Snowmobiling In the Central Adirondacks: The Old Forge-Inlet Trail System
A steady snow falls upon the hardwood forests covering the hills, knolls, and trails with a fresh coating of white. The hum of snowmobiles in the distance signals the approach of riders gliding along the well-groomed trails heading for Big Moose, Inlet, Eagle Bay or even distant points. The network of trails, the constant grooming, and the usual abundance of snow all add up to the popularity of snowmobile riding in the Old Forge - Inlet area.
Snowmobiling is a popular sport throughout the Adirondacks but nowhere more so than in the Central Adirondack area. For several decades the epicenter of snowmobiling fun has been the Towns of Inlet and Old Forge. When the popularity of snowmobiles began to rapidly rise in the 1970s, this area was one of the first to capitalize on it by creating and maintaining trails.
Having plenty of land with an abundance of dirt roads allowed the Town of Webb to develop a great trail system. The heavy snowfall in most seasons, which sometimes reached 200 inches per year, made this a natural place for “sledders” to try out their new-found freedom to explore the winter woods.
I was one of those eager “sled heads” who explored the trails around Old Forge, Eagle Bay, Inlet, Big Moose, and Beaver River. Restaurants, hotels, and camps expanded their operations to remain open in the winter and cater to this new wave of winter sportsmen. This was many years ago, but the Central Adirondacks has remained a mecca for snowmobilers.
Earlier this year I had a chance to visit with Steve Hoepfl of Old Forge and discuss the reasons for the popularity of the area as well as the changes in the sport of snowmobiling that have occurred over the years. Steve operates Christy’s Motel in Old Forge which is a popular accommodation for snowmobilers. He also maintains several webcams that are popular with snowmobilers and other winter enthusiasts and is a “sledder” himself so he is a natural authority on the subject.
When I asked why snowmobiling remains so popular, Steve replied that a lot of it was due to the wide-open spaces. Riders are able to access the big woods and long distances that they would not be able to see or cover otherwise. Riding a snowmobile provides them with a variety of scenes and topography that most people have never seen.
Steve was also quick to point out that motorized travel is a big part of it. For many people there is the “rush of the machine,” i.e. the thrill of driving or riding a motorized machine similar to the feeling people may get from driving a motorcycle or riding a sports car. You have the freedom to control the machine and go fast when speed limits and conditions permit.
Our conversation evolved into a discussion of how snowmobiling has changed over the years. Steve said that the biggest difference is horsepower. Today’s “sleds” are much bigger and more powerful in addition to being more reliable and comfortable. They have better suspension, seats, heated seats, and hand warmers and are a lot more dependable than the earlier models.
This means that people can often ride further and longer. Part of it is the comfort factor and part of it is the fact that they don’t require the maintenance or repair that they did a few decades ago. People can ride a long distance freely without the fear of breaking down as snowmobiles commonly did in the early days.
This has changed the riding habits of many people. Old Forge has become more of a hub now. In the old days people rode around the network of trails and rarely left the Old Forge – Inlet area. Now it is easier to cover so much more territory that people take long rides to distant areas and return at night to their lodging.
With the many miles of good trails available, it is certainly easy to connect to surrounding areas in every direction from this central location. Riders can easily connect to the trail systems of Raquette Lake, Long Lake, Brantingham Lake or the Track Side Trail Blazers. From Inlet you can ride east through the Moose River Plains to Indian Lake.
The convenient location of the Central Adirondacks is another reason that Old Forge and Inlet are so popular with snowmobilers. This area is within easy reach of major metropolitan areas that have no significant snow covering. Sledders can leave home on Friday after work and arrive at a reasonable hour, ride all weekend, and be home by Sunday night. Many of the guests at Christy’s Motel are from northern New Jersey or Pennsylvania.
Those winter winds that sweep across the open waters of Lake Ontario and drop lots of snow on the Tug Hill Plateau and the Central Adirondacks are another reason that this area is popular with snowmobilers. Even when there is little or no snow elsewhere in the state, there is usually lots of snow in this area to provide a good base for the trails and provide fresh snow for grooming. Although last year (winter of 2016) was an unusual one with very little snow in most areas of the northeast, the Central Adirondacks usually receives 150 – 200 inches of snow.
Steve Hoepfl is known for giving honest answers when his customers or anyone else calls up to ask about snow conditions. He also has a series of trail cams that show live conditions in a variety of sites around Old Forge, including on the trails. Check www.christysmotel.com or call 315-369-6138. Steve also maintains a blog with daily reports on the snow conditions during the snowmobile season. Other businesses in the region also rely on his cameras and website which average 10,000 hits a day.
Steve Hoepfl has seen a change in clientele over the years, at least from his personal perspective. He sees more couples or groups of men and fewer families staying at his motel. One explanation could be that many families involved in snowmobiling are frequently renting or owning camps rather than staying in motels
The Town of Inlet and Webb trail system requires a seasonal permit to ride the trails since they are owned and maintained by the towns. Most people do not mind this because of the value they receive in riding excellently maintained trails.
Instead of volunteers maintaining the trails occasionally, the Towns of Webb and Inlet have paid employees that provide much more grooming. There are typically three to five crews out working on the two shifts per day on weekends. Even during the week there are at least one or two crews out all the time. They also work on the trails all year long, removing rocks, replacing culverts, etc., to provide wide, smooth trails.
Both seasonal and weekly permits can be obtained at the Town of Webb Visitors Center in Old Forge, the Inlet Information Office in Inlet, or the Stillwater Shop in the hamlet of Stillwater. Online registration is also available at SnowmobileOldForgeNY.com. Call Inlet (315-357-5501) or Old Forge (315-369-6983) for more information.
A local snowmobile club, the Inlet Barnstormers, conducts snowmobile safety classes, has group rides, and provides other services. For more information see InletBarnStormersSnowmobileClub.com.
Convenient location, abundant snowfall, and a great trail system all combine to make the Towns of Inlet and Old Forge a great destination area. There are plenty of accommodations, sales, services, rentals, and other things to make your visit a pleasant one. Snowmobiling has changed but what hasn’t changed is the fun you can have while exploring the Central Adirondack area on the Inlet-Old Forge trail system.
Leo Maloney is the editor of Adirondack Outdoors magazine and a former staff writer for the New York Sportsman as well as freelance writer. He is past president of the NYS Outdoor Writers’ Association and an inductee in the NYS Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame. He enjoys a wide variety of Adirondack outdoor sports and has spent many years advocating for Adirondack issues and sportsman’s rights.