SWIMMING THROUGH TREES: The Ha-Da-Ron-Dah: A true wilderness experience
This is one of my favorite stomping grounds, mainly due to its vast wilderness feel, seclusion, vistas, and scenic attraction. The Ha-Da-Ron-Dah which is Native American for bark eater, is part of what is called Region 6 and split by two towns and counties; town of Webb in Herkimer County, and the town of Greig in Lewis County.
The Ha-De-Ron-Dah Wilderness is comprised of 26,600 acres and is located in the western foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, west of the hamlet of Old Forge and the Fulton Chain of Lakes and east of Independence River Wild Forest.
While this large tract may not get the attention or have the towering peaks of the High Peaks Wilderness Area, the Ha-De-Ron-Dah has plenty to offer especially for those seeking solitude, quiet, the sounds of song birds in the morning, a wildlife experience, and maybe a bit of easy bushwhacking, it has it. Its proximity to urban areas is one of the features that make this unit priceless to those who treasure wilderness, and rarely seeing another person. However, it does take some planning and some work, but it is well worth the effort to explore the miles of trails.
The Ha-De-Ron-Dah terrain is mostly hilly, which explains the term “foothills of the Adirondacks.” The trails are rocky and not super fast to travel, even though generally flat and moderate. The lakes, ponds, wetland, and meadows all offer scenic views. If you are interested in short bushwhacking adventures there are some nice open summits like Coal Mountain, Quarry Mountain, Cross Mountain, 6-Mile Mountain and the cliffs over Lost Lake. The area appears as gently rounded when seen passing by on area roads, or on topographic maps, or perusing Google Earth.
The wilderness has approximately 35 miles of marked foot trails. These trails unfortunately do not receive a high level of maintenance, especially in the northern part of the Wilderness area so be prepared to have to ford creeks or fine your way around a swollen beaver marsh. A GPS and/or map and compass are a wise idea to have with you.
There are numerous herd paths as well that dot the area, and look close to that of an unmaintained trail, making a map and compass that much more important. But, you can look at it in another way, the trails are marked, maybe sporadically and lightly but it does provide the user an opportunity to enjoy the area in its natural state.
With all that, there is ample opportunity for tenting and camping using one of the two lean-tos. There are five lakes and 16 ponds, many of which support fish life, making backcountry fishing a wonderful option. Big Otter Lake, while not in the wilderness area, is part of the Independence River Wild Forest and lies adjacent to the northwest boundary and it is the largest, most scenic of the many lakes in the vicinity and some say in the park.
During hunting season, some of the areas closer to the main highway get ample use for big and small game so don’t be surprised to see users with guns or bows along your hike, or be surprised to hear gun shots in the distance.
This is also a popular winter use area for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing due to the rolling hills and gentler terrain, and the fact this region gets good snow coverage regularly during the late fall to early spring.
Trailheads and Parking Areas Accessed in Lewis County:
¯ Drunkard Creek Trailhead – Parking (Steam Mill Road) The trailhead is located on Steam Mill Road, 3.3 miles beyond the forest preserve boundary line.
¯ Pine Lake Trailhead Parking (Partridgeville Road) Located on Partridgeville Road 7.5 miles beyond the intersection with Brantingham Road, on the south side of Otter Creek.
¯ Big Otter Lake Parking. Continue onto the Big Otter Lake Road 2.6 miles to the parking Area. Note that the Big Otter Lake Road is in extremely rough condition, and requires four-wheel drive and high clearance.
Trailheads and Parking Areas accessed in Herkimer County from state Route 28 on the southeastern side:
¯ Big Otter Trail Parking. At the end of Tower Road, north of the hamlet of Thendara.
¯ A DOT parking area on Route 28, 3 miles south of the Thendara railroad station.
¯ A DEC parking area North of Okara Lakes.
¯ South of the Cooper Lake Road, accessible from Old Route 28 near Gull Lake. Take Jones Road north and travel 1/2 mile to the state boundary and parking lot.
As with any state Forest Preserve, please:
¯ Practice Leave No Trace.
¯ Use hiker etiquette when on the trails.
¯ Practice camper etiquette.
¯ If you carry it in, carry it out.
¯ Use designated camping areas. If none are available, camp at least 250 feet from an water source or trail.
¯ Use privies or thunder boxes when available. If none are available, bury human waste at least 6 inches deep and 250 feet away from trails and water sources.
¯ Be aware bear activity can be encountered, so the proper use of a bear canister is recommended.
¯ Camping permits are required for 10 people or more or any time you camp in one location longer than three nights. These can be obtained from the local forest ranger.
¯ Never leave campfires unattended, use only dead and downed wood, and don’t burn trash or food materials.
¯ Follow all fishing and hunting regulations.