DEC creates a trail for skiers that loops through former Finch, Pruyn timberlands near the Goodnow and Hudson rivers.
By Phil Brown
Since the state purchased the Essex Chain Lakes a few years ago, I had been meaning to try out the ski touring in that region. My initial idea was to ski on old logging roads to the Essex Chain, but then I got wind of a new ski trail created by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. In mid-January, my neighbor Tim Peartree and I checked out the 4.2-mile route, and we had a ball.
DEC calls the trail the Upper Hudson Ski Loop. At different points, the trail parallels the Goodnow River and the Hudson River. The department regards the trail as “intermediate” in difficulty, but advanced beginners should be able to handle it. Most of trail is easy, but there are a few hills that require more skill.
The trail goes through timberlands formerly owned by Finch, Pruyn & Company. In 2007, the Adirondack Nature Conservancy bought all of Finch, Pruyn’s land, some 161,000 acres, and later agreed to sell the state sixty-five thousand acres, including the Essex Chain, OK Slip Falls, and a stretch of the Hudson Gorge.
The Upper Hudson Ski Loop, which lies just north of the Essex Chain Primitive Area, was laid out and cleared by DEC with help from the Student Conservation Association. Since the route follows old logging roads and ATV trails, no trees needed to be cut. (Because the land is now part of the Forest Preserve, logging and ATVs are verboten.)
Tim and I got to the trailhead about noon. We left our cars in a small parking area along Goodnow Flow Road in Newcomb, just before the bridge over the Goodnow River, the flow’s outlet. From the parking area, the trail parallels the road for a few hundred feet and then turns left onto a former logging road.
When we arrived at the register, we encountered Corrie O’Dea, a DEC forester who worked on the trail. She told us that the local ranger had recently cleared the route of blowdown. When I mentioned that we planned to ski the loop clockwise, she said DEC recommends people travel counterclockwise. It’s supposed to be easier that way.
Tim and I were among the first outsiders to sign the register. DEC had opened the trail to the public just a few weeks earlier. Only ten parties skied it before us, and except for one person from Schroon Lake, all were Newcomb residents or DEC personnel.
For a half-mile beyond the register, the trail is flat. We were on a ridge about a hundred feet above the Goodnow River. Although we could hear rushing water, we saw only occasional glimpses of the river through the trees.
At 0.65 miles from the parking area, we came to a split in the trail where a DEC sign directed us to bear right. This is the start of the loop proper. Judging by a topographical map, I thought the descents would be more fun going clockwise, but we decided to go the way most people presumably will go.
From the junction, we glided slightly downhill past a beaver meadow on the right, then ascended a bit to a height of land. From here, we dropped in two pitches nearly to the Goodnow River (the most difficult downhill in the loop, and it wasn’t that difficult). Again, we could see the Goodnow through the trees. As we skied along the flats, I kept hoping we’d come to a clear view of the river, but we never did. If you want to see the river up close, you’ll have to leave the trail.
At 2.1 miles, we saw the frozen Hudson River on our right. We skied through the brush and onto the ice. Although we saw open water upstream, where there was some current, the ice where we stood seemed solid. We skied along the shore, heading downstream for a quarter-mile to the mouth of the Goodnow, where we saw more open water. The views on the river were superb, but you must be careful not to stray onto thin ice. We stayed close to shore at all times and tested the ice frequently by jabbing it with our ski poles.
Once back on the trail, we enjoyed a number of small ups and downs, with frequent views of the Hudson filtered through the trees. This is one of the most scenic stretches. At 2.75 miles, just before the trail pulled away from the river, we got off the loop again to bushwhack a short distance to the river, this time to take in a vista of a frozen slough.
Returning to the trail, we climbed 0.15 miles to a logging road. The sign directed us to turn left, but we chose to go right and enjoy a short descent in unbroken snow to a creek. We crossed the creek on an old bridge, but the road on the other side was overgrown, so we turned back.
We climbed back to the junction and continued climbing easily to a pull-off on left with perhaps the trail’s best view of the surrounding terrain. Through the hardwoods we could see the Hudson below us and a number of peaks on the other side of the river, including Polaris Mountain and 3,385-foot Vanderwhacker Mountain. In summer, I imagine, most of the view would be obscured by leaves.
A quarter-mile past the pull-off, the trail started to level. We skied on the flats for a half-mile (excepting a short downhill) to a junction with another old logging road. I had noticed this one on the topo map, and it looked like an interesting diversion. The map showed it rising 620 feet over a mile or so to a saddle between two hills. If skiable, it promised an exciting descent, comparable to the best hills on the Jackrabbit Trail, which runs from Saranac Lake to Keene.
And so Tim and I left the loop one last time, turning right onto the logging road. At first, we ascended ever so gradually until reaching a clearing after 0.4 miles. Here the road bent left and began a steeper climb. The route also became overgrown. As we ascended, we had to climb over, duck under, or go around several fallen trees. About three-quarters of a mile from the loop, we decided to turn back, in part because we were running out of daylight.
Because of the fallen trees and brush, the side trip cannot be recommended. If the route were cleared, however, it’d be a nice descent. I later determined, using GPS data, that we had climbed less than half of the way to the saddle, ascending roughly 250 feet.
After Tim and I returned from our detour, we enjoyed a short, mellow descent back to the start of the loop and then followed our tracks back to the parking area. “I liked the variety, the ups and downs, the scenery. It’s a terrific trail,” Tim said after our trip.
Tony Goodwin, author of Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks, likes the trail enough that he likely will include it in the next edition of his guidebook. “This new loop is very pleasant, easy skiing,” he wrote me in an email. “Unfortunately, for most potential users it is a long drive compared to the actual amount of skiing available.”
Goodwin said he would suggest that people combine it with a snowshoe or ski up nearby Goodnow Mountain.
DEC might add to the appeal of the loop itself by opening the secondary logging road to skiing. I imagine it would be fairly easy to extend the downhill trail all the way to the Hudson, making use of other logging and skid roads in the area. This would entail a drop of eight hundred feet over 1.25 miles. From the river, skiers could return via the ski loop (in either direction). Such an exciting descent no doubt would attract more backcountry skiers to Newcomb. The combination of scenic loop and thrilling downhill would be hard to beat.
DIRECTIONS: From the entrance to the Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb, drive east on NY 28N for 0.8 miles to Pine Tree Road on the right. Turn here and then make an immediate right onto Goodnow Flow Road. Go 5.5 miles to a junction, bearing left to stay on Goodnow Flow Road. Continue roughly a mile to a parking area on the left, just before the bridge over the Goodnow River.