125 Years of Altitude: 25 Adirondack Hikes
by Elizabeth Folwell
The Adirondack Park was created in 1892, when state legislators drew a blue line around private lands and public lands, New York’s Forest Preserve. Since that time, this has been the place where wilderness and human communities coexist.
This state park—now six million acres and larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Parks combined—never closes. There are no entry kiosks, no admission fees. There are hundreds upon hundreds of marked hiking trails that lead into primeval forest, up tall peaks and along pristine waterways. Visitors have been drawn to explore this remarkable place on foot for nearly two centuries.
Here are just a few places to acquaint you with a wide and wild variety of landscapes in this northern corner of New York State.
The park has more than a dozen wilderness areas, and the vast Five Ponds, in the northwest Adirondacks, is known for stands of virgin white pine that were just too remote to be harvested. Below are some easier destinations that illustrate woods as they were before settlement began.
1. Pine Orchard, Wells
If you’d like to immerse yourself in the archetypal forest, this rare enclave is remarkable. The hike is about three miles round-trip and crosses private land initially, so please respect the generous family who allows access here.
2. Cathedral Pines, Inlet
On the shore of Seventh Lake a majestic stand of white pines is just minutes from Route 28 east of Eighth Lake State Campground. A plaque placed in 1946 honors local forest ranger Malcolm Blue, who died in World War II.
3. Pack Demonstration Forest, Warrensburg
This network of hiking trails also includes a Department of Environmental Conservation children’s camp; the centerpiece of the woodlands is the ancient Grandmother Tree, more than 300 years old and 160 feet tall.
In the territory near Lake Placid, Keene, Elizabethtown and Newcomb lie the High Peaks, 46 mountains that are more than 4,000 feet tall (or darn close to it, with two of them slightly shorter but measured that height in the 19th century). There are scores of hiking routes, enabling overnights so you can climb several in one outing. Mount Marcy is New York’s tallest summit, nearly a mile high. Here is an assortment of other High Peaks for day hikes.
4. Porter Mountain, Keene
An open summit, moderate trail (less than eight miles round trip) and often fewer people than nearby Cascade Mountain make this a good choice for a first-time foray into the High Peaks.
5. Algonquin Peak, Lake Placid
This is an all-day, challenging ascent that also can include Wright Peak if you wish to capture two summits in one trek. Views from Algonquin are spectacular. The round trip is almost 12 miles, with some very steep bare-rock pitches.
6. Giant Mountain, Keene Valley and Elizabethtown
The name fits perfectly—this massive landform includes numerous side trails to open ridges and rocky lookouts, small alpine ponds and killer views. The miles you travel and time you spend all depend on how many of these routes you explore.
Almost High Peaks
7. Snowy Mountain, Indian Lake
Just 101 feet shy of the 4,000-foot mark, Snowy is a demanding climb with more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain and a round trip of almost eight miles. There is a restored fire tower on the summit as well as views of nearby Indian Lake and the distant cluster of High Peaks.
8. Goodnow Mountain, Newcomb
If you’re looking for an easy-to-moderate family hike that puts you very near the center of the High Peaks, Goodnow is a great choice. The trail is very well designed, with boardwalks and bridges over wet areas. Near the top, a narrow ridge leads to the rocky summit capped by a 60-foot tall fire tower.
9. Poke-o-Moonshine, Keeseville
A five-mile round trip on the beloved trail up this stand-alone peak provides fine views toward Lake Champlain, the northern border of the Adirondack Park and the High Peaks from an entirely different perspective. A restored fire tower adds to the vistas, and you may even meet rock climbers, who tackle the peak’s extensive rocky face the hard way, when you reach the top.
Bears, Cats and Owls
10. Bear Mountain, Cranberry Lake
The trailhead is within the state campground so a day-use fee is required. But it’s worth it to walk with the family up this 2,200-foot peak overlooking the giant lake. When you’re done with the loop trail in two hours or so, you can take a refreshing swim at the campground beach.
11. Black Bear Mountain, Inlet
Since the trailhead is close to the bustling hamlet of Inlet, hit the trail early to avoid crowds. It’s four miles round trip to the Black Bear summit, but a loop that descends the other side of the mountain, toward the Uncas Road, gets you into more secluded forest and covers almost seven miles.
12. Cat Mountain, Wanakena
The round trip for this rocky little peak is nearly 13 miles, but the view from the top is terrific, looking toward Cranberry Lake and Five Ponds Wilderness Area.
13. Cat Mountain, Bolton Landing
The Lake George Land Conservancy thoughtfully designed the Cat and Thomas Mountain trails, and they travel past wetlands and beaver ponds up gentle inclines to great views of Lake George and the mountains on the east side of the lake. The round trip is about six miles.
14. Coon Mountain, Westport
This four-mile round trip up a 1,000-foot mountain is a natural Stairmaster; the route goes steadily up to the top, where Lake Champlain vistas unfold. Coon is part of a preserve owned by the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy.
15. Owls Head Mountain, Long Lake
Dominating Long Lake with its craggy profile, Owls Head is about 2,800 feet tall, with a fire tower on top. The round-trip distance is six miles, with some steep pitches.
16. Owls Head Mountain, Owls Head
South of Malone, on the northern edge of the Adirondack Park, this Owls Head also has a six-mile round trip for hiking, though the elevation gain is less than 700 feet.
Bogs, Birds and Blooms
In the Adirondacks hiking includes hitting the high spots and admiring some low spots, specifically wetlands such as mires, swamps and bogs. Below are three classic bogs ideal for bird-watching and botanizing.
17. Ferds Bog, Raquette Lake and Eagle Bay
A new boardwalk makes walking the 0.3-mile trail on this 170-acre bog delightful. In spring and summer, look for rare orchids, sundews and pitcher plants; many species of boreal birds nest here.
18. Bloomingdale Bog, Bloomingdale and Saranac Lake
An old railroad bed makes exploring this huge bog possible without getting your feet wet. There are two parking areas, and walking from one to the other is about four miles. Watch for gray jays, boreal chickadees, spruce grouse and black-backed woodpeckers and, if you’re lucky, moose.
19. Silver Lake Bog Preserve, Black Brook
A half-mile boardwalk leads through boreal forest and bog habitats. Wildlife is abundant—you may see fisher, snowshoe hare, olive-sided flycatchers and wood warblers.
With some 30,000 miles of rivers and streams plus hills and valleys, waterfalls are abundant in the Adirondack Park. Below is a mere handful of cascades, ranging from easy walks to difficult hikes.
20. Buttermilk Falls, Long Lake
In less than 10 minutes from North Point Road you reach the rushing cascades of the Raquette River as it flows into Long Lake. Plenty of flat rock overlooking the falls provides wonderful picnicking spots.
21. High Falls of the Oswegatchie, Wanakena
This overnight leads you into remote old-growth forest in the Five Ponds Wilderness Area, with round-trip distances of 12 miles or more, depending on side routes you choose. You could combine High Falls with a climb of Cat Mountain (number 12 above) for a truly memorable wilderness trip.
22. Rainbow Falls, St. Huberts
This high, gorgeous waterfall is on the Adirondack Mountain Reserve land, with an easement to allow hiking. Dogs are absolutely prohibited. Allow four to six hours to hike old roads, woodland trails and navigate rocks to enjoy this cool—literally—spot.
23. Shelving Rock Falls, Lake George
Arrive by boat or car to reach the short path for this pretty waterfall on the east side of Lake George. You can continue to the top of Shelving Rock Mountain for spectacular views of the lake.
24. Auger Falls, Wells
In a deep, fern-filled ravine the river twists and tumbles; your overlook is on cliffs deep in the woods. Allow at least an hour to walk the loop trail.
25. The Flume, Wilmington
The West Branch of the Ausable River makes a spectacular plunge near NYS Route 86. You can get a glimpse of the drama from parking areas near the highway bridge or hike a two-mile trail along the stream.
There are numerous sources for hiking information, including the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Champlain Area Trails Network and local tourism offices in Lake Placid, Tupper Lake, Lake George, Long Lake, Old Forge and Inlet, among others. The Wild Center, Tupper Lake, and Adirondack Experience, Blue Mountain Lake, both offer naturalist-led hikes.