5 Great Hikes on Cape Cod

Nothing says summer on Cape Cod like packing a cooler, slinging a chair over your shoulder, and shuffling quickly across hot sand to the tide line. For most travelers, trips to “the Cape” are yearly rituals geared towards relaxation, but there’s no hiding it anymore: Cape Cod is also a hiking destination.

Trails crisscross the peninsula’s shifting dune fields, maze-like marshes, cannonball-worthy ponds, and rocky ridges. If you can’t spare any beach time on your Cape vacation, don’t fret. Some of the region’s best trails also hit the beach, and if they don’t, you’re never too far from a sandy stretch.

So, before you pull out a paperback and a beer, detour to one of these five great Cape Cod hikes.

Courtesy: Nancy Rabke
Courtesy: Nancy Rabke

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

Surviving traffic to the Outer Cape, means you’re treated to the region’s most dramatic scenery, like the Atlantic side’s sugar-sand dunes and surfable waves. The understated Cape Cod Bay side, however, is where you’ll find the most peace and quiet.

Head to MassAudubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary’s ($8 per adult, $3 per child, members free) to find solitude within its trail network, which winds five miles through Wellfleet Harbor. Start at the Boardwalk Trail, but take note that it can become submerged at high tide. Aim instead for low tide wildlife watching. On the way back to the Nature Center, take a side trip to the Goose Pond Trail. Pause at Goose Pond itself to take a look for wading birds in summer and fall. Continue past the Nature Center for a spin around the Bay View Trail, the longest trail in the Sanctuary. The trail passes through the MassAudubon campground (members only) on the way back to the Nature Center. All in, your hike is about 3.5 miles. Add a little extra mileage by tacking on grassland views on the Fresh Brook Trail which you’ll find off the Bay View Trail.

When you’re done hiking, five miles down the road is the The Beachcomber, a classic beachfront bar and restaurant with live music housed in an 1800s Coast Guard lifesaving station.

Credit: Brian Cooke
Credit: Brian Cooke 

Sandy Neck Beach Park

There’s something special about sleeping on the beach, and Sandy Neck Beach Park ($15 per car) in Barnstable is one of the Cape’s only opportunities for wild beach camping.

Whether you’re day hiking or backpacking, you’ll start your hike from the main parking lot and entrance gate. Head out first on the Marsh Trail, which parallels the “Great Marshes” of Barnstable Harbor. The walking is mostly flat, but very sandy, so expect tired legs. Take the #4 Trail on your left which weaves its way into some hilly dunes. If you’ve snagged a campsite ($20 per site, permit required), you’ll find the primitive sites here, 3.3 miles from the trailhead and just past the intersection with the Horse Trail. If you’re just out for the day, keep heading down the dunes to the beach and turn left towards the trailhead to close the loop at about 6 miles. If you’ve got more energy or your camp is set up, head down the dunes to the beach and turn right, eventually connecting with the #5 Trail. A side trip on Connector Trail will bring you to a remote collection of waterfront cottages and a lighthouse. Stay on the trail as it passes through private property here. Retrace your steps to the beach and cruise back to the campsite or trailhead with big beach views the whole time. Routes can be up to 12 miles, so remember to bring plenty of water.

Consider stopping at Cafe Chew in Sandwich before you hit the trail for the perfect sandwich and a bag of Cape Cod Potato Chips (of course).

Credit: Brian Cooke
Credit: Brian Cooke

Moraine Trail

If you’re looking for a mini “thru-hike,” the nine-mile Moraine Trail is your best option. The north-south trail traverses the Cape’s important geologic history and links Falmouth’s many conservation areas.

First, spot a car on Route 151 near the Highway 28 North on-ramp in a small parking lot used frequently by mountain bikers. The white-blazed Moraine Trail starts near downtown Falmouth at Goodwill Park. Be observant for blazes as the trail weaves its way past numerous side trails near Grews Pond and Long Pond. Continuing on, the trail has sections of rocky, flowing singletrack. You’ll briefly pass through a business development before hitting the wild final three miles of the trail. As the trail climbs and falls periodically through pine, blueberry, and huckleberry (keep your eyes peeled for ripe berries!), you get a few small views of Buzzards Bay to the west. At mile nine, you’ll reach busy Route 151 where the trail exits the woods right near a Highway 28 sign.

Before you finish your shuttle, celebrate at Somerset Creamery on Route 28A. The 80-plus-year-old homemade ice cream company has a bevy of flavors and was the first on the Cape to make a cranberry ice cream.

Credit: Brian Cooke
Credit: Brian Cooke

Eagle Pond Sanctuary

Mid-Cape towns like Cotuit can be busy and full of traffic, but there are many gems off the beaten path. Eagle Pond Sanctuary is one of those places.

Eagle Pond Sanctuary has trails suitable for everyone in the family. Your best bet for hiking here is to print the map (at the link above) and wander. If you want the highlights, park on Old Post Road, just past Mosswood Cemetery. The sign here says “Bell Farm & Little River Sanctuary.” Head straight, staying on the wide mowed path with the cemetery on your left. Turn right and cross over Little River and Little River Road. Take a left at the next intersection and loop around the park’s namesake pond on the Main Trail. A neat Red Maple Swamp is at the pond’s north end. Eventually take Pond Path to the pond’s edge (take swim trunks for a cool swim here) before detouring onto wide Eagle Pond Road and Cordwood Road. Circle the rare Atlantic White Cedar Swamp on the Cedar Swamp Trail, then head back to the car via Cross Trail to Little River Road. Taking in the coolest sights here requires only a 2.5-mile hike.

Extend your outside time by grabbing a post-hike beer and food truck eats at Naukabout Brewery in nearby Mashpee.

Credit: Brian Cooke
Credit: Brian Cooke

South Cape Beach State Park

If Sandy Neck Beach sounds like your kind of wild beachscape, but you only have a few hours to sneak away from your family vacation, South Cape Beach State Park ($12 per car) in Mashpee is an easy alternative.

Park at the Sage parking lot on Great Oak Road. From the parking lot, head north into the woods on the Great Flat Pond Loop Trail. The trail is mostly flat, often passing over wet areas on small boardwalks. This area has plenty of wildflowers during the warmer months and some interesting wildlife. As you reach the end of the loop by your car, turn left and walk the quiet road towards the beach and the Dead Neck Trail. Follow the hiking trail as it heads into the backside of the dunes with great views of the Sage Lot Pond and Waquoit Bay. It’s 1.1 miles each way to the end of Dead Neck with good views of Vineyard Sound. If you’re looking to swim, you’ll have the shallow, warm water of Waquoit Bay all to yourself. By the time you hike back on the beach or in the dunes, your hike will be about 4 miles.

Treat yourself to one of the Cape’s best lobster rolls at nearby The Raw Bar in Popponesett Village. Don’t expect anything fancy, but the lobster rolls are a healthy size (read: large) and you can get a fairly cheap beer.


5 Mountains in the Northeast that Almost Anyone Can Enjoy

The most talked-about hikes in the Northeast share some common characteristics, namely big mileage, lots of elevation, and rough terrain. While mountains such as Washington, Mansfield, and Marcy get most of the glory, the Northeast is home to numerous hikes that might not match the classics in difficulty, but are their equals in history, views, and fun. If you’re looking for a five-star hike everyone in your party will like, look no further. Here are five mountains in the Northeast that anyone can enjoy.

Courtesy: Studio Sarah Lou
Courtesy: Studio Sarah Lou

Monument Mountain, Massachusetts

Packing fantastic views of the Housatonic River Valley, Mount Greylock, the Catskills, and Vermont into a roughly three-mile hike should be enough to put Monument Mountain in Great Barrington on any New England hiker’s tick list before even factoring in its fascinating history—it drew literary icons such as Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, as well as William Cullen Bryant who wrote the famous poem, Monument Mountain. Bryant’s poem is based on the legend of a Mohican woman who chose to leap from the cliffs rather than marry a husband selected for her. A large pile of stones is piled on the mountain’s southern slope as a monument to her final resting place.

In spite of the grim story of the Mohican maiden, Monument Mountain is a fantastic trip for hikers of all abilities. Covering about three miles, hikers ascend the at-times-steep Hickey Trail, climbing a little over 700 feet through hemlock forests, past boulders, and gaining pale quartzite cliffs. For the best views, connect with the Squaw Peak Trail and follow it over steep cliffs and ledges to the 1,642-foot summit of Squaw Peak, then make the short five-minute walk to take in the view of Devil’s Pulpit, a unique rock formation. From the summit of Squaw Peak, hikers can take the Indian Monument Trail which follows an old carriage road for a mild descent, or continue on the Squaw Peak Trail to its connection further down with the Indian Monument Trail.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff, New Hampshire

Don’t let the relatively slight 2,340-foot elevation of Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff dissuade you from this must-do hike—the views are huge. Situated at the northern end of Franconia Notch, a hike to the summit of Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff treats hikers with two of the White’s best viewpoints, both offering incredible perspectives of Franconia Ridge and the towering Mount Lafayette, Eagle Cliff, Cannon Mountain Ski Area, and Echo Lake.

At just under three-miles roundtrip, Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff is a popular trip for hikers of all abilities. However, don’t let the moderate mileage lull you into thinking this hike is easy; like many classic White Mountain hikes, sections of the trail are direct and rocky. Leaving from the parking lot adjacent to Cannon Mountain’s base lodge, take Artists Bluff Trail for about a quarter-of-a-mile, follow a short spur trail to the summit of Bald Mountain. After soaking in Bald Mountain’s impressive views, backtrack to the Artists Bluff Trail, continuing along on it to an open ledge and more best-in-the-White’s views. Once you’ve had your fill of the spectacular scenery, continue hiking on the Artists Bluff Trail. As you near the road, look for the Loop Trail which will bring you back to your car.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Philo, Vermont

Standing at just 968 feet tall, Mount Philo is diminutive when compared to Green Mountain giants like Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump, but towers over the Champlain Valley. Like its bigger brethren, Mount Philo has been a popular recreational destination for over a century (Mount Philo State Park was Vermont’s first state park), and at one point, a carriage road wove its way to the top. Look closely and you’ll see traces of the old carriage road from today’s paved road to the summit. In fact, the paved road makes Mount Philo the perfect destination for groups of mixed ability; ambitious hikers can take the trail to the summit while non-hikers meet them on top by taking the road.

Hikers heading to the summit of Mount Philo should follow the blue blazes of the Mount Philo Trail. The twoish-mile round-trip hike gains approximately 600 feet in elevation as it winds through quintessential Vermont forest and exposed rocks. From the summit, hikers are treated to splendid views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks—including Mount Marcy—to the west while the peaks of the Mad River region (Mounts Abe and Ellen) dominate the view to the southeast. Fall is a favorite time to take a trip to Mount Philo, not only because it’s resplendent during foliage, but also to watch migrating raptors. Mount Philo holds the record for the most hawks seen in one day in Vermont (3,688).

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Hadley Mountain, New York

Take in the magnificent views of Sacandaga Lake, the Green Mountains, the Catskills, and the Adirondacks from the 2,675-foot summit of Hadley Mountain while ticking a tower off of your ADK Fire Tower Challenge. The 40-foot fire tower gracing Hadley Mountain’s summit was originally erected in 1917, but was closed in 1990 by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Shortly after the closure, the Hadley Mountain Fire Tower Committee was formed and began working on restoring the tower, as well as the observer’s cabin. Thanks to their efforts, hikers today can climb to the top of the fire tower and take in a view not all that different from the one had by the early observers 100 years ago.

Climbing roughly 1,500 feet while covering 3.6 miles, the trip to the summit of Hadley Mountain and back is short, but packs a punch. As straightforward as a trip gets, summit-bound hikers need only follow the red trail markers of the Hadley Mountain Trail to the summit and then return the way you came. The trail remains fairly steep for almost the entirety of the climb, but be sure to save some energy for climbing the stairs to the top of the tower—it’s worth it. If hiking Hadley Mountain in the summer, you’ll likely run into the summit steward who’s there to answer any questions you might have about the mountain and its history.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Mount Agamenticus, Maine 

The confluence of mountains and ocean has led generations of adventurers to explore the rugged Maine coastline. Used as a landmark by mariners to aid in navigation for centuries, Mount Agamenticus’ earliest explorers were indigenous people—the name Agamenticus is derived from the Abenaki name for the York River. Legend has it that Saint Aspinquid, a local Indian chief, either a MicMak or Penobscot leader, converted to Christianity and spent his life spreading Christianity to different tribes. A cairn on the top of Mount Agamenticus was constructed as a tribute to Saint Aspinquid—it’s said that anyone adding a stone to the cairn is blessed with good luck.

Unlike most mountains, the best trail on Mount Agamenticus doesn’t lead to its summit, rather it runs around the mountain. The Turtle Loop is a twoish-mile loop circling the base of the remnants of the 220 million-year-old volcano that is Mount Agamenticus. Featuring 15 interpretive stations, hikers are able to educate themselves on the area’s natural, geologic, and cultural history. If you simply must tag the top of Mount Agamenticus, the approximately quarter-mile-long Blueberry Bluff Trail leads from the Turtle Loop to the summit where you’ll enjoy views of Cape Elizabeth, the Isles of Shoals, and the White Mountains—including Mount Washington.

 

Do you have a favorite hike that is ideal for hikers of all abilities? If so, let us know in the comments below so we can check it out.


Video: How the Trail Unites Us All

No matter where you go. It’s there.


Bagging Peaks and Avoiding Packed Parking Lots in Franconia Notch

Thanks to iconic routes like Franconia Ridge, two easily accessible huts, and some of New Hampshire’s most spectacular scenery, Franconia Notch has long been a popular destination for hikers and backpackers. Surging interest in the area has resulted in more cars at the Lafayette Place parking lot than available parking spaces, in turn causing visitors to park on the side of the highway. While parking along the highway has long been illegal, it hasn’t been enforced until this year, with signs, ropes, and cones prohibiting it along both the north and southbound sides. Using the hiker shuttle running between the lots in Franconia Notch is one solution for folks who can’t access their desired trailhead. Here’s another: Avoid the trailheads that start at Lafayette Place altogether and instead hike these super-popular summits via one of the lesser-known trails listed below.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Skookumchuck Trail to Mount Lafayette

Checking all the boxes, the Skookumchuck Trail to the Garfield Ridge Trail to the summit of Mount Lafayette delivers fantastic scenery and minimal crowds while avoiding the hustle and bustle of Lafayette Place.

Leaving north of the notch on Route 3 from the Skookumchuck Trailhead, the Skookumchuck Trail and Garfield Ridge Trail combine to deliver a just-over-10-mile round trip to the 5,260-foot summit of Mount Lafayette, the highest New Hampshire summit outside the Presidential Range. Though slightly longer than the classic Franconia Ridge Traverse, more secure footing and straightforward hiking make this trip quicker, as there aren’t slippery sections of trail like portions of the Falling Waters Trail or disconcerting slabs like on the Old Bridle Path.

Hugging the Skookumchuck Brook for the first few miles, you won’t confuse the sound of the stream for the powerful waterfalls of the Falling Water Trail; however, skookumchuckis a Chinook word that translates to “strong water” or “healthy water.” After leaving the brook, the Skookumchuck Trail climbs steadily through the forest, eventually giving way to low scrub before finally joining the Garfield Ridge Trail above treeline. From here, take in the view of the first crowds you’ve most likely seen all day on Lafayette’s summit a little under a mile away (and moving up and down the Greenleaf Trail to and from the AMC’s Greenleaf Hut).

From the junction with the Garfield Ridge Trail, the path is a gorgeous above-treeline ridge that rivals its counterpart on the other side of Lafayette in beauty but not in the number of hikers. And like its more popular counterpart between Little Haystack (a non-counting 4,000-footer) and Mount Lafayette, this section of trail also crosses a non-counting 4,000-footer, North Lafayette (5,260). Although North Lafayette isn’t one of the New Hampshire 48, its view is equal to any peak in Franconia Notch and is a great place to stop and take a break away from the bustle of Lafayette’s main summit.

From the summit of Mount Lafayette, simply turn around and descend the 3,500 feet of elevation you just climbed.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Kinsman Trail to North and South Kinsman

The common route to the summits of North and South Kinsman is via the Lafayette Place parking lot and past the AMC’s Lonesome Lake Hut. However, an easy way to beat the parking ban—and the crowds—is to hike the mountains from the opposite side via the Mount Kinsman Trail to the Kinsman Ridge Trail.

Located off of Route 116 in Easton, New Hampshire, is the small, wooded parking lot for the Kinsman Ridge Trail. Providing a starkly different experience than the flurry of activity often found on Kinsman Ridge, this route remains quiet as hikers begin the approximately 10-mile out-and-back trip gaining roughly 4,000 feet in elevation and ticking the summits of two 4,000-footers: North and South Kinsman.

The silence of the forest is palpable as hikers on the Mount Kinsman Trail follow its blue blazes past small waterfalls and over slight streams—especially when compared to an ascent of the Kinsmans from Franconia Notch, where the first mile of the trail is shared by hikers destined for Cannon Mountain and Lonesome Lake. Sure, Lonesome Lake and Kinsman Pond are beautiful, but they’re likely to be crowded on most weekends. By contrast, hikers willing to make a roughly 0.25-mile detour off the Mount Kinsman Trail are treated to an additional summit and a fantastic view on 2,470-foot Bald Peak.

Before reaching the summits of the Kinsmans, you’ll join the throngs of other hikers on the Kinsman Ridge Trail, almost all of whom approached the mountains from the Franconia side. From the junction, follow the Kinsman Ridge Trail for roughly a half mile to the summit of North Peak, then for another mile to the expansive summit and astounding view afforded from South Kinsman.

Take in the vast view of Franconia Ridge across the notch, pose for a picture in the throne-shaped cairn marking the summit, and think back to the peaceful moments on Bald Peak before returning the way you came.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Cannon Mountain via Kinsman Ridge Trail

It’s silly to stash your car at Cannon Mountain’s overflow lot only to take a shuttle to hike Cannon via the popular Hi-Cannon Trail. Instead, try the Kinsman Ridge Trail, which leaves from a hiker lot attached to the large parking lot for the Aerial Tramway and avoids the busier parts of the notch.

Not unlike the Hi-Cannon Trail in Franconia Notch, the Kinsman Ridge Trail is a lung and leg burner—the trail climbs just under 2,500 feet over roughly two miles. Thanks to the directness of the trail, and short 4(ish)-mile round trip, hikers comfortable with the at-times-near-vertical terrain are afforded a quick ascent and descent.

Running roughly adjacent to the tramway, it’s not uncommon to spy a yellow or red cable car high overhead whisking visitors to the summit. Roughly a half mile from Cannon’s summit, hikers are treated to the terrain the mountain is notorious for—ledgey, rocky, slabby, and treacherous—as the Kinsman Ridge Trail nears a side trail with access to some ledges. If you explore it, don’t let the stunning view of Franconia Ridge lull you into complacency; a misstep here would be unfortunate.

Signs of civilization become more apparent as you approach the top of Cannon Mountain. Here you’ll encounter hikers lounging and scrambling around the slabs and ledges dotting the mountain’s summit along with numerous tourists transported here via the aerial tram. Fight the crowds and climb the lookout tower for one of the finest views in the White Mountains before seeking solitude on the slabs below.

After resting on the summit, return the way you came or splurge for a ride down via the tram.

 

Do you have a trick for avoiding the crowded parking lots of Franconia Notch? If so, we want to hear it! Leave your tip in the comments below.


The Best Gear for Living Out of Your Car

Creature comforts are the key to well-being and longevity when living out of a car. Past multi-week road trips had left my husband and I exhausted, so as we planned for a yearlong motor adventure across North America, we focused on bringing the comforts of home into nature. A tricked-out Sprinter van would have been the homiest option, but not having $50,000 under our mattress, we retrofitted our Nissan Xterra and became first-time homeowners. We christened it “Tupperware World,” a nod to the Tetris-style stack of boxes filling the interior.

And now, having spent 8 full months in our home on wheels, it’s safe to say we know a thing or two about the best gear for car-life.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Multi-Purpose Room

Living out of your car is a euphemism for living outside. While the vehicle enables your nomadic lifestyle, the valley, overlook, or beach where you park it is “home.” When home is buggy, crowded, or rainy, you need a place to escape.

The solution: Wherever we park it, up goes a screen room. It’s kitted out with multi-purpose furniture, suiting our needs whether we’re cooking, shooting the breeze, or working. It’s important to choose a screen room that protects from sun, rain, and insects, like the MountainsmithShelter House. Complete the basic layout with a table and chair, like the Eureka Camp Tableand the Travelchair Easy Rider Camping Chair. Be a little extra, and liven up the space with portable speaker like the Goal ZeroRock Out 2 Portable Speaker.

One of the best pieces of gear we’ve bought in years is the MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights, which provide ambient light hanging from the “rafters” of our screen room. Extending short winter days and lighting up the night during summer camp-outs, they make the space warm and homey. For lighting outside of the tent, I rely on the Petzl ReactikHeadlamp.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Outdoor Kitchen

Granola bars and Chef Boyardi may work for a night or two, but for me, having a kitchen on the road was a must. When we were young and stupid, my husband and I used our backpacking stove during extended car camping trips, which made cooking uncomfortable before we even began. If you plan to live in your car, do yourself a favor and outfit a portable kitchen.

Most outdoor kitchen gear is the same as what you’d find indoors, however, there are a few exceptions. Whet your appetite with cooking gear like the Primus Profile Stove, the MSR Quick 2 Pot Set, and the LMF Titanium Spork. My husband has owned this spork since before we met in 2012, so believe me, it’s bombproof. And while we avoid buying food that requires refrigeration, the Yeti Hopper Flip 8keeps our small supply of perishables fresh.

Most nights we camp at primitive sites, making water a scare resource. Fortunately, you can buy a few specialty pieces that make meal clean-up efficient and earth friendly. We use Sea to Summit’s 10-liter Kitchen Sinkand biodegradable Wilderness Wash. A refillable water jug, like the Reliance Fold-A-Carrier, provides enough water for 1 to 2 days of primitive camping.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Mobile Office

Search the term “digital nomad” if you’ve ever wondered how people afford to travel for months on end. We mostly work in libraries and local coffee shops because they have internet and power, things that our car does not provide. We’ve met a lot of people this way, a perk to a life that can be lonesome at times.

To be honest though, I envy the van lifers who have portable power sources, such as theGoal ZeroYeti 150 Portable Power Station. Maybe on our next road trip?

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Hygiene

Traveling on a budget requires “boondocking,” or camping at free, primitive sites. It’s a cheap way to travel, but unless you’re Pig-Pen, you’ll need a few pieces of gear to keep clean.

People ask all the time how we shower, to which we respond, “Does jumping in a river count?” When rivers are scarce, we use a solar shower like the Sea to Summit Pocket Shower, which has enough water to rinse two people once. Otherwise the refillable water jug mentioned under the “Outdoor Kitchen” section provides what we need for brushing teeth, washing hands, and other campsite chores.

And what about those campsites without toilets? When not required to pack it out, you’ll need a trowel like the GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowelfor burying poop and toilet paper. FollowLeave No Trace Principle #3to scout the perfect cathole location.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Sleep Well

To make long term travel comfortable, we built a custom sleeping platform in the back of our Xterra using scrap wood. The internet doesn’t sell mattresses in “Back of Xterra” sizes, so we cut a 3-inch mattress topper down to size, covering it with hand-sewn mattress cover, upcycling fabric from an old top sheet.

Our bedding ranges from 20 degree sleeping bags for cold weather to light blankets for warm weather. Year-round, we use stuffable pillow cases, like the Therm-a-Rest Stuff Sack Pillow.Most importantly, bedding needs to be compact and packable for storage purposes

If your car is too small to sleep in, consider something like the TepuiHyBox Rooftop Tent And Cargo Box, which offers protection from the elements and keeps you from sleeping on the ground. For others, sleeping in a traditional tent may suit your needs, just be sure to pack comfortable bedding.


It's Never Too Late: An Introduction to Camping in the White Mountains

“It wouldn’t be a trail,” dad muttered between groans, “if there wasn’t a rock in the middle.”

I had explained in muted detail before we started that the trail was steep and rocky. By now, nine and a half hours into our second day of a hut-to-hut trip in the White Mountains and a mere 100 yards from our day’s final destination, he knew exactly what I meant.

My dad got himself into this mess months before. We’ve always found time for at least one day hike together each year. When I lived in Boston, we would make the straight-shot north into the Whites. Other years, we’d squeeze in a hike wherever we happened to meet up: the Catskills, the Adirondacks, the southern Appalachians, Florida, Colorado. We never pushed the envelope, but always had fun.

Courtesy: Brian Cooke
Courtesy: Brian Cooke

This year, I suggested something a little different, something a little out of his comfort zone. I sold him on a 15-mile three-day, two-night hike between two of the White Mountain Huts run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. It would be a step down in difficulty from any trip I’d ever planned for myself, lacking sleeping on the ground and dehydrated meals, but it would be a step up from dayhikes for him. We’d do shorter days, eat homemade food, sleep out of the elements on bunks, and share a few good laughs between just the two of us. I’d even reschedule if the weather soured. It was the perfect introduction to camping

Dad and I share a lot in common, but lifestyle isn’t one. He has hardly camped in his 63 years, and I travel full-time with my wife in a converted SUV. He chases summer weather, and I’m outside in any weather. His calendar is planned around rounds of golf, and my calendar is planned around backcountry trips. Regardless, he agreed to the trip and ended up at the foot of Gale River Trail on a sunny Sunday, ready to tackle the 4-plus miles up to Galehead Hut.

The last message that buzzed into my phone before I lost service was from my mom, “Hope you enjoy your hike with Dad! Don’t hurt him.”

Flat trails don’t last long in the Whites, and our route was no exception.

We ate sandwiches at the trailhead, packed bags, and talked gear. The whole thing seemed like we’d done it before. He came prepared and excited, so we set off at a quick clip, the trail flat and soft. This was the terrain dad was expecting.

Flat trails don’t last long in the Whites, and our route was no exception. Dry pine duff changed to mud then to boulder-hopping. By the time we crested the climb to the hut, dad’s quads were pumped and his shirt soaked through. We’d covered only half the distance we would need to cover tomorrow.

Rested and refueled, we started day two all smiles en-route to Greenleaf Hut. The topographic maps I’d consulted showed two bigger climbs, one up Garfield Mountain and one up Mount Lafayette. The rest, it seemed, was just an undulating ridge. The hiker guide at Galehead Hut was ominous, simply stating, “There is no easy way between Galehead and Greenleaf.” Had I set us up for failure? Will this be fun or just plain difficult? Had I overestimated his fitness or underestimated the terrain?

Credit: Brian Cooke
Credit: Brian Cooke

The first four hours were a success, save for a bloody shin. We made it to the top of 4,500-foot Garfield Mountain for lunch. Dad recounted his college years as a lift rat on the top of Loon Mountain, its grassy runs peaking over Owls Head and Mount Flume. Pressing on, our hiking speed dropped as quickly as the trail did down the mountain’s steep western slope before the long climb to Mount Lafayette. Our slowing pace lent itself to a feasting frenzy for black flies, with most latching onto dad.

In theory, backpacking is simple. Strap what you need to your back and walk. No special training necessary. But as I watched dad tackle the trail, it was clear that the extra weight of the backpack and the uneven trail challenged his balance and wore on his legs. A rocky section which took 30 seconds at the beginning of the day was taking a minute in the afternoon. There’s a difference, he admitted, between the circuit workouts he does at the gym and a relentless day in the mountains with a pack.

Up on Franconia Ridge, we were spared buffeting winds as we linked cairn to cairn up to 5,249 feet, but nothing could make the steep descent to Greenleaf Hut easier on the knees. As dad limped onto the hut’s porch just in time for dinner, I was sure this was our first and last backpacking trip together. We shared some bourbon as tonic and he watched the sun set out our bunk room window from the cramp-free, prone position.

The last message that buzzed into my phone before I lost service was from my mom, “Hope you enjoy your hike with Dad! Don’t hurt him.”

We tumbled down Old Bridle Path the next morning with as fresh of legs as we could muster. We rejoiced; he at the end of the trail, and me at not hurting dad as mom had requested. Spirits were high, much higher than I had imagined they would be all said and done.

For years, I’d avoided suggesting overnight hiking trips. They were off limits. My dad, I thought, wasn’t interested, didn’t have the skills, and didn’t have the gear. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve traded adventure defined by higher, steeper, harder, farther for adventure in the form of new experiences with new people.

Credit: Brian Cooke
Credit: Brian Cooke

All I had to do was ask if dad wanted to go backpacking. As much as he’s tied to his own lifestyle, he isn’t afraid to try something new, even if it turns out that he should be. He didn’t need to spend thousands on specialized gear or practice any sort of special skills to walk (and slip and slide).

As after any difficult trip, the pain and apprehension sifts out with time and what settles are the successes: peaks bagged, laughs had, advice shared, and a damn good workout. Just days later, dad pulled out pictures of the trail in an attempt to warn my wife who was headed up to Whites for a trip. Hours later, he was regaling my sister and brother-in-law with the story. His golf buddies weren’t sure the story they heard was true. Despite it all, he maintains that he would go on another trip. What was once torture morphed into an adventure, and what was a once in a lifetime trip became a seed for future outings.

It’s his choice of trip next year, but until then, dad joked with his golf buddies, “Back to country club life.”


Hiking Acadia’s Ladder Trails

Acadia National Park is known far and wide for its dramatic natural beauty, the vivid contrast of mountain and sea creating a dreamscape of bald ridgelines, sweeping ocean views, and granite cliffs that dive straight into the tide. In the spaces between, dense woodlands and immaculate waterways offer no relief from the splendor. It’s paradise, in a complete, uncompromising, and distinctly New England way.

For all Acadia’s given natural qualities, however, it’s a man-made characteristic that allows visitors the privilege of access: the trails. Miles and miles of hewn stone steps, graded carriage roads, and blazed footpaths represent a mammoth feat of ingenuity, engineering, and labor worthy of the land for which they were constructed. Among these built features, it’s the use of iron—as rungs, railings, and ladders—that stands out. Their presence, on steep, severe, and exposed terrain afford hikers access to parts of the mountains that they wouldn’t be able to achieve without technical climbing acumen—and because of their concentration in the park, they’ve become almost synonymous with Acadia. In guidebooks and online, the Park Service has even appended their rating system to include easy, moderate, strenuous, and ladder.

A word of warning, some of these trails are steep and should absolutely not be attempted by hikers who aren’t comfortable with heights.

Editor’s Note: Some of these trails, including the Precipice, Jordan Cliffs, and Beech Cliff Trails are subject to seasonal closures to protect the peregrine falcons who nest in the cliffs. These can last from mid-March to mid-August but visit the park’s website to be sure.

The Precipice

Nowhere in Acadia are those elements that define the merit of the ladder trail more apparent than on the Precipice Trail. This notoriously steep and exposed route up Champlain Mountain’s rugged eastern face follows a system of near-vertical cliffs, navigating their natural cracks and ledges with the aid of dozens of iron rungs and railings. It’s not long before substantial easterly views of the Atlantic Ocean open up and the exposure becomes palpable—in places it feels closer to a climb than a hike. In a little less than a mile—with an ascent of over a thousand feet—the Precipice gains the 1058-foot summit of Champlain, with an outstanding view of Dorr Mountain to the west as a reward. From here, link up with the Champlain North Ridge and Orange and Black Trails for 2.1 miles of what is widely referred to as the park’s premier hike.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

The Beehive

Though the summit is a mere 520 feet above sea level, a quick jaunt up the super popular Beehive is a must-do on just about everyone’s Acadia list—and justifiably so. The eponymous Beehive Trail, with its iron rungs and railings, delivers sweeping views in short order by running right up its exposed southern face. From nearby Sand Beach, the crowds look more like ants marching up an anthill than bees working about their hive, but don’t let the crowds dissuade you—between the panorama and the fun of the brief, steep ladder sections, the Beehive is essential Acadia. String it together with the Bowl for a 1.4-mile loop. Getting there early and getting a spot at the beach for some post-hike chill is highly recommended.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Dorr Mountain

At 1,270 feet, Dorr Mountain is Acadia’s third-highest peak and an ascent of its rugged eastern face rewards hikers with substantial views in every direction, taking in the town of Bar Harbor to the north, Champlain Mountain to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the south, and Cadillac Mountain directly to the west. Naturally, these views are best achieved via the aptly-named Ladder Trail. Starting just south of the Tarn, the Ladder Trail gets right to work, climbing steeply over seemingly innumerable stone steps before the first iron rungs come into view. The proper ladder section is brief but memorable, with intermittent views of Champlain through the trees. Continue up the Schiff Path over gorgeous slabs dotted with pitch pine to Dorr’s summit to take it all in. Connecting with the Dorr Mountain South Ridge and Cannon Brook Trails makes for a very pleasant 3.2-mile loop.

Jordan Cliffs

While most of the ladder trails in Acadia are designed to get hikers up a cliff face, the Jordan Cliffs Trail is actually a traverse, running north to south along a series of east-facing cliffs, between Penobscot Mountain and Jordan Pond. Although by heading north, hikers will get a cumulative elevation gain, the Traverse aspect of the Jordan Cliffs Trail promises plenty of up and down over its course utilizing wooden staircases and—naturally—iron rungs in the process. Some exposed sections offer excellent views, with Jordan Pond and Pemetic Mountain in the east, and the Bubbles, a set of postcard-worthy twin peaks on the north end of the pond. Make it a 4.6-mile loop and take in Sargent and Penobscot Mountains, Acadia’s second- and fifth-highest mountains by connecting the Jordan Cliffs Trail with the Sargent East Cliffs, Sargent South Ridge, Penobscot Mountain, and Spring Trails. The exposed ridge walk over Sargent and Penobscot is some of the best hiking in the park.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Beech Cliff

On the western side of the island—commonly referred to as the “Quietside” for it’s relative distance from the bustle of Acadia’s better known attractions—one can get their ladder fix on the Beech Cliff Trail. This short trail rises straight up through the dense woods around Echo Lake over some cut stone steps before reaching a series of four iron ladders that negotiate the shelves and ledges of a near-vertical cliff system before topping out at a junction with the Canada Cliff Trail and a beautiful view back over Echo Lake. Continue to the right to the high point of Beech Cliff and more views of the lake and out to the Atlantic in the South. This is an awesome trail to do as part of a beach day at Echo Lake—Acadia’s only swimmable fresh-water lake—or as an escape from the crowds in high summer. Do it with the Beech Cliff Loop Trail and descend via the Canada Cliff Trail for a nice little 2-mile loop.

 


How to Choose a Headlamp

Whether you’re running down the trail, setting up your tent, or peeking under the car hood, headlamps are a convenient and hands-free way to provide light in the dark. A headlamp should be in everyone’s arsenal for venturing outdoors but with so many choices, what’s the difference between them all? There are many variables to consider when choosing a headlamp and brightness isn’t the only important thing to look at. So how do you know you’re choosing the right one?

EMS---BIG-SUR--5053-Camping

Lumens, Explained

Lumens—which are typically advertised front and center on a headlamp’s packaging and are a good place to start if you’re buying a new light—are the units that measure the total quantity of light emitted in all directions at full battery. Generally speaking, the higher the lumens, the brighter the headlamp, though not all brands measure lumens in exactly the same way, or focus that light the same, which can impact lumen count.

For reference, a car headlight is 1,300 lumens. There are headlamps out there that can reach ~1,000 lumens, but you won’t be able to see what’s right in front of you. The sweet spot for most tasks, like finding gear in your pack, setting up a tent, or walking the dog around the neighborhood is around 150-250 lumens. For extended periods of night-hiking or biking, most folks will prefer 200-350 lumens.

At full brightness, a headlamp is using more battery power, but most headlamps are dimmable, allowing you to fine-tune the right amount of light and battery usage for your task, up to that given maximum lumen number.

Also keep in mind that, as batteries drop from their 100 percent charge, their max brightness will also decrease. Pick a headlamp that is 50-100 lumens more than what you want, since it will likely be operating at standard output most of the time.

GO: 0-49 lumens | 50-99 lumens | 100-199 lumens | 199+ lumens

2019-01-EMS-Kemple-Conway-1047_Camp_Cook_Headlamp

Headlamp Battery

The next big aspect of headlamps, which ties directly into its brightness, it how it uses its batteries.

Run Time

When buying a headlamp, most will give you an estimated burn time based on power and battery life—This is the amount of time (in hours) until the lights can no longer produce usable brightness at close proximity. This is a crucial factor to consider. If you’re going backpacking in the summer time, you may only need it to last short spurts while getting ready for bed. If you’re ski touring, will it stay lit during a long pre-dawn approach? Most headlamps will give you burn times for both maximum power, and a lower setting—pay attention to both.

Battery Compatibility

Most headlamps work with two or three AAA lithium or alkaline batteries. Rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries also work well with headlamps and perform better in colder conditions, however they can lose power while sitting idle.

Some headlamps are rechargeable as well, which allows you to plug it in after a trip to ensure you’re always starting our with a 100 percent charge. You might also be able to charge them with a solar panel or power bank on longer trips, though they may not take regular batteries if needed,

Pro Tip: On cold winter trips, don’t forget to sleep with your headlamp inside your sleeping bag to preserve the battery life. On a really cold night, the chill can sap the battery by the time you wake up.

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Lighting Features

A good headlamp doesn’t simply turn on and off—It allows you to customize the brightness, beam type, and even color of the light to best suit your needs in the moment.

Lighting Modes

Rather than just offering an on/off switch, most headlamps have multiple brightness modes for performing different tasks and preserving battery power. Check headlamp specs for varying output modes like low, standard and max, or the ability to progressively dim. Each mode will vary in brightness, distance and burn time.

Strobe mode acts as an emergency blinker that’s also helpful in situations where you want to be seen, like riding a bike at night or on a busy road, or navigating foggy waters. Burst mode is offered in certain headlamps which allows for temporary high-lumen beam.

Beam Pattern and Distance

For general camp use, reading or anything up-close, a flood beam is more useful. It gives off light in a wider pattern, rather than throwing it a long-distance, which is ideal for doing things up close like cooking, reading, or getting things ready around camp.

A spot beam gives a tighter view at a longer distance, enabling the user to see further ahead in the dark, which can be nice for hiking down a trail or spotting something on the other side of a lake. Most headlamps will give you the ability to switch back and forth between these two modes.

Color Modes

Many headlamps offer a red-light mode that is great for preserving night vision and battery life and prevents blinding other people in camp.

More sophisticated headlamps may have multiple color modes, including blue and green LEDs. Blue lights are especially important for reading maps at night, since they are the only color that doesn’t wash out red lines on a map, as well as when traveling on the water as blue is the only light that can cut through fog.

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Headlamp Style and Features

Basic headlamps have a fairly slim design which makes them extremely lightweight and versatile. For backpacking, hiking, climbing, etc., the standard design with a single strap around the head and the entirety of the light up front is lightest and easiest to use. But for those running with headlamps, either a much smaller, extremely lightweight headlamp, or a headlamp that separates the battery pack and puts it on the back of the head might bounce around less while in motion. This style typically includes a strap over the top of the head, too, to keep it from sliding down.

Other things to keep in mind are the width of the straps, the tilt of the headlamp, waterproofing, and the positioning and ease-of-use of switches and buttons.


Kitted Out: Fast and Light Peakbagging

Whether you’re pursuing Vermont’s tallest peaks, tackling classic hikes such as the Presidential Traverse, or looking to bag a popular summit like Mount Monadnock, having the right gear is critical for success, safety, and comfort in the mountains. If you’re starting to pull together your peakbagging kit for the summer, here are some tried-and-true pieces to take with you into the mountains.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Pack: Osprey  Talon 22

If you take too big of a pack into the mountains, you’re liable to overpack. By contrast, if you bring too small a pack, you might be forced to leave an essential item behind. For just the right balance, try a pack like the Osprey Talon 22. The panel-loading Talon 22 has all of the features you need for moving through the mountains, and none of the features you don’t—helping keep it airy enough for the “light is right” crowd but durable enough to stand up to a big day in the Carter Range.

Hydration Bladder: CamelBak Crux 2L Reservoir

A key to moving fast in the mountains is minimizing stopping, and by allowing hikers to drink on the move, hydration bladders put an end to time-consuming water breaks. The Black Diamond Speed Zip 24 is hydration compatible, meaning a bladder like the 2-liter CamelBak Crux, will slide right into it. CamelBak has been making bladders since the beginning—they’re easy to drink from, simple to fill, and require minimal effort to fill.

Hiking Poles: Leki Micro Vario Core-Teck

Improved hiking efficiency, reduced wear and tear on joints, and increased safety are just a few reasons why you should hike with trekking poles. Trekking poles like the Leki Micro Vario Core-Tec (men’s/women’s) collapse small enough to tuck away inside/are easily stowed on the outside of a pack when not in use, are adjustable for adapting to a variety of terrain, have interchangeable baskets (making them appropriate for four-season use), and are sturdy enough to stand up to rugged Northeast terrain.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Headlamp: Petzl Tikka

Even if you’re just going for a short trip up a state highpoint like Massachusetts’ Mount Greylock, it’s a good idea to carry a headlamp. A headlamp can save you from epicing in the dark if a trip takes longer than anticipated and can be used to signal for help in an emergency. The Petzl Tikka is powerful with a maximum of 200 lumens and has been a standout of Petzl’s headlamp line for years.  

Sunglasses: Julbo

Whether you’re trying to complete the Adirondacks’ 46 peaks over 4,000 feet or New Hampshire’s 52 with a View, odds are you’ll be spending some time above treeline and in the sun—making sunglasses a good addition to your hiking kit. With options to fit all types of faces and a wide variety of styles, the “right” pair differs between individuals. That said, we love Julbo shades (the crazier the color scheme, the better). Look for something polarized and get a hard case to protect them in your pack.

Puffy: EMS Alpine Ascender

It’s easy to be lulled into complacency by mild spring and summer weather at the trailhead, but be advised that it could still feel like winter at higher elevations—for example, the record high temperature on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is just 72 degrees. Because of this, it’s a good idea to always pack a puffy coat. The EMS Alpine Ascender delivers the warmth needed for frigid peaks and frosty ridgelines while still being breathable enough to wear on the move.

Hardshell: Outdoor Research Helium II

Mark Twain famously said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” With that in mind, pack a hardshell to deal with the Northeast’s fickle weather. The Outdoor Research Helium II (men’s/women’s) is a long-time favorite for summer conditions due to its lightweight packability and weather protection (which was essential as we explored Camel’s Hump, a Vermont classic).

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Windshirt: Black Diamond Alpine Start

Probably the layer that gets used the most, a windshirt is perfect for everything from taking the chill off of early morning starts to keeping you warm when the wind is whipping above treeline. The Black Diamond Alpine Start (men’s/women’s) is light and packable enough that it never gets left behind and has proven itself capable of standing up against the region’s coarse rock that would shred lesser jackets.

Sunshirt: Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody

Sunshirts are an integral part of any peakbagger’s kit, especially when above treeline—on Cadillac Mountain’s South Ridge Trail, for example—as they offer protection from the sun, help keep hikers cool, and efficiently wick sweat away from the body. A nice bonus of sunshirts is that they also offer protection from bugs, making them a particularly well-loved piece during the Northeast’s seemingly interminable black fly season. The Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody (men’s/women’s) delivers 50-UPF protection and features a hood to help keep the sun off your head, neck, and face.  

Trail Runners: Salomon Speedcross

Moving fast is essential to picking off multiple peaks in a day on hikes like the infamous Pemi Traverse. Not only is the old saying “a pound off your feet equals five pounds off your back” true, but heavy footwear affects hikers in other ways too. For example, the stiff and less responsive nature of heavier footwear reduces the body’s efficiency—resulting in 5% more energy expended. Shoes are an incredibly personal decision, but in the past, we’ve had luck with the Salomon Speedcross (men’s/women’s). The Speedcross delivers superb traction in a variety of terrains, lightweight, and enough cushion for comfort even the longest days in the mountains. Pair them with Smartwool’s PhD Pro Light Crew Socks (men’s/women’s) for a fantastic fit and smooth stride.

Pants: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pant

If you haven’t tried the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pant (men’s/women’s) yet, you’re missing out. Perfect for all but the warmest days, these are staple of our summer peakbagging kits. If you run warm, the Ferrosi Short (men’s/women’s) is awesome, too.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Other Essentials

It’s always a good idea to stash a first aid kit, emergency bivy, map and compass, hat (men’s/women’s) and gloves or mittens (men’s/women’s)— yes, even in the summer, communication device, fire starter, and some extra food in your pack as well. While we hope you never need any of it, it’s nice to be prepared in an emergency.

Do you have a key piece of peakbagging gear that didn’t make our list? If so, let us know what it is and why you don’t hit the trail without it in the comments below.


Alpha Guide: Hiking The Devil's Path

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Not for the faint of heart, the Catskills’ most notorious trail is rugged, wild, and just as challenging as it is rewarding.

Point blank, the Devil’s Path is hard. In its 25 miles, this hike gains over 8,500 feet in elevation while running over some of the roughest terrain in the Northeast. The five Catskill high peaks it traverses—Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, Plateau, and West Kill Mountains—are separated by dramatically steep descents into low notches, requiring hikers to scramble and even downclimb in some spots. The kind of loose rock that makes your ankles hurt just looking at it is seemingly everywhere and, depending on the season, water sources can be few and far between. The challenges this hike presents are unrelenting.

The reward, however, is apparent in the abundant, fantastic viewpoints and the wild vibe of the trail. For being just two hours from New York City, this hike feels a lot more remote than it actually is.

Quick Facts

Distance: 25 miles, thru-hike
Time to Complete: 1-3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May to October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/5265.html

Download

Turn-By-Turn

The Devil’s Path is often thought of as two halves, east and west, with its midpoint being the intersection with NY-214 at Stony Clove Notch. Truth is, once you hit Stony Clove Notch (hiking westbound) you’ve done the bulk of the work with most of the mileage, elevation gain, and the decidedly rougher terrain behind you.

Most folks like to tackle this trip in a weekend, camping close to the trailhead on Friday night and splitting the Eastern and Western sections between Saturday and Sunday. For the brave, doing the “Devil in a Day” is also an option, though an early start and ample preparation are absolutely critical.

From the Thruway (I-87) take Exit 20 and head west on NY-212. After 2.3 miles, take a slight right onto Blue Mountain Road. Continue for 1.4 miles, then take a left onto West Saugerties Road. From there, it’s 5.2 miles to Prediger Road (on the left) and another 0.5 miles to the trailhead parking area.

This is a one-way ticket, so you’ll need to post a shuttle car at the other end on Spruceton Road.

The view from Orchard Point on Plateau Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
The view from Orchard Point on Plateau Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

The Eastern Section

Beginning at the Prediger Road trailhead (42.13396, -74.10435), the Devil’s Path starts out easy, heading southeast on a wide path over the mostly flat ground. At 0.2 miles the blue-blazed Jimmy Dolan Trail splits off to the right. Bear left and follow those red blazes. Fortunately, for all the myriad obstacles this trail is going to throw at you, route finding isn’t one of them—every junction is very well-signed and the blazes are plentiful.

At 1.7 miles, the trail runs into a T intersection with the Overlook Trail—take a right. In about 200 feet, the trail splits again, with the Overlook Trail heading straight (south) and the Devil’s Path breaking off to the right (west-southwest).

A short distance straight on the Overlook Trail is the Devil’s Kitchen Lean-to (42.11896, -74.08716), a very popular shelter and the first of its kind on the trail. Should you be looking to do this hike in a weekend, the Devil’s Kitchen is a solid Friday night option, and will all but ensure an early start on Saturday morning. You almost certainly won’t be the only one with this plan in mind, though, so don’t bank on a spot in the shelter proper.

A view through the trees on the way up Indian Head Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
A view through the trees on the way up Indian Head Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

Indian Head Mountain

After the junction with the Overlook Trail, the Devil’s Path begins its first ascent, moderately gaining elevation as it climbs the northeast face of Indian Head. At 2.9 miles the trail reaches Sherman’s Lookout, an open ledge with excellent views back to the east. From here, the trail meanders over the ridge, climbing and descending easily to another great view, this time to the south. Beyond this lookout, the grade steepens and requires some easy scrambling over rocks and roots—a mere warm-up for what’s to come—to the viewless 3,573-foot summit of Indian Head (42.11640, -74.11456), your first of five Catskill 3500-foot peaks on the trip.

Up next is your first, steep, characteristically-Devil’s-Path descent, dropping around 500 feet in 0.6 miles into Jimmy Dolan Notch. Compared with the descents to come, however, this one is relatively moderate. At the low point of the notch (4.5 miles), the eponymous, Jimmy Dolan Notch Trail descends to the right. This is the same blue-blazed trail the Devil’s Path crossed at the beginning of the trip so should you need an early bailout option, this is one will take you right back to the car.

A break in the clouds from Twin Mountain’s south summit. | Credit: John Lepak
A break in the clouds from Twin Mountain’s south summit. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Twin Mountain

Rising to the west, on other side of Jimmy Dolan Notch, is Twin Mountain, the second 3,500-foot peak of the hike. Much like your descent into the notch, the climb out is short and steep, regaining all the elevation you just lost in short order. At 4.9 miles, the trail gains the south summit and rewards your early efforts with a really outstanding view to the south. Continue on a relatively level ridge walk, descending slightly though thick evergreens and climbing again, easily, to the true summit of Twin Mountain (3,640 feet) (42.12559, -74.12903), at 5.6 miles, and another good viewpoint.

A short distance down from the summit you’ll come upon a cave on the trail’s right hand side. A spacious rock overhang makes this a solid, protected spot to post-up for for a breather and maybe even some lunch—if you’re trying to bang this out in two days, the timing will likely work out.

Make sure to enjoy the break though, because past this point, the Devil’s Path really starts to show its teeth. This descent, into Pecoy Notch, gets steep quickly and the pace slows right down. There are a few rock features through this section of the trail that require some serious scrambling and one that’s actually more of a downclimb. These can be dangerous in wet or icy conditions so an abundance of care is necessary to negotiate them safely. Keep on descending into Pecoy Notch where a junction with the Pecoy Notch Trail (blue blazes) at mile 6.3, provides another eligible bailout if needed.

A short spur trail past Sugarloaf’s summit offers a nice view when it’s not in the clouds. | Credit: John Lepak
A short spur trail past Sugarloaf’s summit offers a nice view when it’s not in the clouds. | Credit: John Lepak

Sugarloaf Mountain

From here, the trail presses on to the West and the steep ascent of Sugarloaf Mountain. One fun feature of the eastern section of the Devil’s Path is that the ups and the downs get progressively more difficult for the west-bound hiker. So, that this little section ups the ante—climbing around a thousand feet in a little less than one mile—should come as no surprise. It’s rough, as the trail scrambles over rocks and roots until, after what seems like forever, you reach the summit ridge and level out for a short, gentle approach to the 3,800-foot viewless summit (42.13130, -74.15014) at mile 7.5. A yellow-blazed spur path just beyond leads to a good viewpoint south.

The descent into Mink Hollow is—you guessed it—steep and rough. There are plenty of obstacles to negotiate as you drop almost 1,200 feet in 1.05 miles so the going is predictably slow.

When the trail finally levels out it’s joined by the blue-blazed Mink Hollow Trail on the right at mile 8.55. These two trails run together for a short while before the Mink Hollow Trail departs to the left. Following that will bring you to the Mink Hollow shelter (42.13564, -74.16247) and decent water source. Depending on what time of day you get here, this is also a beautiful little spot to set up camp for the night. If not, it’s still a prime opportunity to take a break and fill-up before the rough hike back up, the latest in a series of progressively harder climbs.

A view from an outlook just shy of Plateau Mountain’s wooded summit. | Credit: John Lepak
A view from an outlook just shy of Plateau Mountain’s wooded summit. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Plateau Mountain

Continuing straight on the Devil’s Path, the terrain steepens just about immediately and the scrambling resumes as you make your way out of the hollow. Intermittent views back towards Sugarloaf make stopping to catch your breath a bit more enjoyable but the ascent is steep. At 9.6 miles, after 1,250 vertical feet of some pretty heavy duty hiking, you gain the summit ridge and top-out on Plateau Mountain at 3,840 feet (42.13780, -74.17419).

As the name would suggest, the summit of Plateau is relatively flat for a leisurely 2.1 miles through dense, fragrant conifers. Roughly 0.4 miles after the summit, the Warner Creek Trail breaks off to the left.

Plateau’s ridgewalk culminates with two excellent viewpoints. Known as Danny’s Lookout and Orchid Point they offer nice views to the North and West, respectively and the open ledge of the latter is another great spot for a rest before heading down to Stony Clove Notch.

Notch Lake and NY-214 in Stony Clove Notch, the unofficial halfway point of the Devil’s Path. | Credit: John Lepak
Notch Lake and NY-214 in Stony Clove Notch, the unofficial halfway point of the Devil’s Path. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Stony Clove

From Orchid Point, the trail continues on to the left, dropping quickly over some large rocks before beginning a long, moderate descent. While ‘moderate’ may sound lovely here, especially after the drama of the previous several descents, the Devil’s Path has another plan for it’s weary hikers: loose, broken, ankle-rolling rocks. If you’ve chosen to split this hike into two days, you may be coming down in the dark here, so take care and make sure that headlamp is charged. Eventually the grade and scree will ease up and turn into a rough staircase as you make your way into Stony Clove Notch.

If you’re making this a two day affair, Devil’s Tombstone Campground (42.15466, -74.20599) is a good place to stop. It’s wildly popular so make sure to reserve a spot in advance. If you’re hiking in the off-season, when the campground’s closed (October to May) consider another option—the campground is regularly patrolled and the fines for illegal camping are steep.

Note: The Devil’s Tombstone Campground is closed for the 2019 season for essential infrastructure updates. Existing reservations will be accommodated but there will be no staff or amenities on site. More information is available here.

The Devil’s Path as it climbs out of Stony Clove Notch. | Credit: John Lepak
The Devil’s Path as it climbs out of Stony Clove Notch. | Credit: John Lepak

The Western Section

The trail resumes across NY-214, winds through the campground, and crosses a footbridge before reentering the woods. Another steep climb begins almost as soon as you get into the trees as the Devil’s Path switches back and forth over rocks and roots, steadily gaining elevation. This is one place to pay particularly close attention to, as some of the switchbacks are hard to see and it’s easy to just keep on walking straight off the trail. The blazes are there, just keep a close eye.

 

The grade eventually eases up and the trail proceeds over the relatively mild terrain in the col between Hunter and Southwest Hunter Mountains. At mile 15.1 the yellow-blazed Hunter Mountain Trail, which leads north to the summit of Hunter Mountain, begins on the right. Continue straight and just past this junction find the Devil’s Acre lean-to ( 42.16544, -74.23084)—another serviceable option for spending the night—and a reliable water source just off the trail to the right.

The next 2.2 miles are among the Devil’s Path’s gentlest as the trail traverses the southwestern flank of Hunter Mountain and descends into Diamond Notch.

The low-point of the notch features Diamond Notch Falls (42.17519, -74.25791)—a lovely place to take a break and get some water—and a junction with the blue-blazed Diamond Notch Trail. If you’re looking for a place to spend the night, this is a good opportunity—take a left and the Diamond Notch Lean-to is just 0.5 miles south. If not, keep on going straight—West Kill Mountain, your final high peak of the trip, awaits.

Buck Ridge Lookout, before the marked—but viewless—summit of West Kill. | Credit: John Lepak
Buck Ridge Lookout, before the marked—but viewless—summit of West Kill. | Credit: John Lepak

 

West Kill Mountain

The Devil’s Path crosses a sturdy wooden foot bridge over Diamond Notch Falls and turns right, paralleling the Brook briefly before swinging left and beginning to climb. The ascent opens with a short bit of rock hopping before easing into a soft, mostly dirt footpath. The grade is steep but steady and the terrain is far easier than any of the previous climbs on the route.

Nearing the top, a few rock obstacles require short scrambles before the climb out of Diamond Notch culminates with a cool rock overhang at 18.7 miles. The trail skirts the overhang to the left and gains the ridge with one final push.

West Kill Mountain’s long ridgeline has four distinct “summits,” and just past the rock overhang marks the first one. Beyond, the trail dips down into an easy saddle before beginning its ascent of the true high point. The enjoyable stroll winds through dense evergreens to Buck Ridge Lookout, an outstanding southerly viewpoint at 19.65 miles. If you’re looking for a breather, here’s a good place to do it.

Another gentle 0.15 miles takes you to the true summit of 3,880-foot West Kill Mountain (42.16787, -74.28959), marked by a cairn and a sign. Continuing on, the Devil’s Path drops, steeply at times, as it traverses West Kill’s ridge. Cross over another small knoll and continue traversing the ridge on your way to Saint Anne’s Peak.

A short final climb up Saint Anne’s Peak (3420, mile 21.85), the westernmost of West Kill’s summits, marks the final real ascent of the journey. Past here the Devil’s path descends steeply to the northwest before swinging back to the southeast. At mile 22.8, the trail meets a brook and takes a hard right.

The remaining 1.55 miles follow the path of the brook, gently rolling over minor elevation gains and losses through a shady evergreen forest until one last, steep descent to the parking area on Spruceton Road (42.19209, -74.32433).


 

In the clouds at the 3500 foot sign, on the way up Twin Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
In the clouds at the 3500 foot sign, on the way up Twin Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

The Kit

  • In the mountains, two trees are often easier to find than a flat, rockless clearing. Consider eschewing the tent for an Eno Singlenest Hammock. It’s also a whole lot lower-impact, which is a nice bonus.
  • Soaked socks are the worst, so a second pair is critical. Darn Tough Vermont Hiking Socks are wicked comfortable and just about indestructible—just what you’re going to need after a day on this trail.
  • Sacrificing taste for weight is rough but there are a ton of good freeze-dried options out there. Good To-go is an outstanding one with vegan and gluten free meals available. Try the Herbed Mushroom Risotto.
  • Get those meals cooked with the MSR Windburner Stove System. It’s lightweight, packable, and doesn’t skip a beat up high or in a storm.
  • Whether you’re doing it in a long weekend or a single day, at some point, you’re going to be hiking in the dark. A headlamp, like the Petzl Actik Core, is essential—the rechargeable battery is a real plus too.

Above Diamond Notch Falls, before ascending West Kill Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
Above Diamond Notch Falls, before ascending West Kill Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

Keys to the Trip

  • In drier seasons, water can be hard to come by out here so be prepared to fill up early and often. Do your research before you go: Know where reliable springs can be found and keep an eye on the trail conditions and weather reports.
  • Backcountry camping is permitted below 3,500 feet and at least 150 feet away from trails and water sources. Lean-tos at Devil’s Kitchen, Mink Hollow, Devil’s Acre, and Diamond Notch are good options as well.
  • If you want to go fast and light and not lug too much food (or water) with you, NY-214 crosses the Devil’s Path at its midpoint, making an ideal spot for a supply drop. Just keep it out of reach of the bears.
  • The Devil’s Path is a long, point-to-point hike that requires a shuttle. If you’re going solo, or your party doesn’t have access to a second car, you can book a ride with Smiley’s Transport. It’s always wiser to hike back to your car, so make sure to give them a call in advance.
  • Once you’re out of the woods, grab a post-hike beer at nearby West Kill Brewing. Just 1.7 miles East of the trail’s end on Spruceton Road, this little gem—and its eclectic menu of beers featuring locally harvested and foraged ingredients—is a welcome respite.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked any part of the Devil’s Path recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!