3 favorite winter treks

With snowshoes, you can go just about anywhere in the Adirondack Park. But with more than two thousand miles of trails, where do you start? Below are suggestions from three gung-ho Adirondack snowshoers.

Fifth Peak

By Carl Heilman

Fifth Peak overlooks the Narrows on Lake George. Photo by Carl Heilman II

Tongue Mountain overlooking Lake George offers many scenic vistas, and one of the best is from Fifth Peak, whose lean-to is an excellent snowshoe destination.

It’s an excursion of moderate difficulty. The round trip totals 5.2 miles, with an elevation change of roughly 1,300 feet.

At the start, the trail descends through a stand of pines and then crosses a bridge next to a beaver dam. It reaches a junction at 0.4 miles. Bear left here (right leads to Montcalm Point) to begin the climb to the Tongue ridgeline. At 1.3 miles, the trail starts switchbacking up a steep slope.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

The forest is dominated by beech, maple, oak, and other hardwoods, but you’ll also pass impressive specimens of pine and hemlock. After two miles, you come to a four-way junction on the ridge. Turn right and continue climbing until reaching a short spur on the left that leads to the Fifth Peak lean-to.

The site offers a 180-degree view. To the east, you look across the Lake George Narrows at the steep face of Black Mountain. To the south, you can see more of the Narrows and part of Northwest Bay as well as French Point Mountain, located farther down the Tongue. To the west are the foothills of the southern Adirondacks.

On the way back, you’ll find several sections of the trail are ideal for sliding on your butt.

Hopkins Mountain

By Carol Stone White

Photo by Carl Heilman II

For a sensory experience that’s hard to beat, try snowshoeing Hopkins Mountain in the Giant Mountain Wilderness via the Mossy Cascade Trail.

From State Route 73, it’s a 3.2-mile hike to the 3,183-foot summit, with about 2,120 feet of ascent.

Along much of the route, you’ll see magnificent white pines and large hemlock stands that are especially lovely when adorned with snow. At the start, the trail parallels the East Branch of the Ausable and then climbs above gorgeous Mossy Cascade Brook. This section can be icy, so you need good crampons on your snowshoes. Look for a series of attractive waterfalls where the brook spills through narrow rock walls.

As you ascend, you’ll pass through a hemlock forest. The grades are mostly moderate, with a few fairly steep sections.
At 1.1 miles, the trail crosses into public Forest Preserve. In another 0.4 miles, it comes to a ledge with views of the Great Range and Mount Colvin—just a taste of the vista you’ll enjoy from Hopkins’s open summit.

You reach a junction with the Ranney Trail from Keene Valley at 2.3 miles. Parts of the trail above here are often wet. As you ascend between Hopkins and Green mountains, the landscape closes to form a ravine.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

At the final junction at 3.0 miles, just 0.2 miles from the summit, is a big icefall. Prepare for a steep but beautiful climb from the junction. As the grade moderates, you break out onto the summit.

A spectacular vista of the High Peaks spreads out before you over the valley, from the Dix Range in the south to Whiteface Mountain in the north. All told, you can see twenty-two of the forty-six High Peaks. It’s worth sticking around awhile. Go on a sunny, calm day and cook some soup on the summit.

Jakes Pond

By Bill Ingersoll

Jakes Pond is an elongated waterbody cradled between ridges in the westernmost reaches of the Adirondack Park, near Croghan. This region of rivers, ponds, and intertwined wetlands is one of the Adirondacks’ most enigmatic wilderness areas—and winter is one of the best times of the year to visit. The width of this trail and its gentle grades makes it excellent for both snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

The first 1.6 miles are an easement through private land. Follow the red foot-trail markers from the parking lot to the West Branch of the Oswegatchie River. The trail leads to a footbridge at the foot of an old flow. About a hundred yards downstream there is a spectacular waterfall over twenty feet high. By keeping to the riverbank and avoiding the posted areas, you can reach the falls for a stunning view.

Beyond the bridge, the trail follows the south side of the river to another wooden bridge in the midst of a sprawling wetland at 1.2 miles. After a potentially wet crossing of Hogs Back Creek, the trail skirts the edge of a low, swampy forest of black spruce and reaches the Herkimer County line and the Forest Preserve boundary at 1.6 miles. The trail crosses several small openings in the woods that in summer are rock outcrops. At 2.2 miles you reach the intersection with Keck’s Trail, a yellow-marked trail that continues eastward along the West Oswegatchie.

The red-marked trail turns right, quickly reaching a third bridge over the West Branch. Once across this bridge, you are within the Pepperbox Wilderness. You pass several pine-fringed wetlands—some opening onto the river, and one where you may hear the outlet of Jakes Pond tumbling a few feet over a jumble of rocks on the far side. In between the wetlands are pleasant jaunts through open hardwood forests.

The trail cuts through another wetland at 3.3 miles where breached beaver dams hint at wetter days when the trail was completely flooded. Sooner or later, the beavers will return. Once past the stream the rest of the trip to Jakes Pond is a delightful walk uphill to the crest of an esker with terrific views, which you reach at 4 miles. The trail follows the esker to the southern end of the pond, and continues on for another 1.7 miles to a southern trailhead near Sand Pond.

Jakes Pond, shaped like an inverted seahorse, has a hilly shoreline edged by both conifers and hardwoods—traits shared by a number of ponds in the western Adirondacks and quite distinctive when compared to the more coniferous shorelines of higher terrain. Finding an open spot to stop for lunch will not be difficult.

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