Alpha Guide: The Dix Range Traverse

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Traversing five High Peaks with awe-inspiring views nestled deep in the Adirondack wilderness, the Dix Range beckons to those hikers with an adventurous spirit and passion for a challenge.

Given its unique terrain, true wilderness atmosphere, and marvelous scenery, the Dix Range is a common favorite among many Adirondack hikers. Beginning from the Elk Lake Trailhead, the difficult, 14.8-mile hike starts off easy, before steeply ascending a unique slide to Macomb’s summit. Next is an exposed scramble to South Dix, followed by a comfortable walk to Grace, and several scenic ups and downs to Hough. A final push through the woods, with some rock scrambles, leads to the remote, bald summit of the state’s sixth-highest mountain, Dix. With a backdrop of lakes, river valleys, other High Peaks, and even Vermont’s Green Mountains, the Dix Range’s allure is undeniable.

Quick Facts

Distance: 14.8 miles, loop
Time to Complete: 1 day (with an optional overnight)
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: May through October (The trail is closed during big-game hunting season)
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/9164.html 

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Turn-By-Turn

You’ll find parking at the Elk Lake Trailhead along Elk Lake Road, about 20 minutes northwest of North Hudson and 40 minutes northeast of Newcomb.

From the south (Albany, New York City), take I-87 north, and from the north (Plattsburgh, Montreal), take I-87 south. Depart I-87 at Exit 29, (“Newcomb/North Hudson”), and take a left to head west on Blue Ridge Road for about four miles, where you’ll then take a right onto Elk Lake Road. The parking lot will be five miles down on the right-hand side. The surrounding area is private land, however, and outside of the designated lot policy, there is a very strict no-parking rule. Another DEC parking lot is located along Elk Lake Road at Clear Pond, but it’s two miles back from the trailhead, thereby adding on four more miles roundtrip.

Credit: Elizabeth Urban
Credit: Elizabeth Ricci

The Warmup 

Sign in at the register (44.020924, -73.827726) before hitting the trail, which is marked with red discs. The path is well maintained and relatively flat, making it a great warmup and easy to follow if you’re starting before sunrise. This stretch is relatively uneventful, with a few stream crossings, including Little Sally Brook and Big Sally Brook. At approximately 2.2 miles, you’ll reach the Slide Brook lean-to and four primitive campsites. If hiking the entire range in a day seems too daunting, this is a suitable location to spend a night, either before or after hiking the range.

This spot also marks the intersection of the main trail with the herd path you will take to Macomb (44.044437, -73.805971). The herd path will be on your right, heading west, and may seem confusing, as it appears to go right through a campsite. If you stay to the right of the campsite, it will be relatively easy to pick up the trail leaving the site.

Negotiating the Macomb Slide. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Negotiating the Macomb Slide. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

The Slide 

The herd path remains in the woods, paralleling Slide Brook. You’ll gradually gain elevation, before the terrain starts to steepen. Like most of the range’s herd paths, the trail may be narrow at times but is well worn and relatively easy to follow. At approximately 3.5 miles (44.051854, -73.786633), the trail veers right and emerges onto the impressive Macomb Slide. Although the slide is short (0.15 miles), it is very steep, climbing nearly 500 feet. For this reason, the loop is typically hiked counterclockwise: Going up the slide with fresh legs is preferable to going down with fatigued muscles. Unlike most of the Adirondacks’ rock slab-type slides, this one is characterized by rocky rubble varying in size and grade. It can be immensely fun for those who like a good scramble but daunting for others who fear heights or exposure.

Although the slide has no correct path up, many people prefer to stay toward the right. Take your time and allow for plenty of space between yourself and those ahead. Although there’s no need for a helmet, cascading rocks are common on a busy day. The slide narrows toward the top, so it’s easy to spot where the trail reenters the woods (44.051472, -73.783510). After a few quick rock scrambles, you’ll pop out on Macomb’s summit at 4,405 feet and mile 3.9 (44.051702, ‘-73.780204), where you’ll be treated to beautiful views of Elk Lake tucked among the mountains to the west.

Credit: Elizabeth Ricci
Credit: Elizabeth Ricci

Scrambling

From Macomb, follow the herd path northeast, heading back into the woods. The trail will descend about 600 feet before reaching the bottom of the col between Macomb and South Dix. At the col, take the shortcut to the Lillian Brook herd path. Keep right to stay on the trail to South Dix, and there, you will begin climbing again. Soon, you’ll exit the woods and scramble up a large rock outcropping. Generally, you should stay toward the right but follow the cairns other hikers have created.

You may think the summit lies at the top of this rocky section, but you’ll alternate between woods and more small rock outcroppings two more times before reaching the actual South Dix summit at 4,060 feet and mile 4.7 (44.059934, -73.774472). Located right near the summit, the trail will split: to the right (east) lies Grace and the left (north) is the path to Hough.

Note: South Dix is in the process of being renamed Carson Peak to commemorate Russell M. L. Carson, a founding member of the Adirondack Mountain Club. The names are often used interchangeably.

The summit of Grace Peak. | Credit: Sarah Quandt
The summit of Grace Peak. | Credit: Sarah Quandt

 A Walk in the Woods 

At the intersection near South Dix’s summit, stay right to head east toward Grace. Just past the intersection, a short side trail on the right leads to a ledge—the only spot for views on South Dix’s actual summit. Back on the herd path, the terrain is relatively flat before gently descending about 350 feet to the col. From the col, it steepens but is a relatively short 300-foot climb to the bald summit of Grace (mile 5.7), itself barely a High Peak at 4,012 feet (44.065014, -73.757285). On this remote summit, you’ll be treated to sprawling views of the surrounding river valleys and smaller mountains.

If you’re up for some exploring, venture to the summit’s north side to get a look at Grace’s aptly named Great Slide. However, resist the temptation to relax here for too long, and instead, head out, because you still have a good deal of climbing and scenery ahead. From here, retrace your steps back to South Dix’s summit (mile 6.8), and at the trail intersection, stay right (north) to head towards Hough (pronounced “Huff”).

Note: Formerly known as East Dix, Grace Peak was renamed in 2014 to honor Grace Hudowalski, who, in 1937, became the first woman to climb the 46 High Peaks. Old maps and guides will use the East Dix title. 

On top of Hough Peak. | Credit: Sarah Quandt
On top of Hough Peak. | Credit: Sarah Quandt

Houghing and Poughing

From the summit of South Dix, stay right (north) at the trail intersection, and follow the herd path as it descends into the woods. After a short while, you’ll begin climbing again and rise above the treeline. Don’t be fooled by the impressive views, however. You aren’t on Hough yet but, instead, on the small bump informally known as Pough (pronounced “puff”).

After meandering along the ridge, the trail descends back into the woods, until it reaches the col between Pough and Hough, which is distinguished by a small clearing. This is also the intersection with the Lillian Brook herd path (44.065483, -73.777484), which is on the left (west) of the clearing and heads back down the range to the main, marked trail.

At this point, assess how you and your group are feeling and check on the time. From this spot, you still have quite a bit of climbing (1,500 feet) and distance (7.6 more miles) to cover. Assuming you’re still up for the challenge, continue straight through the clearing, following the winding herd path up to Hough. The path may be steep and overgrown in areas, and will remind your body how much work it has done so far. Albeit small, Hough’s summit at mile 7.5 (44.069549, -73.777813) is a welcomed resting area with excellent views, including the Beckhorn looming in the not-so-far distance.

On top of Dix. | Credit: Sarah Quandt
On top of Dix. | Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Pinnacle

Upon leaving Hough’s summit, you’ll descend back into the woods and reach a col. From here, the final push begins. More climbing may feel rough at this point, but compared to the section up Hough, this path is a bit gentler. As the woods open, you’ll need to get through a few more rock scrambles before reaching the Beckhorn (44.079930, -73.784957), a large, easily recognizable rock outcropping and the beginning of a marked trail. You’ll return to this location later for the descent of the range.

From the Beckhorn, continue north. After only a few minutes, at mile 8.7, you’ll finally reach the range’s crown jewel—Dix itself (44.081902, -73.786366)! Take time to enjoy the summit and exquisite 360-degree views, which, by this point in the day, are well earned. To the west, Nippletop towers in front of Blake and Colvin. Farther out, you’ll spot the Great Range and the always-impressive Mount Marcy. To the north is the Bouquet River valley, followed by Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge. Dix’s summit is bald and forms a short ridge, offering plenty of space for groups to spread out and soak in the afternoon sun. While it may be tempting to stay for a while, be conscious of time. You still have a very steep descent, followed by a long walk out ahead of you.

Descending to Elk Pass. | Credit: Sarah Quandt
Descending to Elk Pass. | Credit: Sarah Quandt

A Steep Descent

Retrace your steps from Dix’s summit to the Beckhorn, where you will turn right (west) to head down on the yellow disc-marked trail (44.079930, -73.784957). The initial descent of the rocky Beckhorn may be tricky, but look for the yellow blazes to guide you. Once back below treeline, the trail will continue to descend steeply for a total of 2,500 feet over two miles. Keep in mind that many hiking accidents happen on the descent after a successful summit bid. Here, people tend to be fatigued, are eager to be done, and often are less observant. Instead, exercise care, stay mentally alert, and try not to split your group up.

While this trail is no more difficult than almost anything else in the Adirondacks, you’ll be tackling it after an already very full day of hiking. Make sure everyone is hydrated and well fed, so they are in optimal shape and good spirits. After what will seem like an eternity of trekking downhill, the trail ends where it intersects with the main trail (44.068988, -73.809992) at mile 10.7.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Not All Downhill from Here 

Upon reaching the main trail, turn left (south) to follow the red disc trail markers. It’s a long walk out from here, so settle into a good trekking rhythm and enjoy your surroundings. You’ll quickly pass Dix Pond on the right, before hiking up and over a small bump and crossing Lillian Brook. Beyond, at mile 12.6, you’ll come across the Lillian Brook lean-to and a couple of primitive campsites.

From here, you’ll begin a slow ascent of another “bump,” which, eliciting some grumbles, will account for an unwelcome 200 feet of additional climbing. As the climb tops out and you reach the bump’s high point, you may see a rock cairn on your left. This marks the Lillian Brook herd path, the top of which you saw earlier at the col between Pough and Hough. Continue straight on the main trail, following the red discs, and you will begin to descend the bump. As the trail starts to flatten out, you’ll reach the Slide Brook lean-to and campsites again. From here, you can retrace your steps from much earlier in the day back out to the trail register and parking area, 14.8 miles later.


Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Kit

  • Trekking poles are essential for the Dix Range, with all the climbing and descending. Invest in a quality pair that is up for the task. LEKI’s Micro Vario Ti COR-TEC Trekking Poles are lightweight and packable and come with a lifetime warranty.
  • Although the herd paths are well worn, they are often overgrown with vegetation and can leave bare legs and arms covered in scratches. To stay cool but protected, a durable pair of convertible pants, like the EMS Camp Cargo Zip-Off Pant, are an excellent option. Pair them with the EMS Techwick Essence ¼-Zip for full coverage.
  • You should always be prepared when hiking, especially on longer, remote treks. Invest in a basic first aid kit, like the AMK Ultra 0.7 Scout First, which provides a comprehensive selection in a compact, waterproof package. Weighing in at only 6.5 oz., it’s barely noticeable in your pack.
  • Nutrition and hydration are paramount on grueling hikes. Calorie-dense foods are your best bet to keep up your energy and save space in your pack. Fill up on tasty Clif Nut Butter Filled energy bars and Honey Stinger Vanilla & Chocolate Gluten Free Organic Waffles. Replenish electrolytes with GU’s Grape Roctane energy drink mix.
  • Always carry a headlamp and extra batteries in your pack. They may be the difference between an easy walk out and spending an unplanned night in the woods. Try Petzl’s Actik Core headlamp, which delivers 350 lumens and offers both white light for visibility and red for night vision.
  • Pick up the National Geographic Adirondack Park, Lake Placid/High Peaks topographical map. It shows all the trails, campsites, and recreational features and offers relevant information on wildlife history, geology, and archaeology.

Credit: Elizabeth Urban
Credit: Elizabeth Ricci

Keys to the Trip

  • Get an early start. The small parking lot fills up very quickly on weekends (well before 7 a.m.). Additionally, beginning in the dark with a fresh mind and pair of legs is better than finishing in the dark when you’re mentally and physically drained.
  • The trail between the Slide Brook lean-to and the Beckhorn is technically unmarked and unmaintained. So, be sure to carry a map showing these herd paths, familiarize yourself with the route beforehand, and carry a compass (that you know how to use!). Although the herd paths are well traveled and defined, preparation is imperative.
  • Carry extra water and food. This is a long, strenuous day hike with unmarked herd paths and very few water sources. Staying hydrated and keeping your blood sugar up will keep you strong, focused, and in good spirits.
  • Know your and your group’s limitations and be realistic about expectations. The Lillian Brook herd path leads down from the Dix Range to the marked trail and is a good bailout option, if needed. You can always come back to complete the other summits!
  • Keep up on the latest trail conditions at the DEC’s Backcountry Information page for the High Peaks Region, which is updated weekly.
  • Overnight hikers may use the Slide Brook and Lillian Brook lean-tos, along with the various designated primitive camping sites, although they are first-come. Aside from these marked sites, you can camp anywhere that is at least 150 feet from a water body, road, or trail, and below 3,500 feet in elevation, unless the area is posted as “Camping Prohibited.”
  • If you finish early enough, stop at the Adirondack Buffalo Company (closes at 6 p.m.) for a variety of home-baked goods, fresh produce, buffalo meat, locally made crafts, and, perhaps most importantly, coffee. It is located on Blue Ridge Road, just before the Elk Lake Road trailhead.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked in the Dix Range recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


Newsflash: New York State Wants to Get More Families Camping

Trying a new outdoor activity for the first time can be an exciting and potentially life-changing experience. It can also be intimidating, especially with camping. Typically, it requires a couple days’ commitment, sleeping someplace other than your bed, and using possibly unfamiliar gear. To counter that, New York State started its First-Time Camper program in 2017. Created through a partnership between the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the program helps out families who have never before slept under the stars.

Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

The program gives participants everything needed for an authentic camping experience, eliminating the need to invest in any equipment upfront. Families receive a tent, sleeping bags and pads, chairs, a lantern, and even firewood. As a bonus, they can keep it all, so they can continue camping on their own.

The program also sets participants up with a Camping Ambassador. With environmental education backgrounds, they are members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps and are on-site to help set up camp and answer questions. Each adventure takes place over two nights, and during, the experts assist with various activities, including paddling, fishing, birdwatching, and hiking.

“I can’t begin to explain the incredible experience my family had.”

The program will run seven weekends during July and August at 13 camping locations spread across the state. This allows more families to participate. Potential campers can submit an application from May 10 through May 13 and may specify their campground and date preferences. The organizations will then select 65 families at random. In total, each of the 13 participating campgrounds will host five families.

Ideally, the First-Time Camper program will reach underserved populations, including those who can’t financially risk “buying before trying” or have little exposure to a wilderness environment. The experience then offers the opportunity to form life-long memories in a nurturing atmosphere. Campers surveyed from the 2017 program indicated they were “very satisfied,” and 90 percent stated that they are “extremely likely to go camping again.”

Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

“I can’t begin to explain the incredible experience my family had,” said one camper. “Our camp ambassadors were awesome—so friendly, so smart, and so patient with sharing all of their knowledge. We learned so much. We are so excited to be able to start going as a family and explore the parks and experience all that we can.”


Maintaining Your Waterproof Shoes and Boots

Investing in a good pair of waterproof hiking boots or sneakers is a smart move. After all, your feet are in almost constant contact with the ground and elements while you’re walking or running. Getting them dirty is part of the adventure, a rite of passage even. But, did you realize you should be putting in some routine maintenance to preserve the waterproofness and materials? Mud can degrade leather by removing moisture, and leftover dirt and sand can actually break down shoe materials through constant friction while you walk. Don’t stress, though. A few minutes can go a long way in extending your shoes’ useful lifespan.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Cleaning Your Footwear

It’s important to keep your shoes clean and free of mud and debris. If you’re like most hikers, you probably change out of those squishy and smelly boots at the trailhead and stuff them in a plastic bag to be forgotten about in the trunk of your car. As tired as you might be after an epic hike or long run, it’s important to not let them sit for more than a day or two.

What you’ll need: water, a vegetable brush and/or toothbrush, and a mild soap or cleaner, like NIKWAX Footwear Cleaning Gel

How To: Begin by removing the insoles and laces. Next, clap your boots together or against a hard surface outside to remove any caked-on muck and stones or gravel that may be lodged in the treads. If sticky gunk like sap is an issue, throw them in the freezer to harden it, and then pry it off with a dull knife. Next, rinse them thoroughly with water while using a brush to scrub grime out of the tough spots. You can use a bit of soap or cleaning gel, but no harsh detergents that may damage boot materials. For extra-stinky boots, use a 1:2 mixture of vinegar and water. If you encounter dusty or sandy trails, use a vacuum with the hose attachment to remove the fine particles from both the outside and inside of your boot. Lastly, don’t neglect your shoes’ soles. Make sure to thoroughly clear them of trapped debris to ensure optimal traction and to prevent breakdown of the rubber.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Conditioning Your Leather Footwear

Full-grain leather, which looks smooth, is the only leather that requires conditioning. In turn, doing so keeps the material soft and pliable, which then prevents cracking.

What you’ll need: cloth and leather conditioner (NO oils like mink) like NIKWAX Leather Conditioner

How To: Leather conditioner is typically applied to dry boots, but check the manufacturer’s instructions first. Apply a generous but sensible amount of conditioner. While the conditioner helps keep the leather soft, too much can reduce the support the boot should provide. Use a damp cloth to remove excess, and buff to polish.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Protect and Waterproof Your Footwear

Luckily, you don’t need to re-waterproof your boots or sneakers after every use. You’ll know it’s time when water droplets no longer bead on the surface and, instead, are readily absorbed into the material.

What you’ll need: Waterproof wax or application like NIKWAX Waterproofing wax

How To: Begin with clean, wet boots with water fully soaked into the material. Generally, you’ll apply the waterproof agent, let it sit for a few minutes, and then, wipe away any excess, but be sure to follow the directions on the packaging. Waterproofing agents come in various forms, such as creams that get dabbed and liquids that get sprayed on.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Drying and Storing Your Footwear

It’s important to let your boots dry thoroughly to prevent mold from forming and materials from breaking down. A low-humidity environment is key, and you can speed up the process by using a fan or boot dryer or stuffing newspaper in each shoe. However, be sure to steer clear of heat, including fireplaces, which can damage materials and weaken adhesives. Dry the insoles separately, and do not put them back into the boot until both are completely dry. Then, store the boots in a well-ventilated area, and avoid garages and attics, both of which are notoriously damp and hot.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

When Should I Retire My Footwear?

If you keep up on shoe maintenance, they’ll last forever, right? Not quite. So, how do you know when to toss ‘em? The number of miles a pair boots or sneakers has traveled can be a decent rule of thumb. You can expect hiking boots to get between 500 to 1,000 miles, while running shoes can typically see between 300 to 500 miles. These large ranges account for the many variables that cause wear and tear, such as ground surface and conditions. Visually inspect your shoes every so often for frayed, cracking, or separating materials. Cracking of the sole, compression lines, and worn treads also clearly indicate you’re due for some new kicks. Also, pay attention to your body. If your feet or joints hurt sooner or worse than usual or if you’re starting to get “hot spots,” it’s probably time to retire your boots.

 

Taking a little bit of time to care for and maintain your waterproof footwear ultimately prolongs its use. Following these basic steps will have you and your boots on the trail to happiness for years to come!


Traveling Stress-Free With Your Skis or Snowboards

Planning a ski and snowboard vacation that requires flying can be just as daunting as it is exciting. How do you get all your beloved (and expensive) gear out there with you? Traveling with your gear is easier, and less nerve-wracking, than you might think.

Airline Policies

First, find out your airline’s specific policy on checking skis/boards which should be available on their website. Many airlines treat ski gear the same as regular checked luggage regardless of the longer dimension, although standard weight restrictions will apply. Typically, skis and boots are considered one checked item, even if they are in separate bags. Again, check with the airline you’re flying on for their exact rules and if you have any doubts, give the airline a call.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

 

Luggage

Invest in a good bag or hard shell case for your skis or snowboard. It may be the biggest cost up front, but you’ll spend more to fix or replace damaged equipment. Look for ski/board bags that are padded, sturdy, has wheels, and is larger than your gear (I use a 156 cm bag for my 144 cm board). Some bags might have room for extra gear and clothing, as well as boots. If not, pack those in a separate boot bag.

 

Pro Tip: Make your luggage recognizable with duct tape, stickers, patches, or ribbon. If you have the same bag as another person, it will be easier for everyone to make sure they go home with the right gear.

Packing Tips

Look up suggested ski packing lists and create a thorough one for yourself. Use packing cubes, stuff sacks, or compression bags to keep items organized and separated; You can then use them for dirty laundry.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Skis

Begin by strapping each brake down to keep the bindings compact and make packing around them easier. Use a thick rubber band or gear tie and be sure to position it over the top of the binding, not around the ski which would create pressure on the ski’s edges.­ If you have a bag or case with room for additional gear, separate the skis in the bag to better distribute weight. Strap a pole to each ski so they don’t interfere with other items and cover the tips (wine corks work great).

Snowboards

Remove the bindings from the board to avoid damage while getting jostled around by handlers and in flight. Use a crayon to mark where your bindings are located before removal. It’ll stay put while traveling and riding, but can easily be removed with the rough side of a sponge or finger nail. This will make set up a breeze. Pack the binding hardware and a tool or screwdriver in a zip-lock bag.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Helmet

While it may seem like a great idea to stuff your helmet in a checked bag and not drag it through airports, it’s recommended to carry it on the airplane with you. Although helmets are designed to withstand multiple minor bumps, they should only take one major hit and you don’t want that to be from a turbulent flight or rough baggage handling.

Boots

People are pretty divided on whether to carry-on or check boots. Carrying on can help reduce the weight of your checked luggage and ensure your boots make it to the mountain with you. However, boots are heavy, awkward, and can be a hassle in narrow airplane aisles and during layovers. Either way, stuff your boots with smaller items like socks, neck gaiters, hats and hand warmers to avoid wasted space. Sprinkle in a little baking soda or throw in a dryer sheet to keep things fresh.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Ski Clothes

It’s tempting to wear all your layers up on the plane in an effort to save space in your luggage…which isn’t a terrible idea if you have a short flight. But you shouldn’t need to wash all your gear by the time you land because you sweat through it already. Take one jacket on the flight, preferably a puffer since it can double as a pillow. If you choose to wear winter boots onboard, bring a pair of light slip-ons to switch into on the plane and while trekking between gates on a layover.

Street Clothes

Resist the urge to pack the same amount of street clothes you would for a non-ski trip. You’ll be spending most of your time on the slopes and in many mountain towns, ski clothes double as street threads. Remember non-ski socks and gloves, sunglasses and a swimsuit if you’ll have access to a pool or hot tub.

EMS -Winter Ski Mistaya Lodge -3760

Additional Recommendations

  • Book flights with layovers of at least one hour to give your skis/snowboard a better chance of arriving at your destination the same time you do.
  • If driving with others to the airport, have the driver drop-off all the gear and passengers at the airline’s designated entrance. The driver can then park the car and walk in bag-free. This also works on the return trip.
  • When you land at your destination and head to baggage claim, don’t panic if you don’t see your skis/boards on the carousel assigned to your flight. Most airports have a separate claim area for large and oversized baggage.
  • Research local ski shops and bookmark one or two in case you do forget something or need a tune-up or repair.
  • Worried the groomer skis you brought aren’t going to fare well after a dump fresh snow? Consider renting skis for the biggest powder day. Costs for a one-day ski rental are reasonable, and could make the difference between an okay and epic day. Be sure to get to the shop early or even the night before; They’ll be busy!
  • If you’re skiing more than a few days consider waxing your skis/board once during the trip, especially if there’s fresh snow.

Shipping Gear

An alternative to checking gear is to ship it to your destination ahead of time. Check with the resort or your accommodations to see if and how to ship it to them. You won’t need to haul your hard goods to and from the airport, but shipping gear is generally more expensive than checking it.

Visit your local ski shop and ask if they have any extra ski/board boxes you can snag. Have a backup plan if you make to the mountain before your skis do or your pickup location is closed because your flight was delayed and you got in late. Make arrangements or set aside time on your trip to ship the skis back before leaving. 

 

Don’t let the thought of flying with ski gear overwhelm you. Remember all options require some money, time and effort—whether it’s packing and checking luggage, shipping and picking up gear or visiting a shop to rent skis. But none have to be a hassle with a little planning.


Alpha Guide: Mount Marcy via the Van Hoevenberg Trail

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Towering over New York State at a cloud-splitting 5,344 feet, Mount Marcy is a breathtaking Northeast peak and an iconic wilderness hike.

Climbing Mount Marcy is a rite of passage for many area hikers, whether it’s a personal goal on its own or a small piece of the pursuit to become an Adirondack 46er. Beginning from the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC) at the serene Heart Lake, this moderate, 14.5-mile hike passes scenic areas, like the old Marcy Dam and Indian Falls, before climbing for a half-mile on the windswept, rocky slope above treeline to a summit with spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding Adirondack landscape and adjacent mountains. Mount Marcy is a special place in the High Peaks Wilderness, more than five miles away from any road and a mile into the sky and reachable only by those on foot, thus making it a worthwhile journey into a wilderness as deep as you can find anywhere in the region.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 14.5 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: $10 parking at Heart Lake ($8 for ADK Members)
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/9164.html 

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Parking and the trailhead are located at the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC) at Heart Lake, about 15 minutes south of Lake Placid.

From the south (Albany or New York City), take I-87 north to Exit 30 and head west (left) on Route 73 towards Lake Placid for 26.5 miles, where you’ll take a left onto Adirondack Loj Road. The road is winding and becomes unpaved, however; you’ll reach the ticket booth after 4.8 miles. From the north (Plattsburgh or Montreal), take I-87 south to Exit 34 and head west (left) on Route 9N towards Lake Placid for 26 miles, where you will bear right (west) on Route 73. After approximately 11 miles on Route 73, take a left onto Adirondack Loj Road.

06_Trail-Section-1.2_WEB
Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Warmup

Begin by signing in at the trail register, located at the end of the parking area opposite the HPIC (44.18296, -73.96251). The trail is marked by blue discs, which you will follow the entire way to the summit. Almost immediately, you’ll encounter one of the various ski trail intersections. These are denoted by numbers, and by the well-worn path and markers, it is fairly obvious which is the main foot trail. At one mile from the trailhead, you will come to a signed intersection that leads toward the MacIntyre Range. Stay left on the blue trail, and climb gently towards Marcy.

14_Old-Marcy-Dam
Credit: Sarah Quandt

At 2.3 miles, you’ll emerge from the woods at the old Marcy Dam (44.15884, -73.95165). Here, stay left, and walk a short ways to the bridge to cross Marcy Brook. Marcy Dam previously impounded the brook, but Hurricane Irene damaged the wooden structure in 2011, and as a result, it’s in the process of being removed. Nonetheless, many hikers still refer to the crossroads and large opening in the trees where a small pond once sat as Marcy Dam. Upon crossing, turn right back towards the dam. Here, you’ll have your first peek at the MacIntyre Range and find a second register, which you should also sign (44.15866, -73.95094).

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

A Gentle Climb

Near the trail register, you’ll notice various paths leading to privies and designated campsites surrounding Marcy Dam, which are occupied on a first-come, first-serve basis. Bear left, following signage for the blue trail, and you’ll quickly reach an intersection at 2.4 miles. Bear left again, heading towards Marcy, and the terrain will become more rugged as the trail parallels Phelps Brook and begins to gain elevation more dramatically.

You’ll reach a high-water bridge at 2.6 miles (44.15719, -73.9474), where you will have the option to cross the brook now or continue about 500 feet farther upstream for a more natural water crossing via rock hopping (44.15616, -73.94622). If it’s early in the spring, if it’s been raining lately, or if you’re unsure about the water level, use the bridge, as it’s better to stay safe and dry this early in the hike. After some more uphill trekking, you’ll come to the intersection with the trail to Phelps Mountain (44.1516, -73.93561) at mile 3.3, a worthy day hike on its own.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Break with a View

Shortly after passing the turnoff to Phelps Mountain, the trail crosses Phelps Brook for the second and last time on your ascent. After the bridge, you’ll immediately begin to climb steeply. Next, you’ll come to the Marcy ski trail at 3.7 miles, where the hiking trail turns sharply right and begins to veer away from the brook. Following the blue trail markers uphill, you’ll eventually encounter the herd path to Tabletop Mountain at mile 4.4—the peak is commonly paired with Phelps for a full day.

Just past this intersection, you’ll cross a stream and reach the spur for Indian Falls at 4.5 miles (44.14051, -73.92827). Less than a minute from the main trail, the falls are a favorite spot for hikers to rest and soak their weary feet while taking in a picturesque view of the MacIntyre Range.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Still Climbing

Just beyond the spur to the falls is the intersection with the Lake Arnold Crossover Trail. Bear left, following the signs towards Mount Marcy and the blue trail markers. From here, you will enjoy a relatively flat walk before beginning to steadily climb again. The terrain begins to become rockier as you near 4,000 feet above sea level.

At 6.1 miles, you’ll reach the intersection with the Hopkins Trail, where the last pit toilet is available before you reach the summit. Stay right, following the signs and blue discs towards Marcy. After more steady climbing, you’ll reach the intersection with the Phelps Trail (44.11561, -73.91551)—not to be confused with the Phelps Mountain Trail, which you passed earlier. You may not notice the sign at this intersection, however, as it’s behind you, facing hikers as they descend from Marcy. There is no sign for ascending hikers, but you should still bear hikers’ right. Past the intersection, the trail will quickly climb above the treeline, so now is a good time to add a layer, secure your pack, and fuel up for the last leg.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Above the Treeline

From the Phelps Trail, switch to following the yellow blazes painted onto the rocks to stay on the trail. The blazes help you follow the trail immediately in front, and large cairns (rock piles) indicate the overall direction in which you are headed. These are especially helpful on cloudy days, which are frequent on Marcy due to its elevation.

Take care to stay on the trail and avoid damaging sensitive alpine vegetation, as marked by twine and rocks.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

In good weather, you will be treated to outstanding views, as you make the final push to the summit. Spruce trees stunted from harsh weather give way to gleaming rock slabs dotted with lichens. Massive rock outcroppings, towering cairns, and the adjacent High Peak summits and rock slides elicit feelings of awe and respect for Marcy and the Adirondacks. To the right (west) is Mount Colden and the MacIntyre range, and to the left (east) is Mount Haystack. As you crest the summit, you’ll see Mount Skylight ahead of you. Behind you, views of Basin and Saddleback Mountains introduce the rest of the Great Range.

With one last scramble, you’ll hoist yourself onto the summit rock, and be sitting on top of the world—or at least New York State! On most days, the summit steward there educates hikers on the alpine vegetation and helps with general questions.


Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Kit

  • The LifeStraw Water Filter is a lightweight and economical way to filter backcountry water in a pinch. The filter is good for up 1,000 liters and removes over 99.9 percent of waterborne protozoan parasites and bacteria. Use it in one of the brooks along the trek, but remember, Indian Falls is the last water source between the Loj and the summit.
  • Always carry a headlamp and extra batteries in your pack. It can make the difference between an easy walk out and being forced to spend an unplanned night in the woods. Try Petzl’s Actik headlamp, which delivers 300 lumens and offers both white light for visibility and red light for night vision.
  • A lightweight jacket to keep the wind at bay is an absolute must-have and the key to enjoying the summit. Don the Techwick Active Hybrid Wind Jacket for superior breeze protection, with better moisture control than a standard rain jacket.
  • The hike along Phelps Brook comes with pretty scenery and soothing sounds but typically also includes a wet trail. So, pack the Spindrift Gaiters to keep water, mud, and snow out of your boots.
  • Thatcher’s Mount Marcy Peak Finder is a fun tool to interpret the view from the summit and identify the adjacent mountains. It’s light, weather resistant, highly accurate, and very easy to use.
  • Pick up the Adirondack Mountain Club’s High Peaks topographical map. It shows all trails, campsites, and recreational features and offers relevant information on wildlife history, geology and archaeology.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Keys to the Trip

  • Check the weather. The last half-mile up is exposed and can feature conditions more severe than what’s happening in the parking lot or woods.
  • Pack some warmer clothes for the summit, where it’s often cooler. Even on the most beautifully sunny day in June, I’ve been thankful for my jacket and hat.
  • Keep up on the latest trail conditions at the DEC’s Backcountry Information for the High Peaks Region webpage, which is updated weekly.
  • Hikers may use the various designated camping sites near Marcy Dam and along the Van Ho trail, although they are first-come, first-served and fill up quickly. Aside from within the marked sites, campers can camp anywhere that is at least 150 feet from a water body, road, or trail, and below 3,500 feet in elevation, unless the area is posted as “Camping Prohibited.” Bear-resistant canisters are required in the eastern Adirondacks, which include the Mount Marcy area.
  • Lodging is also available at the Adirondak Loj on Heart Lake, in the form of private rooms, bunks, campsites, and lean-tos (all must be reserved). Meals are included, and kayak and paddleboard rentals are available.
  • When adding side trips, like Phelps or Tabletop Mountain, it’s best to attempt them on the way back. This will ensure you have enough time and energy for the day’s main prize—Marcy.
  • For strong, experienced hikers looking for a unique way up and a chance to bag other remote High Peaks, consider doing this trek as a long loop hike with Gray Peak and Mount Skylight. Or, opt to hike up in the dark, and watch the sunrise from the summit.
  • Filling a growler at the Adirondack Pub and Brewery, or noshing on some of Noon Mark Diner’s famous pie and milkshakes is a great way to treat yourself after your hike.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Current Conditions

Have you been up Mount Marcy recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


6 Long Adirondack Day Hikes for the Solstice

The weeks surrounding the summer solstice, which starts on June 21st, let you take advantage of extended daylight hours to tackle a challenging hike. And, for people looking to get the most out of the longest days of the year, the Adirondacks are chock-full of demanding, full-day treks.

Getting any of these long hikes done in a single day is no small feat, so preparation is key. Train your body to be in good hiking condition, pack a headlamp just in case, and become extra familiar with your route. Also, most of these recommended hikes have a “bail out” option, in case you’re losing light or energy.

The hikes listed below all begin from different trailheads. So, if you’re feeling ambitious and complete a few of these, you’ll be covering new territory with each trek.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Gray Peak, Mount Skylight, and Mount Marcy

Distance: 17 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,200 feet
Trail Head: Adirondack Loj / Heart Lake
Route Type: Loop (recommended counterclockwise).

Aim for good weather during this hike. On a clear day, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for expansive views on Marcy’s and Skylight’s mighty bald summits. And, despite Gray having a wooded peak, a few lookouts offer good views of both Skylight and Marcy. To prepare, be sure to bring an extra pair of socks, because you’ll cross the infamous floating boards relatively early on. These are nearly impossible to walk over without soaking a boot.

From the Adirondack Loj, head south past Lake Arnold to Feldspar Brook, and then, climb to the three peaks. Perhaps the loop’s best part is the pleasure of hiking Marcy, New York’s highest point, via the southwestern approach. This breathtaking route is almost entirely above the treeline and is much less crowded than the northern approach on which you’ll descend. Other notable sights include the picturesque Lake Tear of the Clouds, which is the state’s highest pond and the Hudson River’s source.

As you return, follow the Van Hoevenberg Trail back to your car from Marcy and past Indian Falls, where the late-afternoon sunlight looks marvelous bouncing off the flowing water.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Mount Haystack, Basin Mountain, and Saddleback Mountain

Distance: 17.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,600 feet
Trail Head: Garden Parking Lot (Marcy Field when lot is full, serviced by shuttle)
Route Type: Loop (recommended counterclockwise).

Also known as the Upper Great Range and often shortened to “HaBaSa,” this hike bags three High Peaks, which of course means lots of climbing.

First, climb through the Johns Brook Valley to Haystack. As the trek’s most memorable part, the outstanding views of the surrounding mountains rival the notorious cliffs leading up to Saddleback. As you head north from Haystack, you’ll pass over Basin before summiting Saddleback via the cliffs. These have a reputation for being the High Peaks’ most difficult terrain, although much of it is a mental test. Hikers generally prefer ascending to descending them. After Saddleback, follow Ore Bed Brook back down to Johns Brook via a seemingly endless sets of stairs, which follow a striking slide formed by Hurricane Irene.

A perk of this hike is the availability of water via a spigot at Johns Brook Lodge, which is located 3.5 miles from the parking lot and gets passed both on your way in and out. It’s also a great place to rest your feet, relax on the deck, and make a few new friends.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Sawteeth Mountain, Gothics Mountain, Armstrong Mountain, Upper Wolfjaw Mountain, and Lower Wolfjaw Mountain

Distance: 17 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,500 feet
Trailhead: Adirondack Mountain Club at Ausable Club
Route Type: Loop (recommended clockwise).

You’ll definitely be earning your summit time with some serious climbing. But, if you end up feeling like you’ve taken on too much, a few trails along the way lead down from the range. Hike up the Lake Road and climb the Weld Trail to Sawteeth, the peak farthest out, to assess the day’s itinerary, as it affords an excellent view of the range you’ll be climbing. Beginning with the most remote peak also provides the mental boost of knowing you’re working your way back towards the trailhead for the rest of the day. Then, continue north to the remaining mountains before doubling back briefly on Lower Wolfjaw and descending along Wedge Brook to Lake Road.

As a tip, try to pick a day with clear skies, as you’ll be treated to panoramic views of adjacent peaks and spectacular slides. Be sure to carry enough water, too. Once you’re on the range, you’ll find few places to refill, and the continuous climbing and exposure can easily dehydrate you.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Macomb Mountain, South Dix, East Dix, Hough, and Dix Mountain

Distance: 16 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,700 feet
Trailhead: Elk Lake
Route: Loop (recommended counterclockwise).

The Dix Range is another loop that will bag you five High Peaks and set your quads on fire. Most of the trails are unmarked, so be sure to bring a map that shows all of the herd paths and to reference it at all intersections you encounter. Also, be sure to get to the trailhead early. If the parking lot is full, you’ll have to park back near Clear Pond, which will add 3.5 miles round-trip to an already-strenuous hike.

From Elk Lake, head north to climb the Macomb slide. Unlike most of the other Adirondack slides, which are hard rock slab, Macomb is loose rock and gravel. So, keep a safe distance between people in your group, and look up for falling debris. From there, keep climbing north, ticking off individual peaks in whichever order makes sense to you.

You’ll end the day on the range’s highest peak, Dix, which offers sweeping views of the rest of the range, other High Peaks to the north and west, and the serene Elk Lake. To return, descend over The Beckhorn back to the Elk Lake Trail.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Cliff Mountain and Mount Redfield 

Distance: 18.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,400 feet
Trailhead: Upper Works Trailhead
Route: Out and back.

Cliff and Redfield are relatively remote High Peaks. Thus, the hike is essentially a long walk to get to the base of the two mountains. If you’re an aspiring 46er, it’s strongly recommended to hike these peaks together.

From Upper Works, you’ll hike past the beautiful Flowed Lands and cross the Opalescent River via a suspension bridge—both peaceful places to rest or have a snack. The trails for each mountain begin close to the Uphill Lean-To. By foot, these are just a few seconds from one another, so hike them in whichever order you like. Redfield has a marked trail, which is longer and gains more elevation than Cliff. Living up to its name, Cliff has a few areas of rock scrambling, although nothing too technical, and can be quite fun after the uncomplicated walk-in.

On the hike out, pause at the Flowed Lands to refuel and rehydrate for the last leg, which can feel monotonous when you do it a second time after the long way up.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Santanoni Peak, Couchsachraga Peak, and Panther Peak 

Distance: 15.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,000 feet
Trailhead: Tahawus/Upper Works Road
Route: Part out-and-back, and part loop.

Although not quite as long in distance as the other hikes, the Santanoni Range takes some time due to unmarked and unmaintained trails, which can be rugged and rocky. This hike is a good alternative if the weather is going to be gloomy, because, although the various lookouts offer great views, all three summits are mostly wooded. But, as a perk of being in the woods for most of the day, your exposure will be limited.

Couchsachraga (or “Couchie”) is usually climbed only on the pursuit to become a 46er. So you’re aware, you’ll encounter a sizable bog on the way to the summit. And, due to the peak being initially surveyed incorrectly at over 4,000 feet, anyone wanting to become a 46er must hike through it.

Overall, the range is fairly remote, and with less-crowded trails than those in the more popular High Peak areas, it makes a good option for those busy holiday weekends. And, since the first 1.75 miles is an easy trek on a dirt and gravel road, starting or finishing in the dark isn’t a major concern.


Top 9 Exercises to Get in Shape for Hiking Season

Whether you spent the winter hitting the gym, on the slopes, or binging Netflix, your body could probably use a spring tune-up in preparation for warmer weather and lots of summer hiking. Hiking seems much more enjoyable when you can focus on the stellar view and keep up a conversation with your buddies, rather than thinking about your next break while you huff and puff uphill. Plus, you’ll decrease your chances of getting injured if you’re less fatigued and more physically prepared.

Stretch First!

Before you start anything, make sure you limber up. Stretching is crucial to prevent muscle imbalances and to recover from hard workouts or hikes. Remember, dynamic stretches are meant for warm-ups (arm circles, leg swings), and static stretches (ones without movement) are for cooling down. Hiking relies greatly on your calves, hamstrings, quads, and IT band, so make sure you’re keeping these muscles happy.

Here is an extremely effective quad stretch: Get on one knee (proposal style) near a wall, with your back facing it. Scoot back, until the knee on the ground is a few inches from the wall, and fold the bottom of your leg up behind it. You’ll likely have to lean forward to get into this position. Then, slowly start to lean back while straightening up. Be careful not to go too far too fast. Eventually, your back should be parallel to the wall, although this may take some practice. Hold this stretch for a few minutes, and focus on steady breathing. It’s helpful to do this on carpeting or to place a mat under your knee, but you can even do it outside against a tree.

0_Stretch_Female

Most of the moves listed below include weights, but if you don’t have access to any, you can wear your hiking pack stuffed with books or water bottles. You may also opt for beginning without weights, as your own body weight will provide good resistance. The moves may seem difficult at first, but the goal is to work multiple muscles at once while raising your heart rate—similar to what your body experiences during a hike. You can work these into your normal routine by doing three sets of 10 to 15 reps or by alternating intense periods of “work” with shorter periods of rest.

 

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1. Snowboard Jump Squats

Muscles Used: Quads, glutes, hip flexors, core, calves, hamstrings, lower back

How it Helps: This will build the speed, strength, and aerobic capacity needed to scale mountains by fully engaging the lower body and core. The explosiveness of the movement will help you powerfully climb those steep sections.

To Do: Stand with your feet wider than your shoulders and your toes pointed slightly outward, and hold a set of dumbbells between your legs. Squat low and pulse three times before simultaneously jumping and spinning clockwise in the air. The goal is to land 180 degrees from where you began, maintaining the same wide stance. Squat low, pulse three times, and again jump and spin, but this time, do it in a counterclockwise motion. If your balance isn’t great, you might want to practice these a few times without weights.

 

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2. Walking Lunge with Overhead Weight

Muscles Used: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, core, deltoids

How it Helps: Increases leg power and speed and improves core stability while you move. This results in a stronger, faster, and better-balanced hiker.

To Do: Start with your feet together and a dumbbell or plate in your hands. Raise the weight overhead, and with your right leg, take a large step forward into a lunge position. Push off your back (left) leg, and then, bring it forward past your right leg into another lunge position. Keep the weight raised overhead the entire time. Keep alternating legs, in a walking manner. Try to move between legs fluidly, not letting your foot hit the ground while you transition into the next lunge. This may be difficult at first, but will help improve balance.

Alternatives: Hold the weight out in front of your chest, or hang it at your side.

 

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3. Wall Balls

Muscles Used: Quads, glutes, calves, hamstrings, abs, chest, lower back, deltoids, biceps, triceps

How it Helps: This total body conditioning and functional movement engages numerous muscles while increasing cardiac capacity. This makes a strong hiker who isn’t sucking wind at the first incline.

To Do: Stand facing a wall, a few inches in front of it, while holding a weighted medicine ball at chest level. Sit back and bend into a deep squat position, keeping the ball at chest level. Rise up quickly, and throw the ball above your head, so it taps the wall. Catch the ball at chest level and repeat. Try getting in a few sets of these first thing every morning. No medicine ball? Fill a basketball or soccer ball with clean sand and patch it up.

 

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4. Bulgarian Split Squat with Press

Muscles Used: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, deltoids, shoulders

How it Helps: Increases leg and arm strength while improving balance, which aids you in traversing steep and uneven terrain.

To Do: Stand a few feet in front of a bench or step, with the toes of the left foot on the bench and a dumbbell in your right hand at shoulder height. Lower into a deep lunge, briefly pausing at the bottom of the movement. Rise back up, pressing the weight above your head as you do. Repeat, lowering the weight to your shoulder as you lower into the lunge again. Do a set of 10 to 15 before switching legs.

Alternative: Hold a set of dumbbells at your sides.

 

5_Plank-Knee_Female

5. Plank Knee Twist

Muscles Used: Abs, obliques, glutes, hamstrings, deltoids, calves

How it Helps: Strengthens your core, which helps to keep you stable while hiking and to prevent back injuries.

To Do: Get in a high plank position (arms fully extended and palms on the floor). Bring your right knee to your left elbow. Return to plank position. Bring your left knee to your right elbow. When returning to plank position, be sure not to drag your foot or lazily put it back into place. You should be fully extending your foot backward, in a smooth and controlled motion.

 

6_Wall-Sit_Male

6. Wall Sits with a Twist

Muscles Used: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, abs, obliques, lower back

How it Helps: Improves balance and posture by strengthening your core. Hiking with good posture and a solid core is key to preventing injuries, slips, and falls.

To Do: Stand with your back against a wall, with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders, as you hold a dumbbell or plate with both hands. Slowly slide down the wall while walking your feet out until the top of your legs are parallel with the ground. Your feet should be far enough out that your knees do not extend over your toes. Keeping your shoulders against the wall, move the weight from the right side of your body to the left, gently touching the wall at each side. To get some fresh air and increase the burn, do these outside against a tree, and try to reach as far as you can around the side of the tree.

 

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7. Curtsy Lunge

Muscles Used: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, inner thighs, biceps, lower back

How it Helps: Strengthens the lower body while increasing your range of motion and improving balance. This allows hikers to tackle tough terrain with confidence.

To Do: Begin standing with your feet together, holding a set of dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing forward. Sweep the right leg behind and past the left leg, lowering into a curtsy. As you descend, curl the weights up, so your forearms are parallel with the ground (bicep curl). Push off the right leg, lower the weights, and return to your starting position, pausing only briefly before switching to the left leg.

 

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8. Climbing Stairs or Step-Ups

Muscles Used: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, lower back, core

How it Helps: Climbing stairs greatly mimics climbing a mountain, making it an ideal way to train for hiking. Step-ups are a multi-joint movement that will strengthen your legs and stabilize muscles that keep you strong and limber on your feet.

To Do: Get after ‘em wherever you can: in your office building, a nearby stadium, or the stair climber at the gym. Have a shortage of stairs? Do step-ups instead. All you need is a bench or a sturdy surface higher than where you are standing (12 inches or higher is preferable). Hold dumbbells at your sides, and alternate the foot with which you step up, or do sets of 10 to 15 on each leg to really feel the burn.

9. Running

How it Helps: Hiking can really put your cardiovascular system to the test and is a great way to build endurance, allowing you to take fewer breaks and comfortably keep up conversation.

To Do: Hit the trails to get comfortable moving on uneven terrain and navigating obstacles like rocks and roots. Trail running also helps to strengthen your ankles and the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that stabilize them while you hike. This helps to prevent common injuries like a sprained ankle. You can also train with interval runs, or fartlek (“speed play” in Swedish), by alternating periods of sprinting with periods of walking or light jogging. And, don’t forget to work hills into your run. Not only will hills amp up the cardio quickly, but they also strengthen leg muscles. Try to run at least three days per week: a longer trail run done at a comfortable space, a 20- to 30-minute interval run, and an exceptionally hilly run.


Top 6 Places for Trail Running Around Saratoga Springs

Most people associate Saratoga Springs with horse racing, summer concerts at SPAC, or the bustling downtown with its many pedestrians, shops, and eateries. But, you don’t have to leave the city to find a piece of nature and hit the trails.

The Saratoga area is home to a myriad of off-pavement routes with varying terrain and scenery, offering excellent trail running for beginners, more advanced folks looking for a technical challenge, and everyone in between. As you’re already in the city, you can grab some hard-earned food or drink downtown or on picturesque Saratoga Lake after your run! Beforehand, stop by the EMS in Wilton to make sure you have everything you need!

 

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

1. Saratoga Spa State Park

~15 miles of trails
Terrain: Flat to rolling; a few short, moderate hills
Surface: Dirt, grass, pavement
Recommended Run: Five Mile Trail
Trailhead Parking: Plenty. You can easily access trails from almost anywhere in the park.

The Spa State Park may seem like an obvious place to enjoy the outdoors, but hidden beyond the towering pines are miles of dirt trails. With numerous trails, paths, and park roads, there’s something for everyone. As such, you can “choose your own adventure” based on your experience, mood, or the trail conditions.

The Five Mile Trail, designated by yellow markers, is a dirt loop with a few paved sections that doubles as an excellent tour of the park. You’ll often be in woods but also see the areas of the park that attract its many visitors: a natural geyser, mineral springs, the historic Hall of Springs, Geyser Creek, wetlands, and the reflecting pool, to name a few.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

For beginners or those who haven’t hit the trails in a while, the park is an ideal place to visit. Particularly, it offers many paved trails and roads providing options for shortening your route. Thus, it’s easy to jump off the trails if you need a break or if you encounter less-than-ideal conditions, such as ice or mud.

Bonus: Bathrooms (open in late spring through early fall) are present at the many picnic pavilions scattered throughout and have a few spigots to fill up your water supply. Make sure, however, it’s a spring and not a mineral water location.

 

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

2. Hemlock and Karner Blue Butterfly Areas

~1.7 miles of Hemlock Trails and ~2 miles of trails in the Karner Area
Terrain: Flat
Surface: Dirt, sand, grass
Recommended Run: Combine these areas for a longer route.
Trailhead Parking: Designated dirt area off Crescent Avenue for the Hemlock Trail and a paved parking lot off Crescent Street for the Karner Blue Butterfly Area.

Although technically part of Saratoga Spa State Park (view a map), both of these routes are slightly removed from the main area, providing a more secluded experience. As a result, they’re a great place to escape when SPAC has a major concert or event and also offer unique biodiversity worth exploring.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Hemlock area offers two trails, denoted by blue and green markers. While the former is easy to follow with four bridges traversing wet areas, the latter is less traveled and can become overgrown, so beware if you’re wearing shorts. As well, the Hemlock area is home to forested wetlands and the most expansive area of native forest in the State Park. Around you, you’ll see old-growth hemlock and rare perched swamp white oak trees.

To extend your time outdoors, combine either of these with the Karner Blue Butterfly Area trails. Keep your eyes peeled for wild blue lupine and the endangered Karner blue butterfly, as the area recently underwent habitat restoration to help preserve the species.

Aside from stumbling across the occasional exposed tree root, you’ll find that sandy soils mostly comprise this path. Here, they’re needed for the butterfly habitat and also make for a cushy run.

 

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

3. Daniel’s Road State Forest Trails

~15 miles of trails over 523 acres
Terrain: Rolling to hilly; some short, steep inclines
Surface: Dirt, rock, roots (can be rugged)
Recommended Trails: Bee, Here to There
Trailhead Parking: On the north side of Daniels Road, at the intersection with Clinton Street

This area is popular with mountain bikers and is ideal for anyone looking for a fun and technically challenging trail run. Due to the rugged terrain, extensive trail system, and shared use, however, this route is recommended for intermediate to advanced trail runners who are comfortable on varied surfaces and have decent wayfinding skills.

The Carriage Road loop, which begins from the parking area, is wide, well-established, and easy to follow, albeit often rocky. Use it to get your feet wet (literally) and access the many other trails, like Bee. Bee is an enjoyable route that will have you feeling like a mountain goat while zigzagging up and over large rock outcrops, around trees, and over roots.

Bee ends at a junction with the Main Trail (denoted by red markers). From here, take a right (north) to access more winding trails, such as Ridgeline or Here to There. Or, take a left (south) to get back to the Carriage Road, and you’ll get treated to a pleasant view of a calm, swamp-like pond.

Because the trails can be hard to follow in certain areas, carrying a map is highly recommended. Also, since you may encounter mountain bikers and narrow passages, be sure to stay alert while running here.

 

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

4. Skidmore North Woods Trails

~3.5 miles of trails over 150 acres
Terrain: Rolling to hilly; some moderate hills
Surface: Dirt, rocks, roots, boardwalks
Recommended Run: Hit all the trails, and then, cool down with a stroll around campus
Trailhead Parking: Falstaff’s Parking Lot on the Skidmore campus

Skidmore College, a small private liberal arts school, is just a mile north of downtown Saratoga and maintains 150 acres of ecologically interesting woods. The North Woods are home to unique flora and fauna, and the school offers over 30 college courses related to them.

For trail running, red, blue, or orange markers indicate primary routes and a handful of connector trails. Thanks to the North Woods’ steward program, these are well marked and maintained, although some can be quite rocky and root covered. In recent years, boardwalks have also been installed over chronically wet areas. As you move along, you’ll find a few moderate-to-steep hills that really get your heart pumping, and a small stream provides an attractive area to cool off.

If you’re looking to get into more challenging trail running, this is a good place to start. Compared to the State Park, the terrain here is more technical. But, the trails are wide and relatively short and feature stretches of easier ground and boardwalks.

 

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

5. Woods Hollow Nature Preserve

~3 miles of trails over 130 acres
Terrain: Flat to rolling; a few moderate-to-steep inclines
Surface: Dirt
Recommended Run: All of the trails! Get close to the lake on the red trail or overlook it from higher ground on a yellow trail.
Trailhead Parking: Off Northline Road, and various small, pull-off areas are along Rowland Street

Woods Hollow Nature Preserve is a wonderful hidden gem. Although it’s well trafficked, most likely haven’t heard of it.

Once you’re here, you’ll find wide, well-maintained primary trails based on old logging roads and narrower, more technical secondary loops. Out of both possibilities, the latter provides beginners and more advanced trail runners with appropriate ground.

As you go farther, you’ll come across a small, picturesque lake in the heart of the preserve that is a popular summertime fishing spot. Additionally adding to the diverse landscape are a smaller pond, meadows, lupine fields, a sand pit, wetlands, and new- and old-growth pines.

 

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

6. Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail

2 miles, end to end
Terrain: Flat
Surface: Dirt, old wooden railroad ties, boardwalk
Trailhead Parking: Route 29 (Lake Avenue) to access from the north, or Meadowbrook Road to access from the south

The Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail is a straightforward, two-mile route that runs along an abandoned railroad line. Given its linear design and long line of sight, the trail is easy to follow and offers many opportunities to take in the natural surroundings and let your mind wander.

The route includes just one intersection, a clearly labeled spur that climbs 0.2 miles steeply up to an adjacent residential neighborhood. As the trail traverses three distinct wetland systems, there’s much to observe, including an abundance of wild and plant life. To do so, various benches, interpretive signage, and handful of viewing platforms let you sit back and watch.