3 Adirondack Fall Foliage Hotspots

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

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

Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Giant Mountain Wilderness

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

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

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Boreas Ponds Tract

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

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

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Pharaoh Lake Wilderness

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

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

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


5 More Fall Hikes Around New York City

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

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

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

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

Breakneck Ridge

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

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

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

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

Bear Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appalachian Trail Metro-North

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fishkill Ridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Slide Mountain

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

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

The Hike Up

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Hunter Mountain

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

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

The Fire Tower

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

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

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

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


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

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

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

1. Hike Jay Mountain (Jay, NY)

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

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

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

HopkinsMountain
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

3. Hike Hopkins Mountain (Keene Valley, NY)

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

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

4. Explore Moose River Plains (Inlet, NY)

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

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

 

5. Hike Owls Head Lookout (Elizabethtown, NY)

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

6. Camp at Eighth Lake (Inlet, NY)

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

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

 

7. Hike Coon Mountain (Westport, NY)

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

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

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

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

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

9. Hike Lyon Mountain (Dannemora, NY)

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

10. Hike Mount Severance (Schroon Lake, NY)

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


Top 5 Memorial Day Hikes in the Adirondacks for Kids

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

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Getting Started

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

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

2. Be sure to carry plenty of “fuel”

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

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

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

 

Where to Go

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

Courtesy: Bonnie Gross
Courtesy: Bonnie Gross

Mount Severance (Schroon Lake)

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

Sawyer Mountain (Blue Mountain Lake)

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

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Rattlesnake Mountain (Willsboro Bay)

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

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Sleeping Beauty Mountain (Lake George)

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

Baxter Mountain (Keene)

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


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

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

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

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

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

2. Bald Mountain (Stony Point, New York)

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

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

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

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

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Jorge Quinteros
Credit: Jorge Quinteros

4. Bonticou Crag (Gardiner, New York)

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

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

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

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

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

5. Hunter Mountain (West Kill, New York)

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

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

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

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

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

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


Newsflash: Adirondack Peaks To See Temporary Trailheads for Columbus Day Weekend

In an effort to keep hikers safe in the face of increased traffic for Columbus Day Weekend, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will be closing a section of Route 73 to parking that includes the trailheads for Cascade and Porter Mountains, and Pitchoff Mountain. Hikers for all three peaks will be able to park at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Sports Complex and use new trail connections to reach existing trails.

Beginning at dusk on Thursday, October 5 and stretching through dusk on Monday, October 9, pull-offs along State Route 73  west of the Cascade Lakes and east of the entrance to Mount Van Hovenburg will be closed, blocked off and patrolled by New York State Troopers.

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

Hikers planning to climb the summit of Cascade and/or Porter Mountains:

Hikers should park in parking lots at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Sports Complex at no cost. Volunteer stewards will direct hikers to a 2.0-mile marked route on the complex’s cross-country ski trail system. The route links to a newly constructed 0.4-mile connector trail between the ski trail and the Cascade Mountain Trail. The connector trail joins the Cascade Mountain Trail approximately 0.6 mile from the current trailhead. A roundtrip hike to the summit of Cascade Mountain will be 8.6 miles long—3.8 miles longer than the regular route from the Route 73 trailhead.

Hikers seeking to climb the summit of Pitchoff Mountain:

Hikers will also park at the Sports Complex and take the same route across the complex’s cross-country ski trail system. After 1.7 miles, the route to Pitchoff Mountain leaves the ski trail and traverses 0.3 miles across a private driveway to State Route 73. Hikers will then walk 0.15 miles and cross State Route 73 to the current trailhead for the Pitchoff Mountain Trail. A roundtrip hike to the summit of Pitchoff Mountain will be 8.4 miles long—4.4 miles longer than the regular route.

The current trailheads on Route 73 straddle a sharp narrow turn that has been known to be dangerous. “The Cascade Mountain trailhead is presently a parking hazard and nightmare,” said North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi. “I’m pleased DEC is taking action to address this public safety need by relocating the trailhead.” The relatively short hike and high reward, particularly of Cascade Mountain, combine to make it a very popular hike and the small pullout quickly reaches capacity during busy weekends.

The trailhead at Mount Van Hovenburg will feature bathrooms and food or drink concession. The DEC notes than hikers not interested in the increased length of these hikes should look for shorter options outside of the High Peaks Wilderness.


Alpha Guide: Mount Marcy via the Van Hoevenberg Trail

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

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

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

 

Quick Facts

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


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

Download file: Mount_Marcy.gpx

Turn-By-Turn

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

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

06_Trail-Section-1.2_WEB
Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Warmup

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

14_Old-Marcy-Dam
Credit: Sarah Quandt

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

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

A Gentle Climb

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

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

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Break with a View

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

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

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Still Climbing

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

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

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Above the Treeline

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

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

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

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

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


Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Kit

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

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Keys to the Trip

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

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Current Conditions

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