The road to bliss
By Linda Murphy
You don’t always need to hike for miles through the woods to find wilderness in the Adirondacks. Sometimes you don’t even need to get out of your car.
That’s what photographer Nancy Ford and I found out on a trip down Powley-Piseco Road, a dirt lane that cuts through the Ferris Lake Wild Forest in the southern Adirondacks.
This leafy thoroughfare has something for everyone. Those who don’t like to rough it can drive from one end to the other, stopping only to snap a picture or smell the woodsy air. Hikers can take rarely used trails to explore a quiet forest dotted with ponds and bogs and laced with streams. Paddlers can take a spin on the scenic East Canada Creek or portage to Sand Lake. Sunbathers can loll on flat rocks at the Potholers. The road also is ideal for a leisurely ride on mountain bikes. For overnight visitors, there are numerous camping spots along the way.
Alan Barron, owner of the Piseco Lake Lodge, recommends Powley-Piseco Road to people in search of solitude. “You can drive down the road or take a walk and not pass anyone,” he said. “In the summertime, it’s cool, and I like to sit on the rocks by the stream. The best spot is down by the iron bridge [at Powley Place, the put-in for East Canada Creek]. You’ll find good blueberries there during blueberry season.”
The 19-mile road runs north from Route 29A in Stratford to Route 10, about a mile south of Piseco Lake. The southern end is known as the Piseco Road; the northern end as Powley Road. Only the first six miles are paved. Most of land along this stretch is privately owned. Beyond the paved section, the road enters the forever-wild Forest Preserve.
Nancy and I drove the road in early summer from south to north. Soon after turning off Route 29A, we passed a large marsh buzzing with life. We saw clusters of irises, day lilies and pink-hued wild roses. Blue dragonflies cavorted among the vegetation while a chorus of birds filled the morning air with song. A row of white pines towered over the marsh on the distant shore.
We caught glimpses of East Canada Creek to the west and crossed it at 2.5 miles. Once the road enters the Preserve, it often runs close to the stream. Occasionally, we could view the low hills that characterize this region, such as Sugarbush Mountain, Little Goldmine Hill, Christian Lake Mountain, and West and East Notch mountains. Near the open meadows of Powley Place, 10.9 miles from Stratford, we crossed the creek again.
Lots of trails radiate east and west from the road. A few are marked snowmobile routes, but most are footpaths hidden from view. Even the late Barbara McMartin, the tireless hiker and guidebook author, had trouble finding many of the trailheads, especially those along the north end of the road. She once wrote: “Almost none of [the trails] are marked, and the sportsmen who use them are careful to keep the beginnings of some of them concealed. … There have been times when I have had to walk along the road searching for a beginning that I knew was there but remained hidden.”
One trail that is not difficult to find leads to the Potholers, where the lollygagging East Canada Creek meets the bubbling downpour of Brayhouse Brook. At 8.2 miles from Route 29A, you’ll come to a sign for the town of Arietta and then a metal barrier used to close the road in winter. Look for a culvert. The short path to the Potholers starts just beyond the culvert on the east side of the road.
McMartin described the Potholers, a series of small rapids and cascades, as “the most beautiful of all the picnic places in the southern Adirondacks.” The potholes in the flat bedrock were created over time by loose stones swirling in the waters of the East Canada. Children love sitting in the holes.
When we were there, the water was low enough to walk across the creek on the flat rocks. Standing in the middle and looking upstream, we saw a wide, lazy waterway curving through the forest. The rushing and falling water at the Potholers creates layers of ambient sound. Leave the radio and iPod at home.
We also visited Mud Pond, which can be seen from the road. Marked by a Forest Preserve sign, the path starts on the east side of the road 15.5 miles from Stratford (or 3.5 from Route 10). A short, steep descent through the dark forest brings you to the shoreline.
The pond offers much more than its name suggests. It contains a fine example of a quaking bog, a floating mat of wetland plants capable of thriving in a highly acidic environment, including sphagnum moss, bog laurel, cranberry and leatherleaf. Hikers should avoid trampling the bog.
About 1.5 miles north of Mud Pond (or two miles from Route 10), you’ll come to the trail to Sand Lake, a much larger waterbody, suitable for canoeing. This trail also is easy to find. Look for a large turnoff on the east side of the road. The hike to the water is only 0.3 miles. On the way we saw a group of red efts relaxing in the mud. Upon reaching the shore, I was surprised at the size of the lake and the sense of tranquility and wildness. Looking at the unbroken shoreline, listening to the thrum of bullfrogs, I wished I had brought a canoe or kayak to explore this beautiful place.
Although we took only a few short walks on our Powley-Piseco excursion, visitors can enjoy longer hikes from the road. From Clockmill Corners, you can hike 1.1 miles to Clockmill Pond or 1.8 miles to Rock Pond. One of the trails recommended by Barbara McMartin leads 1.2 miles to a series of waterfalls on Goldmine Stream. One of the longer trails ends at Big Alderbed Pond, 3.1 miles from the road. (See accompanying chart for trailhead directions.)
Barry Chapin, a retired Marine Corp veteran from Gloversville, is a big fan of the Powley-Piseco region, which he has been visiting for three decades. He hunts the land in the winter and fishes and camps in the summer. He has seen plenty of wildlife. “There are black bears—we’ve had some come around when we camped. They won’t bother you unless you mess with the cubs. And the deer in the summertime, they just sit and look at you,” he said.
Chapin especially likes that Speculator, the closest sizable town, is 20 miles away. “When I’m camping it’s so dark that I can look at the stars and not believe how many there are,” he said.