Editor’s note: This story was originally written in 2021, but the information remains relevant for 2022. (The reservation system is in place through Oct. 31). We updated the questions list below to include questions specific for the 2022 season.
By Gwendolyn Craig
The state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) have provided more information on a pilot hiking reservation system set to start on May 1.
The permit website went live at hikeamr.org and hikers can now make an online profile to sign up for a time slot. The reservation is free. Time slots do not appear available yet, and DEC has said that will go live starting April 15 for those interested in hiking May 1 through Oct. 31. A reservation is not needed before that.
The time slot reservations could be tricky, as some of these hikes take a number of hours to do. The reservation system takes hiking time slots starting at 5 a.m. and ending at 7 p.m., so hikers getting a later time slot will need to plan their trip carefully. The time slots are approximate, however. Camping is not allowed on the AMR.
The DEC and AMR announced the pilot program on Monday for the gateway to popular Adirondack hikes including Indian Head, Rainbow Falls, Noonmark Mountain, Round Mountain and Gothics Mountain. The AMR is a 7,000-acre reserve privately owned by trustees, who are also members of the Ausable Club. The public is allowed access through a conservation and foot-traffic easement with the state.
AMR records show that since the start of the easement in 1978, hiking traffic has increased dramatically. Ausable Club trail registers, for example, saw fewer than 5,000 hikers in 1978 but 25,000 in 2017.
The AMR parking lot is off State Route 73 in Keene Valley, one of the most popular thoroughfares in the High Peaks region and a public safety concern for government officials and AMR trustees alike.
But Monday’s announcement left many questions, some of which have now been answered by both DEC and AMR. Here is an overview:
How many hiking spots are available and who needs a reservation?
The AMR parking lot has space for 70 vehicles, but even hikers getting dropped off or arriving by bicycle will need a reservation. Walk-ins will not be allowed. The AMR is allowing 70 reservations per day, but each reservation is good for up to six hikers. That means there could be up to 420 hikers allowed per day. There could be more, however, through a bus alternative.
Are there other trails in the High Peaks region that require a reservation?
Only hikes originating from the AMR property need permits for hiking.
How does the bus alternative work?
The DEC and AMR have said those arriving in Keene Valley via Greyhound or Trailways bus lines may hike on the AMR. You do not need a hiking reservation, but you do need a valid bus ticket from within 24 hours of your arrival. The DEC said the nearest bus stop is the Noonmark Diner. Both DEC and AMR said they “will be monitoring hikers arriving to AMR by bus and if we detect evidence of system abuse during this pilot, we will re-evaluate and take steps as needed.”
Who will enforce the reservation system? If it is the AMR, what authority do they have for enforcement and what are the consequences for breaking the system?
The DEC and AMR said forest rangers and AMR security staff “will provide enforcement assistance as needed and consistent with the laws and regulations governing use of state and private lands. Visitors without a reservation will be directed to move on to Marcy Field or, once open, the visitor center at Mt. Van Hoevenberg to find information on alternate destinations.”
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Is DEC concerned about the possibility of hikers using other means to get onto the AMR?
The DEC said both forest rangers and AMR security staff “will monitor and enforce violations as appropriate.”
Will holiday weekends have the same limits?
“The reservation limits will remain the same for all days,” the DEC and AMR wrote. “Part of the goal of this pilot is to level use to a more manageable number from a safety, monitoring, and resource impact perspective.” Records show the AMR generally sees less than 420 hikers per day, as this maximum will allow through the reservation system.
When can I access the AMR parking lot?
It will only be accessible between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily, though there are exceptions for overnight parking. (Update: There is now an automatic gate in place for people getting back late to their vehicles.) Those who walk or bike into the reserve before 5 a.m. “will be asked to provide their reservation upon exit of the AMR gate,” according to the DEC.
More AMR updates
We’re posting more updates as we get them
I am a Keene or Keene Valley resident. Does this all apply to me?
The DEC said “residents of Keene and Keene Valley will retain the same local privileges as in years past. Please contact AMR directly for more information.”
Are Ausable Club members separate from the reservation system, or do they also have to get a pass?
“Ausable Club members are separate from the reservation system,” according to the DEC and AMR.
Will there be any way to account for people who make a reservation but do not show up?
The DEC and AMR said “the system allows for cancellations and individuals who need to cancel are encouraged to do so in advance to enable others to make a reservation.”
How many reservations can I make?
“Individuals can only make one reservation per day (time slot) and two per week (time slots) no more than two weeks in advance,” according to the DEC and AMR.
“The ability to make reservations closes 24 hours in advance of each time slot for the following day,” according to the reservation website.
What about larger groups?
According to the reservation website, for reservations of groups larger than six for day use, you will need to make multiple reservations. However, group sizes in the High Peaks are not allowed to be greater than 15 people.
Is parking not allowed on the pull-offs on Route 73?
“Parking along Route 73 except in designated parking spaces has always been illegal and will continue to be enforced to protect public safety,” the DEC said.
Is the DEC concerned that this system will further populate hikes like Cascade and Giant mountains? How will that be monitored?
The DEC said it is working with partners to highlight other hikes and promote sustainable trail use. Trails on Mount Van Hoevenberg and Cascade Mountain are being rebuilt, the DEC added, to allow for more sustainable hiking use.
Considering this pilot system might take time for the public to get used to, what measures are in place to ensure safe traffic flow around the AMR lot?
The DEC said it “continues to work with DOT (the state Department of Transportation) on road safety improvements including signage. Reservations are booked by timed periods to further help distribute hiker attendance across a given day and prevent congestion on Route 73.”
What other regulations and rules are there on the AMR?
For a complete list, go to dec.ny.gov/lands/100916.html.
DEC and AMR are waiting to assess the potential impacts of the opening of Canadian border crossings prior to proposing changes to the program. Last year was a great start, but probably not a true indication of what we’ll see when we get back closer to traditional peak demand, much of which comes from Canada.
AMR and DEC made changes last year throughout the inaugural season to reduce no-shows and we look forward to seeing how this season goes with a full implementation of those changes prior to considering opening up same-day reservations. We will evaluate the effectiveness of these changes in improving no-show rates and simultaneously, will continue to listen to users and the community and consider additional options and adapt as necessary.
While we don’t have scientific data at this point, anecdotally we received feedback from many people directly and on social media that out-of-state hikers and people who live farther away felt they had better access to the peaks through the AMR gate and having a parking spot reserved.
For planning in advance, the hiking public that does not have internet access can always go to a local public library to access the internet. Another option is to send a letter to Adirondack Mountain Reserve, Attention: Hiker Safety, 137 Ausable Road, Keene Valley, NY 12943 and we will grant them access. The letter must be received prior to your arrival. It may be best to send with tracking information.
Part of the reason we implemented the parking reservation system is to alleviate traffic and public safety issues in the Route 73 corridor. To ensure it is inclusive to hikers not traveling by car, the program is open to those who may have traveled by bus or other means. If we allowed for everyone to just drop off hikers, it wouldn’t do much to address traffic in that you’d have people backed up trying to get into and out of Ausable Road. That would defeat the purpose of the parking reservation system in the first place. It includes those being dropped off who may have traveled to the region via bus, etc.
DEC partnered with SUNY ESF to assess visitor experience, recreational interests, and other factors. Data from last year is being finalized and additional information will be collected this year. Results will be shared once the study is completed.
Keene Valley is home to the High Peaks, but you don’t have to climb the biggest mountains to get a knockout view. For “12 Short Hikes Near Keene Valley,” the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine selected a dozen hikes that won’t take all day or sap all your strength.
They lead to small peaks and lookouts with breathtaking vistas These are ideal outings for families and novice hikers—or anyone who wants a quick dose of wilderness.