GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – As the Adirondacks and other New York State wildernesses enter winter, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sent out a reminder of how to keep nature safe when hiking, snowshoeing, skiing and sledding this season. The DEC has a set of “Leave No Trace” rules that include tips on taking care of waste, choosing carefully when selecting a camping spot, and making sure to not negatively impact anyone else’s outdoor experience.

“Whether you’re exploring the Adirondack or Catskill mountains, or enjoying your local trail, winter is an excellent time to get outdoors in New York,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos in a release. “To protect public lands for future generations, remember to love our New York lands by practicing the “Leave No Trace” seven principles and get outside safely and responsibly.” 

In the Adirondacks, many mountains are popular for winter hiking. The Visit Adirondacks website cites Whiteface Mountain, Scarface Mountain, Giant Mountain and Ampersand Mountain as just a few good winter hiking spots. Locally to the Glens Falls region, West Mountain is set to start ski, snowboard and tubing season on Christmas Eve.

The seven “Leave No Trace” principles are outlined by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. The following list of principles and guidelines were written by the center and the DEC.

  1. Plan ahead and prepare. 
    • Proper planning is vital to ensure a safe winter adventure. Visitors should know their limits, set realistic goals, and choose an appropriate experience. Outdoor adventurers are encouraged to research trails and routes before setting out and contact DEC or other knowledgeable parties with questions. 
    • Winter weather can change rapidly. Prepare for every occasion by bringing the 10 Hike Smart NY essentials, including: food, water, navigation, warm layers, snowshoes and traction devices, a headlamp, first-aid kit, and matches or a lighter. Stay up to date with current weather reports and if the forecast calls for harsh conditions, consider rescheduling.
    • Make a timeline, including a turnaround time, and stick to it. Visitors should leave their trip plans with a trusted friend or relative that will call for help if they don’t return on time. For more tips on preparing for a safe outdoor winter experience, visit DEC’s winter hiking safety page
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces. 
    • Travel on durable surfaces to help maintain the integrity of trails and limit damage to trailside vegetation. Snow is considered a durable surface once it is six inches deep. Snowshoes make walking in deep snow easier and help prevent postholing, the act of creating deep holes in the snow with bare boots. Use traction devices, such as crampons or microspikes, to travel safely across ice. 
  3. Properly dispose of waste. 
    • Visitors to State lands are asked to carry out what they carry in, including garbage, food scraps, broken gear, and pet waste. Dispose of trash in a designated can at the trailhead or at home. Go before you go and use toilets or outhouses whenever possible. Visitors should also be prepared to dig a cat hole or pack out poop where toilets aren’t available. 
  4. Leave what you find. 
    • Leave trail signs and markers so others can find their way, and leave historic artifacts and natural features for others to enjoy. Please do not carve or graffiti rocks, trees, or backcountry structures. 
  5. Minimize campfire impacts. 
    • Visitors should use designated fireplaces whenever possible and only burn dead and downed wood. When finished with the fire, extinguish it completely. Never leave a fire unattended or build a fire inside a structure such as a lean to or tent. 
  6. Respect wildlife. 
    • Never follow, approach, or feed wildlife. Human food can harm wildlife and feeding wildlife can create bad habits that lead to unwanted human interaction and habituation.  
  7. Be considerate of other visitors. 
    • Help all visitors have a safe and enjoyable experience by following winter trail etiquette. Wear snowshoes or skis on snowy trails to avoid post-holing. Separate ski and snowshoe tracks when possible. Yield to downhill skiers and move to the side of the trail to let snowmobiles pass. Snowmobile riders are reminded to slow down when passing pedestrians. 

The DEC and various Adirondack Park groups have seen an uptick in trail usage and overuse since the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to traffic issues at trailheads, groups such as the Adirondack Council have seen evidence of trails becoming steeper due to erosion, which may lead to precarious and slippery climbs during the winter. Hikers are advised to take caution.