Get in the Loop!
By Tony Goodwin
Located just northeast of Tupper Lake, the Deer Pond area is often overlooked by cross-country skiers in favor of the St. Regis Canoe Area a little to the north. Yet Deer Pond is as attractive as any of the ponds in the Canoe Area, and the eight miles of trails offer a great variety of opportunities for the skier.
The 7.3-mile loop described below has a few challenging downhills, but for skiers who prefer nearly flat terrain there are over four miles of old roads that wind through attractive forests and wetlands.
Maintenance on the trails has lapsed a bit in recent years. A check late this fall found a dozen or so downed trees, though none is a serious obstacle to skiing. Several small bridges are out, but by waiting until February or March, skiers should find that streams and wetlands are well frozen.
The usual start is on the north side of Routes 3 and 30, 0.8 miles west of the junction of these two highways at Wawbeek Corners. The trailhead is marked by a large sign for “Saranac Lakes Wild Forest Cross-Country Ski Trails.” (An alternate start is via an old truck trail from Route 30 near Bull Point on Upper Saranac Lake. Starting here—1.8 miles north of the junction—adds 1.4 miles to the loop.)
From the usual start, it’s a few yards to a junction of two old roads. A sign for Deer Pond and Bull Point points to the right, and this is the suggested direction in which to ski the loop because the downhills are somewhat less challenging. The road going left at this junction is Old Wawbeek Road, the predecessor to today’s highway, and this is the return to complete the loop.
Marked with occasional yellow ski-trail markers, the old road is nearly flat for 1.2 miles to a junction with a red-marked DEC trail (which leads 0.7 miles to the alternate start on Route 30). Bearing left, the trail continues on the flat through a thick coniferous wetland or spruce swamp. At 1.9 miles, the trail comes to a brook crossing that currently lacks a bridge, but in most years this brook will be frozen by February and easily crossable. (It is, however, another reason to ski this loop counterclockwise since retreat will be easier should the brook not be crossable.)
At 2.1 miles, the trail begins to climb out of the spruce-fir forest into a deciduous forest that offers views through the trees to the hills to the south. Climbing with a few steep pitches along a south-facing slope, the trail crosses a height of land at 2.7 miles and begins a gentle descent, with ice-covered cliffs on the right, to a junction at 2.9 miles with Deer Pond visible below.
Bearing left and continuing gently down, the trail traverses a side hill above the pond to a crossing of an inlet followed by an unmarked junction at 3.2 miles. The trail to the right leads to the shore of Deer Pond, a nearly mile-long waterbody set between steep ridges to the east and west. If the conditions are safe, skiers will be tempted to venture out onto the ice to take in the surroundings of this attractive pond. (An old fiberglass canoe on the shore suggests the possibility of a return in summer with paddles, but the condition of the canoe is such that the water should be warm enough for swimming.)
From the shore, reverse course and then climb moderately for 300 yards to a height of land that is followed by a mostly gradual descent to Mosquito Pond at 3.9 miles. The trail then climbs briefly over a ridge before descending to cross the outlet of a large beaver pond at 4.4 miles. Climbing away from the beaver pond, the trail encounters a short, steep pitch that must be ascended by herringbones or side steps. Depending on the amount of recent skier traffic, a 200-yard-long bypass to the left may or not be evident as a way to avoid the pitch. Past here, the trail continues it’s mostly gradual descent through a plantation of Norway spruce to a junction with Old Wawbeek Road at 4.8 miles. Turn left to return to the starting point at 7.3 miles.
This and other spruce plantations along Old Wawbeek Road were planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s to reforest areas denuded by lumbering. The uniformly thick canopy provided by these trees prevents the snow from becoming as deep as it does in deciduous forests. Because of the sparse snow, the plantations attract deer in winter, and thus skiers should see plenty of deer signs here.
Though now mostly recovered, this entire area had been heavily logged to provide wood for Tupper Lake’s many mills. Prominent among these mills was the Brooklyn Cooperage Co.’s stave mill, supplied in part by a logging railroad. A northern branch of this railroad crossed Old Wawbeek Road at the large brook encountered about halfway back to the start. The fact that so little evidence remains of the logging and rail activity should provide solace about the healing ability of Adirondack forests, or at least something to contemplate during the lazy final miles of this tour.