campus.
Part of the French and Indian War (1754-1763) was played out on the edge of the Adirondacks. The British built Fort William Henry on the south end of Lake George in 1755; the French countered by building Fort Carillon on the north end, which was renamed Fort Ticonderoga after it was captured by the British. In 1757, French General Montcalm, captured Fort William Henry.
At the end of the 18th century rich iron deposits were discovered in the Champlain Valley, precipitating land clearing, settlement and mining in that area, and the building of furnaces and forges. A growing demand for timber pushed loggers deeper into the wilderness. Millions of pine, spruce, and hemlock logs were cut and floated down the area's many rivers to mills built on the edges. Logging continued slowly but steadily into the interior of the mountains throughout the 19th century and farm communities developed in many of the river valleys.
The area wasn't formally named the Adirondacks until 1837; an English map from 1761 labels it simply "Deer Hunting Country." Serious exploration of the interior did not occur until after 1870; the headwaters of the Hudson River at Lake Tear of the Clouds near Mount Marcy were not discovered until more than fifty years after the discovery of the headwaters of the Columbia River in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia.
Prior to the 19th century, mountainous areas and wilderness were viewed as desolate and forbidding. As Romanticism developed in the United States, the writing of James Fenimore Cooper and later the transcendentalism of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson began to transform the popular view of wilderness in more positive terms, as a source of spiritual renewal. Part of Cooper's 1826 The Last of the Mohicans: A narrative of 1757 is set in the Adirondacks. Frederic Remington canoed the Oswegatchie River, and William James Stillman, painter and journalist, spent the summer of 1857 painting near Raquette Lake. The next year he returned with a group of friends to a spot on Follensby Pond that became known as the Philosophers Camp. The group included Emerson, James Russell Lowell, Louis Agassiz, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s brother John.
Although sportsmen had always shown some interest in the Adirondacks, the publication of clergyman William H. H. Murray's Adventures in the Wilderness; Or Camp-Life in the Adirondacks in 1869 started a flood of tourists to the area, leading to a rash of hotel building and the development of stage coach lines. Thomas Clark Durant, who had helped to build the Union Pacific railroad, acquired a large tract of central Adirondack land and built a railroad from fashionable Saratoga Springs to North Creek. By 1875 there were more than two hundred hotels in the Adirondacks, some of them with several hundred rooms; the most famous was Paul Smith's Hotel. About this time, the "Great Camps" of the Adirondacks evolved near Raquette Lake, where William West Durant, son of Thomas C. Durant, built luxurious compounds. Two of them, Camp Pine Knot and Sagamore Camp, both near Raquette Lake, have been designated as National Historic Landmarks, as has Santanoni Preserve, near Newcomb, NY. Camps Sagamore and Santanoni are open to the public seasonally.
In 1873 Verplanck Colvin developed a report urging the creation of a state forest preserve covering the entire Adirondack region, based on the need to preserve the watershed as a water source for the Erie Canal, which was vital to New York's economy at the time. In 1883 he was appointed superintendent of the New York state land survey. In 1884, a commission chaired by botanist Charles Sprague Sargent recommended establishment of a forest preserve, to be "forever kept as wild forest lands." In 1885 the Adirondack Forest Preserve was created, followed in 1892 by the Adirondack Park. When it became clear that the forces seeking to log and develop the Adirondacks would soon reverse the two measures through lobbying, environmentalists sought to amend the State Constitution. In 1894, Article VII, Section 7, (renumbered in 1938 as Article XIV, Section 1) of the New York State Constitution was adopted, which reads in part:
The lands of the State...shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold, or exchanged, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.The restrictions on development and lumbering embodied in Article XIV have withstood many challenges from timber interests, hydropower projects, and large scale tourism development interests. Further, the language of the article, and decades of legal experience in its defense, are widely recognized as having laid the foundation for the U.S. National Wilderness Act of 1964. As a result of the legal protections, many pieces of the original forest of the Adirondacks have never been logged: they are old growth.