I’ve been hiking in the west-central Adirondacks for years, not only enjoying the woods but also pushing a measuring wheel. I recently rewrote the Adirondack Mountain Club’s guidebook, Adirondack Trails: West-Central Region, which came out late last year.
This part of the Adirondacks lacks the alpine vistas of the High Peaks, but there are lots of pretty woods, lakes and streams. I’ve chosen to share four hikes that will introduce you to some seldom-visited places where you can find peace and quiet. If you do them all, you’ll see five backcountry ponds. You’ll also see some interesting cliffs and rock formations. Each of these outings can be done as a day trip.
The two Mitchell Ponds are found southeast of Inlet in the Moose River Plains Recreation Area. The main trail has two endpoints on the dirt Moose River Road. I’ll describe the hike from the eastern trailhead, which is 7.9 miles east of the Recreation Area’s Limekiln Lake entrance.
The trail follows an old road that’s easy walking and suitable for a rolling canoe carrier or, if attention is paid to the occasional washout, a mountain bike. At 1.8 miles, just before Upper Mitchell Pond, the trail reaches a junction in a grassy clearing. The main trail bends right, or north, but you can continue straight for 100 yards to the eastern shore of the pond. There is a picnic area with a nice view of the cliffs rising several hundred feet above the north side of Lower Mitchell Pond.
Return to the main trail, turn left, and you’ll soon reach another junction. The way right follows a snowmobile trail to the alternative trailhead on Moose River Road. Bear left to follow the trail to Lower Mitchell Pond. It follows the shore of the pond, passing some large rocks at the base of the cliffs, including one slanted rock that could be used as a shelter of sorts. Trees obscure the view of the cliffs.
The trail winds around the pond and crosses the outlet on the west side. There is an informal picnic site with a small beach on a point. I once saw a man in a guideboat on the pond, and he advised me to watch out for leeches. I hadn’t spotted any, but I thought I should pass on the warning.
The point is 2.8 miles from the trailhead. Once you reach the junction on the way back, if you continue north on the old snowmobile trail, you’ll reach the other trailhead in 1.7 miles. You’ll then have a three-mile walk to your car on Moose River Road. Most people just do a round-trip to the ponds.
Middle Settlement Lake
The Ha-De-Ron-Dah Wilderness west of Old Forge has a number of lakes popular with hikers, especially those coming from the Utica area and parts west. The first time I visited Middle Settlement Lake, I figured that I was nearing my destination when I spotted the roof of the lean-to on the northwest shore. However, the “roof” turned out to be a large rock, one of many on the east end of the lake.
There also are impressive cliffs on the other end of the lake, near the junction with the trail leading to Lost Lake and Pine Lake. You can see both ends of the lake and some seldom-visited woods in a 10.5-mile loop.
Middle Settlement Lake is a popular destination, but I recommend getting there by a less-traveled route. The starting point is the southern end of the Browns Tract Trail, which more or less parallels state Route 28. Follow an old logging road to Copper Lake Road, turn left and walk up the road a ways and re-enter the woods on the right, 1.5 miles from the trailhead.
A few hundred yards from Copper Lake Road, you come to a trail junction. Continue straight. Before crossing a beaver dam, you may be able to spot where the Middle Settlement House greeted 19th-century travelers. At 4.2 miles from the road, you arrive at the junction with the trail to Middle Settlement Lake, where a nice log seat should accommodate your whole group. I once saw a black bear while I was sitting on that log.
Turn left, and in 1.2 miles you’ll reach another junction near the eastern end of the lake. Go left again. Look for a massive pile of rocks, including some that create a natural room. Just after rounding a bend, look for a short spur trail uphill to an overlook above the rocks. It offers a partial view of the lake.
Returning to the main trail, follow it around the north side to a lean-to. Beyond here, the trail crosses a beaver dam and skirts a back bay, arriving at another set of cliffs before the junction with the trail to Lost Lake and Pine Lake. Bear left to return to the Browns Tract Trail.
Hikers used to bushwhack to the Ledge Mountain Overlook off Route 8 in the southern Adirondacks. Now they can take the maintained Keegan’s Trail. Keegan Roberts created the trail as an Eagle Scout project, with help from his father, a licensed guide.
This is an easy hike. From the end of a dirt road, the 0.75-mile trail ascends only 130 feet to the overlook. The trail goes over a bump and drops to a south-facing view over West Canada Creek in the Ohio Gorge.
From the overlook, you have a view of the creek, which flows into the Hinckley Reservoir, and the surrounding forest, a mixture of hardwoods and evergreens. Be careful not to get too close to the edge of the ledge—there is a long drop.
Here’s an outing that combines a short hike with a paddle on Big Moose Lake. You can launch a canoe or kayak (the latter is recommended if the lake is choppy) at a town parking lot off Higby Road. Head northeast across the lake to the Inlet, a marshy channel where you’re likely to see herons and other birds.
Once in the channel, look for a trail sign on the left, or north, shore, about 1.5 miles from the parking lot. From the landing, the trail climbs and winds through the woods, passing the southern shore of Lower Gull Lake on a split-log bridge and ending at lean-to overlooking Upper Gull Lake, 1.2 miles from Big Moose Lake. When I visited the upper lake, I saw a canoe. My companion wondered what guy would go to the trouble to lug a canoe there. I criticized this sexist comment, suggesting it may have been a woman.
When you return to Big Moose Lake, you may want to take the time to explore more of the Inlet. It’s well worth the trip if you enjoy paddling.