Wood’s Trail offers easy backcountry access in St. Lawrence County
By Tom French
Wood’s Trail is a short backcountry trail at Higley Flow State Park, a popular x-country ski center in St. Lawrence County just outside the Blue Line. Perfect for snowshoeing, it also offers a backcountry ski opportunity for advanced intermediate skiers who want to try off-piste without venturing too far into the woods. The trail was one of the first big projects for the Friends of Higley Flow State Park, a 501(c)(3) established in 2004.
Named after John Wood, Park Supervisor from 1998 to 2006, Wood oversaw the rebuilding and expansion of the trail network in the aftermath of the Ice Storm of ’98. Along with Ed & Judy Fuhr, he was instrumental in transforming the Park into the winter destination it has become.
Built with monies from a federal grant, the trail switchbacks along Warm Brook, passes through a hardwood meadow, and descends along a 100-foot ravine to Higley Flow itself – perhaps the most Adirondackesque part of the 1115-acre park. The trail was Wood’s idea. He plotted the path and oversaw its construction by volunteers and an Adirondack Mountain Club trail crew. People involved with the project began referring to it as Wood’s Trail, and the name stuck.
The 1.9-mile trail begins at the farthest corner of a beginner loop known as Overlook – about three-quarter miles from the lodge. A shorter option is to park along Cold Brook Drive, a half mile west of the Park entrance. Overlook parallels and is visible from the road for most of that distance.
That’s what we did on the day before taking Emma back to college in mid-January. She was itching for one last winter adventure before returning to Boston where the forecast was fifty degrees. Neither Emma nor Carrie had been on Wood’s before. Because of thin cover, we decided to snowshoe.
Lots of people ski the trail, and we were following tracks most of the way, but it is considered an expert trail. Narrow at times, it is not groomed and subject to blowdowns. Even though the Friends group clears the trail at least once a year, inevitably a big wind or snow brings down more.
A nice feature of the trail is six short connectors that allow people to customize their exploration into any number of lengths. Note that the 1.9 distance does not include returning to your car regardless of whether you park at the lodge or on the road.
From the upper reaches, light blue markers first guide you through mixed coniferous and hardwoods to a marshy area along Warm Brook. At roughly a quarter mile, you will arrive at the first connector, a shortcut of a few yards that avoids a loop of narrow switchbacks along the brook. If hiking or snowshoeing, I highly recommend you continue on Wood’s. The loop is not long and the trail winds through the shadows of hemlocks as it meanders next to the babbling stream. Those on skis should consider their ability – it is one of the most difficult sections due to narrow, sharp turns. On the day we visited, we encountered a couple blowdowns.
The trail then winds through more mixed forest. Eventually, it parallels a section of Overlook. At three-quarters of mile, you will arrive at a connector to Overlook which is only twenty yards away. If you decide to bail here, the lodge is a half mile to the left. The road is 400 yards to the right, but I encourage people to continue to the hardwood meadow. You will pass two more connectors in short order. Both lead to the vicinity of a day-use lean-to on the Warm Brook Trail, but keep going.
After weaving between trunks, through tunnels of snow-ladened evergreens, and climbing a small rise, the meadow will reveal itself. Perhaps because of logging in the past, the trees are widely separated and light pours in. In warmer months, the meadow displays the kaleidoscope of the seasons. Look to the left for the steep valley to Warm Brook. Especially in spring, listen for its waters.
After crossing over boardwalks, another connector will appear. This is the easiest way back if you want to avoid a descent to Higley Flow. It’s not too steep to hike, but skiers may experience an exhilarating run. You will pass another connector just feet from the bottom of a hill on the intermediate Warm Brook Trail, but by now you should be committed regardless of your gear.
Shortly later, the trail veers right. Higley Flow is below to the left behind a veil of trees. If you venture to the shore, you will see Stump Bay – the result of a survey error when the dam was built in 1912. The area was never intended to be submerged, but as the water rose, the forest was soon underwater with tree tops poking above the surface. Crews topped the trees at the level of the ice over the winter. To this day, the area is unnavigable for motorboats without extreme caution. The “stumps” are still just below the surface and may be visible from the shore in the summer.
Wood’s swings around and back up to the final junction with the Warm Brook Trail. The way to the lodge is left, or if you parked on the road, go right to the junction with Overlook and right again. It’s about a mile either way.