Alpha Guide: Skiing the Whiteface Auto Road

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A staple winter outing for cross-country and backcountry skiers in the Adirondacks, Whiteface’s Toll Road offers ease of access, a long route, and a large ascent, making it a great objective for those being introduced to backcountry skiing and for those looking to maintain their fitness for bigger objectives.

The Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway is a five-mile stretch of paved road that ascends the opposite side of the mountain from the well-known ski resort. Every year, the Toll Road gates close for the winter season and re-open after all the snow melts in the spring, so winter access to the Toll Road is for non-motorized traffic only. This turns the five miles of eight-percent incline pavement into a long and flowing skiable trail.

As one advantage, the Toll Road doesn’t need much snow to be skiable. Because the base is smooth pavement instead of a rocky and lumpy trail, just a few inches of fluffy stuff transform the surface and make it one of the most reliable early-season ski tours. However, skiing to the top of Whiteface is only half the fun. From the end of the road, you have multiple options for descents, depending on conditions and ability.

NOTICE: There is work scheduled on the Whiteface summit elevator for the 2018/19 winter season. Because of this, the Toll Road will be plowed on weekdays. 

Quick Facts

Distance: 10.5 miles, out and back to the summit.
Time to Complete: Half-day for most
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: November through April
Fees/Permits: None.
Contact: https://www.whiteface.com/activities/whiteface-veterans-memorial-highway

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Turn-By-Turn

From I-87 North, Take Exit 30 for 73W. Drive through Keene Valley and into Keene, bearing right onto 9N North. Take 9N into Jay and make a left onto 86, which will take you into Wilmington. At the main intersection of 86 and 431, follow 431 straight and up the hill to the toll house, following signs for the Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway.

The parking area to ski the Toll Road is right at the Whiteface Memorial Highway toll booth (44.402276, -73.877192). In winter, the road is plowed up to this point. The toll booth will have its gate down and locked. Park to the side of the road, but be careful not to pull too far off the shoulder into the soft snow.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Ascent

The Toll Road keeps a constant eight-percent grade for the entire 2,300 vertical feet, so the climbing begins immediately from the car and never lets off. Although the climb is consistent, however, it never feels steep. This lets you find a rhythm for efficient and consistent uphill skinning. It also helps those new to skinning get the basic motions down.

The road stretches and winds for a few miles. Along the way, the roadside picnic tables offer a few opportunities to take a break and enjoy the view. The higher you climb, the more the snow depth increases, and the trees become more and more buried. At 3.3 miles in, the road opens up to a northwest-facing view, with a picnic table. This spot also makes the base for the upper slides that run between the switchbacks (44.371359, -73.905634).

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Switchbacks

Here, you’ll spot the top of the mountain, so it might seem like you are just about finished, but you still have 1.7 miles of road and 700 feet of elevation to climb through the switchbacks. So, don’t get too excited yet. As you continue onto the switchbacks’ first turn—aptly names the Lake Placid Turn—you will find that the road opens up to a fantastic view of Lake Placid and the High Peaks. On a clear day, it’s easy to spend a lot of time here soaking in the sun and the views.

Past here, the road continues up, with a 0.8-mile stretch until the next switchback, which offers views of Lake Champlain, the Green Mountains, and beyond. Finishing the second switchback sends the road back west and into the final stretch to the Castle. This last section is just about at treeline, so expect high winds for the final stretch. The Castle (44.367348, -73.906213) is normally an operating cafe with warm drinks and food, but in the winter season, don’t expect to find any unlocked doors or hot meals waiting for you. As one benefit, it offers some shelter from the biting winds.

From the Castle, unclip your skis, and make the final ascent up the shoulder trail to Whiteface’s summit (44.365852, -73.903005). This section of the mountain is often windswept, so expect to find both bare ice or rock and deep snow drifts. Traction aids are highly recommended.

As is the case with any Adirondack summit, the top of Whiteface can offer spectacular 360-degree views on a clear day, or you could find yourself completely socked in with dense clouds. The summit may also be windswept and bitter cold; if you are trying to stay for more than just a few moments, the weather station, although locked, provides the only break from the biting winds. If you are fortunate enough to be up top on a clear day, the views of the surrounding High Peaks are crystal clear, and peering even farther to the east reveals the Green Mountains of Vermont and even New Hampshire’s Presidential Range beyond.

Lake Placid from the road. | Credit: Aaron Courain
Lake Placid from the road. | Credit: Aaron Courain

The Descent

Here is where skiers get more opportunities for backcountry fun. For skiers who are on Nordic setups or who are looking for a mellow descent, simply turn around and make your way back down the Toll Road. The mild pitch doesn’t make for fast skiing, but if you stay in your uphill skin track to build up momentum, you can shoot into the deeper snow to link a few turns before you slow down.

For backcountry skiers or snowboarders who are prepared and have the right abilities, and for when the conditions are good (having advanced avalanche knowledge is necessary), the top of the Whiteface Toll Road provides access to multiple slides. The previously mentioned slide that cuts through the Toll Road switchbacks is the obvious choice if you want to easily end up back at your car.

The slide begins at the top of the Toll Road near the Castle. However, entrance to the slide requires a careful hop over the stone wall into the snow. Be sure not to hop over at the wrong spot; otherwise, you will have a long fall. Once at the base of the Toll Road wall, clip or strap in, and make your way down the slide to the Toll Road’s first crossing. The slide’s upper portion is steeper than the lower portion, and may have an icy base obscured by a thin layer of snow.

When the slide reaches the Toll Road, cross and find a weakness in the trees on the other side of the road. The entrance to the slide’s lower half is steep, but it soon mellows out. Keep in mind that this section seems to collect snow more easily, due to having more vegetation and less wind exposure. When you get to the Toll Road again at the switchbacks’ bottom, you have reached the end of the slide. Now you can opt to head back up for another lap, or continue back to your car.


Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Kit

  • Every backcountry adventure requires a place to stash your layers, food, and extra gear. The Osprey Kamber 32 Ski Pack has all the durability, volume, and accessories you need to hold your skis and equipment for whatever tour or winter adventure you find yourself in.
  • Proper layering is key to a happy day of ski touring. The EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket is a lightweight, packable, and very warm down jacket, which itself is a crucial component of any layering system. You will be happy to have the low weight on the uphill and the extreme warmth on the downhill.
  • While a simple pair of sunglasses suffices on Whiteface’s summit in the summertime, in the winter, you will want the added protection of a pair of ski goggles, like the Native Eyewear Spindrift. These goggles have a wide field of vision and offer an easily interchangeable lens system, which lets you choose the right lens color for the conditions ahead.
  • While countless skis are appropriate for skiing the Toll Road and more routes, the Fischer S-Bound 112 finds a happy place between a Nordic touring ski and a true backcountry ski. The waxless base with a scaled mid section allows for plenty of grip on the uphill, and for steeper tours, the ski is also compatible with climbing skins for when more traction is needed. The shaped cut with a 78mm waist provides plenty of float and turning ability for the downhill in all but the deep powder days.
  • Collapsible trekking poles often have an advantage in the backcountry over a solid ski pole. But, any pole needs to have a set of powder baskets at the bottom, or else, it will basically be useless in deep, fluffy snow.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Keys to the Trip

  • It’s always a good idea to check the ski conditions and recent snowfall before a day of backcountry skiing. Too little snow means scraping your skis up and down pavement for miles. After a big dumping of snow, however, the Toll Road’s mellow grade may require just as much effort to go downhill as it does for uphill. The NERFC provides plenty of snow forecasting and data, so that you can make informed decisions on the best time to ski.
  • If you are venturing into Adirondack slide skiing, avalanche safety and preparedness are a must. Unlike Tuckerman Ravine, the Adirondacks have no avalanche forecasting. Nonetheless, having the proper knowledge is crucial for a safe day of backcountry skiing. Thankfully, the EMS Schools offer avalanche training for those who want to venture into the snowy backcountry.
  • When you come back down from the summit, head right back down the hill into Wilmington to stop at Pourman’s Taphouse. They have delicious, warm food with plenty of beers on tap to get the creative juices flowing for planning your next trip.
  • There is work scheduled on the summit elevator for the 2018/19 winter season. Because of this, the Toll Road will be plowed on weekdays. However, if a Friday or weekend snow fills in the Toll Road for the weekend, then, it’s game on!

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Current Conditions

Have you recently skied Whiteface’s Toll Road? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments for others!


goEast's Favorite Adirondack Weekend Adventures

Is there a better time to explore New York’s Adirondack Park than the fall? We can’t think of one. From the majestic rocky summits of the High Peaks to the low, loon-dotted, swinging lakes of the St. Regis Canoe Area, to a locally-brewed post-adventure beer in Lake Placid, a fall weekend in the Adirondacks has something for everyone. How much can you pack in between Friday night and Monday morning? Use these guides to our favorite ADK weekend adventures to plan your trip and soak up every last drop of that crisp Adirondack foliage.

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Our favorite hiking trip: Climb to the top of New York State

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. Need the beta? Read our Alpha Guide.

Honorable Mention: Test your navigational skills and climb 5 High Peaks via a series of herd paths.

Honorable Mention: Leave the 46ers to the crowds and get high on these less-than-4,000-footers.

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Our favorite paddling trip: Paddle a classic route through the St. Regis Canoe Area

The Adirondacks’ St. Regis Canoe Area includes some of the Northeast’s most pristine paddling opportunities. Enough waterways and canoe carries connect this massive expanse of lakes, letting paddlers explore and enjoy them for days on end. But, as one of the area’s most classic routes, Seven Carries takes you through a variety of wilderness ponds and wildlife habitats, giving you a great taste of everything this area has to offer.

The Seven Carries route was originally created as a transport route between the Saranac Inn, which has since burned down, and Paul Smith’s Hotel, now known as Paul Smith’s College. Now the route only has six carries and takes paddlers through three lakes and seven ponds. This one-way trip can be done in either direction and requires two cars. Although the route is a relatively short nine miles, some paddlers will want to turn it into an overnight trip to enjoy one of the many quiet, waterfront campsites on St. Regis Pond. Don’t put in without reading our Alpha Guide.

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Our favorite post-adventure activity: Rehydrate in Lake Placid

As with any big hike or paddle, it’s the trudge back to the parking lot that can get a little long. As winter daylight begins to fade on the back end of a long November trek, I’m sometimes cursing outselves for not trimming that one toenail that’s banging against my boot’s toe box or simply convincing myself that the hike down, with its steep icy sections, would be so much faster than the one up.

Then, my mind wanders to that first cold beer and hot bowl of chili awaiting me at one of the many Lake Placid eateries when we’re finally out of the mountains. Imagining the bartender topping off that big draft is the vision that keeps me going. Need suggestions? Read about the four best LP watering holes, here.

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Our favorite fall must-do: Check out the foliage, obviously

One of the things that the Northeast is known for is of course it’s extensive fall foliage. Fall is also a time when cool mornings and sunny weather draw many to the regions network of hiking trails. There is perhaps no better place to combine the beauty of Autumn and a passion for hiking than the Adirondack Mountains. The backdrop of the rugged Adirondack peaks, the reflections of its countless ponds and lakes, and the fiery colors of the regions hardwood forest create a spectacular scene around the month of October which is arguably unrivaled in the country.

While the massive Adirondack Park covering nearly one third of the state offers countless destinations, below are three of the finest places to combine great hiking and the warm glow of Autumn’s colors. Pick the best spots using our guide.


3 Adirondack Fall Foliage Hotspots

The Northeast, of course, is known for its extensive fall foliage. Added to this, the season’s cool mornings and sunny weather draw many to the region’s network of hiking trails. To combine the two, there’s no better place than the Adirondack Mountains. The backdrop of rugged peaks, reflections on its countless ponds and lakes, and the hardwood forest’s fiery colors create a spectacular, unrivaled scene around the month of October.

While the massive Adirondack Park covering nearly one-third of the state offers countless destinations, below are three of the finest places that combine top-notch hiking with the warm glow of autumn’s changing foliage.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Giant Mountain Wilderness

One of the most popular High Peaks, Giant Mountain offers some amazing views into the Keene Valley area from its summit. However, within the immediate area, a few other less-crowded hikes are just as rewarding. Start from the northern trailhead on Rt. 9N to travel just 2.4 miles to the short-but-steep spur trail to Owl Head Lookout. Here, you’ll get nearly 360-degree views of Giant, Rocky Ridge, Green, Hopkins, Hurricane, and many other nearby peaks.

Also within the immediate area, extensive hardwood glades provide brilliant colors during the season’s peak. For another longer day, look to climb towards Rocky Ridge Peak from the Rt. 9 trailhead in New Russia. A more difficult trek, this hike encompasses over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, but the views start early and continue to Blueberry Cobbles and Bald Peak. Both along the way are worthy targets in their own right, if you don’t want to complete the whole traverse.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Boreas Ponds Tract

Just two years ago, this area of over 20,000 acres opened to the public via a state purchase. Access is from Gulf Brook Road, located off Blue Ridge Road, just a few miles west of exit 29 on the Northway. A few miles down Gulf Brook Road leads you to a new parking lot for hikers. From here, you can hike or bike a decent dirt road into the Boreas Ponds, enjoying the open forest’s brilliant colors on either side. At 2.6 miles, you’ll come across a bridge over the LaBier Flow, itself a magnificent scene. Hang a right at the intersection just ahead, and you’ll soon arrive at the Dam and southern end of Boreas Ponds.

The view towards Panther Gorge, Mount Marcy, Haystack, and other peaks, with the Ponds in the foreground, is one of the Adirondacks’ finest. This newly opened area will likely soon have established campsites and DEC trails to explore, as well. If you are feeling adventurous, the dirt road continues around the Ponds’ east and north sides, offering more wonderful fall views of a forest that has not been open to the public in over a century. Please be aware that bikes cannot be taken beyond the Dam.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Pharaoh Lake Wilderness

The Pharaoh Lake area near Schroon Lake offers a host of trails, most of which are moderate and well marked. Due to its location being a bit farther south, peak foliage typically occurs a week or so after it does in the High Peaks. As such, it offers some spectacular fall color, even after the northern zones have faded. For a longer trip, consider the region’s great ponds and lean-tos, which are ideal for overnights and backpacking treks.

Pharaoh Mountain itself is, perhaps, the area’s most challenging hike. While just barely rising above 2,500 feet, it requires over 10 miles of hiking, with a steep ascent of 1,500 feet. The rewards are nearly 360-degree views of the southern High Peaks, Pharaoh Lake, and Gore Mountain.

Another slightly shorter hike is Treadway Mountain, which starts at Putnam Pond Campground and tops out on a U-shaped ridge that offers unique views of the area. From its open rock, you’ll spot birch standing in previously burned areas and old-growth forests in the wilderness’ northeastern corner, and with so many bodies of water serving as a backdrop, few views capture fall in the Adirondacks quite as perfectly.


5 More Fall Hikes Around New York City

Fall is objectively the best time of year in New York City. Summer’s oppressive combination of heat, humidity, and trash-day odor is finally fading away, and the icy sidewalk chaos of winter is still weeks off. It’s the best time to do anything in the five boroughs.

It’s also the right time to catch the foliage and enjoy the natural wonders that abound in the surrounding country. The options within reach of public transportation or a short drive are both surprisingly plentiful and equally cool.

So, get out of town! Borrow a car and head up the Palisades! Hop a train to the Appalachian Trail! Take a hike!

A very icy Hudson River as seen from the top of Breakneck Ridge’s opening scramble. | Credit: John Lepak
A very icy Hudson River as seen from the top of Breakneck Ridge’s opening scramble. | Credit: John Lepak

Breakneck Ridge

Make no mistake about it—Breakneck Ridge is popular. On a fair Saturday or Sunday from April to October, this place will be absolutely mobbed for two good reasons. One, it’s accessible via public transportation with its very own Metro-North stop. The other reason is that it’s awesome. Consider, for example, the 1,250 feet in elevation the Breakneck Ridge Trail gains in its opening, three-quarter-mile scramble. It’s steep, it’s rough, and the views are extraordinary. If you don’t feel like dealing with the crowds, consider Breakneck Ridge on a weekday or in winter. When it’s not covered in ice, it’s definitely still hikeable with a decent pair of MICROspikes and an abundance of caution.

From the Breakneck Ridge train station—as an aside, it’s really more of a staircase next to some rails than an actual station—walk south on NY-9D to a tunnel. The trailhead begins here and runs up over the tunnel to head east over the road. Follow the white blazes up the scramble and keep doing it. It’s steep and rough, and if you’re there on a nice day, you’ll have plenty of people to deal with, as well. Keep on climbing, and you’ll hit a nice open area with a flagpole and a view that’s great for a first breather. There’ll be two more of these on the ridge’s exposed section, so keep going up.

Eventually, you’ll run out of ridge to climb and will enter the woods, where the trail alternates between rough ups and downs. At the junction with the red-blazed Breakneck Bypass Trail, bang a left. From here, the hard work is done, and the trail descends moderately through mixed hardwood forest. In short order, the Breakneck Bypass Trail dead-ends into the yellow-blazed Wilkinson Memorial Trail. Take another left, and continue heading on down to the road—the train station will be right across NY-9D.

The view south from Bear Mountain’s summit, including New York’s skyline. | Credit: John Lepak
The view south from Bear Mountain’s summit, including New York’s skyline. | Credit: John Lepak

Bear Mountain

Hiking Bear Mountain is a tale of two trails. The rugged Major Welch Trail ascends the mountain’s decidedly woodsier northern slope, scaling several exposed mammoth rocks along the way. The northbound Appalachian Trail, on the other hand, descends to the east over gentle grades, groomed paths, and even the occasional road walk. But, despite their differences, they combine to create a lovely little loop hike with several excellent viewpoints and even a summit tower for those of us who want a little extra.

Start your hike at the junction of the Appalachian, Major Welch, and Suffern-Bear Mountain Trails, just east of the Bear Mountain Inn. The steeper, more rugged Major Welch Trail is a better bet for going up, so follow the signage and the red-and-white bullseye blazes and head out along a paved path. The path runs along Hessian Lake for a little bit, before branching off into the woods to the left, the official start of the Major Welch Trail. Follow those bullseye blazes as the trail climbs moderately, switching back twice before it ascends the slope directly.

The mammoth rock formations are a fun feature and offer views to the north and east. Keep going up, and at 1.6 miles, after another steep effort up a pile of smaller rocks, cross Perkins Memorial Drive—the alternate route up for the mechanically inclined. From here, it’s just another 0.1 miles to the flat summit and Perkins Memorial Tower. From here, on a clear day, you can see four states: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Continue across the paved parking area to the viewpoint on a ledge with open southern exposure and, way off in the distance over the Hudson Highlands’ rolling hills, a view of the Manhattan skyline.

Your way down, the ever-white-blazed Appalachian Trail, descends to the south. Trail maintenance has recently rerouted the AT to the roadway, but enjoy the views as you make your moderate descent.

Gravel, steps, and cool boulders are the order of the day as the AT takes you back to Bear Mountain Inn.

The Swamp River Boardwalk on the Appalachian Trail in Pawling, NY. | Credit: John Lepak
The Swamp River Boardwalk on the Appalachian Trail in Pawling, NY. | Credit: John Lepak

Appalachian Trail Metro-North

Courtesy of a small, weekends-only stop on the Metro-North Railroad’s Harlem Line, you can hop a train from Midtown Manhattan to access the entirety of the Appalachian Trail without ever getting behind the wheel of a car.

From the train station, cross the tracks (carefully) and start heading south. You’ll immediately be met by the Swamp River Boardwalk, a beautiful, 0.4-mile wooden walkway that traverses The Great Swamp and provides a dry route from the wooded hills to Route 22 in Pawling, New York. The reeds and cattails flanking the route on both sides create a cool kind of natural tunnel, while the abundant wildflowers attract hummingbirds.

After the boardwalk, the woods begin and so does the ascent—gently at first, until around 1.1 miles, where it gets a bit steeper. The mixed forest is thick at first, opening up a bit as you climb, until, at 1.5 miles, it reaches a meadow of tall grass and wildflowers. From here, the trail narrows and traces the border of a private home. At some points, it’s rather overgrown but isn’t difficult to follow at all. Then, it’s mostly downhill to West Dover Road and the Dover Oak, a beautiful, truly massive white oak. With a height of 114 feet and trunk circumference of 251 inches, it’s the largest—and likely the oldest—of its kind in New York State.

Take a photo with the cool tree, and then, cross the road to continue on the AT, back into the woods. After a quick initial dip, the trail resumes its climb—rocky at times—to Cat Rocks, an east-facing overlook at 3.25 miles. From here, you can survey the surrounding hills and open meadow you’d just passed through.

To return, retrace your steps to the train station for a nice, little 6.5-mile hike with around 1,350 feet of elevation gain.

Approaching the summit of Lamb’s Hill on the Fishkill Ridge Trail. | Credit: John Lepak
Approaching the summit of Lambs Hill on the Fishkill Ridge Trail. | Credit: John Lepak

Fishkill Ridge

Short, steep, and rocky ascents characterize many hikes in the Hudson Highlands, and this route up Fishkill Ridge over Lambs and Bald Hills is no exception.

From the parking area at the end of Sunnyside Road, in Beacon, New York, the red-blazed Overlook Trail begins climbing immediately. At 0.5 miles, a trail to a private campground enters from the left, and the grade evens out a bit before dipping into a gully to cross a small stream and resume climbing.

At around 1.4 miles, the trail levels out once more in an open hardwood forest with some cool stone walls. The Overlook Trail then dead-ends into the white-blazed Fishkill Ridge Trail at 1.7 miles. Here, bang a left and head up the rocky final ascent to the top of Lambs Hill at 2.2 miles. Looking back, the City of Beacon and the Hudson River provide the view.

From here, the Fishkill Ridge Trail is a true ridge walk, alternately climbing and descending and cutting through thinly wooded high grasslands and rocky outcroppings in the process. Viewpoints at 2.5 and 3.0 miles offer nice places to stop and chill before the final climb up Bald Hill at 3.7 miles.

Just past the summit—which is not actually bald and doesn’t offer much of a view–an unmarked trail enters from the left. Pick this up to head back down the hill. This portion is wide and somewhat rocky, and resembles an old woods road. Keep on it, until it eventually joins the red-blazed Overlook Trail, which will lead you back to the parking lot, making a 5.2-mile loop that covers 1,600 feet of elevation gain.

The view over Slide Mountain Wilderness from Giant Ledges. | Credit: John Lepak
The view over Slide Mountain Wilderness from Giant Ledge. | Credit: John Lepak

Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain

If wilderness is what you’re looking for, then you’re in luck. A mere two-hour drive north will land you in the rugged and wild Catskill Mountains, home to 287,500 acres of public forest preserve and 35 peaks over 3,500 feet in elevation. The trail up to Panther Mountain—one of those peaks—is a great example of what the Catskills have to offer in a fun-size day hike.

Begin on the Phoenicia-East Branch Trail, just a few steps up the hill from the parking area at the hairpin turn on CR-47, 7.2 miles south of its junction with NY-28. The trail ascends gently for 0.7 miles through a mixed forest, before reaching a well-marked intersection with the Giant Ledge-Panther Mountain-Fox Hollow Trail. Take a left onto the Giant Ledge-Panther Mountain-Fox Hollow Trail, and begin the moderate climb to Giant Ledge.

This is also a very popular trail, as the view-to-effort ratio is considerably low. At just 0.8 miles from the Phoenicia-East Branch Trail, a short spur trail to the right brings you to Giant Ledge. Here, you’ll get an incredible, sweeping view east of Devil’s Path’s jagged ridgeline to the north and the Slide Mountain Wilderness to the south, including Wittenberg, Cornell, and Slide Mountains.

Continuing from Giant Ledge to Panther Mountain, the trail levels out a bit, before climbing moderately to the true summit just 3.0 miles in. Take in the view—similar to Giant Ledge’s but including a few more summits to the north, and much cooler because it’s on top of a mountain. Retrace your steps to the parking area for a nice, little six-mile out-and-back.


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!


Alpha Guide: The Seven Carries Canoe Route

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Follow in the footsteps and paddle strokes of guideboats and their passengers through some of the Adirondacks’ most pristine and historic wilderness lakes.

The Adirondacks’ St. Regis Canoe Area includes some of the Northeast’s most pristine paddling opportunities. Enough waterways and canoe carries connect this massive expanse of lakes, letting paddlers explore and enjoy them for days on end. But, as one of the area’s most classic routes, Seven Carries takes you through a variety of wilderness ponds and wildlife habitats, giving you a great taste of everything this area has to offer.

The Seven Carries route was originally created as a transport route between the Saranac Inn, which has since burned down, and Paul Smith’s Hotel, now known as Paul Smith’s College. Now the route only has six carries and takes paddlers through three lakes and seven ponds. This one-way trip can be done in either direction and requires two cars. Although the route is a relatively short nine miles, some paddlers will want to turn it into an overnight trip to enjoy one of the many quiet, waterfront campsites on St. Regis Pond.

Quick Facts

Distance: 9 miles, one-way
Time to Complete: Half to full day for most.
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/70572.html

Download

Turn-By-Turn

This one-way route can be paddled in either direction. For planning, it requires two cars, a shuttle trip, or even a simple 10-mile bike ride from one end to the other. The southern end is at the Little Clear Pond boat launch off Fish Hatchery Rd. in Saranac Lake (44.355377, -74.292138). The northern point is at the Paul Smith’s College campus (44.438584, -74.252560).

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Pond Hopping

Little Clear Pond is a great way to start this trip. This hatchery pond does not allow fishing or camping, so you can enjoy a serene 1.5-mile paddle that takes you past small islands, where you can keep your eyes out for fish feeding on insects on the water’s surface. The abundance of fish also attracts loons, which may randomly resurface from underwater fishing excursions just about anywhere. If you are hoping to get a picture of a loon, this is a great spot to have your camera ready.

As a note, the shoreline is lined with “No Camping” signs. So, trust your map to take you to the proper carry to get to St. Regis Pond, instead of heading toward any distant sign. For each carry, a sign tells you which pond it will take you to, so make sure you’re on the correct trail before you unload.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

At 0.6 miles, the carry (44.371689, -74.298986) from Little Clear to St. Regis Pond is the longest of all the carries. Well marked and defined, the trail begins with a short uphill climb. So, if you overpacked your boat, you may begin to regret some of that extra gear. To start the next paddle, follow the trail to an old boardwalk or dock, which will help keep you out of the mud.

Fitting with the carry to it, St. Regis Pond is the trip’s largest, although the most direct route to the next carry is a 1.2-mile paddle. The pond, which offers a terrific view of St. Regis Mountain and its fire tower, is lined with waterfront campsites along the outer shoreline. As well, the large island in the lake’s eastern part has a campsite that’s a bit more unique.

Many paddlers choose to make camp here for a night, or will even basecamp for a few days while taking paddle day trips elsewhere. Because of the difficult access, Ochre Pond, the Fish Ponds, and Grass Pond are even more adventurous and secluded than the Seven Carries. Regardless of which site you pitch your tent, the air will be filled with nothing but the sounds of water lapping on the shoreline and loons calling to each other.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The carry-over to Green Pond begins on the eastern end of St. Regis Pond (44.382231, -74.301641). The clear and well-traveled trail is short and sweet (110 yards), and is a nice change from the first carry.

The first thing you will notice about Green Pond, assuming you are paddling in the spring or summer, is just how green the water appears to be, hence the name. The lush forest and small pond reflect the foliage intensely, thus giving the water a deep green hue. However, be careful not to take out at the wrong spot and portage back to Little Clear Pond. Rather, the correct portage is located at the pond’s northeastern corner (44.384037, -74.296923). A short 250-yard carry over a small hump gets you to the next paddle at Little Long Pond.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

This one-mile paddle takes you through the winding pond waters, and you will easily see how it got its name. There are also a few campsites here to settle on, if you decided against staying at an earlier spot. The campsite on the pond’s northern end has a great south-facing view of the open water and is sure to get lots of sunlight. For the interest of fishermen, this pond is also regularly stocked with brook trout, rainbow trout, and the popular hybrid, splake.

The carry (44.394463, -74.288661) from Little Long Pond to Bear Pond is short and sweet at 250 yards.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Exiting the St. Regis Canoe Area

Paddling into Bear Pond is also exiting the protected St. Regis Canoe Area, though it is difficult to tell. The most obvious sign is a very inviting campsite on a small peninsula in the center of the lake, which is unfortunately on private property. This 0.4-mile paddle cuts through the lake to the northeastern corner for the carry to the final pond.

The carry (44.399940, -74.284146) from Bear to Bog Pond is super short (less than 50 yards) and all downhill. In fact, you can see the water from Bear Pond seeping through the ground at the end of the trail and flowing into Bog Pond.

Bog Pond is the smallest of all the paddles. You may feel motivated to get through it quickly to get away from the bugs, but this amazing little pond has created its own ecosystem full of floating islands, tiny flowers, and carnivorous pitcher plants. It’s worth taking a few extra moments to observe and enjoy this incredibly unique little body of water.

The final 50-yard carry (44.400487, -74.280465) leads from here to Upper St. Regis Lake. The setting changes from raw wilderness to large open lakes with historic camps along the shores. This will also be the start of the trip’s longest paddle leg.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Wide Open Lakes

Paddling onto Upper St. Regis Lake, you can immediately tell the difference between it and the ponds you’ve been spending time in. To keep your wits about you, avoid any passing motorboats as you put into the lake. After launching your boat, keep the large Birch Island to your right side. Then, pass the island, and head NNE, which will lead you to a small, almost hidden waterway between some shoreline camps that connects to Spitfire Lake. Though this is the most direct route, being on the water allows you to see some of the Historic Adirondack Great Camps up close and appreciate the preserved North Country architecture.

Cross Spitfire Lake to the northeast, but look to the west to find St. Regis Mountain again, which was north of you earlier in the trip. Continue to the lake’s northeastern corner to access the thin and winding water passage that will lead you to Lower St. Regis Lake. Here, keep your eyes peeled for hunting birds of prey, such as hawks and bald eagles.

At the entrance of Lower St. Regis Lake, you can see the end of the trip across the water, at the site of the historic Paul Smith’s Hotel. Lower St. Regis Lake has far fewer structures along its shoreline, thus giving the college campus an even grander presence. The lake crossing is a bit farther than it looks, especially with your tired arms and a head wind. But, the calm shoreline is a welcoming finish to this classic canoe trip.


Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Kit

  • There are endless boat options for this trip. The best one is what you already have, but if you are looking for something new, the Perception Carolina 12 provides plenty of storage and stability. The longer length helps you glide easily through the water and save your energy for the carries.
  • The Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon Paddle has a blade designed for flat water tours, like the Seven Carries, and provides a smooth stroke. The carbon fiber-reinforced blade and pure carbon fiber shaft help save weight and keep your arms fresh all day long.
  • The NRS cVest PFD has plenty of pockets and storage to keep your camera and snacks handy during long tours. As well, the mesh back will be more comfortable while you lean back on the kayak seat.
  • The SealLine Boundary Pack has plenty of room to keep all of your camping gear dry while you’re out on the water. The integrated shoulder straps make carrying the pack much easier during the portages, as well.
  • There’s nothing worse than trying to relax at camp in the Adirondacks while being swarmed by black flies. Beforehand, treat your clothing and gear with some insect repellent, like Ben’s Clothing and Gear Insect Repellent, to keep the bugs at bay. The permethrin is odorless, and one application to your clothing will last for weeks. As such, you can spend time enjoying the ponds, instead of swatting mosquitoes and smelling like chemicals.
  • A day out on the water can give you a pretty good sunburn, even if it’s overcast. So, apply Sawyer’s Stay-Put Sunscreen to prevent yourself from looking like a lobster the next day. This sunblock is waterproof, which helps while you are paddling, and is easily packable, so you won’t have to think twice about bringing one extra piece of gear.
  • Try as hard as you like, but you will still get wet feet on this trip. Instead of dealing with soggy socks, wear a pair of Merrell All Out Blaze Sieve Shoes. These let your feet drain without compromising stability and traction on the trails.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Keys to the Trip

  • If you’ve never done a portage before, you will be an expert by the time you finish this trip. In any case, it helps to brush up on your portaging skills with some handy tips.
  • All of the ponds on this trip are pretty calm. However, the three larger lakes have a different temperament if things get windy, and on the St. Regis Lakes, the waves can be exacerbated by powerboat wakes. Make sure that you’re prepared to handle rough waters if the need arises, such as keeping your bow pointed into the waves and having a bailer at the ready to empty any water that may have splashed in.
  • In spring or fall, the water temperatures may be surprisingly cold. As a result, an unintended capsize or submersion becomes dangerous quickly. It’s a good idea to always keep your life vest on, even though it may seem like a harmless and easy paddle.
  • For pre- or post-paddle grub, nearby Saranac Lake has plenty of options. A personal favorite is the Blue Moon Cafe. A laid-back atmosphere and delicious food and coffee make this place a must-do.

Current Conditions

Have you paddled the Seven Carries recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


Lest We Forget: The Two Catskills 4,000-Footers

For many Northeast-based hikers, becoming a member of the AMC Four Thousand Footer Club (NH 48) or the Adirondack 46ers (ADK 46ers) represents the pinnacle of achievement. But, sneaking under the radar—and elevation—of these two illustrious groups is the Catskill 3500 Club. 

Organized peakbagging came late to the Catskills. In 1962, the Catskill 3500 Club was formed to encourage hiking in the region—roughly a quarter-century after the 46ers of Troy Hiking Club and five years after the AMC Four Thousand Footer Club.

Members have summited the 35 Catskill peaks over 3,500 feet in elevation, plus Slide, Blackhead, Balsam, and Panther mountains again in winter. Although the majority of these fall shy of the 4,000-foot marker used as a baseline for the other ranges’ high peaks, two Catskill summits meet the cutoff, Slide Mountain and Hunter Mountain.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Slide Mountain

At 4,180 feet in elevation, Slide Mountain is the tallest of the Catskill high peaks. If it were in New Hampshire, it would tie with North Tripyramid for the 32nd-tallest mountain. In the Adirondacks, it would be the 30th-tallest—nestled in between Big Slide Mountain and Lower Wolf Jaw.

Although Slide is recognized as the Catskills’ tallest peak today, that was not always the case. Because high peaks surround it, Slide is difficult to see from afar, and throughout the mid- to late-1800s, few knew it existed. As well, hotel owners in the northern Catskills refused to acknowledge its prominence. Even after its height was confirmed, they were afraid it would hurt their business.

The Hike Up

Those early hotel owners had a right to be concerned, however. Today, a trek to the summit is one of the Catskills’ most popular hikes. The most direct and favored route is via the Phoenicia-East Branch Trail and the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide Trail. Leaving from a well-marked and obvious Phoenicia-East Branch Trailhead located off State Road 47, the hike reaches its crux just moments after leaving the parking lot. Here, you’ll encounter a stream crossing—especially challenging after rain or when the snow is melting.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Fortunately, the difficulty eases after. The trail gently ascends the approximately 1,700 feet of elevation to the summit, first following the very moderate Phoenicia-East Branch Trail and then connecting with the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide Trail at a well-marked junction. You’ll get great views from the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide Trail as it approaches the summit, so make sure to stop and enjoy them. You’ll also pass a nice slabby overlook a few minutes past the summit. The summit itself, however, is wooded with no view to speak of.

On the summit, inquisitive hikers may locate a few concrete pads—remnants of an old fire tower. Also, a large rock that graces Slide’s summit features a plaque dedicated to the poet and naturalist John Burroughs. In fact, Slide Mountain lies within the Burroughs Range, named after the famed author.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Hunter Mountain

The most direct way up Hunter Mountain is to take the Becker Hollow Trail. Starting in a small parking lot off Route 214, the trail meanders on somewhat flat ground through a forest, before climbing steeply up. As you gain elevation, make sure to turn around and admire the mountains to the east. You’ll come across a few good spots for views and will have time to catch your breath. After about 1.8 miles, you’ll arrive at the junction for the Hunter Mountain Trail. Stick with the blue blazes of the Becker Hollow Trail, and you’ll gain the summit plateau in about another 0.2 miles.

As it crests the plateau, the Becker Hollow Trail opens into a large clearing with a trail junction. Although the Becker Hollow Trail continues straight, the easiest way to the summit is to turn right onto the Becker Hollow Connector Trail. Here, walk on flat ground a short distance to the true summit (at 4,039 feet) and then over to the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower and ranger’s cabin.

The Fire Tower

At 60 ft. tall, Hunter’s tower is the tallest fire tower in the state of New York. As well, it’s one of the few fire towers listed on both the National Historic Lookout Register and the National Register of Historic Places. Locally, it was one of the Catskills’ last staffed fire towers, officially closing in 1989.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

On clear days from the fire tower, hikers can take in spectacular views of the Hudson Valley, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and even southwestern Vermont. Just be forewarned: The room atop is typically locked, and the tower’s stairs are steep and not for everybody. After enjoying the views and having a well-earned snack, follow the yellow blazes of the Hunter Mountain Trail to loop back to a lower junction on the Becker Hollow Trail. Then, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

For many peakbaggers, it’s possible to summit both Hunter and Slide on the same day—perfect for those looking to check two new 4,000-footers off their lists or get a jump on becoming a member of the Catskill 3500 club. Even better, both Slide and Hunter are included on the NE 111 list. In total, the list includes the 67 New England 4,000-footers, the 46 Adirondack 4,000-footers, and these two Catskill Peaks.

Have you hiked Slide Mountain, Hunter Mountain, or any of the other Catskill 3500? If so, what has been your favorite trip?


10 Must-See Spots in the Adirondacks (That Aren't Above 4,000 Feet)

The views of the Adirondacks from one of the park’s tallest mountains are breathtaking. So, it’s no wonder everyone is flocking to the region’s 46 High Peaks. Hiking one—or all!—of the 4,000-footers is one of the Northeast’s greatest adventures. But, for those of us who get tired of the trailhead throngs, crowded or busy trails, erosion (be sure to Leave No Trace when you head out, even on these less-visited hikes), and noise pollution, or for those of us who just want a tranquil day to experience the ‘Daks alone, you may want to skip the most popular routes, and check out one of these quieter, lower-elevation options instead.

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

1. Hike Jay Mountain (Jay, NY)

The Jay Mountain Wilderness Area is a secret oasis between Lake Placid and Lake Champlain. If you’re looking for a solid hike to challenge yourself and experience the solitude of the Adirondack wilderness, this is for you. This moderate eight-mile round-trip trail is a good option for somewhat experienced hikers. For the last mile, be ready to hike along a rocky, open ridge, where you will have awesome views of the surrounding forests and mountains.

2. Paddle the North Branch Moose River (Old Forge, NY)

This quiet river is just behind the hustle and bustle of Old Forge’s main road. Rent or bring your own kayak or canoe to explore the remote waters of the river’s North Branch, itself slow moving and surrounded by lush forests at every twist and turn. Along the way, hop out on occasion to enjoy the sandy shores.

HopkinsMountain
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

3. Hike Hopkins Mountain (Keene Valley, NY)

If you’re looking for a moderate, low-traffic hike right near the High Peaks, Hopkins is a good alternative. You will get an equally amazing view with a much quieter trip. This 6.4-mile round-trip hike follows a beautiful creek most of the way, making it a scenic walk, and features vibrant green moss along the trail. Here, stop to watch the quiet water flow over boulders.

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

4. Explore Moose River Plains (Inlet, NY)

Tons of trails and old dirt roads wind through the forest, beyond lakes, streams, and rivers. As a multi-sport hub, the Moose River Plains State Wild Forest area features 130 miles of marked trails and a network of old roads ideal for hiking and mountain biking. Since the forest is so big, you’re likely to have whatever section you choose to yourself. There are also over 100 primitive roadside campsites, motorboat-free lakes to paddle and fish, and trails to hike or horseback ride. And, if you’re lucky, you might spot the resident moose.

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

 

5. Hike Owls Head Lookout (Elizabethtown, NY)

This incredible peak is just down the road from some of the busiest trail heads, but is a much quieter climb. Owls Head Lookout (not to be confused with the very popular “Owl’s Head” in Keene) is an amazing five-mile round-trip hike. Following a stream most of the way, the route feels less like you’re on a trail and more like you’re exploring the wilderness on your own. When you get to the top, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the dramatic High Peaks, Green Mountains of Vermont, and the Champlain Valley.

6. Camp at Eighth Lake (Inlet, NY)

If your type of “off the beaten path” adventure still involves bathrooms and is accessible by car, this is the state campground for you. Visit during the week or in early summer, and you can probably snag a waterfront campsite along the lake’s shore. Here, spend your day hiking nearby trails, like Rondaxe or Rocky Mountain, or rent a canoe or kayak to paddle to the little island on the lake. Bring a cooler with lunch, relax on the sandy shore, and take a dip in the water.

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

 

7. Hike Coon Mountain (Westport, NY)

Turn down an unassuming dirt road to find this hidden gem. Tucked away in a quiet town, Coon sees fewer visitors than the ultra-popular peaks near Lake Placid. You’ll hike less than a mile to the summit, and there, views of Lake Champlain, the Green Mountains, the High Peaks, and beyond make it a local favorite.

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

8. Paddle the Essex Chain Lakes (Newcomb, NY)

The Essex Chain Lakes are a wild network of lakes, ponds, and streams nestled at the Adirondacks’ center. It’s a long yet easy and scenic drive to get to this remote destination. Here, you’ll want to paddle and portage your way through the wild waters. Later, camp at the numerous rustic sites along the lakes, all available on a first-come, first-serve basis. No motor boats are allowed, so it feels quiet and peaceful.

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

9. Hike Lyon Mountain (Dannemora, NY)

Involving a seven-mile, three-hour round-trip hike in the park’s northeastern portion, Lyon Mountain offers beautiful views from the summit fire tower. Look out at Champlain Valley, all the way to Montreal, and get a 360-degree view of forests, mountains, and lakes as far as the eye can see. Throughout the year, the trail is infrequently used, and makes a good challenge.

10. Hike Mount Severance (Schroon Lake, NY)

Near the Lake George area, this small-but-mighty mountain is not far off the beaten path. However, compared to other local hikes, it sees far less traffic. While not far from the main highway, this 2.4-mile round-trip hike is usually quiet and can be completed in about an hour. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with a great view of Schroon Lake and the surrounding mountains.


Top 5 Memorial Day Hikes in the Adirondacks for Kids

If you are anything like me, the joy of a new child also means that hiking takes a backseat. Luckily, with some careful planning, hiking with young kids can become a wonderful, new way to enjoy the outdoors. I started bringing my daughter along on short hikes in a backpack-style carrier before she was a year old. To begin, here are some tips for bringing children along and some of the best kid-friendly locations throughout the Adirondacks:

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Getting Started

1. Be conservative with weather, gear, and time considerations

Plan to move slowly with little ones in tow. That being said, start early to avoid feeling like you have to rush. As well, pick a good weather day, and plan to reschedule if the forecast is poor. For gear, pack not only the essentials for safety but also extras for comfort and convenience. Hiking with kids is not the time to go ultralight!

2. Be sure to carry plenty of “fuel”

Be even more conscious of nutrition essentials. Choose food and drink items your kids already enjoy and are sure to get down. Incorporate snacks and fluids into frequent breaks.

3. Make it about the experience and the journey—not a goal or task to be completed

Plan to start with short and easy hikes, with options to cut them short if needed. Along the way, teach your kids to observe the wilderness and learn about nature and history, as their age allows. Add camping or a post-hike reward to create more memories and a love for the outdoors.

 

Where to Go

Here are just a few of my favorite short hikes for young children throughout the Adirondacks:

Courtesy: Bonnie Gross
Courtesy: Bonnie Gross

Mount Severance (Schroon Lake)

Starting off Rt. 9N just south of the intersection with Rt. 74, this hike starts with a fun walk through a tunnel-shaped culvert under the interstate. After a mild 2.4-mile round-trip, you’ll be rewarded with a summit of rocky ledges and views ranging from Schroon Lake to the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness and Paradox Lake.

Sawyer Mountain (Blue Mountain Lake)

You’ll find the trailhead between Indian Lake and Blue Mountain Lake on Rt. 28/30. This 2.1-mile hike takes you through picturesque woods and introduces some very basic but still fun scrambling to your toddlers toward the top. You’ll find the best views—covering the Cedar River Valley to Wakely Mountain—just 100 yards past the summit on a small ledge.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Rattlesnake Mountain (Willsboro Bay)

This three-mile round-trip hike starts off Rt. 22, just across from Long Pond. With “bang for your buck” views, the open summit lets you look out to Lake Champlain and Willsboro Point on one side and Long Pond and Giant Mountain on the other. Don’t worry, though. Despite the name, Northern Timber Rattlers are rare this far north. Please note: This trek goes through private lands open to hiking, but camping and other off-trail activities aren’t allowed. 

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Sleeping Beauty Mountain (Lake George)

At about five miles round-trip, this hike is a bit longer than the others, but offers some wonderful views of Lake George and beyond. Save this one for a nice summer or fall day, as the trailhead (Dacy Clearing) is at the end of a long dirt road accessed toward the end of Buttermilk Falls Road from Rt. 149 outside Lake George, and can be hard to reach during mud or snow season. If you have to park at the Hogtown Lot, you will add an additional three miles round-trip. While you are here, take a side trip to nearby Shelving Rock Falls. As a tip, use caution when hiking near slippery falls with children.

Baxter Mountain (Keene)

Roughly 2.5 miles round-trip, this hike begins on Rt. 9N in Keene. It’s known for nice views, mixed terrain, and blueberry picking when they’re in season. Be aware that while the first lookout offers outstanding views, the actual summit is a bit farther along the ridge. Also, the trail continues past the summit and down to Beede Road, allowing for a thru-hike if you have a car spot available.


5 Hikes That Will (Almost) Make You Forget You Started The Day in New York City

New York City has just about everything. The great outdoors, however? Not so much.

If you’re like me, escaping the concrete jungle and its outer reaches every few weeks is a must. There’s no better way to do that than by lacing up my hiking boots and exploring some new terrain.

In fact, you may be surprised by all the opportunities around the New York metropolitan area. From a “surprise” lake in North Jersey to a killer rock scramble up the New York State Thruway, here are five day hikes to get you out of Manhattan and back into nature.

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

1. Storm King Mountain (Cornwall-On-Hudson, New York)

Never climbed a mountain before? That’s okay. This is the perfect trip to get your hiking legs under you.

Storm King Mountain in Cornwall rises only 1,340 feet above sea level, but packs sweeping views of the Hudson River, Hudson Highlands, and the Catskill Mountains. At 2.5 miles roundtrip and only one hour and 15 minutes from Midtown, it’s a fine alternative to Breakneck Ridge, its overcrowded cousin across the river.

Set out from the parking lot along the northbound lanes of Route 9W, and pick up the orange-blazed trail at the lot’s north end. But, be ready. You’ll be sweating almost immediately as you quickly gain elevation when climbing over the exposed rock.

Follow the orange trail markers to the yellow/blue-blazed trail, which will take you to the summit. Stop and take in the view over lunch before heading back to the parking lot along the white-blazed trail.

If you’re thirsty after conquering Storm King Mountain, be sure to stop off at Industrial Arts Brewing Company, a fantastic brewery housed in a pre-Civil War era warehouse in Garnerville, New York. It’s just a quick 30-minute drive south on Route 9W.

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

2. Bald Mountain (Stony Point, New York)

If you’ve done much hiking in the New York metropolitan area, chances are you’ve spent some time in either Harriman or Bear Mountain State Park. Bald Mountain, located in the latter, is a short but steep hike that leads to a wonderful view of the Hudson River and surrounding landscapes.

At just over three miles roundtrip, this out-and-back hike gains more than 1,100 vertical feet before giving way to a rocky, mostly bald summit that overlooks the iconic Bear Mountain Bridge and surrounding highlands.

Expect about an hour-and-15-minute drive from Midtown Manhattan. Park along Route 9W north across from the Ramapo-Dunderberg and Doodletown Brook trailhead. From the road, follow the blue-blazed Cornell Mine Trail for 1.45 miles—here’s where you’ll be doing most of your climbing—before turning right onto the red/white blazes of the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail. Then, you’ll need to do just a bit more climbing before hitting your payoff at the top of Bald Mountain. Head back the way you came.

If you’re looking for another post-hike haunt, check out the Peekskill Brewery on the east side of the Hudson River. But, be prepared, as it’s often packed with hikers on weekends.

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

3. Bearfort Ridge to Surprise Lake (West Milford, New Jersey)

Hike to the remote Surprise Lake near the New York/New Jersey border, and enjoy a refreshing swim on a hot summer day, all just an hour from Midtown.

For non-hikers, this will be a challenging but rewarding adventure. At just under six miles, it has a little bit of everything: plenty of up and downs along the Bearfort Ridge, occasional rock scrambling, a rhododendron tunnel, and, of course, Surprise Lake.

Park in one of two small pullouts along Warwick Turnpike (near the intersection with White Road) in West Milford, New Jersey. Then, enter the forest just east of the barely-noticeable concrete bridge. Start on the white-blazed trail, and hike for about three miles, before picking up the yellow-blazed trail. Follow this path to the rhododendron tunnel, located at the 3.3-mile mark right before you reach Surprise Lake.

After a swim and some lunch, head back to the road along the orange-blazed trail. If you’re still sucking wind, don’t worry. The return trip will be far flatter and less challenging than the hike up.

Credit: Jorge Quinteros
Credit: Jorge Quinteros

4. Bonticou Crag (Gardiner, New York)

If a true rock scramble is what you seek, this is the hike you’ll want.

Bonticou Crag in the Mohonk Preserve near New Paltz, New York offers a short yet physical challenge for anyone wanting to use all fours on their next outing. Atop this jagged boulder field is a sunbaked summit–more of a ridgeline, actually–equipped with stunning views of the surrounding Hudson River Valley and the Catskill Mountains.

While you have many route options within the preserve, climbing Bonticou Crag before continuing to Table Rocks makes for a nice six-mile outing.

As a word of caution, this hike is not for small children and non-hikers. You’ll need to use some upper body strength while completing the 20-minute rock scramble, but it’s an exciting challenge to tackle. Also, be prepared to pay a $15 fee per hiker.

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

5. Hunter Mountain (West Kill, New York)

I know what you’re thinking: I’m not driving 2.5 hours to go hiking!

It’s a long ride, yes, but if you’re really in need of a break from the city, Hunter Mountain and the stunning view from its fire tower make for a great experience. Get an early start, because at the end lies one of the Catskills’ best pound-for-pound hikes.

At eight miles roundtrip and with approximately 1,900 feet of elevation gain, Hunter is certainly the most ambitious on this list. It’s one of the Catskills’ only two 4,000-foot mountains, but well worth the effort and time it takes to get there.

Park in the first of two lots near the end of Spruceton Road. Then, ascend the mountain on the blue-blazed horse trail, which passes through a dense and fragrant conifer forest en route to the summit. It’s about 3.1 miles to the top, but once you’re there, you will be greeted by one of the Northeast’s tallest fire towers. While the summit is technically flat and forested, the fire tower offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains. For my money, it’s the Catskills’ best view.

After you’re done taking in the scenery, make your way down by following the yellow blazes, which lead to the red-blazed trail. During your descent, you will pass through more of the lush conifer forest before reaching the Devil’s Acre shelter. Stop there for a quick break, but don’t dilly-dally. Less than a mile from the end of the hike, you’ll have the chance to cool off at Diamond Notch Falls, a pair of 15-foot waterfalls just off the red-blazed trail.

When you reach the end, walk back along Spruceton Road for a few minutes to return to the parking lot. But, before heading back to the New York State Thruway, be sure to stop at the West Kill Brewery, just a mile from the trailhead, to celebrate bagging the Catskills’ second-tallest mountain. You’ve earned it.