When I was a kid, I climbed Bald Mountain near Old Forge several times with my mother and stepfather. In those days you could still hike the old trail up the steep south face of the mountain, which was an adventurous climb over a series of narrow ledges.
The summit view changed my understanding of the environs. Down below, I had seen a world of asphalt and mini-golf courses, a realm of banality where “adventure” was a slogan on amusement-park billboards. Up here, I got a whiff of the bigger picture – lakes and forests spreading to the horizon, and mountains yet to be climbed.
We were infrequent hikers. My mother and stepfather didn’t use a guidebook; they stuck with what they knew or else picked trails that they heard about word-of-mouth. That information wasn’t always accurate. We once aborted a hike to Fort Noble Mountain when we discovered that a suspension bridge over the South Branch of West Canada Creek no longer existed. The fire tower was gone, too, so there would not have been a view anyway – but how were we to know?
Another time we set off to climb Black Bear Mountain near Eagle Bay, which has several trails to the summit. We went up one trail and intended to come down another, making a loop through the woods. Well, we missed a turn and wound up on Uncas Road, on the opposite side of the mountain from our car. It was a long walk along the road back to Route 28. We stuck to miniature golf after that.
Now I’m a guidebook author who wants to spare your family some of the misadventure I experienced as a boy. With that in mind, I offer these five hikes, all suitable for children.
Rock Pond and Long Pond
The most difficult aspect of this hike near Speculator is driving the long and bumpy Elm Lake Road to the trailhead. With that much out of the way, the hike to these two quiet little ponds is a breeze. Long Pond, undistinguished by its dime-a-dozen name, is really one the most scenic localities in the Adirondack Park. Consider it a prime destination if you want to swim or try your hand at backcountry camping. At the very least, bring a camera and savor this special place.
From the end of Elm Lake Road, cross the bridge over Cisco Brook and follow the marked trail through a planted forest of pine, following what was once an old wagon trail. You catch glimpses of a massive wetland on the Kunjamuk River to your right. After a mile you reach a fork, where you bear left. (The trail to the right, the Kunjamuk Trail, is not a route for the faint of heart.)
You pass through a stand of Scotch pine – pretty, but alien to North American forests – and enter a rather beautiful native forest rich with sugar maple. You pass Rock Pond on the left at 2 miles, with a short spur trail leading to a scenic campsite on a rock ledge.
The south end of Long Pond is but 0.6 miles away. The trail pulls near to the west shore and stays there to its conclusion on a long point halfway up the pond, about 2.9 miles from the start. You pass several campsites, each with rock ledges sloping into the water, but the best swimming and the best views are found at the point. Long Pond derives its scenic charm from the long wall of cliffs to the east – an impressive curtain of rock.
DIRECTIONS: From the four corners in downtown Speculator, near the Charlie Johns Store, turn onto Elm Lake Road. Continue past the end of the macadam at the edge of town. This narrow, gravel road is usually passable for most cars. It extends for about 8 miles to a four-way junction, where the way straight ahead is merely a rough track. Park here. You can follow this rough track (passable only to high-clearance vehicles) past one last hunting camp to an undeveloped parking area on state land, a short distance away. The trailhead register is just beyond.
Owens, Copperas and Winch Ponds
As you drive Route 86 through Wilmington Notch – between the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center and Lake Placid – you are driving one of the most scenic routes in the Adirondack Park, as good as anything you would find in a national park. You are close to the West Branch of the Ausable River, with a rock wall to the south. A gap in this rock wall affords access to a 2.7-mile trail system that links three lovely ponds. Each one has its own distinct character and is well worth a visit.
Copperas Pond is the centerpiece of the three, and from it you can also access Winch and Owens. From the northern trailhead on Route 86, the trail takes right off up the mountainside. In just 0.2 miles, but more than 200 feet above the road, you reach an intersection with a spur trail on the left to Winch Pond. Most people turn right, which continues over the ridge to the northeast corner of Copperas Pond.
This is a marvelous place to explore, encircled by a cedar-rich forest and a rocky shoreline. If you turn right at the shoreline, there is a popular lean-to that is sure to be occupied on most summer weekends. A left turn along the shoreline follows an adventuresome trail, with frequent views and places to rest, picnic, and swim.
From an intersection at the east end of Copperas Pond, a side trail leads east for 0.5 miles to Winch Pond, following for part of the way the bed of an old road. You pass the cutoff that leads back to Route 86, suggesting a short loop. Winch Pond is a wild little place with snags all along the shoreline; it is definitely a place apart from civilization.
You can also hike directly to Owens Pond from the intersection at Copperas Pond. After crossing a split-log walkway and passing an opening with a gorgeous view of Whiteface, the trail veers south to reach Owens Pond just 0.6 miles from the last intersection. It leads for 0.2 miles along the north shore, and then follows the outlet for another 0.5 miles to the southern trailhead on Route 86.
A dense forest with a crowded, brushy understory surrounds all of these trails. Some of the smaller trees form arched bridges over the pathway. Because of the multiple intersections on this hike, families should make a point of sticking together.
DIRECTIONS: Two trailheads serve this trail network, both located on Route 86. The northernmost is located 2.8 miles southwest of the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center and 6.4 miles northeast of the Route 73 intersection in Lake Placid. The southern trailhead is 1 mile southwest.
While there are many Bear Lakes and Bear Ponds in the Adirondacks, I have yet to encounter a bear at any of them. This Bear Lake, located south of the Moose River near McKeever, is one that I have visited many times. It is in an area that has many easy-to-reach destinations, including Gull Lake and Remsen Falls, but I always gravitate toward this one because its trails are designated expressly for hiking and therefore have a more natural appearance.
With the recent conversion of Wolf Lake Landing Road from an unmentionable swath of four-wheel destruction to a passable two-wheel-drive gravel lane, hikers can now cut about 1.1 miles from the total length of the trip, making the hike to Bear Lake only 1.4 miles long.
The blue-marked trail leads southeast from Wolf Lake Landing Road, cutting through a low-lying wet area before beginning to climb. A sharp left turn leads into a long draw, through which you climb to a height-of-land on the ridge that enfolds the north end of Bear Lake. The descent that follows is one of the highlights of the trip, leading you below an impressive rock wall. If it has rained recently, there may be a trickle of water spilling down its face.
You reach the north shore where there is a small sandy beach – always a pleasant place to stop, where you can get your feet wet and enjoy the view down the length of the lake. The trail continues around the east side, reaching a sizable inlet stream that you will need to cross on stones. There is an intersection on the other side with a yellow-marked trail that leads to Bloodsucker Pond (one of two in this area) and Woodhull Lake.
There is also a campsite near the shore, which is my favorite place to stop. Not only are the woods filled with handsome fir and spruce trees, but there is also a choice viewing area near the mouth of the inlet.
The trail continues south along the shoreline before pulling away to the southeast. It ultimately connects with the multi-use trail system that originates at Bear Creek Road.
DIRECTIONS: Near the south end of the Moose River bridge on Route 28, turn east into McKeever. Where this road curves left, bear right on a driveway that passes near a former railroad station. Cross the Adirondack Scenic Railroad tracks and follow the driveway into the woods, coming to a pair of large parking areas about 0.7 miles from the highway. Wolf Lake Landing Road veers right from the first parking area. When the gate is open, you can drive 1.2 miles to an intersection with the blue-marked foot trail to Bear Lake. Park on the shoulder.
Like many other Adirondack hills called “Pinnacle,” this one near Santa Clara, in the northernmost reaches of the Adirondack Park, is more of a rounded dome than a pinnacle. Surely, the person who named it had a sense of humor. Nevertheless, this small Adirondack foothill – a shoulder of Conger Mountain – offers some outstanding views for the minimal amount of effort required to climb it. The Pinnacle should not be missed in early fall, when the maple-rich forest surrounding it is ablaze with deep reds.
From the parking area, the 0.7-mile hike to the summit ledges is a quick jaunt up a switchbacking trail. The view extends primarily south and west, toward Santa Clara and St. Regis Falls. The conifer-filled valley of the East Branch of the St. Regis River forms a sinuous course not far from the foot of the mountain, and the Santa Clara Flow lies to the south. Azure Mountain is identifiable by virtue of its fire tower. Ravens are frequently seen here, soaring on updrafts as they patrol their domain.
Much of the forest you see, including the mountain beneath your feet, was protected in a 1999 deal with Champion International.
DIRECTIONS: The trailhead is located on Conger Road, a logging road suitable for ordinary cars in the summer. Conger Road begins on Route 458, 9.4 miles northwest of the intersection with Route 30 near Meacham Lake, or just 0.6 miles east of the bridge over the St. Regis River in Santa Clara. It leads in 1.7 roundabout miles to the trailhead parking area
The Sargent Ponds are a string of three rather large bodies of water that appeal to fishermen as much as hikers. A well-used trail system leads to the Upper and Lower ponds, permitting a U-shaped loop that begins and ends on North Point Road. If you choose to hike the entire loop, you will cover a total of 7.2 miles – a figure that includes the 1.5 miles of road between the two trailheads. It might sound long to some people, but the trip is well worth the effort.
For those interested in a shorter trek, you can hike to Upper Sargent Pond in just 1.3 miles. This will bring you to an attractive campsite on the shoreline with a view of islands and nameless mountains.
From the eastern trailhead on North Point Road, the red-marked trail leads south through a grand forest with many large yellow birch trees. After passing between two of the unnamed mountains, it descends toward an intersection near Upper Sargent Pond. If you continue straight, you will come to the campsite. Whether you spend the night here or just visit for an afternoon, this is one of the finer spots in the Adirondacks. There is a tiny island to the left that summer hikers have been known to swim to. What you see of the pond, as grand as it is, is only a portion – the extremities are hidden from your view.
The trail leading west toward Lower Sargent Pond is marked as a snowmobile trail, but it is really a narrow footpath. It is 1.7 miles to the next intersection, where you should turn left. Turn left again after crossing a footbridge, passing a fish barrier dam on the trail that hooks around the north shore to a lean-to on a rocky point. Judging by the wear on the foot tread, the herd path that follows the very edge of the pond sees more use than the yellow-marked state trail that stays inland.
Lower Sargent Pond is completely round, so the view is equally good no matter where you choose to stop. There are many, many campsites all around its shores, and most offer a place to swim. Some people hire floatplanes to reach the pond, and there is a veritable fleet of aluminum rowboats scattered at various places.
If you do go as far as the Lower Sargent Pond lean-to, then you will have a 2.4-mile hike north back to North Point Road. Along the way you will pass near Grass Pond, which is scenic in its own right but not as approachable as the Sargent Ponds. This trail has a few unforgivably wet sections, including spots near Grass Pond and others farther north. It would certainly benefit from a few short reroutes. It is a good walk nonetheless, passing through a fine hardwood forest all the way to the road and the western trailhead.
DIRECTIONS: North Point Road turns westward from Route 28N/30 in Deerland, at the south end of Long Lake. It passes a must-see picnic area at Buttermilk Falls at 2 miles, the entrance road to the Forked Lake State Campground at 2.9 miles, and the eastern Sargent Pond trailhead at 6.2 miles. The western trailhead, also on the left side of the road, is at 7.7 miles.