Hitchins Pond has it all

Lows Ridge offersa great view of Hitchins Pond and the boreal lowlands of the Bog River. Photos by Gary Randorf.

Evan Nate liked this outing

By Phil Brown

I drag my 15-year-old son Nate on a lot of outings. Sometimes he enjoys them; sometimes he’s not the most enthusiastic companion. A typical prelude to an adventure goes like this:

“Hey, Nate, you wanna climb a mountain today?”

“Hmmm. How many miles is it?”

I mention this only because if Nate has a good time on one of our excursions, the chances are that you will, too. And he had a good time when we went to Hitchins Pond.

If you’ve heard of Hitchins Pond, you’re probably thinking that we canoed to it down the Bog River. That’s the way most people get there, but it is also possible to reach the pond by a dirt road that’s closed to vehicular traffic. Nate and I biked down the road, scaled nearby Lows Ridge for a spectacular view of the Bog River lowlands and then refreshed ourselves with a dip in the pond. If it’s too cold to swim in fall, you can relax after the climb with a picnic beside the pond. There’s even a table waiting for you.

Our whole adventure took only two hours. Perhaps the secret to keeping Nate happy is to pack in a lot of variety in a little time. But that’s not the entire story. It has to be fun.

To reach the trailhead, you need to drive around Horseshoe Lake on County Route 421. On the way, you’ll pass the Bog River Falls, where the river flows into the southern end of Tupper Lake. If you haven’t seen the falls, you can park in a lot just past the stone bridge that crosses the river. They’re worth a look.

Eventually, Route 421 turns to dirt, winds around the lake and crosses railroad tracks. The trail begins at a metal barrier on the left nearly a mile past the tracks. From the barrier, it’s about 2.5 miles to Lows Ridge and the pond. You can bike there in less than a half-hour, but you don’t want to be in too much of a rush or you’ll miss a lot of interesting scenery.

Most people who visit the pond arrive by canoe, but its also possible to hike or bike there. Photos by Gary Randorf.

The road has no large hills, so don’t expect a challenge. Just sit back in the saddle and enjoy the ride. In a few minutes you’ll pass a vast peatland dotted with cottongrass and home to scattered spruce and tamarack trees. It’s not your typical Adirondack vista; if it weren’t for the mountains on the horizon, you might forget where you are.

Farther on, the road skirts a couple of peaceful green marshes. One comes with a good view of the surrounding hills. If you look closely, you’ll see a rocky ridge peeking up from behind a nearer hill. I thought it might be Lows Ridge, but after checking the map at home, I changed my mind. If you figure it out, let me know.

Beyond the marshes, the road reaches a sandpile and soon passes small cliffs on the right that foreshadow what’s to come. It ends at another metal barrier at the Bog River’s upper dam, which created the Bog River Flow, that peaceful haven for canoeists, loons and other creatures of the wild. Hitchins Pond is about a hundred yards downriver from the dam.

There are no signs for Lows Ridge. Immediately after going around the metal barrier, look for the remains of two stone foundations on the right. If you walk between them, you’ll come to another foundation. Just to the right of this are some stone steps. Go up the steps and you’ll see a distinct herd path.

A short way from the start, the trail splits. We took the right fork, which looked to be more traveled. The trail climbs steeply almost straight up the mountain, passing through an open forest of hardwoods and ferns. In about 10 minutes, the trail comes out on bare rock. From there, we picked our own way up the face of the ridge.

Now for the caveat: This is not a hike for young kids in sneakers. Lows Ridge is steep enough that you probably will be down on all fours at some point. You may have to pause to think about your next move. If you find yourself in a difficult spot, you may even decide to back-track and look for a safer way up. My experience suggests that if you head left, the going gets easier.

That said, Nate had a ball scrambling up the rock. I’ve climbed about 30 mountains with him, and I can’t recall when he had so much fun. When we talked about it later, he explained his enthusiasm thus: “With hiking it’s easy to get bored, because you don’t have to think about what you’re doing. When climbing up rock, you have to stay focused.”

From the top, we were treated to a marvelous view of the Bog River as it snakes its way through wetlands to Hitchins Pond, which is ringed by tamarack, spruce and other conifers. Mountains fill the horizon. We were looking toward the western High Peaks and, to the southeast, Blue Mountain. We spent about 15 minutes on the ridge, admiring the scenery and watching paddlers carry their boats between the dam and the pond. We left, rather reluctantly, but the best was yet to come. While descending the bare rock, we spied a large brown bird directly overhead and then noticed its white head: a bald eagle! Nate and I watched for several minutes as it soared over the Bog River, riding the wind currents and circling for prey.

We returned to the dam and rode to the pond, where we found a grassy clearing with the picnic table. We entered the water by some old stone steps. Two kayakers passed us as we swam. Otherwise, we saw only two other boats on the water. Afterward, we sunbathed on the steps and watched three loons in the middle of the pond diving for fish.

Returning to the road, we stopped to study a large map of the Bog River area, showing all the campsites in the vicinity. I told Nate that one day we should do the Oswegatchie Traverse—a canoe trip up the Bog River, through Hitchins Pond, up the Bog River Flow, a long carry to the Oswegatchie River, and down the Os-wegatchie to Inlet, west of Cranberry Lake. He didn’t ask how many miles it was, so I took that as a good sign.

DIRECTIONS:

From Tupper Lake, drive south on Route 30. About 6.5 miles past the Tupper Lake Boat Launch, turn right onto County Route 421. The road turns to dirt after 6 miles. At 7 miles, it crosses railroad tracks and makes a hairpin turn. The trailhead is on the left 0.9 miles past the tracks.

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