By Phil Brown
Winter is a good time to enjoy the Vista Trail: With leaves off the trees, you’ll be able to see more of Fourth Lake and the surrounding hills.
There are several variations of this snowshoe trip, since the Vista Trail has three entry points and connects with another trail that goes to Bubb, Sis and Moss lakes.
If you have two cars, you may want to leave one at Moss Lake and do a 9-mile hike that includes a two-mile round-trip up Bald Mountain, an open summit with sweeping views. We’ll describe this route and suggest alternatives later.
Starting from a parking lot off Rondaxe Road, the trail up Bald ascends 400 feet. In places, the route is steep enough to challenge novice snowshoers. The 2,350-foot summit offers great views of the region’s lakes and hills, but for an even better panorama, climb the fire tower. On a clear day, Mount Marcy and other High Peaks are visible.
After returning to the lot, cross the road to get on the Vista Trail. In a few minutes, you’ll come to a short side trail that leads to little Fly Pond. Continuing on the main trail, you’ll reach the western shore of Cary Lake at 0.4 mile. Passing some handsome hemlocks, you’ll soon come to a dirt road that once served as the route of the Raquette Lake Railway. Turn right and walk along the road for 160 yards. Re-enter the woods on the left, just past a small wetland.
The trail begins to ascend Cork Mountain (the peak so prominent on your left as you walked down the road). At 1.3 miles you reach a short side trail that leads to a lookout near the summit. There are good views to the northwest of unbroken forest. Below, you can see Mountain Pond, your next destination.
It takes only 10 minutes to descend to the pond. The trail skirts the southern shore and then reaches a junction at 1.7 miles. The way right leads to a different part of the old railroad bed, accessible from NY 28. Those who want to avoid Cork Mountain can begin their hike there. (Since the rail right-of-way is not plowed in winter, however, you’d have to park along NY 28 and walk to the Mountain Pond trailhead.)
Turning left, the Vista Trail ascends Onondaga Mountain. Once on the ridge, you’ll go up and down several knobs over the next two miles. At a few small clearings, you’ll have a decent view of Fourth Lake, but most of the time you’ll have to be content with seeing the lake and the horizon through the trees.
Perhaps the finest view comes just before you begin the descent off the mountain. Look for a side trail on the left that leads to an open ledge from where you can see Bubb and Moss lakes and the forested hills of the Pigeon Lake Wilderness.
At 4.2 miles, the Vista Trail ends at the Bubb Lake Trail. Turn left if you parked your second car at Moss Lake. Those who want a shorter hike can park at the start of the Bubb Lake Trail on NY 28. If you did this, turn right to reach the highway in 0.2 mile.
Those turning left will reach Bubb Lake in 0.3 mile and Sis Lake in 0.7 mile. After 2 miles, you’ll arrive at the Moss Lake Circuit Trail, a former bridle path that circles the lake. If you turn right, it’s another 0.7 mile to your car. Turn left and it’s 1.8 miles.
The gentle Bubb Lake and Moss Lake Circuit trails are ideal for novice cross-country skiers. In fact, they are included in Tony Goodwin’s Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks (see Page 6). So here’s another possibility: Starting at Moss Lake, ski to the start of the Vista Trail, don snowshoes to climb to the lookout over the lake, go back to your boards and ski back to your car. If If you do the whole Moss Lake circuit, you’ll ski a total of 6.5 miles. The climb to the lookout is about 0.4 mile.
Bald Mountain trailhead
From the tourist center in Old Forge, drive 4.6 miles east on NY 28 to Rondaxe Road on the left. There is a parking about 0.1 mile down the road on the left. If driving from the east, Rondaxe Road is 4.7 miles past Big Moose Road in the hamlet of Eagle Bay.
Bubb Lake trailhead
From Old Forge tourist center, drive 7.8 miles east on NY 28. Look for a trail sign on left. You will have to park along highway. If coming from east, the trailhead is 1.5 miles past Big Moose Road in Eagle Bay.
Moss Lake trailhead
From Eagle Bay, drive 2.1 miles down Big Moose Road to a parking lot on the left.