Short hikes for the road

The bald summit of Coney Mountain rewards hikers with 360 degree views. Photo by Susan Bibeau.

We had been driving for nearly two hours when Martha, my 13-year-old daughter, started complaining. “How much farther?” she wanted to know. “I’m bored.”

Fortunately, we were approaching Cathedral Pines, a stand of giant white pines just off Route 28 between Inlet and Raquette Lake. I pulled off at the trailhead, and we stepped into the woods.

The Cathedral Pines trail is no doubt the shortest state-maintained route in the Adirondacks. Within a minute, Martha and I found ourselves surrounded by centuries-old trees. We joined hands and tried to circle our arms around one of the trunks but came up two feet short.

We then followed the trail down a bank to a stone memorial for a local aviator killed in World War II. The memorial was constructed at the base of a huge pine. A plaque reads:

This Tree was created by God and old when our country was born, fine and clean and straight, grained like the boy himself, 2nd Lt. Malcolm L. Blue, Navigator of a Liberator Bomber with the Eighth Air Force, killed over France, June 2, 1944. Few men have earned so fine a memorial.

The pine had fallen long ago and now lies gathering moss. My daughter and I marveled at its girth and then returned to the car. Our excursion had lasted only five minutes, but that was long enough to distract Martha from her complaints and refresh us for the rest of the drive.

Of course, you don’t need a cranky teenager as an excuse to get out and stretch your legs on a drive through the Adirondacks. Should you feel the urge to break up your trip, we have selected 10 more short hikes. All begin on or near main highways.

Mount Severance

You won’t see any trailhead signs on the Northway, but if you’re willing to take a short detour from Exit 28, near Schroon Lake, you can be on top of this 1,638-foot mountain in less an hour. Beginning on Route 9, the 1.2-mile trail takes you through a tunnel under the Northway and past large specimens of hemlock, white pine and white cedar as it ascends to two rocky lookouts. The first affords views of Schroon Lake and the wooded peaks of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness. From the second you can see Paradox Lake and the mountains to the north.

DIRECTIONS: From Northway Exit 28, drive east a short distance to NY 9. Turn right and go 0.6 mile to a parking lot on the right.

Owls Head
If you’re driving to or from Lake Placid via Route 73, you may notice a pointy little peak a little north of Keene hamlet. This is Owls Head, a favorite of families with young children and a great destination for anyone with only an hour to spare. The 0.6-mile trail passes several ledges with good views before reaching the summit, where you see Cascade, Pitchoff, Hurricane and Giant, among other peaks. In late summer, you may find wild blueberries. Keep in mind that the trail passes through private land.

DIRECTIONS: Driving north from Keene, look for Owls Head Lane on the left about 3 miles outside the hamlet. Turn and follow the gravel road 0.2 miles to a junction. A small green signs marks the start of the trail. (If you’re coming from the north, Owls Head Lane will be on the right 3.6 miles past the Cascade Mountain trailhead.)

Pack Forest

For those heading north from Warrensburg on Route 9, a brief stop at the Pack Demonstration Forest is order for a lesson in ecology and a visit to the Grandmother Tree. The state College of Environmental Science and Forestry owns and logs this 2,500-acre tract, but it has set aside a preserve with a nature trail that winds through a wetland and past many old-growth pines and hemlocks. The highlight of the 1-mile loop is the Grandmother Tree. At more than 175 feet tall, this white pine is one of the largest trees in the state. Brochures explaining stops along the trail are available at the trailhead.

DIRECTIONS: From Warrensburg, drive north on NY 9. About 0.7 mile past the junction with NY 28, look for an entrance road on the left. Drive 0.5 mile to the parking lot.

Col. Peck’s Grave

If you’re passing through Speculator and want a different sort of hike, take a walk through the woods to a quaint cemetery where Col. Loring Peck lies buried with his wife and son. Peck fought in the Revolutionary War and moved to Lake Pleasant in 1811. A half-mile trail leads to his grave. The land had once been cleared for agriculture, but it’s now a dark forest. There’s something poignant about coming across this tiny graveyard, enclosed by a simple stone wall, in the wilderness. A small American flag decorates the colonel’s modest headstone and a white pine towers over the scene.

DIRECTIONS: From NY 30 in Speculator, take Downey Avenue to South Shore Road and continue on South Shore Road about 1.7 miles past Gilmantown Road to the trailhead on the left.

Sawyer Mountain

From the highway between Blue Mountain Lake and Indian Lake, it’s only a mile to the summit of this 2,160-foot peak on the northern fringe of the Blue Ridge Wilderness. The summit is wooded, but a rock ledge just beyond affords a marvelous view of Snowy, Panther, Blue and many other peaks. Don’t be surprised to find a fat garter snake sunning itself on the ledge on a summer’s day.

DIRECTIONS: The trailhead is on the south side of NY 28/30, about 6.2 miles west of the junction of 28 and 30 in Indian Lake or about 7.2 miles east of the highways’ junction in Blue Mountain Lake.

Rocky Mountain

So you’re driving between Old Forge and Inlet and you don’t want to climb Bald Mountain again? Try Rocky Mountain. Although less popular than Bald, its views are outstanding. Located just west of Inlet, this 2,200-foot summit can be reached after a half-mile climb. For that small effort, you’ll be rewarded with a great vista of Fourth Lake and wooded hills rolling to the horizon. The trail is worn to bedrock in sections.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

DIRECTIONS: From NY 28 and Big Moose Road in Eagle Bay, drive east on NY 28 for 1.2 miles to a large parking area on the left. If you’re coming from the east, the turnoff is 0.9 mile past the public parking lot in downtown Inlet.

Wawbeek Plantation

In the early 1900s, Bernard Fernow, a pioneering forester, cleared 68 acres of hardwoods west of Upper Saranac Lake and planted white pine and Norway spruce to show that the more valuable softwoods could grow on hardwood sites. Paul Smiths College students maintain an interpretive trail that loops through the experimental forest. Leaflets are available at the trailhead.

DIRECTIONS: From Wawbeek Corners, where NY 3 meets NY 30, drive north on NY 30 for 0.8 mile to a parking lot on the left. Wawbeek Corners is about 6 miles east of Tupper Lake and 16 miles west of Saranac Lake.

Clintonville Pine Barrens

This preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy is a little off the main road, but it’s worth a side trip if you’re driving on Route 9N through the Ausable Valley west of Keeseville. The pitch pine community that thrives in the preserve’s sandy soil depends on periodic fire to survive. The barrens is home to prairie redroot, a rare shrub, and the pine pinion moth, a rare insect. There is a 1-mile marked loop trail. Brochures are at the trailhead.

DIRECTIONS: From the blinking light in Ausable Forks, drive northeast on North Main Street 0.2 mile to stop sign; go straight on Golf Course Road about 2 miles to Dry Bridge Road, turn right and go 0.3 mile to Buck Hill Road, turn left and go 0.5 mile to trailhead on left.

Cathedral Rock

If you’ve always wanted to visit a fire tower but are too lazy to climb a mountain, you’re in luck. The Wanakena Ranger School dismantled a tower that once stood on Tooley Mountain and reassembled it at Cathedral Rock in the school’s forest. You still have to hike 1.2 miles to get to it, but there’s little elevation gain. From the tower, you can see most of Cranberry Lake and, on a clear day, the High Peaks.

DIRECTIONS: About 7 miles west of Cranberry Lake, turn south from NY 3 onto County 61. At 0.8 mile, bear left. Turn left again after 0.2 mile onto Ranger School Road. Go 1.2 miles and turn left as you near the school. After 0.1 mile turn left and look for parking lot.

Coney Mountain

This bald summit, lying just off Route 30 between Long Lake and Tupper Lake, affords 360-degree views, including an expansive vista of the western High Peaks. Few other hikes of less than a mile provide this big a reward. The unofficial trail (which the state plans to mark in the future) is easy to follow and is interesting in its own right as it follows the Totten-Crossfield line, surveyed in 1772. The line is now the boundary between Franklin and Hamilton counties. At one point, the trail passes a steel I-beam monument put in place by later surveyors.

DIRECTIONS: Look for a pull-off on the west side of NY 30 at the Hamilton-Franklin county line. The trail begins on the other side of the road. It’s 7.9 miles south of the state boat launch in Tupper Lake. If you are coming from the other way, the pull-off will be on your left 11.4 miles north of the bridge over Long Lake.

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

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