By Phil Brown
The Clintonville Pine Barrens is a quiet spot. Most of the people who hike here live a short drive away in communities such as Ausable Forks, Keeseville, and Plattsburgh. Occasionally, the barrens attract hikers from farther afield. Commenting in the trail register, a visitor from Toronto described them last year as “a dream place.”
One reason the pine barrens don’t see more traffic is that they’re not well known. You won’t find them in the Adirondack Mountain Club guidebooks, and the inconspicuous trailhead lies off a back road in the town of Black Brook.
Another reason may be that the trail is so short: a 1.1-mile loop over flat terrain that can be hiked in well under an hour. That’s fine if you’re in the neighborhood, but I suspect few people will drive a long distance just to see the pine barrens. To increase the ratio of hiking to driving miles, you need to throw in one or two other short excursions in the vicinity.
In early April, I did three hikes in Black Brook that added up to only five miles. Despite the relatively little effort expended, I got to see a variety of interesting habitat: the pine barrens, a boreal bog, pine bluffs overlooking a lake, and a mountain summit with a grand view. After visiting the barrens, a preserve owned by the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, I drove to Silver Lake Bog, another conservancy property, and then capped off the day with a climb of Silver Lake Mountain.
If my experience is any guide, people must be more interested in obtaining views than in observing nature. Although I saw no one on my walks in the Nature Conservancy preserves, I ran into several hikers during my ascent of Silver Lake Mountain. At 2,374 feet, it is one of those small peaks with a big reward.
Marked by red disks, the trail gains 895 feet over 0.9 miles, with varying degrees of steepness. At the start, the trail ascends moderately through a hardwood forest. At 0.3 miles, it crosses exposed bedrock with a view through trees of Taylor Pond and Catamount—the first of several views along the route. The trail stays on bedrock for a while, then enters a pine forest. At times, the going is steep and rocky.
At 0.8 miles, you reach a gorgeous vista that includes three large water bodies—Taylor Pond, Silver Lake, and Union Falls Reservoir—and many mountains, including Whiteface, Catamount, Moose, Jay, and, on the eastern horizon, the Green Mountains of Vermont. The summit is just a few minutes away, where you can enjoy equally inspiring views.
From the summit, a herd path continues along the ridge of Silver Lake Mountain. Since I didn’t follow it, I can’t say how far it goes, but the ridge of Silver Lake Mountain and adjacent Potter Mountain extends a few miles beyond the end of the hiking trail. Although the Silver Lake summit is on state land, Lyme Timber owns most of these mountains. The state purchased conservation easements on the Lyme land in 2004. Consequently, the land is open to the public for recreation. In recent years, rock climbers have been putting up first ascents on the mountains’ many cliffs. The easements prohibit subdivision and development. That’s nice to know as you gaze upon the landscape below.
To get to Silver Lake Mountain, return to Silver Lake Road and go 0.9 miles to the trailhead on the left.