By Phil Brown
The Clintonville Pine Barrens is a quiet spot. Most of the people who hike here live a short drive away in communities such as Ausable Forks, Keeseville, and Plattsburgh. Occasionally, the barrens attract hikers from farther afield. Commenting in the trail register, a visitor from Toronto described them last year as “a dream place.”
One reason the pine barrens don’t see more traffic is that they’re not well known. You won’t find them in the Adirondack Mountain Club guidebooks, and the inconspicuous trailhead lies off a back road in the town of Black Brook.
Another reason may be that the trail is so short: a 1.1-mile loop over flat terrain that can be hiked in well under an hour. That’s fine if you’re in the neighborhood, but I suspect few people will drive a long distance just to see the pine barrens. To increase the ratio of hiking to driving miles, you need to throw in one or two other short excursions in the vicinity.
In early April, I did three hikes in Black Brook that added up to only five miles. Despite the relatively little effort expended, I got to see a variety of interesting habitat: the pine barrens, a boreal bog, pine bluffs overlooking a lake, and a mountain summit with a grand view. After visiting the barrens, a preserve owned by the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, I drove to Silver Lake Bog, another conservancy property, and then capped off the day with a climb of Silver Lake Mountain.
Although Silver Lake Bog lies just on the other side of the town, it’s a different world: instead of dry, sandy habitat, you find yourself walking through a wetland populated by black spruce, tamarack, northern white cedar, balsam fir, and fifteen species of sphagnum moss. The bog also is home to a number of boreal bird species, including black-backed woodpecker, boreal chickadee, and olive-sided flycatcher.
You don’t have to worry about getting your feet wet: the conservancy built a half-mile boardwalk to enable visitors to enjoy the bog without trampling the fragile vegetation. Benches along the way invite you to rest and absorb the sounds of nature.
Typical wetland plants growing in the bog include Labrador tea, pitcher plants, bog cranberry, and creeping snowberry, a vine that spreads over the moss. In July, the vines produce white berries with a strong mint flavor, according to Gary Lee, a retired forest ranger who has birded here.
The Silver Lake Bog Preserve actually offers two hikes in one. After reaching the end of the boardwalk, you can take a trail through hardwood forest to pine bluffs overlooking Silver Lake. The habitat transition is instantaneous. After gaining a few feet in elevation, you are surrounded by hardwoods instead of evergreens.
The trail rises slightly, descends to a bridge over a stream, and then climbs gradually to the bluffs. In all, it gains 185 feet in elevation in 0.6 miles. Once you reach the bluffs, you can scramble down and to the left to ledges with open views of the lake as well as mountains near and far. The more conspicuous peaks include Silver Lake Mountain, Catamount, and Whiteface. The round-trip hike from the parking area to the bluffs is 2.2 miles.
To get to Silver Lake Bog, return to the four-way stop in Ausable Forks and turn right onto Silver Lake Road. Take Silver Lake Road 12 miles to Union Falls Road (passing the trailhead for Silver Lake Mountain at 11.1 miles). Bear left and go 1.1 miles to Hawkeye Road on the left. Follow this dirt road 0.3 miles to the trailhead on the right.