5 hikes for 4 seasons

In my pursuit to help keep Barbara McMartin’s Discover the Adirondacks series of hiking guidebooks up to date, I have visited every corner of the Park, in every season. I am drawn to the Adirondacks week after week because there is so much to see and so much that I have still yet to see. Every change in the season inspires me to explore some “new” valley or to revisit a favorite pond or to seek out a secluded summit.

The Adirondacks are not hard to explore. While there are vast regions of forest penetrated by no trails or roads of any kind, more often than not most people’s introduction to the Park is along one of its many marked trails. There are trails for every season and nearly every interest. Some lead to favorite fishing destinations, while others cater to backpacking trips through the mountains. I have found no end to the variations of the forest landscape while bouncing from one area to the next. The Adirondacks are a dynamic wilderness that invites exploration and re-exploration.

The following are five good hikes, all doable at any time of the year. Few hikers bother to visit the woods in early spring, but by May all but the most mountainous areas should be free of snow. In winter, these trails make good snowshoe routes, and a few excel as cross-country ski excursions.

Little Woodhull Lake. Photo by Bill Ingersoll

One of my favorite destinations, Little Woodhull is a quiet pond in the rolling foothills of the southwestern Adirondacks. It offers some of the best features of a remote wilderness lake, including solitude. I especially enjoy it because of its wide variety of aquatic plant life. By midsummer, the lake is dotted by thousands of pond lilies, with pickerelweed growing in the shallows.

Indeed, someone seeing the lake for the first time during the summer will likely think that someone pulled the plug on Little Woodhull and drained the water. What appear as mud flats poking above the surface are actually floating mats – tangled masses of plant material that in turn supports the growth of other boggy plants. Unlike sphagnum bog mats, which hikers are much more likely to encounter everywhere else in the Adirondacks, these mats sink into the depths when the water grows cold. If you return in late October, the water will appear open and uninterrupted again.

Maps by Nancy Bernstein

I frequently see herons, ducks, deer, beaver, and otter here. As a further bonus, the state has owned this tract since 1897, and the surrounding forests are tall and diverse. The 3.3-mile trail is reasonably well marked, presents no hills of note, and it is well suited for hiking, skiing, and mountain biking.

Directions: From the village of Forestport, travel east on Woodhull Road for 1.2 miles to a fork at the tracks of the Adirondack Railroad. Bear left onto North Lake Road, and drive for 13.1 miles to the trailhead, which is not marked very well. The trail will appear as an old tote road to the left, ascending a small hill past some old posts. There is ample parking at a larger turnout 100 feet away to the right. The trail follows yellow markers.

Middle Settlement Lake

The one element that Little Woodhull Lake lacks is the traditional Adirondack lean-to. However, where there is a lean-to, the trade-off is usually a diminished sense of solitude. This is the case at Middle Settlement Lake, the star attraction in the 26,528-acre Ha-de-ron-dah Wilderness west of Old Forge.

Middle Settlement lies within an area that was burned many decades ago. Because the timber was deemed worthless after the fire, the land was promptly sold to the state. Over the years, the forest grew back to create a verdant landscape. Though the forest is still in an early stage of succession as a direct result of the fire, most visitors notice mainly the tall hardwoods, the interconnected beaver meadows and the dark, tannic waters of the ponds as they trek through Ha-de-ron-dah.

Just before arriving at Middle Settlement Lake, you pass by the foot of a massive rock face where cabin-size boulders have split away and fallen below. A short trail leads away from the lake to the top of the rock face and an intimate view across to the neighboring hills. The lake itself is rimmed with several ledges, some of which drop cleanly into the water. One is by the lean-to that overlooks the lake. During the summer, backpackers use the lean-to nearly every weekend, but there also are some primitive tent sites around the lake. Visitors should also take the time to see the huge beaver dam that raises the water by several feet.

The trail to Middle Settlement has only one major hill, located just beyond the trailhead register. You will follow parts of four different trails to reach the lake, all of which are suited for snowshoeing in the winter.

Directions: The trailhead is located on the north side of NY 28, 3 miles south of the Thendara train station. There is a large parking turnout across the road. The route begins on a red-marked trail, and turns left onto a yellow trail at 0.6 mile. In another 0.9 mile, turn right onto a blue-marked trail. This, in turn, leads to a second yellow trail, where you bear left for the lake and the lean-to. All of these intersections have directional signs. It is about 3.2 miles to the lean-to.

Good Luck Cliffs

Map by Nancy Bernstein.

The southern Adirondacks is known for its lakes and ponds, but not so much for its mountains. However, where there is a small mountain with a good view, it usually is a gem. Good Luck Cliffs, located north of Caroga Lake, is one such place. Here, the attraction is not only the view from the top, but the hike along the foot of the cliffs to get to it.

Good Luck Mountain does not have a marked trail leading to its summit, but a good footpath exists. Because there are no signs along the route, you do need to pay attention to your surroundings to find your way.

After walking for about 15 minutes, you will have passed Good Luck Lake downhill to your left. Look for where the footpath begins to the right of the snowmobile trail, just before it crosses a stream on a bridge. The path leads up the rock-filled gorge below the cliffs. It climbs nearly 500 feet, levels out briefly, and then hooks around for the final, steep climb to the summit. The view overlooks a corner of Spectacle Lake and the southern frontier of the Adirondack Park. In warm weather, you can stop at Good Luck Lake on the return for a refreshing dip.

Directions: The snowmobile trail starts on the west side of NY 10, across from a parking turnout 100 yards north of a bridge over the West Branch of the Sacandaga River, and 6 miles north of the intersection of NY 10 and 29A at Pine Lake. From the trailhead parking area follow the marked trail beginning across the road and to the right. At a four-way intersection, bear left towards Good Luck Lake and look for the herd path on the right.

Big Bad Luck Pond

Good Luck Lake earned its name when a potentially deadly accident concluded without injuring anyone. I have yet to discover the source of Big Bad Luck Pond’s name. It is easy to imagine any number of scenarios. My favorite is the fisherman trying to discourage use of his favorite spot by giving it a forbidding name.

Big Bad Luck Pond is located in the Hudson Gorge Primitive Area near the village of Indian Lake. You can visit it and two other ponds, Ross and Whortleberry, on an 8.1-mile round-trip hike. Each has its own distinct personality. Ross is lined with hemlock and spruce, with a campsite perched on a small point that commands a great view. Whortleberry – so named for the blueberries that grow near its shores – is hemmed in on nearly every side by white pine. Big Bad Luck, the largest of the three, is the most inscrutable. Currently, the marked trail ends at a rocky landing at the east end of the pond, leaving hikers with a yearning to see more. (The state may soon extend this trail farther along the shore to satisfy this yearning.)

Many visitors bring their fishing poles to these ponds. Some bring backpacking gear, for both Ross and Whortleberry have good campsites. These ponds are all fun to explore in winter, too, and the trails are suitable for both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

DIRECTIONS: The trailhead is located 7.8 miles east on NY 28 from its intersection with NY 30 in the village of Indian Lake. The parking area is located at a fork with an unnamed road, about 0.25 mile from the actual start of the trail. There is a sign marking the trailhead, with distances to each of the three lakes. They are all reached as side trails from this single trunk trail.

St. Regis Mountain

Up in the northern reaches of the Adirondack Park, St. Regis Mountain is a dominant landmark. This 2,873-foot peak sits apart from the state’s highest mountains, many of which may be seen in the distance. From its summit, the hiker overlooks the network of interconnected waterways of the St. Regis Canoe Area.

Today, the mountain’s summit is mostly bare, but it was not always so. In 1876, fires swept the mountain and devastated its native forests. This fire was not an accident of nature, but the result of an attempt to clear the summit of snags and brush. Verplanck Colvin, the tireless surveyor, was establishing a triangulation station here, which could only be useful if it was visible from distant points. It did not take long for his fires to ignite the dry duff, and that night his crew watched as the conflagration lit up the landscape like a volcano. Once deforested, mountains are slow to recover, and this one still provides a nearly 360-degree view. A fire tower was added at a later date, but it is no longer maintained and may soon be removed.

On my most recent visit to St. Regis Mountain, I got an early start and arrived at the summit well before lunch. I was one of the first hikers on the scene that day, and for a while my closest neighbor was a hawk surveying the view from a small tree.

Map by Nancy Bernstein.

The trail has been rerouted a number of times in recent years. The current version is about 3 miles long with a 1,235-foot vertical rise. It is a peaceful walk through hardwood forests and groves of hemlocks. As you gain elevation, you are climbing over outcrops of anorthosite, the whitish rock with dark-blue labradorite crystals that also characterizes the High Peaks. In addition to the nearby lakes and ponds, you can see many peaks.

Whiteface is to the east, conjoined with the McKenzie Range. Ampersand, a big mountain in its own right, seems dwarfed by the Seward and Santanoni ranges directly behind it. Marcy and Algonquin, the state’s only 5,000-foot mountains, are visible, with the sharp cone of Colden caught in the middle. Azure Mountain lies of to the northwest, and Jenkins is nearby to the north.

Directions: In the hamlet of Paul Smiths, turn west onto Keese Mill Road from NY 30. The trailhead is 2.5 miles away, next to the start of a private gravel road. The trail follows the gravel road for 460 feet and then cuts right to enter the forest. It is a 6-mile round trip to the summit.

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