Starting at Boreas Ponds, our editor journeys to a lovely backcountry pond and the headwater of a wild river.
By Phil Brown
Boreas Ponds is a gorgeous place to paddle, but not everyone owns a canoe and not everyone who does want to carry it seven miles, or three miles, or even a half-mile to get there. And so in early September, I went to the ponds to check out the hiking possibilities.
Under an interim access plan, I was able to drive 3.2 miles up the dirt Gulf Brook Road to a newly created parking area. From there, I rode a mountain bike 3.6 miles to the ponds. This was a big change from when I canoed Boreas Ponds in early June. Then the entire road was closed to motor vehicles and bikes.
The state plans to close all of Gulf Brook Road again for winter. How much, if any, of it will be open to motor vehicles or bikes next year is up in the air. In short, I don’t know how you’ll get to Boreas Ponds in the future, but once you do, I have some ideas on where to hike.
Of course, Boreas Ponds is the main attraction. Though now a single water body, it was once three ponds connected by the Boreas River. The ponds merged when Finch, Pruyn built a logging dam that raised the water. The major lobes of the lake are still referred to as First Pond, Second Pond, and Third Pond.
Under the interim plan, you can ride bikes only as far as the dam, which is on a cove on First Pond. The view from the dam is not bad. You can see 3,776-foot Boreas Mountain nearby to the east and some of the High Peaks farther away to the north. Yet the view is partially blocked by two wooded peninsulas that pinch the pond like the claws of a crab.
You can enjoy a broader view of Boreas Ponds and the High Peaks from the site of a corporate lodge that was demolished after the state purchased the Boreas Ponds Tract in April from the Nature Conservancy. For the time being, DEC has closed the site to allow it to reseed. Once it reopens, it can be reached by walking down a short access road a few hundred feet west of
Soak in the views of Boreas Ponds while you can. You won’t see much of the lake during the hikes we’re about to describe.
I set my sights on White Lily Pond and the headwater pond of the Boreas River, both located north of Boreas Ponds. Either one requires an eight-mile round trip from the dam. If you go to both, the round trip will be 12.4 miles (or you can do a thirteen-mile loop). Nearly all of the hiking is on old roads, which makes travel fast and easy. Expect to see signs of past logging operations such as gravel pits, skidder roads, and clearings.
The routes are not marked, but if you follow our directions, you shouldn’t have much trouble. From the dam, cross the outlet and follow the road north. It parallels the east side of Boreas Ponds, but the water is too far away for a view. Be sure to stay on the main road. You’ll pass side roads on the right at 0.15 miles and 1.3 miles from the dam.
At 1.75 miles, you reach a fork with another good road. If you’re going to the Boreas headwaters, go straight. If you’re going to White Lily Pond, turn left.
Let’s assume you’re going to the headwater pond (it would be my first choice). Continue on the logging road for another 1.25 miles, until reaching a junction with another good road. This is 3.0 miles from the dam. Bear left here, heading downhill at a compass bearing of roughly 340 degrees (assuming your compass is adjusted for true north).
The road has several bends, but it trends west and northwest. Whereas the first road traverses a shady Adirondack forest with lots of hardwoods, this road passes through a spruce-fir forest. There is no canopy, affording occasional views of the North River Mountains and Allen Mountain.
At 4.0 miles from the dam, you come to a lovely pond where the Boreas River begins its long journey to the Hudson River, though here it is a mere trickle. The divide between the Hudson and Lake Champlain watersheds lies less than a quarter-mile north of the pond. The waters on the other side feed the Ausable Lakes. The southern end of the Colvin Range is visible to the northeast. Mount Marcy and Mount Haystack can be seen toward the north peeking over the treetops.
Directions: From Northway Exit 29, drive west on Country 84 for 7.1 miles to Gulf Brook Road. Turn right and go 3.2 miles to a parking area.
White Lily Pond
This trip will be described from the first junction mentioned above. If coming from the dam, turn left. This road also features occasional views of the North River Mountains and Allen Mountain. It descends to a wetland, reached 0.4 miles from the junction, with a view toward the Colvin Range. In another half-mile, you come to the Boreas River, which flows under the road in a culvert. Here the river resembles a small pond filled with dead trees and boulders.
Soon you begin a short, steep climb. At 1.5 miles from the junction, you reach a height of land. At 1.7 miles, you come to a clearing on the left. The road bends sharply to the right and heads approximately northeast. If you continue on the road, you’ll be hiking away from White Lily Pond.
According to the USGS map (Mount Marcy), you should find a four-way intersection at this spot. Yet it doesn’t look like an intersection. If you walk left through the clearing, though, you’ll find a woods road that is not as hardened as the one you have been on.
This road parallels the west side of Boreas Ponds, but you need to follow it less than a tenth of a mile to a junction with another woods road. Take a very sharp right and follow this overgrown road three-tenths of a mile to a large grassy field, reached after crossing two small brooks (or dry beds) and a gravelly open area. Walk through the tall grass/bushes, heading to the northwest corner of the clearing, and look for a footpath. Marked by blue surveyor ribbons, it leads in a tenth of a mile to the south shore of White Lily Pond, where you’ll enjoy a nice view of Allen Mountain. (The pond’s GPS coordinates are: N44º02‘ 30.08”, W73º 56‘ 00.55”.)
From either pond, the quickest way back is to retrace your steps. However, you could do a loop. After visiting White Lily Pond, head south on the woods road that parallels the west side of Boreas Ponds (again, no views of the water). After a few miles, you cross White Lily Brook on a bridge. Shortly after, you reach a junction with a hardened logging road. Turn left. In another 1.1 miles, you come to a junction with Gulf Brook Road. If you biked to Boreas Ponds, take a sharp left here to return to the start, reached in a mile. With trips to both ponds, the loop hike is thirteen miles.