In the Heart of the Park

By Laurence T. Cagle 

Two hikers take a break on the summit of Castle Rock with Blue Mountain Lake below. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

I used to be a peak-bagger. First, I climbed all of the 46 High Peaks. Then I took on the highest peaks in the Catskills and the mountainous Long Trail in Vermont. But I got over my obsession after volunteering to update Adirondack Trails: Central Region for the Adirondack Mountain Club.

As editor of the revised guidebook, I’ve hiked more than a hundred trails in the Central Region, some two or three times. Instead of climbing a High Peak, now I’m just as happy to climb a small peak with a sweeping vista, amble along a river, discover forgotten history in the wilderness or sit at the edge of a quiet pond.

The area covered by the Central Region guidebook is big enough to include something for everyone, even a few summits that would challenge peak-baggers. The Siamese Ponds Wilderness lies at its heart, but the region extends to Route 8 in the south (near Speculator), the Blue Ridge Road and Route 28N in the north (near Newcomb), Route 9 above Warrensburg in the east, and beyond the North-ville-Placid Trail to the west. The following hikes exemplify the region’s diversity. You will find them especially enjoyable during autumn when the leaves have changed color.

Castle Rock

Map by Nancy Bernstein

From the intersection of NY 28 and NY 30 in Blue Mountain Lake village, drive north on 28N/30 for 0.6 mile. Turn left onto Maple Lodge Road and drive 1.3 miles to trailhead near the Minnowbrook Conference Center.

Castle Rock has long been a popular destination for hikers in the Blue Mountain Lake area. Rising 700 feet above the lake, it offers a spectacular view of Blue Mountain and the lake. For years, there was only one public route to the top, but a trail from the south has opened recently, cutting the hike to the top from 2 to 1.5 miles. The two trails can be combined for a 3.5-mile circuit.

The trail to Castle Rock follows private roads a short distance before turning into the woods. The first junction in the woods marks the beginning of the circuit. I prefer to do the circuit clockwise, starting with the new trail to the left. It passes south of Chub Pond, which can be seen through the trees, before reaching another junction. The trail leading downhill ends at a small beach on Blue Mountain Lake, with a nice view of Long Island and other small islands. A side trip to the beach adds only a half-mile to the hike and is well worth the effort. Paddlers who want to climb Castle Rock can begin their hike there.

Beyond the junction, the going gets tougher. You climb 540 feet in about three-quarters of a mile. The trail passes under the sheer south face of Castle Rock before reaching a third intersection. Bearing right, you come to the steepest part of the hike, the west face of Castle Rock. But don’t worry: It’s only a tenth of a mile. Soon you’ll find yourself on the broad rock shelf overlooking the lake. Blue Mountain lies to the east. Snowy Mountain, the highest peak in the Central Region, can be seen in the distance to the southeast. Helms Pond is just to the northwest. The views are especially nice in autumn. In fact, a fall photograph taken from Castle Rock graces the cover of the new Central Region guidebook.

On the return trip, bear right at the junction at the base of the west face. The route heads downhill about a half-mile to a T intersection with another trail. A left turn would take you to Upper Sargent Pond, but you want to turn right to go back to the trailhead. Over the next mile, you’ll hike through open woods and around the north and east sides of Chub Pond.

East Branch of Sacandaga

The trail begins on the north side of NY 8, about 4 miles southwest of Bakers Mills and
13.5 miles northeast of NY 30.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Some of the Central Region’s history is written on the land. Several trails in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness trace old stagecoach roads such as the trunk trail from Route 8 to Old Farm Clearing and the Kunjamuk Trail east of Indian Lake. One of my favorite hikes is a four-mile segment of the trunk trail from Route 8 along the East Branch of the Sacandaga River.

To reach the stagecoach road you have to climb 240 feet over the shoulder of Eleventh Mountain. The trail joins the old route at the top. The ruts dug by the stagecoach wheels are hard to miss on the way downhill to Diamond Brook. Shortly after crossing the brook, Diamond Mountain can be seen across a beaver meadow. This is a good place to observe the fall foliage.

From here, walking is easy. The next mile or so, where the trail closely parallels the river, is my favorite stretch. Wildflowers are abundant from spring into early fall; river rapids alternate with languid pools at the bends; and you can look deep into a broad expanse of open woods on the other side of the river.

Eventually the trail moves farther from the river. If you look carefully, you’ll spot gnarled old apple trees beside the trail, remnants of an orchard at Burnt Shanty Clearing. An unmaintained trail to the left leads 1.5 miles to the site of an old farm at Curtis Clearing. The first time I saw the foundations there, I couldn’t help but think how remote this farm had been.

The trunk trail returns alongside the river shortly before reaching a junction four miles from Route 8. The lean-to here is a wonderful place to eat lunch or spend the night. A suspension bridge over the river marks the start of a 2.3-mile side trail to the Siamese Ponds.

If you decide to stay overnight, I guarantee that a cool fall night and the murmur of the river will lull you to sleep in no time.

Second Pond

Map by Nancy Bernstein

From Bakers Mills, drive 1.5 miles northeast on NY 8. Turn left onto Chatiemac Road and go 2.3 miles. The unmarked trailhead is on the right. (If you reach the Chatiemac Club, you have gone too far.)

The Central Region is dotted with lakes and ponds – three dozen in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness alone, according to people who count such things. Almost without exception, they make beautiful destinations for fall hiking. Second Pond is one of the best.

The 2.5-mile trail is not difficult. Heading north, you’ll climb only 190 feet in the first mile before turning west to traverse the side of Height of Land Mountain. The woods here are open, with the soft light filtering through the forest canopy. In the last half-mile, the trail turns north and gradually descends to the the pond.

Second Pond is about a half-mile long, with an island. Hills rise from the shoreline. You might want to follow anglers’ paths around the water to see the pond from a variety of perspectives. The last time I was there, I sat on a rock on the shore for a half-hour watching a loon dive for food. You might not see a loon, but if you go during peak leaf season, you’ll see the colorful display along the shoreline mirrored in the water – a double bonus!

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

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