Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Snowshoeing in the Spa City: Saratoga Spa State Park

Island Spouter, one of the few geysers east of the Mississippi River
All photos mine

New York has several unique natural destinations, but few are more unique than Saratoga Spa State Park. Located within the city limits of Saratoga Springs, the park contains many interesting geologic features, including the only geysers in the United States east of the Mississippi River. The region's namesake mineral springs have long been visited for their alleged health benefits and the water bottled for sale. To combat overpumping of the springs, the area became a state reservation in 1909. Several of the spa buildings were built with New Deal funds in the 1930s. The spa area became a state park in 1962 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

We had a significant snowstorm last Friday, so I figured I'd spend some time Saturday playing in the snow. Most of the snow fell southwest of Albany, but I was unsure if roads would be plowed, so I decided to head north to Saratoga. Parked near the Roosevelt Baths, strapped on my snowshoes, and into the woods I went. I started down the Geyser Trail, taking it to the short, orange-blazed Springs Trail.

Trails generally looked like this. Geyser Trail near the Roosevelt Baths

The Springs Trail descends into the gorge carved by Geyser Creek, ending across from the education building. Turning right along the road, I crossed the creek and immediately turned right onto the Vale of Springs Trail. It isn't long before you pass this beauty on the right.

It's the cover photo again!

Yes, that's Island Spouter, one of the area's best-known springs. Like all of the springs, Island Spouter is carbonated mineral water. It also happens to be a geyser that shoots 10-15 feet into the air. The island is composed of tufa, a type of limestone created by mineral deposits from the spring.

Continuing down the trail (with Island Spouter to the right)

Once you're done admiring one of New York's most unique natural features, continue north along the trail. The narrow trail runs along the bank of the creek, eventually reaching a massive tufa deposit encroaching on the trail. This deposit was created by Orenda Spring, located up the cliff.

Orenda Spring's tufa dome
Closeup of the tufa dome

The tufa dome from the other side. That little ledge is the trail.

Past the tufa dome, we pass under a bridge leading to Saratoga Performing Arts Center and reach a stairway. Time to climb out of the gorge. Take a left at the top of the stairs, pass back under the bridge, and Orenda Spring is on the right.

Orenda Spring
Orenda is another of the major springs, but unlike Island Spouter, you can easily get to its water if you so desire.

Looking south from Orenda Spring

From up here, it is possible to see just how big the tufa deposit is. Continue south and we reach an overlook, where one can get another view of Island Spouter.

A short distance to the south, we get back to the road and the bridge. I turned left on the road and crossed the bridge again, but stayed alongside the road. A couple of springs are alongside the road.

Polaris Spring, located next to the road

Tallulah Spring is set back from the road
Tallulah Spring

A trail departs to the left a short distance south of Tallulah Spring. This trail leads to Ferndell Spring.

The trail winds along a creek, eventually reaching the spring, which was dry.

Ferndell Spring

I continued past the spring, turning left alongside a road. Another left led me back to my car, 1.6 miles and about 1:15 after I left. During tourist season, the state park can get overrun with people, but this time of year, it is peaceful enough to truly enjoy the area's natural beauty. Did I mention it's free outside of the summer season, too?

One more thing: Saratoga Spa State Park does rent snowshoes when snow is on the ground. Available at the park office, see website for more details.

Getting Here

Saratoga Spa State Park is located between US Route 9 and NY Route 50 in the southern part of Saratoga Springs. During the winter, one needs to enter the park via Avenue of the Pines or park at the SPAC lot along NY 50, as the southern entrances are closed. Winter parking is off of Roosevelt Drive and at the SPAC lot. There is an $8/vehicle entry fee between Memorial Day and Labor Day, as well as on weekends in May, September, and early October. 


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