When hikers come to the Adirondacks, they usually head straight to the High Peaks. There they can climb the tallest mountain in New York—Mount Marcy, a stunning, enormous peak topped by alpine vegetation rarely found south of the tundra.
If that is your goal, you won’t be disappointed. You also won’t be alone. Tens of thousands of people climb Mount Marcy every summer. If, however, your goal is to roam wild forest and not encounter many people—just wildflowers, trees, birds, and other wildlife—try the foothills in and around the Champlain Valley.
The mild terrain makes the valley an ideal hiking destination for families with growing children. The mixed hardwood forests are laced by streams and wetlands and rise into small peaks with lovely views of Lake Champlain and Vermont. For a few weeks in April and May, wildflowers such as trillium, pink lady’s slipper, hepatica, jack-in-the-pulpit, clintonia, and many others make a short appearance.
One of my favorite hiking destinations in the Champlain Valley is also one of the least well known—the Blueberry Hill Trail network west of Elizabethtown. Twenty-two trails are laid out on eight hundred acres donated by a family to the town. They are open for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding. Some of the drier routes are also open to all-terrain vehicles. Many of the trails follow old logging roads that have been used by equestrians for decades. You can obtain an illustrated trail map from Elizabethtown Town Hall. Taking a map is a good idea, since the trails aren’t marked (though there are signs at most of the junctions).
You can access the trail network from Lord Road in the south or Bronson Way in the north. One of my favorite hikes is an approximately two-mile loop that includes a short side trip to the summit of Blueberry Hill. Starting from Lords Road, head up the Colonel Holst Trail. The first section is steep but quickly levels out as it goes through a lovely forest of white pine, hemlock, big-tooth aspen, paper birch, yellow birch, and sugar maple. Soon after passing the old town springhouse and crossing a small stream, look for a junction with the Blueberry Hill Trail. It’s on the right about two hundred feet beyond the stream.
The Blueberry Hill Trail is a logging road that rises steeply for about a half mile. There are no scenic views, as such, through this section of the ascent, but you follow a stream and pass through an open forest with enormous hemlocks and pines. Higher up, the trail is usually wet, owing to a nearby spring. (Unfortunately, the trail has been damaged recently by illegal jeep use). Continuing on, you soon come to a four-way junction in a flat area. Turn sharply to the left to climb the quarter-mile to a lean-to at the top of Blueberry Hill. The reward is a lovely overlook of Elizabethtown and the surrounding valley. If you walk down the hill behind the lean-to, you’ll be treated to a view of Giant and Hurricane mountains to the west.
After returning to the four-way junction, turn left. Following a short, steep descent, the trail swings left and passes the junction with the Dick Olcott Trail on the right (another pretty hike that skirts the other small summit next to Blueberry Hill). You’ll then pass another fork, this time unmarked (stay left). About thirty feet beyond the fork, you’ll hit the junction with the Sugarhouse Trail on the right and meet up with the Colonel Holst Trail.
Continue straight on the Colonel Holst Trail. You’ll swing around to the left and travel south of Blueberry Hill. This route provides a much gentler descent than theBlueberry Hill Trail (great for cross-country skiing). In the fall, big-tooth aspen blanket the trail with yellow and red leaves. About a half-mile from the junction, you end up back at your car.
Several other easy trails start off Bronson Way. You can park across from the town brush pile, about a half-mile up the road, to access the Upper and Lower Liberty, Hulbert, and Hemlock trails. If you drive about a mile, you can park near the trailheads of the Ward Hill Cut and Sugarhouse trails. About a mile and a half up the road is the trailhead for the Buggy Trail. And if you have four-wheel drive, you can drive past the town sand pile to access the Ridge, Cabin, and Wreath trails. None of these trails is more than a mile long, but you can combine them in a variety of loops through lovely forest that is home to white-tailed deer, coyote, fox, ruffed grouse, rabbits, hawks, and lots of newts and toads.
My favorite hike from Bronson Way combines four trails in a three-mile loop. Park at the bottom of the Hulbert Trail and hike up to where it meets the Wreath Trail (which is really a continuation of the Hulbert Trail). Follow the Wreath Trail (to the left). Soon you’ll reach the junction of the Cabin Trail (on the right). The Cabin Trail ascends steeply and turns back southwest leading hikers past an old cabin. This is a great spot to have a snack and enjoy the surroundings (the view is better when the leaves are off the trees). Continue on the Cabin Trail to Bronson Way and cross the road to get on the Ridge Trail.
You should be able to find plenty of deer and turkey sign on the Ridge Trail as this area sees little human traffic. This mile-long trail travels south and loops back to Bronson Way, but just before you reach the road, you can hop onto the Moss Cut Trail on the right and follow it down to the road. This avoids a half-mile trek on Bronson Way. Once back at the road, pick up the Hemlock Trail on the opposite side. This requires crossing through an old shooting range. The Hemlock Trail leads through a shaded forest. It has two spur trails leading left to the Hulbert Trail. Take the second one. Once on the Hulbert Trail, turn right to get back to your car. n
1. Blueberry Hill trailhead 2. Bobcat Trail 3. Blueberry Hill Trail 4. Blueberry Hill summit & lean-to 5. Buggy Trail 6. Cabin Trail 7. Cabin 8. Colonel Holst Trail 9. Dick Olcott Trail 10. Hemlock Trail 11. Hulbert Trail 12. Hurricane View Trail 13. Lower Liberty Trail 14. Moss Cut 15. Ridge Trail 16. Sugarhouse 17. Sugarhouse Trail 18. Upper Liberty Trail 19. Ward Hill 20. Ward Hill Cut 21. Ward Hill overlook 22. Wreath Trail
DIRECTIONS: From NY 9 in Elizabethtown turn west onto NY 9N (High Street) and drive 1.1 miles to Lord Road. Turn right and go 0.1 miles to the Colonel Holst Trail on the left. To reach the northern trailheads, continue another 0.2 miles to Roscoe Road. Turn left and go 0.6 miles to Bronson Way, a dirt road, and turn left again.
At the start, the road passes through a private yard with horses, so drive slowly.