2008 Annual Guide to the Great Outdoors
Tavern & trail combos across the park
Some Adirondack destinations are for the peak baggers who want to add another notch to their walking sticks. The footsore take payment for their perseverance in tattered socks and well-worn maps. Other locations reward the trekker with unspoiled wilderness, the sense of being just a solitary speck in vast woods. Still other paths are route-finding challenges and severe physical tests, real brain/body battles for the elite who strive for suffering. Some of us go for the beer. The call of the wild sounds surprisingly like the pshftt of a longneck’s departing bottle cap. At the end of a good walk in the park, the Adirondack Park, there’s nothing like a cold brew served up in a friendly tavern, where, if everyone doesn’t know your name yet, they will as you savor the well-earned amber in a glass. When you launch into your trail tribulations you’ll find knowing nods and advice for your next hike. We have some thoughts on these weighty matters, too. In the following quintet (it would have been a six-pack, but we left one for you, lucky reader) we offer a selection of treks to great overlooks and lesser-known ponds, all with a pub near trail’s end. You can sample the route based on the draft ale choices, the distance you’ll walk or the kind of terrain you want to experience. You’ll be welcome at the pubs regardless of the mud on your boots or the number of blackfly bites around your neck. Pull up a barstool and read on.
From Debar to De Bar
Hiking distance (one way): 3.6 miles
Tavern: Samsons Bar & Grill [Editor's Note: Samson's closed following a December 2008 fire.]
Distance from trailhead: 3 miles
by Mary Thill
Deep in the northern Adirondacks there is a mountain to rival the 46 High Peaks and a beer list that ventures 42 flavors beyond Bud.
Climbing 3,300-foot DeBar Mountain, above the Meacham Lake State Campground, is a four-to-five-hour thirst builder. The trail has a flat preamble through a boggy woods that’s as fragrant as incense. But the path gets steeper as it goes. The last half-mile is a vertical pile of boulders, requiring hands as much as feet to scrabble to the summit.
The reward is a sublime 135-degree view of the Big Empty—the gentle unbroken topography of the northwestern Adirondacks. On a clear day you can see the St. Lawrence River and St. Regis Falls in the far distance, but other than that it’s trees, trees, trees, pond, pond, pond and a few small mountains across the middle ground. Although DeBar is far from any population center, it gets traffic on weekends, including many French Canadians, because of the campground.
The hike down takes almost as long as the climb up because the trail is so steep and tough on the knees. But thoughts of two things help keep your boots moving: beach and beer.
Meacham Lake has a large sandy beach with a picnic grove, and since you have to pay the campground’s $7 day-use fee (per carload) to get to the trailhead, you might as well take a dip before heading south on Route 30 for a cold one at the former Meacham Lake Inn, known the past couple of years as Samsons Bar & Grill.
Samsons looks like any other North Country roadside joint, that is, more bar-bar than fern bar. We walked past the motorcycles and Subaru wagons in the parking lot and got one step inside when the Jethro Tull hit our ears, but the jukebox offers a lot more than 1970s flute rock. The beer list is also eclectic, with strong Belgian ales, fruity lambics, English stouts, plenty of North American lagers and four alternating brews on tap.
It’d be a shame not to have a bite to eat with your beer—a lot of the food is made from scratch, down to the rolls, pasta and salad dressings. Bill Bentz, the 32-year-old owner/chef, was executive sous chef at the Point, a Great Camp on Upper Saranac Lake that became a $2,500-a-night lodge. Snowmobilers, bikers, campers and locals are as enthusiastic about Bentz’s food as the Point’s elite clientele was, and Samsons has a friendly, well-fed vibe. The Black Angus burgers are popular, and our first sips of lemony weissbier were as refreshing as a dive into a lake.
If You Go: Get directions to the DeBar Mountain trailhead from the booth attendant as you enter the Meacham Lake campground, on Route 30, 12 miles north of Paul Smiths. Trailhead parking is past site 37; bear right onto a sandy road and keep to the right. You will reach a gravel pit on your left after about a half-mile. Park at the pit and sign the trail register. The DeBar Mountain trail can be found on the Loon Lake and Santa Clara USGS 15-minute quadrangles.
Samsons Bar & Grill (518-327-5252, www.samsonsbarandgrill.com) can be found at 9667 Route 30, nine miles north of Paul Smiths.
Guided by Guinness
Kings Flow to Thirteenth Lake
Hiking distance (one way): 8 miles
Tavern: Garnet Hill Lodge
Distance from trailhead: 1 mile
by Elizabeth Folwell
Most hikers head for Kings Flow, a valley-cradled wide spot of Big Brook near Indian Lake, to go up Chimney Mountain. Several trails radiate from the parking lot to penetrate Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area. You can walk to John Pond, Puffer Pond, Hour Pond or end up at Elizabeth Point, on Thirteenth Lake. You can start from the trail register and go all the way to Route 8 below Bakers Mills and the wide spot in the road once known as Oregon, a tannery town on the Sacandaga River. You can branch off the main route for a quick climb up Balm of Gilead Mountain, with lovely views of roadless country. Or you can hike to a lager goal: march through swale in search of ale. Our destination was barstools and pints of Guinness. Garnet Hill Lodge obliged nicely.
Our hiking party (my husband, a friend, two dogs and I) knew we were on the right track when our trail, with Puffer Pond the first scenic attraction, dwindled to a thin ribbon of dirt between lush ferns. In contrast, the Chimney Mountain route was a sidewalk or even a driveway. For more than a mile our trail led through mixed hardwoods—some monster sugar maples about four feet in diameter. The picture we often carry of virgin forest involves pines, but these were old-growth specimens that towered overhead. Yellow birches lurked too, with burls the size of bathtubs and entwined roots that snaked in the botanical equivalent of tango dancers.
Our hike was the better part of a late-summer day, and we were glad for the cool breeze and lack of bugs. This trip in blackfly season would be torture, no matter what reward was promised at the end. But the streams, beaver meadows and ponds were blue contrasts to the shades of green on green in the dark woods. We could appreciate the waters for the visual breaks they provided, not fret over the larvae they harbored.
We lunched at Puffer Pond, in a new lean-to set back from the shore. From there, the trail oscillated between obvious old wagon road to nearly invisible footpath. The built-up sections were surprising; this territory must have been en route to a garnet mine or tanbark source or even a forgotten settlement. Now, though, there’s little traffic here but deer, partridge and beavers. Busy beavers. One section of path had been obliterated by a toothy army who felled impressive trees and stripped the bark from root crook to crown.
In the pass between Bullhead and Puffer Mountains, Hour Pond outlet bubbled along our path. With mossy boulders, cascades and breaks of amber sunlight, it’s like Gill Brook minus the people. The liquid was also reminiscent of the refreshing brew that was beckoning just a few miles farther. Then we entered a pine plantation, with uniform pencil-straight conifers straining to the sky.
This is the kind of hiking I love, the deep woods and quiet standing in for the overly dramatic vistas and crowds. We didn’t see another person until about 20 minutes from trail’s end, when we were shocked to find a guy walking behind us. We were punchy from new-boot blisters, and the dogs had settled into a grim jog so different from the brush thrashing and chipmunk chasing of the start. We continued past the parking lot for the Old Farm Clearing and went straight to the snug little pub at Garnet Hill Lodge. My goodness—my Guinness. Amazing how restorative a beverage can be.
Cliff, the publican, pulled us some pints in classic Irish style, with the right mix of blarney and hospitality. A tenor warbled “The Rose of Tralee” and other warhorses of emerald-tinted ballads. All we needed to complete the Celtic reverie, after owner Mary Fahey greeted us with an accent straight from the Old Country, was a peat fire glowing. That, and kissing the “Garney Stone,” a hunk of black rock with blood-red nuggets from the mine that first brought folks to Garnet Hill. We opted for another round.
If You Go: From the intersection of Route 28 and Route 30 in Indian Lake village, drive 0.6 miles south on Route 30. Take a left onto Big Brook Road; at 1.2 miles you’ll cross a causeway over Lake Abanakee. Bear right at the fork 2.1 miles past the lake. Stay on Big Brook Road until you reach Chimney Mountain Wilderness Lodge, a beautiful clearing on Kings Flow. You’ll see a parking area on your left. Leave a buck in the box for the landowner who allows state land access from his property. The Puffer Pond trail can be found on the Thirteenth Lake quad. (This is a point-to-point hike, so leave a car at the Old Farm Clearing parking lot off Thirteenth Lake Road, which heads uphill for about five miles from Route 28 as you enter North River. Or park at the lodge, which means an additional mile or so of walking beyond the state lot.)
Garnet Hill Lodge (518-251-2444, www.garnet-hill .com) can be found on Garnet Hill Road, in North River.
Silver and Liquid Gold
Silver Lake Mountain
Hiking distance (one way): 0.9 miles
Tavern: Douglas Resort Beach House
Distance from trailhead: 0.8 miles
by Ned P. Rauch
As with making hay, climbing mountains is best done while the sun shines. In the Adirondacks, that’s often not possible. It had been my plan to hike Silver Lake Mountain, a pleasant bump of a peak with a 900-foot rise, about halfway between Saranac Lake and Plattsburgh. I’d make the trek under a clear blue sky in the middle of what had been a remarkably dry summer. From the 2,374-foot summit, I reckoned, I’d watch the dark shadows of passing clouds slip over ridges, valleys, bogs and the huge lake after which the mountain was named. I’d probably have to squint. My girlfriend would collect blueberries. The rocks would be warm.
Instead, a quick-to-arrive and slow-to-leave thunderstorm cracked the air just as we parked the car. The sky spilled as I laced my boots, but once we made it to the trail, a high canopy of maple leaves shielded us from the rain. It wasn’t until we neared the summit and the trees switched from those with leaves to those with needles that I pulled the hood of my rain jacket over my head.
The hike, just shy of a mile long, is a constant climb, but it’s easy on the thighs and lungs and rarely steep. Because of some miscommunication my girlfriend had only a pair of Crocs on her feet; she was fine.
The storm cut short the views, but there was still plenty to look at: Indian pipes standing stiffly to the right, blueberry bushes (rather picked over at the end of July) at regular intervals. And even in the downpour, the views weren’t half bad: From the first clearing we came to we could see three lakes, a bog and a pair of houses. Later we had a good look at a pair of south-ish facing cliffs that brought to mind The Last of the Mohicans.
We found three metal rings sunk into the rocks at the summit, where there are nice spots for a picnic, but no Geological Survey medallion to tell us that yes, in fact, we were at the top. Guidebooks say the summit offers stunning views of Whiteface Mountain; the clouds said otherwise.
The whole trip took about an hour, and it wasn’t terribly strenuous. Still, the braving-the-storm quality of our hike convinced us we’d earned a hearty meal and a drink at Douglas Resort Beach House, just up the road from the trailhead. The restaurant sits at the northeast end of Silver Lake, and houses a bar, pinball machines, a dance floor and mounted deer, moose and boar heads and, according to the Web site, offers free WiFi Internet access. Anti–Adirondack Park Agency stickers and hats are tacked up above the bar. Pouring drinks behind it during our visit was LeRoy Douglas, owner of the place—as well as the campground and much of the property around it—and member of the ninth generation of Douglases to make a home and a living at the edge of Silver Lake.
LeRoy’s predecessors built an inn here. A stagecoach from Au Sable Forks arrived daily, taking four hours to make the 11-mile trip. Later, the Douglas family put up the Silver Lake Hotel, which counted, among other stars, Cecil B. DeMille as a regular guest. It burned in 1973. LeRoy, who spends the off-season in Florida, said he’s thinking about erecting a new hotel.
Meanwhile, he brought us our lunch: burger for me, grilled cheese for my girlfriend, fries to share, LaBatt Blue to drink. A good meal and, it turned out, savvy choices. When a guy walked in and asked for a diet Yoo-hoo, Douglas loosed a laugh that quickly changed the fellow’s mind. He ended up with a beer instead.
If You Go: From the four corners intersection in Wilmington, take Bonnieview Road toward Black Brook and turn left onto Silver Lake Road. Go 6.5 miles. A small gravel parking lot and the trailhead are on the right. The Silver Lake Mountain trail can be found on the Redford quad.
Douglas Resort Beach House (800-201-8061, www.doug lasresort.com) can be found at 2400 Silver Lake Road, in Au Sable Forks.
Bear then Beer
Hiking distance: 3.4-mile loop
Tavern: Cranberry Lake Lodge
Distance from trailhead: 3 miles
by Annie Stoltie
When I think northwest Adirondacks I think deep woods. Frederic Remington painted this wild place; prize bucks abound here; you won’t see high-traffic markers like Dunkin’ Donuts in this corner of the park.
But Cranberry Lake State Campground is a surprisingly happening spot. At the height of summer expect most of its 173 campsites to be occupied—a buzzing tent- and pop-up-camper–city in the trees. And its adjacent skyscraper, Bear Mountain—Adirondack peak lite at 2,520 feet—offers a loop trail from here that’s perfect for shaking out the legs before settling onto a barstool. (It’s also a great place to introduce kids to hiking, but the focus here is trekking, then imbibing.)
Will you pass other people on the trail? Most likely. Will you hear fighter jets from Fort Drum Army base, practicing maneuvers overhead? Probably. Will you be disappointed with the views of Cat Mountain and Cranberry Lake from the top of Bear, where a hole has been punched from the trees and bushes so you can take it all in? No way.
When a couple of friends and I converged at Bear last August we paid the $7 day-use fee (and regretted forgetting our bathing suits to take full advantage of the campground’s beach), signed in, then started up the mountain. The first section, though fairly gradual, is the steepest of the hike. There’s a graffiti-covered lean-to almost a mile in, where—judging from the youthful observations and comments in the lean-to log—kids drag their sleeping bags to escape their parents’ car-camping scene.
The rest of the trail to the top is pretty tame: some Humvee-size chunks of rock to maneuver around, high grasses to pass, a break in the trees that reminds you how far above the lake you’ve hiked—and just how lovely amoeba-shape Cranberry really is. As we plopped ourselves on the bare rock here to rest, a group of six or so, the men in wet swimming trunks, the women in bikinis with towels wrapped around their waists, and all in flip-flops, marched by, then abruptly stopped. Someone at the lead had face-planted on a muddy slope.
From here you can retrace your steps or continue, where the trail meanders down until it meets Lone Pine Road at the southern end of the campground. Our mile-long walk to my truck took us past campsites with vacationers kicking back, sipping frosty beverages from coolers. Or maybe I was so thirsty I imagined that. After our jaunt to Cranberry Lake Lodge, on Route 3, we too were unwinding with refreshing drinks.
The lodge is just what you’d expect: A rustic tavern decorated with hunting photographs and parts of animal skulls and various taxidermic specimens, plus foosball and pool tables. Even an ensemble of countrywide license plates. There’s a dining room where you can get good fried food; the pocket-size bar has draft beer, other spirits, of course, and Quick Draw; the back patio, where we took our meal, gives you a lakeside view of all sorts of activity on Cranberry: sailboats, speedboats, fishermen casting from the dock out back where lodge patrons are also welcome to park their vessels. What better way to enjoy a Long Trail Ale following an afternoon on the not-so-long trail?
If You Go: Turn off Route 3 onto Lone Pine Road, west of Cranberry Lake village. Drive 1.3 miles to the Cranberry Lake State Campground, which is open mid-May through mid-October. The trailhead is 0.4 miles beyond the campground booth, on the left. The Bear Mountain trail can be found on the Cranberry Lake quad.
Cranberry Lake Lodge (315-848-3301, www.cranberry lakelodge.com) can be found at 7202 Route 3, in Cranberry Lake village.
Pining for a Pint
Hiking distance (one way): 2.4 miles
Tavern: Lake House Grille
Distance from trailhead: 5.5 miles
by Jacob Resneck
At the end of Flater Road, in Wells, stands a house guarded by a miniature poodle who announced my arrival, barking a few times then retreating inside. “Careful, he’ll drag you off into the woods,” the owner joked.
There is visitors’ parking on the right just before the house and the landowner has given permission for respectful hikers to cross his property to enter the Pine Orchard—state forest preserve that harbors a stand of 250-year-old white pines. It’s a relatively flat, easy hike (less than five miles round-trip) and the trail is both maintained and well marked. It being midsummer my progress was checked by wild blackberries and raspberries, but otherwise the walk was pleasant. The path is bounded by birch and maples, and there’s a beaver dam that’s killed off dozens of hardwoods, but it was about a half-hour before I saw my first big tree.
I wasn’t sure whether I’d recognize the old pines. But they needed no introduction. One double-trunked giant exceeded three of my six-foot three-inch arm-span around it, making the diameter more than 20 feet by my crude calculation. There’s little understory: no shrubs, not much ground cover beyond ferns. You see from big tree trunk to big tree trunk in a remarkably uniform stand.
The orchard isn’t large. Once the trail descends to a second beaver dam, you’ve left the tall trees. None of the ones surrounding the orchard are nearly as mature, which led me to wonder how and why these trees survived while others appear to have been logged. Later, when I asked around, neither the local forest ranger nor the local historians knew for sure. (The next day I made some calls to the DEC’s regional headquarters. According to state records, there was a massive windstorm—possibly a “hurricane”—in the early 1800s. Later, when the timber industry began harvesting in this area, these pines, just recovering from the blowdown, were too small to be harvested. When the state purchased the tract to be Forever Wild, they were officially spared from the ax.)
Once I finished my hike I’d worked up a healthy appetite and thirst, so I drove to the Lake House Grille, in downtown Wells.
With the cream-color walls, rustico Italian decor and a tinkling of smooth jazz, I felt transported out of the Adirondacks and directly into an upscale bistro one might find in Saratoga Springs. The beer and wine selection was impressive and the menu a mix of simple and elaborate meals from cheeseburgers to seafood pasta.
The barkeep told me that on Saturday evenings live music is popular, with the tavern staying open past midnight depending on the energy and thirst of the crowd. As an après-hike destination, it’s important to remember this is no backwoods haunt with a Coors Light lamp hanging over a pool table. Rather, Lake House Grille is a classy place to take someone for dinner or grab a glass of pinot grigio or a pint of Ithaca Nut Brown Ale.
I’d recommend changing out of your muddy boots before you step across the hardwood floors, especially after walking among some of the Adirondacks’ biggest trees.
If You Go: Drive north on Route 30, past the village of Wells, and turn right on Griffin Road. At the Y, veer right on Windfall Road. At a second intersection turn right on Dorr Road. The pavement ends and becomes Flater Road. Continue to the end and park on the right just before the house with a state-police flag in front. Look for the sign for Pine Orchard. The trail can be found on the Harrisburg quad.
The Lake House Grille (518-924-2424, www.lakehouse grille.com) can be found on Main Street, in Wells.
Trail of Beers
Some peaks and paths have eponymous pubs, where ale naturally follows trail. After a 2.2-mile-round-trip of Baxter Mountain, the logical next step is Baxter Mountain Tavern, on Route 9N, on Spruce Hill between Keene and Elizabethtown. In Long Lake, a hike up 2,780-foot Owls Head can be capped by a longneck on the deck of Owl’s Head Pub, on Route 30. Ascending Spread Eagle Mountain, a High Peaks wannabe, could culminate at the former Spread Eagle Inn, now the Ausable Inn, on Route 73 in the center of Keene Valley hamlet. Another pairing is a short stroll to Cathedral Pines, just minutes off Route 28 near Seventh Lake, and just a few miles from the taps, tables and homemade salsa at Seventh Lake House, in Inlet.