Climb Owls Head, courtesy of Domtar

Photo by Phil Brown.

By Phil Brown

The Adirondack Park boasts three Owls Head Mountains with hiking trails—near the hamlets of Keene, Long Lake and Owls Head. The last peak, lying on the northern edge of the Park, is the least well-known, but for people who live or vacation in the vicinity it has been a favorite destination for years.

When I climbed this Owls Head, I ran into three groups of hikers: a middle-aged couple with two dogs, a young couple with two kids, and a pair of joggers. From the summit lookouts, we enjoyed expansive views of forested mountains to the south and east. It was easy to see why this peak is so popular.

Owls Head does not belong to the state Forest Preserve, but its owner, Domtar Industries, allows the public to use the trail. The Canadian timber company also lets hikers climb Lyon Mountain near Dannemora, one of the highest Adirondack summits outside the High Peaks. Since there are few other opportunities for mountain climbing in this part of the Park, hikers should count their blessings that Domtar has not posted the property.

Map by Nancy Bernstein.

If you’re in the hamlet of Owls Head, you can’t miss the mountain. With its rocky face, it looms over the tiny settlement like a watchful god. The one-mile trail to the top begins off a utility right of way. There is no sign.
At the outset, you’ll pass through a spruce-fir flat and catch a glimpse of Owls Head Pond (which is posted) on the right. As soon as the trail starts to ascend, the conifers yield to hardwoods. The way is marked sporadically by green paint blazes.

For most of the route, the climb is gradual, though rocky at times. If it’s the right time of year, you may see clintonia and other wildflowers in bloom in the woods. Just below the summit, you reach a junction where the main trail takes a sharp left and steepens. Don’t take the turn yet; walk straight ahead for 20 yards to see an old magnetite mine.

From the junction, it’s a short scramble up the main trail to the first lookout on the right. Debar Mountain dominates the southern vista, but there are plenty of other peaks in view. Below are Owls Head hamlet and Indian Lake.

A little farther up the trail is another lookout with a view eastward over unbroken forests toward Lyon Mountain. Much of what you see belongs to Domtar. All told, the company owns 105,000 acres in the region. So far, the state has rejected Domtar’s offer to sell its conservation easements to protect the land.

Directions: From the intersection of routes 30 and 86 in Paul Smiths, go north on Route 30 about 18 miles and turn right onto County 26 (old Route 99). After 4.2 miles, County 26 turns right to go to Loon Lake, but continue straight toward Mountain View. After another 6.5 miles, the road takes a sharp left. After making the turn, go 3.3 miles to a T intersection in Owls Head. Turn left and drive a tenth of a mile to Brown Benoit Road. Turn right and drive three-tenths of a mile to the utility right-of-way. Park on the roadside. To reach the trail, walk down the right-of-way and turn left just before the third set of power lines.

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The Adirondack Explorer is a nonprofit magazine covering the Adirondack Park's environment, recreation and communities.

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