Skiers keep coming back to woodsy trails
By Judy Wolf
Last winter, my friends and I stumbled across one of the many wonderful secrets hidden in the western Adirondacks. The Moss Lake circuit, especially when combined with the Bubb Lake Trail, offers several options for beginning cross-country skiers and snowshoers, families with young children, and more experienced outdoor adventurers looking for a scenic trail that will let them stretch their legs.
Our first encounter with the trails was on a sunny, sparkling winter afternoon. We were a varied bunch: professional photographer, freelance writer, outdoor educator, and amateur naturalist. Armed with binoculars, camera equipment and the undying enthusiasm of Indie the Border Collie, we set off on a leisurely trip around this lake north of Eagle Bay.
The straight, skinny trunks of beech, maple and birch trees, stripped of their autumn finery, cast striped shadows across the wide and well-packed trail. Clusters of black-capped chickadees called to one another as, free of the territorial pressures of mating season, they engaged in wintertime sociability. Pine trees framed glimpses of the lake itself, spread out in a dazzling white expanse broken only by small islands. Beyond, the hills that surrounded Moss Lake rose against a backdrop of blue skies and feathery clouds.
It was an unhurried afternoon—as are all outings spent in the company of a photographer—and we enjoyed the sensation of being easily distracted from our journey. We meandered off the trail to explore a cliff of icicles; we trained our binoculars on a woodpecker drilling holes beneath a spectacular fungus that sprouted like an awning from the top of a dead tree, and we stopped on one of the trail’s bridges to watch birds bathing themselves in the frigid waters of an inlet, droplets flashing in the sun.
We chose to go counterclockwise around the 2.5-mile circuit and so passed several groups going in the more traditional clockwise direction. All of them said they came to Moss Lake at least once or twice a year to enjoy the tranquil scenery. “It’s quiet,” said Alicia Burnop of Rome, who was walking around the lake. “It’s not as populated as some of the others, and it’s an easier hike—there’s no straight up and down. It’s good for someone with kids.”
A family of four swept past us on skis, then stopped to chat. The Jorreys of Dolgeville had discovered Moss Lake when their children were young. “It’s a nice distance for the kids, and they like the hills,” said Jane Jorrey.
Eleven-year-old Adam, who’d started skiing at age 5, eagerly agreed. “The hills are the best part. You can get some speed down them.” His father, Mike, shared an insider’s tip that it’s easier to ski the loop clockwise because of the way a particular hill leads into one of the bridges. Then they were off, slicing in and out of the sun-dappled shadows.
Another family of four we met near the end of the circuit added their own twist to enjoying Moss Lake: The Gardners were on snowshoes, but 9-year-old Zachary and his father, Paul, carried sleds with them and took every opportunity to hop on for a downhill ride.
In the parking lot, we encountered Dan and Dana Knuth and their dog Kody, who hailed from Deerfield, outside Utica, but rented a place in Inlet. They had recently discovered Moss Lake, thanks to a moonlight trip organized by Mountainman Outdoor Supply Co. and the Woods Inn. “It was so pretty at night that we thought we’d come back and discover it by day,” said Dan.
The Knuths’ experience was exactly why Mountainman and the Woods Inn began organizing winter outings, which run every week or two throughout the season. “People are less likely to go on their own in winter, because of the more extreme elements, and they probably wouldn’t think to go at night,” said Mountainman owner John Nemjo.
The excursions take people on two- to three-hour trips throughout the region, complete with moonlight campfire and hors-d’oeuvres from the Woods Inn. Then it’s back to the inn for food and refreshments. Moss Lake, said Nemjo, “gives people that wilderness feel without being too far off the beaten path. I hate to let anyone know this, but it’s one of the best-kept secrets we have in the area.”
Much like the Knuths, my partner Andrew and I found we couldn’t stay away for long. A couple of weeks later, on a cold, sunny day with a fresh foot of snow, we headed back to Moss Lake. This time, we skied clockwise, At 0.7 miles, we reached the Bubb Lake Trail, which led us two miles to the Vista Trail. The new snow blanketed tree limbs, fallen logs and rocks. Everything, including sound, seemed softened and rounded by this wintry mantle. We broke trail through a corridor of evergreens, shuddering as low-hanging branches loosed showers of snow down our collars, then sprang into the air, freed of their burdens.
The trail was flat and easy to follow. When it reached Bubb Lake, we veered off to cross the frozen surface, reveling in the sudden sunshine. Our tracks were the only marks on the lake. We followed the north shoreline and rejoined the trail between Bubb and Sis lakes. Crossing the bridge that spanned them, we were treated to a classic, snow-covered Adirondack vista: river rocks like tumbled pillows in the foreground, hemlocks with a sugary dusting, sun reflecting off the frozen lakes, and the blue-green hills beyond.
Forging onward, we made our way to the Vista Trail junction, where we took off our skis, strapped on our snowshoes and hiked a quarter-mile up a steep hill to a lookout where we enjoyed a sweeping vista stretching back over the lakes we had passed. With the climb, we had come nearly 3 miles. Gazing over the wild landscape, we knew we’d have an equally delightful return trip.
The parking lot for the Moss Lake trailhead is 2.1 miles north of NY 28 on Big Moose Road, which starts in Eagle Bay. Look for a plowed parking area on the left. It is also possible to park at the Bubb Lake trailhead on NY 28, 1.4 miles west of Big Moose Road. (Don’t be fooled by the steepness of the first few hundred yards—it eases off once you’re past the Vista Trail.) Combining the Moss Lake circuit with a round trip of the Bubb Lake Trail adds up to 7 miles of easy skiing or snowshoeing.
For information on moonlight outings, contact Judy Nevil or Connie Perry at the Mountainman Outdoor Supply Co. (315-357-6672) or Jay and Joedda, proprietors of the newly restored Woods Inn (315-357-5300) in Inlet.