The dog knew where we were headed the moment I made my shoe selection. At least - she knew which activity to anticipate, if not our precise destination.
I’m going to refrain from calling a 60-degree day in November “unseasonable.” These climate-change-days, you never know what the Adirondack weather will bring - better to just smile and take advantage. So on this warm, sunny weekday in November, I told folks at my office that I was headed out hiking for my lunch break, and donned shorts (yes shorts!), and a variety of layers topped with a bright yellow cycling windbreaker, and hiking boots. (That last part got my dog Katie’s attention.) I grabbed a dog leash, my phone and headed out the door to explore one of the nearby Champlain Area Trails.
Some call this “stick season” in reference to the lack of leaves on the trees. Now, one of my colleagues at work has declared it to be called “grand view season,” but for the purposes of this blog, as I don’t want to tread on any pending trademark issues, I’ll call it “post-foliage” season.
Post-foliage is one of my favorite times of year to hike. Though planning is essential as the daylight hours are fewer, during this season most familiar trails take on a different look and feel. There are no crowds (especially on a mid-week), skis or snowshoes are not yet required, and there are no pesky leaves to obscure your view.
I DID, however, choose that bright yellow windbreaker for a reason: the one challenge to enjoying post-foliage season could be that hikers share the woods with hunters.
Sharing the road
New York’s north country is a popular place for big game, turkey, furbearer, and small game hunting in the fall season. The vast majority of hunters take part in regular deer season, and in the Lake Champlain Region of the Northern Zone including the Adirondacks, that spans from September 27 to December 13, if you include bowhunting and muzzleloading.
I respect the hunters, and choose carefully the time of day and location of any hikes during their relatively short season, and wear bright colors just in case they venture nearby. Fortunately, I was able to consult the experts at Champlain Area Trails for a list of places that are “safe” - where I (and my dog) won’t be intruding on any hunters’ drives.
One of those on the list is the Wildway Overlook, a short trail that begins in Whallonsburg. I had hiked this trail once before during foliage, so I knew that it was a short and fairly easy hike with outstanding views. I thought I’d take a comparison hike during post-foliage season on this warm sunny day.
We arrived at the trailhead at around noon and were the only car there so I knew we’d likely have the trail all to ourselves. And that was good - on my first time hiking the trail earlier in the year, I was astounded by the nature sounds in the woods that began almost as soon as I signed the register. Chipmunks - and tons of them, birds of all sorts, from ravens to chicadees. This time, I had Katie the dog with me, so although I hoped for the same, I anticipated a different audible experience.
I was largely right - I saw/heard some squirrels who jumped into the noisy fallen leaves, but my rescued doberman mix has somewhat…generous… ears for her size that can discern the sound of a chipmunk or a cookie from far, far away, so SHE was quite entertained by the many unseen, and unheard by me, creatures of the forest.
I kept her on leash most of the way just in case there were any other hikers, but we were the sole trekkers at that time. The trail is fairly easy, and well defined. There are a few interpretive signs along the way, explaining the flora and fauna of this section of the Adirondacks. We got to the summit; less than a mile’s hike - which has two rocky places to enjoy the expansive view of the Lake Champlain farmlands of Essex, the lake itself and into Vermont. An interpretive sign at the end of the trail explains the name of the trail.
Avoiding the Road - Split Rock Wildway
The sign at the end of this trail says:
“The Split Rock Wildway is the forested route that wildlife use as they go into the mountains and return to the part of the Champlain Valley. The Wildway even allows plants to spread in response to climate change. We hope you enjoy the view.”
I have had the privilege of knowing several people who are part of an effort to protect this route, including Jamie Phillips, president of the Eddy Foundation and John Davis, cofounder of the Wildlands Network, both advocates for protecting these wild corridors. As someone who really, really hates the idea that our cars are intruding on land formerly roamed without danger, the idea of protecting a wildlife movement corridor appeals to me. I’m extremely over-simplifying this, but there are a number of organizations that seek to support these efforts - and I obtained a list of them from John Davis. The Split Rock Wildway is a cooperative effort involving many conservation groups, agencies, and families, including Northeast Wilderness Trust, Champlain Valley Conservation Partnership, Adirondack Nature Conservancy & Land Trust, Wildlife Conservation Society, Open Space Institute, Adirondack Council, Keeping Track, Boquet River Association, Eddy Foundation, Wild Farm Alliance, conservation-minded land-owners, and the New York State Dept. of Conservation.
We did enjoy the view, as the sign hoped, and after a short rest - taking some photos and attempting some selfies that included the dog (unsuccessful) - we headed back down to the car.
This is a very short and easy hike - on its own as a short jaunt, or a great addition to a series of connecting CATS trails. During post-foliage season, it is safely short enough to fit into the daylight hours and of course, it is safe during hunting season. If you don't have a chipmunk-chasing doberman mix with you, it's also a great way to see and hear some of the wildlife that take advantage of these protected lands.
My friend Gail Testa at Champlain Area Trails provided me with a list of those CATS trails on which there is currently no hunting. For your reference, here they are, with their corresponding number found on this map.
“No Hunting” trails in the CATS network:
- Big Woods Trail (#3)
- Noblewood Park Trail (#4)
- Florence Hathaway Park Trail (#5)
- Ancient Oak Trail (#7)
- Brookfield Headwaters Trail (#9)
- Boquet Mountain Trail (#10)
- Rocky Ledges Trail (#11)
- Wildway Overlook Trail (#12)
- Black Kettle Trail (#14)
- Beaver Flow Trail (#15)
- Bobcat Trail (#16)
- Art Farm Trail (#18)
- Field & Forest Trail (#19)
- Long Valley Trail (#20)
- Beaver Bend Trail (#21)
- Wildway Passage Trail (#24)
- Woods & Swale Trail (#26)
- Lee Park Trail (#27)
- DaCy Meadow Farm Trail (#28)
- Hidden Quarry Trail (#36)
- Penfield Pond Trail (#48)
-Kim Rielly is the director of communications for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.