Bushwhacking is hard work. Trudging through dense forest, struggling with hobblebush thickets, climbing over downed trees, and dodging wetlands is no simple walk in the park; unless it’s the Adirondack Park.
An well-trod path provides welcome relief from all this effort, whether it’s a herd path or a marked trail. Old forest roads offer another opportunity for respite, while still retaining that wilderness feel. In the Adirondack backcountry, these old roads are rather abundant.
The Adirondack backcountry is never quite as remote as it seems. Despite being seemingly miles from the nearest human being at such places as Sitz Pond, Oven Lake or Threemile Beaver Meadow, it’s nearly impossible to find anywhere in all of New York State that’s more than five miles from a road. Old topographic maps reveal that roads once crisscrossed the backcountry to an extent almost unimaginable today.
Undoubtedly, many of these roads never saw much traffic by modern standards. Most were used to haul logs, move goods or to transport a few wealthy people to remote camps. While some of these old roads live on today as dirt roads, snowmobile trails or footpaths, many are slowly being reclaimed into the forest. The remnants of even the remotest of these old roads are still used by wild animals, hunters, and the occasional weary bushwhacker.
Old skid roads are by far the roughest and most unimproved forest roads. Used to remove trees from the forest, they can go almost anywhere, and contain frequent deep ruts and wet seeps. They seem to branch out in a random manner that makes them frustrating for navigation – it’s usually easier to take a direct route with a map and compass.
Old logging roads, the trunk roads that connect skid roads with “real” roads, tend to have the more stable surfaces hauling massive loads of logs requires. These old roads typically are wider with hard flat surfaces; hence, they take longer to revert into anything that resembles a natural state.
Locating these old roads sometimes takes skill and practice. The classic tell-tale sign of an old road is two parallel lines of older trees separated by flat terrain filled with young trees. Other common clues include bisected hillsides, road bench cuts, and old bridge infrastructure near streams. An old car, truck, or other piece of machinery is an excellent (and obvious) clue as well.
Photos by Dan Crane: Old Jeep Trail north of Negro Lake, old logging road off end of Raven Lake Road.