Mud Season—Now What?

What are the two most dreaded words in the English language?

Mud season.

The scourge of hikers. The nemesis of backpackers. The evil overlord of fun in the spring. What is it about mud season that brings about these feelings?

Well, for starters, hiking any High Peak (mountains over 4,000 feet) in the Adirondacks is out. And, for a good reason, I’d say. According to our friends over at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), avoiding sensitive, high-elevation trails above 2,500 feet until they’re dried and hardened helps prevent irreparable damage.

But, what if you say, “To heck with it. I’m hiking. It’s only a little mud. What’s the big deal?”

It is a big deal—a pretty darn big deal, actually. So says Brendan Wiltse, and he should know: He’s spent the last seven years studying this kind of thing as the Science and Stewardship Director of the Ausable River Association.

“During mud season, trail conditions at high elevations often result in hikers deviating from the established trail or hiking along the sides, causing trail widening and erosion,” Wiltse says. “Soils at high elevations are often thin and prone to erosion. It only takes a few hikers walking on these thin, saturated soils to cause damage to the rare plants that live there.”

So, what can you do? You can embrace mud season. Realize that it will typically be you and very few other hikers out on the trails. Add in no bugs and warmer weather, and you have yourself a good time coming. And, during this season, please consider the following as alternatives until the Adirondack High Peaks have had the chance to dry out and get themselves ready for some boot-stompin’ summer hiking.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Baxter Mountain

How much summit fun can be packed into one tiny mountain? If your name is Baxter, apparently a whole bunch. The one-mile hike up is a pleasant stroll in the woods, with a 725-foot elevation gain before you pop up onto the summit. Make sure you find the path through the woods that will take you along the summit ridge line.

Hike: Hammond Pond Wild Forest, 2 miles RT, easy hike.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Hurricane Mountain from Route 9N

The best “Oh my God, no!” moment is when you step out for a view at 2.8 miles and see the fire tower still looks impossibly far away. Spoiler alert: It really isn’t that far—only 7/10ths of a mile to go! From here, it is a quick roller coaster of a hike through some pretty forest, before you get spit out onto the summit rock. Oh, and the views? They’re to die for. So, pack a lunch, and stay to enjoy the summit—in any season.

Hike: Hurricane Mountain Wilderness, 6.8 miles RT, moderate hike.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Jay Mountain

It ends in a 1.5-mile ridge hike. Need I say more? How about gentle switchbacks that your knees will thank you for, stellar views of Whiteface, and rock cairns taller than you? Still not enough? If a 1.5-mile ridge hike doesn’t make your heart go pitter-pat, then you probably should find a new outdoor hobby.

Hike: Jay Mountain Wilderness, 8 miles RT, moderate hike.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Mt. Jo

For a return on your investment, this is one of the best hikes out there. A mere 1.1 miles and 700 feet of elevation gain will get you some of the prettiest High Peak views from a non-High Peak summit. And, there are not one but TWO ways to reach the top: the Short Trail (steeper) or the Long Trail (less steep but longer).

Hike: High Peaks Wilderness Area, 2.2 miles RT for the Short Trail and 2.6 miles RT for the Long Trail, easy to moderate hike.

Credit: Kisti Brennan
Credit: Kisti Brennan

Ampersand Mountain

Which mountain do you summit when you want to feel as if you have worked for your hike AND you want 360-degree views? Ampersand. Not only are the sights gasp-worthy, but there is plenty of rock to pull up and sit a spell.

Hike: High Peaks Wilderness Area, 5.4 miles RT, moderate hike.

Credit: Kisti Brennan
Credit: Kisti Brennan

Haystack Mountain

No, not the High Peak. It’s mud season, remember? This one is just outside Saranac Lake and offers a mighty pleasant walk through the prettiest woods I’ve seen since the last time I hiked through trees and duff in the Adirondack Park. (Am I right? Isn’t every bit of the park absolutely gorgeous?) Don’t get too complacent, however, as the eventual elevation gain is serious enough to break a sweat, but the views from the open rock ledge are worth every droplet.

Hike: McKenzie Mountain Wilderness, 6.6 miles RT, easy to moderate hike.

 

Not sure what else is on the recommended “OK-to-hike-without-eroding-the-trails-further” list? Follow this link to a DEC page that will give you a full list of recommended mud season hikes, and make sure to also sign up for updates.


Guide's Pick: Best Adirondack Ice Climbing Destinations

Winter is finally in full swing here in the Northeast, with the mercury hanging well below that magical 32-degree line in many places. And, that can only mean one thing: ice! Whether you’re a seasoned ice climber or a beginner just looking to get that first taste of vertical water, Lake Placid and the Adirondacks are home to some of the United States’ best and most accessible ice climbing destinations. The area offers varied terrain—from shorter, low-angled waterfalls to longer, more difficult routes—making the Adirondacks inviting for all skill levels. What’s even better is, EMS offers a range of ice climbing and mountaineering courses out of Lake Placid, tailored to your skill level. We caught up with EMS Climbing School guide Will Roth to get you the low-down on climbing Adirondack ice.

Guide: WILL ROTH

School: LAKE PLACID

Specialty: ICE, ALPINE, TRAD, and SPORT CLIMBING

Roth started climbing while attending Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, and quickly fell in love with all of its aspects. Will’s passion is demonstrated through his impressive resume of ascents: He’s climbed all over the Northeast and American West, scaled the fabled big walls of Yosemite, completed high-altitude ascents in Peru and Bolivia, and winter-climbed in Scotland and Chamonix, just to name a few. “It’s impossible for me to get bored,” Roth said. “[Climbing] gives me a purpose. I’m always thinking about how I’m going to get things done, so I can climb more.”

With so much energy and passion for the sport, Will inevitably became a guide. Inspired by a great climbing mentor who was a guide himself, Will found his niche in the Adirondacks, running an ice climbing program for the Boy Scouts. He transitioned into his role as an EMS guide from there.

The Adirondacks offer the perfect backdrop for Will to teach his clients the fundamentals and beyond, and he’s quick to share the wisdom he’s accrued over the years: “Go with a guide service like the EMS climbing school that has high-quality gear for you to borrow. In ice climbing, quality gear can make a huge difference in your initial impression.”

If you do take an EMS course in the Adirondacks, rest assured that you will be outfitted with all of the proper technical gear to move on steep snow and ice, as well as expert instruction to give you a full understanding of what’s required to climb ice in the wintertime.

Before you depart, Will recommends bringing lots of easy-to-consume, high-calorie snacks. He also stresses the importance of staying hydrated by bringing along warm liquids: “Staying hydrated will make your day more enjoyable, and it’s easier to drink warm liquids. Cold fluids usually aren’t very appealing when it’s freezing out! Also, a warm belay jacket is important for comfort when not climbing.”

When you’re ready to go, use this list from Roth for some of the Adirondacks’ best routes:

Credit: Chris LaCour</a
Credit: Chris LaCour

Chouinard’s Gully (NEI 3 300′)

This is the route that Yvon Chouinard and his crew supposedly climbed during their historic 1969 visit. It’s three pitches of moderate ice, with the first being the steepest. Although you can rappel the entire route, walking off down a trail from the top keeps congestion on busy days to a minimum. This one is a classic and can get busy.

Pharaoh Mountain (NEI 3+)

If this route is in, get on it! It’s a long day, no matter how you do it. After a several-mile approach, three moderate pitches lead to the top. The first is the steepest, and after that, the higher you get, the easier the angle. Good map and compass skills and an overnight kit are a must on this excursion, especially if the weather is bad and visibility low. Most doing this climb for the first time significantly underestimate the time it takes to go from car to car, but it’s probably the Adirondacks’ best route of its grade.

Credit: molochmaster
Credit: molochmaster

Multiplication Gully (NEI 3+ 225′)

In the Adirondacks, we don’t have many climbs like this. It is a true gully, with steep walls on either side. Two pitches of moderate ice top out at a cliff that has vegetation so thick you better rap off. This climb truly is a gem, and being tucked back into a cliff with views out toward Whiteface Mountain really makes it stand out.

Credit: Bertrand Côté
Credit: Bertrand Côté

Positive Thinking (NEI 5- 400′)

This is the big, hard route. The initial long, just under vertical first pitch can be deceivingly thin, while the second pitch is short but steep! And, the last pitch is a fun romp to the trees. Topping this climb out is always satisfying!

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Roaring Brook Falls (NEI 3+ 350′)

On a below-zero degree day in the sun, this three-pitch moderate climb is where you want to be. Because you’re climbing a “live” feature, there are always interesting ice formations. More than other ice climbs, this one forms differently every year.

 

Whether you’re tackling Positive Thinking or taking EMS’s Introduction to Ice Climbing course, you’re going to have a good time in the Adirondacks. The rhythmic swing of the ice axes and the deliberate, precise nature of the task at hand all make for an experience that’s hard not to enjoy. And, what’s better than spending a winter day in the outdoors? For Will Roth, that’s what it’s all about: “The biggest thing climbing does for me [is], it allows me to focus on just one thing; my mind isn’t going in all different directions when I’m climbing. There is something very satisfying about that singular commitment.”

 


Post-Hike Food and Drink in Lake Placid

From the first day snow falls in the Adirondacks’ High Peaks, I begin dreaming of winter hiking: traversing snow-covered bogs, scaling icy rock slides, and trying to stay upright in the face of a 40 mile-an-hour snowstorm—who wouldn’t love all that? But as with any High Peaks hike, 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 myself 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.

If you’re undertaking a similar journey, here are a few of my favorites to help you make plans:

Credit: Stephen Pierce
Credit: Stephen Pierce

Lake Placid Pub & Brewery

This is a local’s joint boasting three levels for enjoying the brewery’s award-winning beers and surprisingly tasty pub food. On a clear day, the top two floors afford great views of Mirror Lake and Whiteface. The first floor is an Irish pub, known as P.J. O’Neill’s, and a local’s hangout, while the second level, with its stone fireplace, college atmosphere décor, and ample seating, might be better for enjoying a full meal. The third, the Hop Bar, is newer and offers additional seating and a kids’ room.

As far as beer goes, the pub’s Ubu Ale is their standard, and as you leave, you can buy more in cans for another hike’s peak celebration. I especially like their 46’er Pale Ale and new brew Shot in the Dark, a darker IPA sweetened with caramel flavors.

The food here ranges from standard pub grub to craft sandwiches and barbecue. Of special note are the smoked Gouda and roasted red pepper soup, the fried pickles, and the shepherd’s pie—all post-winter hike winners.

Lisa G’s

This locally famous eatery is situated just as you enter town on Rt. 73, and it is the place to go first to experience Lake Placid’s unique food and atmosphere. Lisa G’s website calls itself “a quirky place” offering “comfort food with a modern twist,” and that description is spot on. From their “best burgers in the Adirondacks” and famous Southern fried chicken sandwich to dishes as diverse as Greek style wings, a Thai curry noodle bowl, and a Moroccan burrito (which is awesome), Lisa G’s hits nearly every palate. They even offer spicy Korean shrimp.

Their specialty drink offerings are as inviting as the owner herself, who can often be seen meandering from table to table, joking with the patrons. For winter hikers looking to warm up quickly, the bar will throw down its own version of a hot toddy, or for something different, the Winter Sipper combines spiced vanilla whiskey, butterscotch schnapps, and pineapple juice, shaken and rimmed with cinnamon-sugar. You can taste it now, right?

Smoke Signals

This place rocks for three reasons: barbecue, drinks, and the view. Getting a table in the back along their wall-to-wall window view of Mirror Lake is a must, so it’s best to put in for one immediately, and then hang at the bar or do a little shopping nearby. They will call your cell phone when your table is ready.

Speaking of the bar, they offer many of New York’s best microbrewery beers, including their own and very good Ghost Pig Blonde Ale. However, their whisky list is extensive, and their signature cocktails offer seasonal wonders like a harvest sangria, a pumpkin Russian, rum coffee, and hot spiced cider. All will warm up those cold hands and feet.

Despite these glories, it’s all about the barbecue here: smoke BBQ wings, pulled pork, ADK BBQ Tacos, and killer baby back ribs. Eat up the BBQ and the front-row views of the skating and dog-sledding on Mirror Lake below you.

Credit: Stephen Pierce
Credit: Stephen Pierce

The Great Adirondack Steak and Seafood Brewery and Restaurant

This place may put a slightly bigger dent in your wallet, but it’s well worth it. Despite the first-rate food, with steaks custom-cut from local farms and seafood fresh from the Boston Fish Market, the Great Adirondack has a very homey, unpretentious feel about it. You can cozy up to the fireplace, relax in the casual bar area, or take a window seat to watch the snow fall.

The brewery is directly behind the restaurant, and it boasts some award-winning beers: Its house IPA is the John Brown Pale Ale, and the brewery’s many choices include an addicting Whiteface Stout, which tastes like a blend of chocolate and coffee, and a knock-you-on-your-butt Snoskred IPA (8% ABV). But, it’s the food that is king here: great ribs, tender steaks, melt-in-your-mouth scallops, and chunky clam chowder. The portions are big enough that my wife and I often split a starter and a meal and feel plenty full after.

 

There are too many great places to list here, but these all make a solid start to your Adirondacks’ post-hike food and drink adventures. Do you have any favorites we missed?


Making the Transition to Winter Hiking

Often, people treat autumn as a grieving period for their hiking season’s end. The early onset of freezing summit temperatures and the Northeast’s late spring snowpacks can mean that avoiding the trails costs you six months of the year. Instead, with a little planning, knowledge, and preparation, you can get comfortable conquering mountains year-round. Here are a few pointers to get you started.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Gear

While much of the gear you have broken in on summer treks can be useful for winter hiking, you need to add some key weapons to your quiver to fully make the shift.

yNov_16_1_@jthomas_adkerTraction

One of the first gear concerns has to be traction, which is required to hike safely on snow and ice. For early season freezes or hard-packed trails, Kathoola’s Microspikes are perfect. Made with elastic rubber uppers that can easily stretch on and off nearly any shoe or boot and sturdy chains and spikes that dig into the crud to keep you from slipping, these are a must.

Microspikes will work for 90 percent of frozen trails, especially on beginner hikes, but some of the ice-covered routes above treeline and flows you will eventually encounter require a little more. Crampons provide a more substantial bite, but require more practice to use safely. Look for pairs like the Camp XLC 490 that are light, adaptable to nearly any boot, and are not designed for vertical ice—a condition rarely encountered in hiking and mountaineering.

Finally, you will need snowshoes to carry you over fresh powder and keep the trail packed safely for others. Even when the parking lot has no snow, carrying snowshoes is key for those high-elevation drifts, and in places like the Adirondacks’ High Peaks, they’re required by law. For years, MSR was the go-to brand for hiking, but now, others like Atlas and Tubbs offer great products, as well. I use the Tubbs Flex line, partly because I love the ease and fit of the boa enclosure binding system.

Hydration

Hydration is a second important consideration. While I love the convenience of a bladder in the summer, I avoid them in the winter months. Insulation for their tubes, blowing water out of the mouthpiece after each sip, and other tricks can keep bladders flowing in extreme cold, but for me, it’s not worth the risk or effort. The last thing you want in the middle of a below-zero, big-mileage day is your water freezing up.

Instead, get a few wide-mouth Nalgene bottles, as narrow-top designs freeze quicker. Keep the screw tops from freezing by storing them upside down, so the air/water interface freezes first, insulate them with a bottle cover or even a thick wool sock, and store them in your pack.

Boots and Gloves

Finally, you need to keep your hands and feet warm when facing extreme cold. Wicking layers, insulation, and exertion will protect your core most days, but feet and hands can freeze up quickly when the mercury drops and your hiking party stops.

So, look for waterproof and insulated boots like the Merrell Polarand 8. Additionally, bring several pairs of gloves and socks, as even the best will eventually “wet out” on long hikes, leaving hands and feet susceptible to frostbite.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Tips and Tricks

As you hike more and more in the winter, you will surely find little tricks and tips that work for you. Here are just a few that have helped me out:

Remember, it’s almost as important to stay warm as it is to keep cool. It sounds crazy, but working up a sweat and soaking your layers can become, at best, uncomfortable or, at worst, can contribute to hypothermia. So, start the hike a little cold and be sure to remove layers as you heat up to regulate your temperature.

Protect your skin. Bright winter sun reflecting off snow cover can sunburn you as fast as the sunshine on the beach. Cold wind can also leave it windburned. To prepare, bring the sunscreen and facemask along as needed.

Choose your food wisely. Bring food that is easy to eat on the move and won’t become inedible if frozen. Long summit picnics are less common in winter conditions, and breaking teeth on frozen treats is not fun.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Where to Go

To begin your adventure, start off small, get your gear dialed in, avoid winter hiking solo at first, and always carry a map and compass. But, in these conditions, things like route-finding skills and weather become even more important, and hiking with crampons or snowshoeing through deep powder can take some getting used to, as it utilizes different muscle groups. When you are ready to give it a go, here are a few easy hikes to tackle on a bluebird day that are sure to get you hooked and ready to tackle some bigger peaks.

Mount Jo, New York

A short round-trip loop hike of just 2.3 miles from the Adirondack Loj will provide you with upfront views of Heart Lake and many of the High Peaks, like Algonquin.

Mt. Tom, Vermont

From behind a covered bridge in Woodstock, VT, this easy trail of switchbacks climbs just under 1.5 miles one-way to the south summit for nice views of the town and surrounding mountains.

West Rattlesnake Mountain, New Hampshire

This two-mile round-trip hike through gorgeous oak forest rewards you with great views of Southern New Hampshire from its summit’s open ledges.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

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.


Indian Head: Fjord Country in the Adirondacks

The Adirondacks see up to 10 million visitors annually. During the summer and fall, popular spots like Old Forge to the west and Lake George Village to the east become overrun with summer vacationers, and even more remote areas like Lake Placid and the surrounding High Peaks can feel mobbed by weekend warriors and day-trekkers. But, hidden down a four-mile trail that begins in the minuscule town of Saint Huberts is a hike to an overlook that offers some of the Adirondacks’ most stunning views—one that might make you believe you’ve been transported to northern Norway’s fjord country.

Credit: Stephen Pierce
Credit: Stephen Pierce

Getting There

The trailhead to Indian Head is actually part of the Adirondack Mountain Reserve, a tract of privately owned land on the High Peaks’ east side. The trails and signage are maintained by the Ausable Club, which owns the AMR, and they’ve posted strict rules, including no dogs, that hikers must follow. But, they otherwise allow hikers onto the land, which offers access to Indian Head and nine different High Peaks.

If you are coming up from the south, take I-87 to Exit 30 (Rt. 73) and head west toward Keene Valley and Lake Placid. Soon after Rt. 73 and Rt. 9 separate in a crazy intersection dubbed “Malfunction Junction,” look for signs to the Giant Mountain Primary Trailhead. You will see one for Roaring Brook Fall Trailhead on your right, and almost exactly across from that is Ausable Road, a narrow dirt path leading to a hikers’ parking lot just after the intersection. If you miss it, continue looking on your left, because it actually loops by the Ausable Club and spills back onto Rt. 73 further up the road.

Either way, take it to the parking lot designated for hikers only. Plan on arriving early during the summer or on holiday weekends, because the lot is small, and hikers are not permitted to park anywhere near the Ausable Club itself.

From the parking lot, walk a half mile down Ausable Road toward the clubhouse to reach Lake Road—a left turn between tennis courts. If you look back across the golf course, you’ll see the majestic Giant Mountain rising above Rt. 73.

Credit: Stephen Pierce
Credit: Stephen Pierce

Once you turn onto the 3.3-mile Lake Road, you will see the beautiful AMR gate and the hiker registration station. After signing in, you will just walk along what everyone refers to as “the road,” from which trailheads branch off on both sides to various High Peaks.

The Hike

The hike to Indian Head is really a loop that can be done in either direction, but we always take the Gill Brook Trail on the left about two miles up. It follows the beautiful Gill Brook to offer closeup views of a dozen waterfalls along the way. This trail then ascends gradually for a mile, until the sign “To Indian Head” sends you up a more strenuous climb. There, you will scramble up the last 0.7 miles to the overlook.

Just before reaching the rocky promontory, you will see a three-way split. The path to the left heads to Fish Hawk Cliffs—an overlook that also hangs over Ausable Lake and offers a sideways view of Indian Head, revealing its namesake likeness.

After visiting Indian Head, some continue onto these cliffs for another gorgeous view. Here, the right-hand path heads straight down to the end of Lake Road; for an alternative route, take this path on the way back instead of retracing your steps to the Gill Brook Trail.

Credit: Stephen Pierce
Credit: Stephen Pierce

For now, continue straight ahead through this intersection to where it goes first to a higher rocky opening and then descends to the lower overhang. Each offers eye-popping, wide-open vistas of both Lower and Upper Ausable Lakes, with the Lower Great Range on one side and the Pinnacle Range on the other, both jutting out and dropping down into the water below.

Be sure to pack a picnic lunch and even a couple of craft beers or a bottle of wine to fully enjoy this unique spot. Note: There have been numerous reports of a mama bear with cubs roaming this spot in recent weeks, so explore at your own risk.

Returning

After you have your fill, head back to the intersection, and take the left-hand path 0.6 miles down to Lake Road and just walk the 3.3 miles back to the gate. Before you do, you might want to walk the short distance to the road’s end to see Lower Ausable from its shore—another stunning view. Straight across from where you come out onto the road is the bridge and path to Rainbow Falls, just a few hundred feet away and also well worth the short trip.

The walk out can be tedious, as is the additional 0.5-mile hike to your car, but this is a destination you will likely want to visit again…and again.

Indian Head is equally beautiful in any season, but the Ausable Lakes surrounded by the mantle of fall colors is a blow-your-mind vista. With another fall approaching, this might be the best time to take a road trip to the “fjords” of the Adirondacks.

Cover photo: Courtesy of Instagram’s @userwiththatnamealreadyexists.


The Top 4 Ways to Spend Labor Day in the Adirondacks' Tri-Lakes Region

Adirondack Park is a wonderful playground. Known for the High Peaks, skiing, boating, and more attractions, it emphasizes outdoor activities year round.

I was born in the Tri-Lakes region, which encompasses Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, and Tupper Lake. After spending 20 years in the D.C. area, I returned, so that I could spend every weekend in this vacationland. This Labor Day weekend, let a local offer a few suggestions for getting the most out of the area.

Tri-Lakes

1. Take in the views from Whiteface

It’s a mountain for skiing, biking, and hiking, and it also offers a road to the top, so that every person can experience the summit. Of course, you can climb, but also consider riding the gondola or taking the Memorial Highway up to enjoy the views. On a clear day, you will see the rest of the Adirondack High Peaks, the skyline of Montreal, the Green Mountains of Vermont, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Tri-Lakes

2. Become a Saranac Lake 6er

They’re not high peaks, but these six mountains surrounding Saranac Lake range in elevation from 2,452 feet to 3,822 feet and present some challenging terrain. They can be finished over an extended period, or if up to the challenge, you can climb the six peaks in 24 hours to become an “Ultra 6er.” The easiest is Baker Mountain, which is excellent for a family hike and offers amazing views. To obtain a map and descriptions of the mountains and trailhead locations, stop by the Village Office.

Tri-Lakes

3. Stop by The Wild Center

In Tupper Lake, take a stroll through The Wild Center, a natural history museum and another jewel in this region. It was included in a Today list of five travel destinations for a family adventure and also named one of the world’s best places to visit this summer. The Wild Center features several interactive attractions, such as live animal exhibits (the otters are known to steal the show); a Wild Walk suspended above the treetops that includes a full-size bald eagle’s nest (accessible to people of all generations and abilities); various-length hiking trails with flora facts along the paths; and a guided canoe paddle on the Raquette River. It’s a museum experience you’ve got to see to believe!

Tri-Lakes

4. Get out on the Tri-Lakes

The Eastern Mountain Sports store in Lake Placid offers kayak and SUP rentals, so you can explore peaceful lakes, ponds, and rivers while taking in all the beautiful scenery. With the location situated on Mirror Lake, you can paddle right from the store. Enjoy the water reflecting the surrounding mountains, watch the sun set, or paddle around to the beach for a relaxing highlight of the weekend. If you wish to venture into more of a wilderness environment, load a kayak and find a remote paddling area where wildlife prevails. Osgood and Follensby ponds are a few good choices to view loons, eagles, or the great blue herons.

Whatever you do, have fun out there this weekend!