Small hikes promise big payoffs
By Phil Brown
If you want your children to enjoy hiking, you need to start them off on the right foot. First, choose hikes they can handle. Don’t march them up Algonquin on their first outing. Second, try to find trails with something extra that appeals to a child, such as a swimming hole, boardwalk or fire tower.
As a father of three kids and author of an Adirondack guidebook, I’ve tramped about all corners of the Adirondacks with youngsters in tow. Here are five hikes that I think most children will enjoy.
Over the past few years, I’ve climbed about 25 mountains in the Adirondacks with my son Nathan. When I asked him recently which one he liked best, he replied at once: “Chimney.”
“I liked the caves and the strange rock formations,” he said. “It’s something different that most Adirondack mountains don’t have.”
The Chimney, located south of Indian Lake, is a geological oddity that resembles a tower of petrified pancakes. It’s a worthwhile destination in itself, but for a 13-year-old boy such as Nate, the real attractions were the tunnels and caves in the small chasm below the Chimney. Children need to be careful when exploring the chasm to avoid stepping in the gaps among the jumbled rocks.
To reach the chasm, we scrambled down an unmarked path that turns left from the main trail just before the Chimney. As we descended, we got hit by a blast of frosty air from a crevice in the chasm wall—a welcome surprise on a hot summer day. Some of the caves should be left to expert spelunkers, but many can be explored safely by amateurs with a flashlight. Nate poked around one that had an upper and lower chamber, separated by a small tunnel. On the floor of another cave, we found ice left over from the previous winter.
The 1.4-mile trail to the Chimney—marked by blue disks—climbs through a hardwood forest, gaining about 1,000 feet in elevation. Look for outcrops of quartzite as you near the top. In places, the strangely eroded bedrock looks as though it were flowing downhill.
Directions: From the junction of Routes 30 and 28 in Indian Lake, go south 0.6 mile to Big Brook Road; turn left and go 5.7 miles to the junction of Hutchins and Moulton roads; turn right and go 2.7 miles to the Chimney Mountain Wilderness Lodge. The lodge asks a small fee for parking. Walk east from the parking lot to reach the trailhead.
Even if you live in the Adirondacks, you’ll probably have to drive an hour or two to reach Lampson Falls on the northwestern edge of the Park. It’s worth the trip.
Here the broad Grass River drops about 50 feet in a thunderous roar, one of the most spectacular cascades in the Adirondacks. Below the falls, the river spreads out in a large pool walled in by a rocky spit. Nate and his younger sisters had a ball last summer jumping off the spit into the water. They also delighted in a turtle they discovered on a small beach.
The half-mile hike to the falls is a pleasant stroll down an old dirt road now closed to vehicles. On the way, you’ll pass a stand of venerable white pines. The marked path continues downriver from the falls. Follow it to see more old-growth trees and a series of interesting flumes. There is an outhouse on the knoll behind the spit.
Directions: From the junction of County 17 and County 27 in Degrasse in St. Lawrence County, head north on County 27, or Clare Road, to the trailhead on the left. Park along the road.
SILVER LAKE BOG
The Adirondack Nature Conservancy has built a superb boardwalk that enables kids to get a close-up look at a bog without getting their feet wet. Cedar, tamarack, balsam fir, black spruce and smaller plants adapted to the moist environment enclose the boardwalk so you feel as though you’re passing through an emerald tunnel.
A leaflet available at the trailhead describes various plants found at 15 interpretive stops along the way. Toward the boardwalk’s finish, you can relax on benches and watch for woodpeckers and other birds that inhabit this lush, green world.
The boardwalk is only a half-mile long, but a trail at the end continues three-quarters of a mile through a hardwood forest to a red pine bluff overlooking Silver Lake. If you’re up for more adventure, you can climb nearby Silver Lake Mountain: the one-mile ascent rewards hikers with a wonderful view of Silver Lake, Taylor Pond and Whiteface Mountain.
Directions: From the blinking light in Ausable Forks, drive northeast on North Main Street a short distance to a stop sign.Turn left on County 1–also known as Silver Lake Road or Turnpike Road–and drive 12.5 miles to Union Falls Road, just past Silver Lake. (Note that Silver Lake Road forks to the left 3 miles from the stop sign.) Turn left at Union Falls Road and go 1.1 miles to a dirt road on the left. The trailhead is on the right 0.3 mile down this road. The Silver Lake Mountain trailhead is on the right about a mile before Union Falls Road.
This small mountain overlooking Lake George packs in a lot of variety. The Lake George Basin Land Conser-vancy has constructed two trails, one leading to the summit, the other winding through woods past beaver lodges and wetlands. Both can be hiked in a semi-loop.
The 1.7-mile Summit Trail, marked by red disks, starts along an old logging road, soon passing an unmarked footpath and then the Beaver Trail on the right. Eventually, the main trail leaves the road to climb a hardwood ridge and circle up the back of the mountain to emerge on bare rocks surrounded by an open forest of scrub oaks. This is the summit, but the trail continues to a ledge with a good view of northern Lake George and surrounding mountains. Listen for the croak of ravens from nearby Rogers Rock on the lake’s western shore.
On the return trip, you can pick up the Beaver Trail as soon as you arrive back at the road. This trail, marked by yellow disks, goes through a small cedar swamp and passes beaver ponds before reaching the road again. Children also will enjoy exploring the unmarked footpath, which winds among tall cattails.
For a Cook Mountain leaflet, phone the Lake George Basin Land Conservancy at (518) 644-9673.
Directions: From the traffic circle in Ticonderoga, drive south on Route 9N for a mile to County 5, also known as Alexandria Avenue. Make a sharp left and go 1.3 miles to Baldwin Road. Turn right and drive 1.5 miles to the trailhead on the right.
This hike is not a breeze, but Hadley rewards your efforts with one of the best views of the southern Adirondacks. Although the vista from the rocky summit is superb, you can get an even better view by climbing the recently refurbished firetower. Kids will get a kick out of talking to the summit steward who in summer resides in a cabin near the tower.
A leaflet available at the trailhead explains some of the natural history of the mountain, enhancing enjoyment of the hike. The 1.8-mile trail, marked by red disks, passes through a stand of old hemlocks at the start before climbing through a hardwood forest to the open ledges of the summit. In places, the trail is worn to smooth bedrock that resembles a lopsided sidewalk.
Parents will have to judge whether their children can handle the 1,525-foot ascent. My daughter Becky went up Hadley with no trouble when she was 10, and it was only her second mountain. The payoff is a panorama that includes Great Sacandaga Lake and rolling hills stretching all the way to the High Peaks.
Directions: From Lake Luzerne, take Bridge Road over Hudson and continue west along north shore of the Sacandaga River and Great Sacandaga Lake for 20 miles to Hadley Hill Road. Turn right and drive 5.6 miles to Tower Road. Turn left and go 1.4 miles.