What to Look for in an Early-Season Overnighter

The transition from winter is an awakening of the senses in the forest. The din of a pond teeming with newly-roused frogs, the impossibly clean aroma of snowmelt-swollen brooks mixed with budding flora, and the warmth of the sun on bare skin as it makes its way through the still leafless trees. These are the harbingers of spring, invigorating signs that we can go outside again.

Early season outings have their advantages and chief among them is the temperature: it’s not frigid, but not sweltering either. It’s warm enough to shed some of the heavier winter gear but it’s cool enough to keep the bugs and the crowds at bay. It’s also a time when water is plentiful, and a trail that might be dry as a bone in high summer will yield more than enough to keep that filter pumping.

On the flip side, being out in the spring in the northeast means you’re going to get wet. Wherever you’re going, bring rain gear, good (waterproof) footwear, and a change of clothes to stay dry in camp. Breaking out the hammock in lieu of a tent—and getting out of the mud—is also a smart move this time of year.

Any way you look at it though, it’s great to get back out there. Here are some tips on what to look for when selecting a spring backpacking trip.

The warmer lowlands and foothills can offer a reprieve from the snow and ice of the northeast’s mountains. | Credit: John Lepak
The warmer lowlands and foothills can offer a reprieve from the snow and ice of the northeast’s mountains. | Credit: John Lepak

Stay Low

For the high peaks of the Northeast, winter is a very long season where snow, ice, and some nasty chill can hang around until late. Ergo, if spring is what you’re looking for in a backpacking trip, it’s best to stick to lower elevations where the warmer temperatures creep in first. Fortunately, the Northeast boasts more than a few lowland backpacking routes, each with their own degree of natural splendor, rugged wilderness, and physical challenge. Spring will inevitably come for the mountains of the Adirondacks or the Whites, but in the meantime, the valleys are where you can find the change of season.

Cranberry Lake 50, Adirondacks

Located far in the northwestern corner of the Adirondack State Park, Cranberry Lake and its namesake hiking trail offer one of the top lowland wilderness experiences in the Northeast. Ample camping, arresting vistas, and real remoteness make this 50-mile loop hike a legitimate classic. Do it in early spring before the bugs wake up.

Lower Pemigewasset Loop, White Mountains

While the traditional Pemi Loop traverses the great ridges and summits of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, the lowland route—linking the Franconia Brook and Lincoln Brook Trails in an 18-mile loop around Owl’s Head with an overnight at Thirteen Falls Tentsite—is a wild, super remote alternative. Be prepared for a lot of water and know how to make a crossing safely.

Spring reaches the southern ranges like the Catskills, Taconics, and the Berkshires first. | Credit: John Lepak
Spring reaches the southern ranges like the Catskills, Taconics, and the Berkshires first. | Credit: John Lepak

Southern Exposure

Spring’s claim on the region moves from south to north, making landfall along Long Island Sound long before the snow starts to melt in the Great North Woods. This is great news for those hardy lovers of the cold among us, as the combination of elevation and location work to extend the ice climbing and skiing seasons well beyond the calendar’s winter. If that’s not your game, it’s best you turn your eyes to the south: friendlier climates make destinations like the Catskills, the Taconics, and the Poconos perfect for that first big trip of the season.

South Taconic Trail, Taconic Range

Stretching 16 miles along the New York–Massachusetts border, the South Taconic Trail is a gem of a hike all-too-often overlooked by the area’s backpackers. Steep climbs are rewarded with grassy summit balds and panoramic views atop Brace and Alander Mountains, and cool side trips—like the New York–Connecticut–Massachusetts boundary marker and Bash Bish Falls—make for a great weekend outing.

Burroughs Range Traverse, Catskills

Doable as a 10-mile shuttle or a 15-mile loop, the Burroughs Range is a Catskills classic that bags three peaks above 3,500 feet: Wittenberg, Cornell, and the tallest of them all, Slide. The opening climb is steep but gains what’s arguably the best summit view in the region. Beyond that is a rugged ridge walk that includes the Cornell Crack: a fun—and tricky—semi-technical rock obstacle.

Trailside shelters are great for shoulder season hiking when rain and mud tend to be at their worst. | Credit John Lepak
Trailside shelters are great for shoulder season hiking when rain and mud tend to be at their worst. | Credit John Lepak

Seek Shelter

Another excellent way to open the spring hiking season is by zeroing in on trails that have a good network of shelters. Backcountry shelters can vary greatly, from the full service huts of the Appalachian Mountain Club to the humble, trailside lean-to. Lean-tos are typically three-sided structures with a roof—just enough to keep you out of the temperamental early-spring weather and up off of the mud. Even on chillier nights, they can be down right cozy with a tarp lashed over the opening (though you should check with the land manager so make sure this is allowed—In the Adirondacks, closing off lean-tos is forbidden). Shelters are regular occurrences on long-distance trails, so Northeastern stand-bys like the AT is a good place to start.

AT–Mohawk Loop, Connecticut

This scenic hike in Connecticut’s rural Northwest Corner connects the Appalachian Trails of old and new—the blue-blazed Mohawk Trail actually follows the original path of the AT prior to being rerouted west of the Housatonic River in 1970’s—to make a 40-mile loop. The trip is replete with shelters, campsites and stellar views of the Litchfield Hills.

Harriman–Bear Mountain State Parks, Hudson Highlands

Despite being within an hour of New York City, Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks offer wilderness, an extensive network of trails and abundant shelters fit for overnight trips of any size. Link the AT with the Ramapo–Dunderberg, Long Path, and Red Cross Trails for a 22-mile loop that takes in some of the park’s greatest hits including an incredibly tight scramble, aptly named the “Lemon Squeezer.”

What are your favorite early-season backpacking locations? Let us know in the comments!


5 Shorter Local Thru-Hikes to Tackle this Year

Not everyone has the time, savings or desire to head out on a 5 month thru-hike adventure on the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails. Thankfully, for those of us who want to keep our jobs, there are plenty of shorter long-distance trails right here in the Northeast that are just as gorgeous and challenging as a longer trail, giving you the experience of thru-hiking and long periods spend in the woods, without forcing you to sacrifice a large part of your life. Plus, some can be completed in as little as one or two weeks. Here are five favorite thru-hikes that are worth your vacation time this summer.

Courtesy: Haley Blevins
Courtesy: Haley Blevins

The 100-Mile Wilderness

Explore the Appalachian Trail’s most remote section along a substantial stretch of uninterrupted trail. Stretching from Rt. 15 in Monson and continuing to Abol Bridge, the 100-Mile Wilderness offers a challenging adventure deep in Maine’s woods.

Location: Monson, Maine to Baxter State Park

Length: 100 miles (5-10 days)

Terrain: Easy to moderate elevation change with roots and rocks in sections (18,000ft. of total elevation change). Occasional water crossings.

Season: Summer to Fall. The trail can be muddy in early spring and buggy in early summer. Opt for July through October for the best conditions.

Camping: Plenty of shelters throughout. Summer and fall hikers will find themselves sharing shelters and stories with AT thru-hikers as they near the end of their multi-month adventures. Seeking more solitude? There are lots of backcountry camping options (permitted 200 feet from trails water sources).

Resupplying: None. Unless you arrange a food cache through Shaw’s Hostel in Monson.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The 100-Mile Wilderness travels through some of the most remote country in the Continental U.S. (it doesn’t cross a paved road). It’s a parade of changing scenery, with low elevation forests featuring glassy ponds and waterfalls, to the traverse across the Barren-Chairback Range and climb up White Cap. Have an extra day or two? When you finish, continue another 20 miles up Mount Katahdin and enjoy 360-degree views after a grueling 4,000-foot climb.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The Cohos Trail

Still relatively unknown, the Cohos Trail extends from the Canadian border near Pittsburg, New Hampshire to Crawford Notch in the White Mountains. Its remote nature guarantees frequent wildlife sightings and varied terrain through dense woods and across steep ridge lines through New Hampshire’s North Woods.

Location: Coos County, New Hampshire

Length: 170 Miles (10-15 days)

Terrain: Rolling hills combined with steep, rocky climbs through lush forests and by remote lakes. A combination of singletrack trail, snowmobile trail and dirt road.

Season: The Cohos can be hiked from May through October. August or September will provide ideal weather, with fewer bugs and more berries. Head out in early- or mid-October to catch the leaves change while enjoying cooler temperatures and a crowd-free White Mountains.

Camping: There are a few newly-crafted shelters, some state and private campgrounds on or just off the trail that provide more facilities, and two B&Bs in the small towns of Stark and Jefferson. Backcountry camping following LNT principles (camping at least 200 feet from the trail and water sources, packing out all trash) is permitted outside of the Connecticut Lakes Region.

Resupplying: A handful of general stores, campgrounds and inns that may accept resupply packages, and opportunities to get rides into the towns of Gorham and Groveton.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The Cohos travels through diverse ecosystems and terrain including Dixville Notch, Nash Stream Forest, White Mountain National Forest, and Connecticut Lakes regions. It’s a quiet, but challenging trail for both new and experienced hikers. With its panoramic views and frequent mushroom and wildlife sightings, this is a trail for anyone seeking solitude.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The Long Trail

Stretching the length of Vermont, The Long Trail is authentic, demanding New England hiking. It shares 100 miles with the AT and summits most of the prominent peaks in the Green Mountains, including Killington, Camel’s Hump, and Mount Mansfield. While it’s the toughest of any on this list, that doesn’t go without huge reward and bragging rights: The trail climbs over 60,000 feet in elevation.

Location: Vermont; Massachusetts to Canada

Length: 272 miles (15-25 days)

Terrain: Rugged. Steep, muddy and rocky with lots of elevation change.

Season: June to September. “Vermud” is the real deal on the Long Trail, so it’s best to hike later in the summer or fall than at the height of wet trail season. The trail can be crowded in July and August with end-to-enders and AT hikers, but you’ll have longer daylight and pleasant summer temperatures. If you can tolerate, and have the proper gear for colder weather, October would be a quiet and colorful month to hike. Late fall hikes bring higher chances of snow.

Camping: There are over 70 shelters and nicer lodges (fee required) along the Long Trail built and maintained by the Green Mountain Club. You’ll find other lodging options directly on, or not far off the trail such as the famous Long Trail Inn.

Resupplying: Most hikers will only carry 2 to 4 days of food at a time. Resupplying by sending boxes to locations closer to the trail is also an option.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: Not only is the Long Trail the oldest (established in 1930) long-distance trail in the country, it’s also one of the toughest. Through rocky high peaks and evergreen tunnels, hikers will experience challenging terrain with rewarding panoramic views. The culture of thru-hiker camaraderie and history the generations of passionate outdoors-people who’ve sustained this trail, are something special.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The New England Trail

Stretching from the Long Island Sound to Massachusetts’ northern border, this trail follows classic New England landscapes: unfragmented forests, traprock ridges, historic towns, river valleys, waterfalls and farmlands. It is comprised mainly of the Mattabesett, Metacomet, and Monadnock (M-M-M) Trail systems and makes for an attainable thru- or section-hike.

Location: Massachusetts & Connecticut

Length: 215 miles (10-20 days)

Terrain: Moderate elevation change on well-maintained single-track trail with some river crossings and some road walking.

Season: Year-round. If you’re not afraid of cooler temperatures, October is a gorgeous time to hike the NET, thanks to colorful leaves, no bugs, and beautiful temperatures (and do-able ford of the Westfield River). Summer hikers will see optimal daylight and more crowds because the trail travels through popular day-use areas. Spring would be marvelous and lush as well.

Camping: With only 8 “official” shelter and tentsite locations, camping can the biggest challenge of an NET hike. Much of the trail crosses private property or State Parks where backcountry camping is not permitted. The map clearly outlines the boundaries of these areas and since the trail crosses roads often, it is entirely possible to avoid camping illegally with the fitness to pull bigger mileage and/or finding a ride into nearby towns for the occasional hotel stay.

Resupplying: Logistics are a breeze on the NET. The trail stays pretty urban for the most part, with opportunities to eat at restaurants and re-up on food at gas stations or post offices (via resupply box) along the trail. In addition, there are many places to get rides into towns for full amenities including grocery stores, lodging and laundry. By studying the maps, hikers can easily plan for major resupplies in Northampton, Massachusetts, Farmington, Connecticut, and Middletown, Connecticut.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The New England Trail offers the unique experience of hiking through historical woods and townships among sweeping vistas, diverse resources, and plenty of summits. In addition, the trail is so accessible, providing easy logistics and gentle terrain. Highlights include the 12-mile ridge of the Mount Holyoke Range above Northampton, Rattlesnake Mountain overlooking Hartford, and Ragged Mountain.

Courtesy: Andy Kulikowski
Courtesy: Andy Kulikowski

The Northville-Placid Trail

While many people have experienced the joy of the High Peaks region, possibly bagging one of the Adirondack’s 4,000 footers, fewer have traveled the remote valleys between them. From Northville to Lake Placid, hikers can enjoy the solitude of backcountry lakes, rivers and woods.

Location: The Adirondacks, Upstate New York

Length: 136 miles (7-12 days)

Terrain: Moderate rolling hills at low-elevation, with some rocky and wet sections.

Season: June through September is the most appropriate time to hike. Since the Northville-Placid Trail stays at lower-elevation, there’s a few areas the trail runs through swamp lands, which would be buggy in early-mid summer. Days can be warm and humid with cooler temperatures at night. For warmer lakes to swim in, drier trail, and fewer bugs, hike it in September.

Camping: One of the greatest aspects of the NPT is the scenic lean-tos placed along the entire length of the trail close to many of the pristine lakes that are available on a first come, first serve basis. Backcountry camping is prohibited within 150 feet of any road, trail or body of water except at designated camping areas marked with a yellow sign.

Resupplying: In the heart of the Adirondacks, the NPT is remote and does not come within distance of any larger towns, requiring mailing resupply packages or finding a way into a town. Most hikers will send resupply boxes to the tiny towns of Piseco (mile 40) or Blue Mountain Lake (Mile 80) and get a ride into Long Lake, where you’ll find the Adirondack Trading Post and restaurants, laundry and lodging. Lake Placid (the northern terminus) is an outdoor town with many services, including shuttles and an EMS.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: With its mellow terrain and many backcountry lakes to cool off in, the Northville-Placid Trail travels through some of the wildest and most remote valleys of the Adirondacks. Some highlights include the Cedar Lakes, Canada Lakes, Long lake and the High Peaks Wilderness. The conveniently-placed shelters and straightforward logistics make it a fantastic hike for both new and experienced long-distance hikers.


The Top 5 Overlooked Hikes in Connecticut

Often overlooked for its grander neighbors to the north, Connecticut actually offers some top-notch trails and a surprising variety of terrain. You could reasonably find yourself scrambling up a cliffside in the morning and relaxing with a lobster roll and a beer on the beach by lunch. That’s the beauty of hiking in the Nutmeg State—you can have it all.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

1. Bear Mountain

The Litchfield Hills in Connecticut’s Northwest Corner account for much of the state’s elevation gain and include both its highest point (on the slopes of Mount Frissell, whose summit is actually in Massachusetts) and its highest peak: Bear Mountain.

This six-mile loop starts out at the Undermountain Trailhead on CT-41 in Salisbury. The blue-blazed trail climbs steadily through a mixed forest before dead-ending at the Appalachian Trail. Bang a right (north) and keep climbing, a bit steeper now, over some semi-exposed ledges, until you reach the manmade stone pyramid at the summit, which is over 1,600 feet higher than where you started.

Once you’re on top, it’s easy to see why this is one of the state’s more popular hikes, despite its relatively remote location.

Descend by continuing north, down a steep stretch of boulders that turn into a bit of an icefall in winter. Keep on the AT to Sages Ravine just over the state line in Massachusetts. Head right yet again on the Paradise Lane Trail for a very chill, flat mile-and-a-half before you take a left back down the Undermountain Trail to the road.

Bonus: Make this a shuttle hike to take in Lion’s Head, an exposed ridge with more excellent views. Start your hike where the AT intersects with CT-41, just three miles south of the Undermountain Trailhead.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

2. Macedonia Ridge Trail

Another Litchfield Hills beauty is the Macedonia Ridge Trail in Kent. Running a 6.5-mile loop around Macedonia Brook State Park, the trail goes through four distinct ecosystems with a little bit of elevation change (around 1,750 feet gained, all told) and varies in footing from a narrow footpath to an old forest road to a ledge scramble.

Beginning from the parking area on Macedonia Brook Road, walk back along the road the way you came (south) to find the trailhead, which is marked by a light blue blaze on the opposite side.

Keep on following those blazes. You’ll get plenty of up-and-down over rolling hills through new-growth forest, along a densely fern-covered brook bed, and an old road with old stone walls that seem less like a manmade intrusion than a component of the surroundings.

At around mile 4.0, you start really going up, reaching a ledge with outstanding southerly views. Hop on down into a little hollow before coming to a fun scramble up to the summit of Cobble Mountain, the hike’s high-point with extensive views west. If you’re rolling with your puppy friend, they may need a hand at this part.

From the top, stick to the light blue blazes, and descend through abundant mountain laurel and coniferous forest for two miles or so back to the parking area.

Bonus: Kent Falls Brewing Company, an independent brewery on a working farm, is just a short drive from Macedonia Brook State Park. Grab yourself a beer—you deserve it.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

3. Bigelow Hollow

Connecticut’s “Quiet Corner,” the rural northeastern part of the state, is home to Bigelow Hollow State Park and Nipmuck State Forest. It’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from I-84 but far from everywhere else, and it feels that way.

Enter the state park on CT-171 in Union, and you’ll find the parking area about a half-mile up the access road on the left-hand side. Here, you can access a white-blazed trail that, after a quarter-mile, runs into the also-white-blazed Park Road, a forest road that runs from CT-171 to Breakneck Pond, our main destination.

Park Road is wide and generally flat—easy for hiking but watch out for the bug population in summer. After another 0.8 wooded miles, you’ll come to a junction with the East Ridge Trail and the Breakneck Pond View Trail, indicated by light blue and red blazes.

Take a left to follow this decidedly more rugged trail for another 1.8 miles. It quickly becomes a narrow footpath along the pond’s western shore and offers intermittent (and beautiful) lake views, until you enter Massachusetts for a quarter mile or so. Then, welcome back to Connecticut!

From here, the Breakneck Pond View Trail runs into the Nipmuck Trail. This takes you back down the pond’s eastern edge and features more intermittent-but-stunning views. Eventually, you’ll return to the junction with Park Road and get back to the parking area.

Bonus: You can do a circuit of the park’s three bodies of water—Bigelow Hollow Pond, Mashapaug Lake, and Breakneck Pond—with a cool, clover loop-style traverse. Total mileage: 11.8 mi.; total elevation: around 1,025 feet.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

4. Devil’s Hopyard

Devil’s Hopyard State Park in East Haddam is a cool spot with a cool name. It also packs a waterfall, a viewpoint, and a couple of geologic formations attributed to the devil into just 860 acres. Connecting the orange-blazed Vista Trail with the unnamed white-blazed trail makes a three-mile loop on the eastern side of the Eightmile River and hits all the highlights.

The area around the parking lot on Foxtown Road and the adjacent Chapman Falls is rather developed and may be mobbed on a nice day but don’t be discouraged. The falls are beautiful, and the woods are right around the corner.

Head down the path (with the falls at your left) and cross the covered bridge to access the Vista Trail. Head straight (south) to start your counterclockwise loop.

Follow the orange blazes, bearing right when the trail splits into two separate spur trails that are both worth checking out. The first, at 0.4 miles, is a short but very steep spur trail to the Devil’s Oven, a small cave in a massive rock formation located in a densely shaded hemlock grove. The second, at 0.8 miles, is the viewpoint that gives the Vista Trail its name. While it’s worth a stop for a snack and a drink, the rolling green hills and the lack of manmade structures make for a welcome relief in one of the country’s most densely populated states.

Back on the trail, at 1.4 miles, bang a right, leaving the Vista Trail for the White Trail. This trail winds its way for another 1.5 miles or so through dense forest back to the falls. However, take care when following the trail here. There are more than a few unblazed footpaths that crisscross this part of the woods.

Back at the falls, end your hike by checking out the potholes, a handful of unnaturally perfect, cylindrical pools carved into the ledge on the eastern bank. Credited to the devil by the area’s earliest settlers, these geologic anomalies were actually caused by tiny grains of sand caught up in the swirling eddies. Not a bad guess, though, by the settlers, since they wound up giving the park such an awesome-sounding name.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

5. Pine Knob

Back in the Northwest Corner is the Pine Knob Loop, a short but sweet little hike in Housatonic Meadows State Park that connects the Appalachian Trail with US-7 in Sharon, CT. In just 2.5 miles, this route climbs around 750 feet in elevation and features some of Connecticut’s finest hiking.

From the trailhead parking lot, follow the blue-blazed Pine Knob Loop Trail into the woods, crossing Hatch Brook and running along an old stone wall up to a junction. Here, the Pine Knob Loop Trail splits, so continue to the left and begin climbing moderately.

With Hatch Brook to your left, the trail continues climbing through a pine forest. With a little breeze, the sounds of the wind through the pines and the brook running down the side of the hill make for a really special, peaceful time.

Keep on climbing, until this branch of the Pine Knob Loop Trail intersects with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail, and take a right. Here, the hike begins a relatively rough ascent, climbing over rocks to one of two excellent viewpoints.

Keep on the AT as it rolls over the ridge and ultimately begins descending. Then, rejoin the Pine Knob Loop Trail as it breaks off to the right. The trail descends steeply to another excellent viewpoint, before ultimately leveling out and arriving back at the split. Here, take a left, cross the brook again, and you’ll be back at the parking lot.


The Top 6 Early Winter Hikes in RI and CT

There’s something special about walking through the woods in winter, with fresh powder crunching underfoot and air so crisp you could almost snap it in two. And, there’s arguably no better place to experience the season in all of its frosty glory than in New England.

In thinking about the many dozens of hikes throughout this region, we’ve ditched the notorious, like the White and Green Mountains, in favor of some lesser-known trails in oft-forgotten Rhode Island and Connecticut, and picked out the ones that are absolutely spectacular this time of year.

1. The Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy

Trailhead: 675 Plainfield St., Providence, Rhode Island

With 88 preserved acres, the Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy has one prominent claim to fame: Within its borders sits the highest hill in Providence. While 296 feet above sea level may be laughable to some, the breathtaking views from its hilltop meadow most definitely aren’t—especially when covered with snow. Take the 1.5-mile Pinnacle Trail for the best vistas.

IMG_60132. Long Pond

Trailhead: North Road, Rockville, Rhode Island

As the temperatures drop, sometimes the best way to warm up isn’t by a fire—it’s on a challenging day hike. The 5.7-mile hike around Ell and Long Ponds will most certainly get hearts pumping and test your endurance. The trails wind through large rocky outcrops, wetlands, and steep, wooded areas. Make sure to wear good hiking shoes and bring plenty of water.

EMS-Winter-Active-SnowShoe-7183_Facebook

3. Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge

Ninigret Park, Charlestown, RI

As one of five national wildlife refuges in Rhode Island, Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge offers 858 acres of diverse upland and wetland habitat for exploration. Formerly part of Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Landing Field, the area now offers a great opportunity for visitors to witness visual reminders of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, view more than 250 recorded bird species, and take in some spectacular vistas of Watchaug Pond. Even better? Just a few minutes away sits the Frosty Drew Nature Center and Observatory, where the public is invited year-round to discover the stars and planets in some of Rhode Island’s darkest skies. Viewings are on Friday evenings, and if you visit during the winter, there’s a good chance you’ll have the place to yourself.

4. Bear Mountain

Route 41, Salisbury, CT

Did you know that Connecticut’s most northwestern corner is home to its tallest peak? Bear Mountain is a favorite hike among Nutmeggers and hikers looking to tackle portions, if not all, of the Appalachian Trail. During the summer months, trails up to its summit often get clogged with hikers, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to get a parking spot at the trailhead. Hikers can choose from two trails that will get you to the top: Undermountain Trail and Lion’s Head. Both are moderately strenuous and require hikers to be willing to climb steep terrain.

5. Gay City State Park

Route 85, Hebron, CT

Located on the Hebron-Bolton town line, Gay City’s 1,569 acres offer explorers a chance to peek into the state’s history. The park’s actually named after a now-extinct mill town that once occupied the area. Today, old stone foundations, several cellar holes, and some crumbling tombstones offer a glimpse into this once-prosperous township.

Sleeping Giant 3

6. Sleeping Giant State Park

Trailhead: Mt. Carmel Ave., Hamden, CT

Two miles of mountaintop resembling a sleeping giant give this park its name and make it a distinguishing feature of Connecticut’s skyline. A 1.5-mile trail through dense forest leads to a stone observation tower on Mt. Carmel’s peak, where hikers can look out over Long Island Sound, parts of New Haven and Cheshire, and almost right down onto the campus of Quinnipiac University.

Sleeping Giant 2


The NYCer’s Guide to Fall Foliage Outside the City

Get excited, NYCers, as fall is here! That means brisk air, apple picking (did someone say cider!?), fall brews, and, best of all, foliage! So, where do you go when you want to get out of the city and maximize your fall experience?

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Northern New Jersey/Delaware Water Gap

Prime Foliage: November 5 – November 19

Distance from NYC: 30 minutes – 1.5 hour drive

Often overlooked, Northern Jersey and the Delaware Water Gap have several great state parks to explore, all within an hour and a half of NYC. You can take a stroll around a lake, summit one of the many mountains with views of the city skyline, or kayak down a river with the leaf colors popping above. Visit High Point State Park and hike the Monument Trail, walk around the lake and head up to Pond Eddy to kayak the upper section of the Water Gap, or, my personal favorite, summit Bearfort Mountain via the Ernest Walker Trail.

Why visit? Northern NJ and the Delaware Water Gap give you a few options that are very close to NYC. You can even head out in the morning and be back in time for a late lunch with friends. These areas also have smaller crowds, so you may have the trails all to yourself.

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Connecticut

Prime Foliage: October 22 – November 12

Distance from NYC: 1 – 2.5 hour drive

If you’re looking for a day of hiking followed by a stop for some fresh cider, Connecticut has you covered, as it’s home a bunch of orchards and state parks that provide everything you’re looking for during peak foliage season.  Those looking to stay closer to NYC should check out Sleeping Giant State Park to rock climb the face or hike the Tower Trail, known for views all the way to Long Island Sound, and then drive just 20 minutes to Lyman Orchards for some fresh cider and apple picking. Feeling more adventurous? Head north to Kent to explore their awesome little town, Kent Falls State Park, and Macedonia Brook State Park, and then stop at Ellsworth Hill Orchard & Berry Farm.

Why Visit? Close and very easy to get to from NYC, Connecticut will give you the perfect fall day with friends or loved one. Spend the day exploring, or find a nice B&B and make a weekend out of it.

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Hudson Valley, NY

Prime Foliage: October 22 – November 5

Distance from NYC: 1.5 – 2.5 hour drive, or take Metro-North

Leaf colors during prime foliage, hiking right along the river, and small towns with great atmosphere – should I keep going? There are many great places along the Hudson River to explore, from Cold Spring to Cornwall-On-Hudson to Beacon. Each town has a variety of fall activities you can do, and all have access to some great hiking. Local hiking favorites are Breakneck Ridge, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Storm King. Once you’ve conquered one of these mountains, head into town for a celebratory beer, most likely brewed in the area, and a burger, because you’ve earned it.

Why Visit? The Hudson Valley is very accessible for NYCers, mainly because you don’t need a car to get up there. The Metro-North will drop you off right in Cold Spring, so you can explore the town for the day. Couple the ease with the beautiful fall colors while you look over the river, and the group of friends you brought along will be thanking you for an awesome day.

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Catskills, NY

Prime Foliage: October 15 – 29

Distance from NYC: 2 – 3 hour drive

If you want to hike a bigger mountain, but you do not want to drive all the way up to the Adirondacks, head to the Catskills. Mt. Wittenberg, North Point, Giant Ledge, and the Dickie Barre, Peters Kill, and Awosting Falls loop are just some of the great options to take in the fall colors. On top of the great hiking spots and The Gunks, easily offering the best rock climbing on the East Coast, you’re bound to find a fall festival in the area. Most of the ski mountains, including Hunter, Windham, and Belleayre, hold Oktoberfest celebrations and farmers markets. For those not looking to hike or climb, you can take some really beautiful scenic drives in this area, and find a few great breweries for some tastings.

Why Visit? The Catskills have a little bit of everything. The best part is, you can make it a day trip if you stay in the southern parts, like New Paltz. In the end, a fall day here is a day very well spent, and you’ll agree after experiencing it. 

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Adirondacks High Peaks Region

Prime Foliage: October 1 – 15

Distance from NYC: 3.5 – 4.5 hour drive

Take in the morning’s brisk and clear air, and then, hit the trails, where you’ll find red, yellow, orange, and purple leaves all around you as you climb in elevation. Emerging above the tree line will fill you with instant excitement, because this will be your first glance at the Adirondack Park’s peak foliage from above. That first view leaves you speechless, and it’s hard to put into words the full effect and beauty of the High Peaks Region during the fall. I highly suggest spending a few days up there, so you can take it all in and fully enjoy everything.

Look around Lake Placid and Saranac Lake for access to the best hiking, paddling, and atmosphere. As there are so many hikes with incredible views, it is hard to only list a few, but Mt. Jo, Cascade Mountain, Indian Head, and Giant Mountain are all among the best. For those looking to experience the foliage without having to hike, take a drive up to the top of Whiteface Mountain via the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway or the gondola to the top of Little Whiteface, for high peaks views without the work.

Why Visit? The Adirondacks High Peaks Region is the mecca for fall adventure. The colors are just incredible, and the towns just add to the experience. Do yourself a favor and head up there for a few days during foliage season, because you will not be disappointed.


Guide's Picks: Connecticut Climbing

As the East Coast’s oldest climbing school, the EMS Climbing School has been guiding clients up the Northeast’s classic spots and providing technical instruction to those looking to hone their skills since 1968. Although sending Whitehorse slabs, cruising Cathedral cracks, and rocking over roofs in the Gunks out of our North Conway and New Paltz locations are the first thoughts that spring to mind for many of our customers, the truth is, there are many great climbing sites outside of these two destination locations. Even better, the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School guides at many of those places!

Guide: MIKE LACKMAN

School: NORTH CONWAY

Specialty: ROCK CLIMBING, SKIING

EMS Climbing School guide Mike Lackman got his start on the short cliffs of eastern Connecticut and transitioned many of the techniques and skills he developed there to the Northeast’s big alpine sites, such as Cannon, Mount Washington, and Katahdin, as well as to Wyoming’s Tetons and Wind Rivers and Washington’s Northern Cascades. While you can still find Mike guiding out of our North Conway location, he loves sharing the same cliffs where he developed his passion with new and experienced climbers alike. A nice bonus for Mike is that the season lasts a little longer in Connecticut than it does in North Conway due to its more southerly longitude and the dark nature of the rock (think Send-tember, Rock-tober, and Go-vember).

The Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School primarily guides two locations in Connecticut—Ragged Mountain and Pinnacle Rock—and both sites have something for individuals of all abilities. Need another reason to try one of these lesser-known locations? Many of these spots have history’s most notable climbers as first ascensionists: Fritz Wiessner, who gained notoriety for his near-summit of K2 in 1939; Layton Kor, first ascensionist of two of the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America; and notorious Northeast climber Henry Barber, who has too many accomplishments to list. So when ascending many of these Connecticut classics, you’re also following in the footsteps of some of the sport’s greats.

Convinced on Connecticut climbing? Awesome! Below are Mike’s five must-do spots for everyone from the beginner to the expert.

Courtesy: Mike Lackman

Knight’s Move, Ragged Mountain

Although the excellent route Knight’s Move at Ragged Mountain is rated a beginner-friendly 5.4, don’t think of this as an easy climb; at the end of the route’s three pitches, it will have you wishing there were more. Knight’s Move delivers the exposure that you typically find on more advanced routes with straightforward climbing that everyone will appreciate.

Ancient Way, Ragged Mountain

Despite Connecticut not being a “destination” climbing location, it has fostered an old-school culture, and the grades reflect that. Climbers won’t find the soft sport or generous gym grading on Connecticut traprock. In that spirit, Ancient Way is another one of Ragged Mountain’s easier climbs that suits all abilities. Rated at a reasonable 5.5, Ancient Way delivers sustained and exposed climbing as you jam and stem your way to the top of the cliff.

Zambezi and Emerald City, Pinnacle Rock

For climbers looking for more of a challenge or seeking to step up a grade or two, Pinnacle Rock offers two of the finest 5.8s in the state. Both Zambezi and Emerald City offer moderate climbing that forces you to take your technique to the next level. Whether it’s pulling Zambezi’s crux roof or fighting your way up Emerald City’s finger crack, these experiences are sure to please. The only complaint we ever hear is that customers wish the routes were longer, because they weren’t ready to be done.

Unconquerable Crack, Ragged Mountain

Unconquerable Crack, rated between a 5.9 and 5.10, is somewhat of a local test piece. While today’s climbers might find the modest grade a ways away from what is considered advanced, remember that this is Connecticut, and sandbags are prominent. Good crack climbing technique is a must if you want to send this line and so is stamina, as Unconquerable Crack offers little rest and sustained climbing…and the route only gets harder as you move up it.

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Courtesy: Mike Lackman

Fall is the perfect time for climbing in Connecticut, as the humidity lowers, bugs disappear, and friction increases. Mike tells me that, because of the warm nature of the rock, even days that you think will be too cold for climbing are comfortable. Of course, Mike is also a ski guide, and cold is his bread and butter.

If you’ve always wanted to climb, are looking to perfect your skills, or would like to get the tour from a local, give the EMS Climbing School a call, and ask about climbing with Mike in Connecticut. And, if you nab a coveted on-sight of Unconquerable Crack, let us know—we might have a job for you.


The Top 6 New England Hikes

If you’re not getting out hiking this month in New England, you’re missing out! Between the weather, foliage, and lack of bugs, any trail in this northeastern corner is sure to give you a great day out. But, we couldn’t pick just one, so we asked our staff to help choose the best New England hikes.

Credit: Chris Picardi
Credit: Chris Picardi

Maine: The Knife Edge

Chris Picardi

For some, summiting Maine’s Mt. Katahdin marks the culmination of an epic journey along the Appalachian Trail, while for many others, it’s the reward after a strenuous day hike. Regardless of why you are hiking Katahdin, the mountain’s one feature that will almost certainly leave you in awe is the Knife Edge Trail. This 1.1-mile stretch traverses an exposed ridge with plummeting drops on both sides. While the trail can be deadly during inclement weather, on a clear day, it provides the best views of the rest of the mountain and some of the most rugged landscapes in all of New England.

Credit: Hannah Wholtmann
Credit: Hannah Wholtmann

New Hampshire: Mount Liberty

Hannah Wohltmann

With only four miles to the summit, making it the easiest of the Franconia Ridge hikes, 4,459-foot Mount Liberty offers incredible 360-degree views of the surrounding White Mountains. This mountain is accessible and extraordinary in all four seasons of the year. Ascend and descend the Liberty Springs Trail, and make sure you don’t forget your camera! Whether you’re thru-hiking or day hiking, Mount Liberty is the best bang for your buck. 

Credit: Liz Bonacci
Credit: Liz Bonacci

Connecticut: Bear Mountain

Liz Bonacci

Looking for a great hike the whole family can enjoy? Look no further than Bear Mountain in Salisbury. While this mountain stands as the tallest in Connecticut, at 2,316 feet, don’t be intimidated. Take the Undermountain Trail off Route 41 and proceed gradually to the summit for three miles. The slower ascent allows you to chat with friends and family while enjoying the breathtaking views of the Berkshires in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The remains of an old stone tower at the summit let you scramble to the top to capture that “perfect” picture, or simply sit and enjoy lunch while basking in the accomplishment of climbing Connecticut’s highest peak.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Massachusetts: Mount Wachusett

Tim Peck

John Muir famously said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go,” but what happens when the mountains are calling, and you have other commitments? That’s where the convenience of Mount Wachusett comes in. The mountain is less than half an hour from Worcester, less than an hour from Boston, and under an hour and a half from Providence and Hartford, making it the go-to for anyone seeking an adventure without spending an entire day in the car. With an incredibly diverse array of trails, the mountain offers routes for everyone, as hikers can choose steep and direct ascents like the Pine Hill Trail or longer, more gradual climbs like Harrington. No matter which you choose, those who summit Mount Wachusett will be rewarded with great views of Mount Monadnock and Mount Watatic, and on clear days, the Boston skyline is visible, as well.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Rhode Island: The North-South Trail

Ryan Wichelns

There aren’t too many places in the country’s second-most densely populated state where you can really feel like you’re away from it, but the North-South Trail in the Arcadia Management Area might be one of them. The N-S Trail runs continuously from the Massachusetts border in the north to the ocean in the south, but the 13-mile thru-hike where it bisects Arcadia, with its mixture of quiet forests, old farmland, and 10-foot Stepstone Falls, is a highlight. Head south from the Hazard Road Parking Area to Buttonwood Road, and then, spend a night at the park’s only permitted backcountry campsite, located by Stepstone Falls.

Courtesy: Justin Rumano/Flickr
Courtesy: Justin Rumano/Flickr

Vermont: Devil’s Gulch

Go down, rather than up, to hike one of the hardest sections of the state-splitting Long Trail. The five-mile loop will take you over a mountain and then down deep, so you can scramble over logs, boulders, and through a small cave, all surrounded by 175-foot walls. Watch for moose amongst the ponds and meadows on the other side before looping back.


One-Pitch Wonders: Pinnacle in Farmington, CT

It’s only one pitch. Wonder why it’s worth it?

“The guidebook said this was just a 5.6, so how the heck did I get in this position?” I thought 40 feet in the air on the sharp end. I was placing one last hallelujah nut before exiting the intersecting pair of dihedrals from which the climb got its name.

I looked over my left shoulder as my leg started to go up and down like a sewing machine, and took a calming breath as I reached for the positive edge that would help me escape the A-Frame. I carefully back-stepped onto the opposing wall, so I could press myself out of what was an unexpectedly thrilling problem.

20160418_092226After four more moves and one more piece of pro, I topped out to a good belay stance on the respectfully progressive climb known as A-Frame (for reasons now abundantly apparent) at the top of a cliff called Pinnacle in Farmington, CT.

Once Brien, my second, topped out, cursing me in the process for making this his first outdoor ascent and experiencing the shock of transitioning from solid 5.8/5.9-ish indoor climbs to a rather stiff 5.6, we had options: Walk along the top of the cliffs and set a top-rope in one of four or five distinct areas ranging from 30 to 80 feet, or rappel back down and sew another line with trad gear.

As we were setting up for our second route of the day, the venue started to fill with a few characters, mostly other climbers. A guy named Matt, clad in slacks and a Ragged Mountain Foundation member T-shirt, came by to greet us and then proceeded up the five-point-easy-face to our left for a warmup solo. I started to get the distinct impression that this was the status quo for the area: a mix of experienced enthusiasts, novices bringing their friends for a thrill, and local dirtbags looking to get a quick few laps before lunch. It was about the shortest approach you could ask for a climbing venue, and everyone we talked to smiled and was happy to be there.

Although friendly to climbers, Pinnacle Cliffs is on privately owned land that was bought essentially for quarrying rights. The rumor mill is great around this place; some say that before the quarrying, it was a former Nike missile site, while others claim there’s a former insane asylum foundation on the land. Either way, it is a regularly trafficked hot spot for climbers and sightseers. The only unfortunate drawback to its convenience, despite the fact that Ragged Mountain Foundation does a conservation day once a year at the cliff, is that it’s in deep need of further cleanup from those less environmentally conscious climbers.

Still, the best part is that there is a little bit for everyone at this playground, beginner to hardcore, trad, and top-rope inclined alike. To go, rack up with the basics for trad or a long static line to set up your top-rope anchor, and then bring a smile and a friendly attitude, because you are sure to meet someone loving the day the same way as you are.

20160418_092435Editor’s Note: David is highlighting the top locations for the best done-in-a-day adventuring you can do in the East: single-pitch rock climbing. Although we lack the towering granite and the breathtaking (and often remote) monoliths of the Midwest and Western states, the East has a plethora of what we dub “one-pitch wonders”: climbing sites that are diverse and varied, scattered in the nooks and corners of the region. But at just one pitch of climbing, these spots allow for easy accessibility, smaller racks, and low commitment, and are perfect for everyone from the day-tripper and weekend warriors to avid climbers and even students.