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I'm an avid hiker who hasn't ridden a mountain bike in more than a year. Then I heard the Schroon Lake Region calling.

Just off of Exit 29 on Interstate 87 is a network of beaten paths that lie just off the beaten path. The Town of North Hudson Multiple Use Trail System is a web of trails that are perfect for walking, running, and mountain biking, especially if the latter isn't your forte.

Heading south from the Adirondacks' High Peaks Region, I found the trails by taking a right at the end of Exit 29, followed by another right on Route 9, toward Schroon Lake. The parking area is located on a service road that's a right-hand turn just a minute or so after turning on Route 9.

Decisions, decisions

Two trail networks can be accessed from the dirt parking lot. "Trail center east" is across the road and encompasses 2.3 miles of trail, including a long singletrack loop. I opted to explore the 4.3-mile "trail center west," located on the parking area side of the road. Since the trails in this network are all between the road and the Schroon River, I decided to make the river my destination.

I grabbed a map from the kiosk and immediately saw that there is no direct path to the river. The trails wind every which way and frequently intersect each other, so there are dozens of combinations available.

I began on the West Intesection trail, which forms a rough circle that doesn't stray too far from the start. A few trails branch off of that, but I'll spare you the play-by-play. The best way to enjoy the North Hudson trails is to cruise them without much concern for direction. You'll never be far from the road, and the circular nature of the network lends itself to freeform navigation. Just be sure to heed signs that say "do not enter" and you'll be fine.

My meandering route took me on most of the trails in the system. There were steep downhill plunges that were well-marked with a warning, winding singletrack sections, a wonderfully breezy glide through a pine forest, and a cool riverside ramble.

Since many of the paths are wide, the canopy above them is open enough to let sunlight through, which promotes wildflower growth. Among the thick grass was a profusion of pinkish spring beauties and yellow blasts of common cinquefoil. In some spots the trail was lined with lush, green sphagnum moss beds that were decorated with the pale grey-greens of reindeer and coral lichen.

River ride

I passed an impressive stand of ostrich ferns before descending steeply into a hayscented fern meadow. Dipping out of the fernage, I rounded a bend and was met by the Schroon River and a startled woodcock — a small, Kiwi bird-looking creature that finds earthworms by stomping on the ground and cocking its head to listen for their subterranean movements — which flew for cover as soon as it saw me.

The river here has a short section of fast-moving water bookended by water that's practically still. A fun drop to the bank is precluded by a sign reminding visitors that they're entering the sensitive raparian zone — the flood-prone area along streams.

I took a break from my ride to enjoy the river, and discovered that this was a popular area. Racoon and great blue heron tracks lined the muddy beach. I rehydrated and was off, now making my way back to the trailhead.

My travels took a detour on a spur trail to the oxbow, which wasn't what I expected. Oxbows are horseshoe- (or oxbow-) shaped lakes that used to be a sharp bend in a meandering river. The Schroon Lake Region has a lot of these waterbodies, so many that from above it looks like an enormous horse walked through the area, and the Schroon River also has plenty of future oxbow lakes along its wandering course.

The oxbow accessed from the North Hudson trails is grown in, though, so it looks like a large, marshy area that's probably a delight for birdwatchers. I didn't have my binoculars and I was eager to get back in the saddle, so I continued on. After a few rights and lefts the parking area materialized through the trees and I was back at my car. I had managed to spend a couple of hours on the trails. It was a great introduction to mountain biking in the Schroon Lake Region, and a great way to take a break from hiking and see the forest from behind a set of handlebars.

The Schroon Lake Region is a great base camp for an Adirondack adventure. Climb a cliff, hike up a mountain, or paddle the numerous waterways — it all starts in Schroon Lake!

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