Deer Brook Falls in Keene worth a visit following summer rain
By Tim Rowland
This is the year of the reverse summer. In May, the dry weather turned lawns to a crispy shade of brown that crunched underfoot like corn flakes. Then in August, the infamous Adirondack mud season kicked in, turning trails to chocolate soup. Weird. It’s almost as if the climate were changing.
This leaves hikers with two choices. You can search our drier trails, but even the dependably firm trails in lower elevation to the east have been pounded by storm after storm, making them no sure bet.
The other option is to embrace the damp, by foraging for mushrooms or visiting the natural feature that most benefits from heavy rains: waterfalls.
And while one waterfall is nice and certainly worth the trip, what of the whole route was essentially one waterfall after another? Deer Falls in Keene Valley is a mile-long hike in which the trail is the waterfall — or the waterfall is the trail.
Of course many hardened Adirondackers who can rack five cords of firewood by day or calmly face down a family of bears by night will wilt into a sniveling mess at the thought of visiting Keene Valley in August. But Deer Brook Trail is a largely overlooked route along Route 73, which is home to the layer-wearing, 10-essential carrying big game hunters in search of high mountains and grand views.
Even those looking for milder fare are not apt to be found, because this trail is steep and challenging; it’s not the one to do the week after you’ve had a hip replaced.
Those who feel as if they’ve wasted a day in the mountains unless they can find a summit where they can see from here to Ohio can continue on to Snow Mountain from Deer Falls, a middling peak usually accessed from the Rooster Comb trailhead.
Coming from Lake Placid, the trailhead for Deer Brook Falls is on the right, just shy of two miles from the center of Keene Valley. Not having graduated with a degree in advanced chaos theory from MIT, I’m afraid I am powerless to interpret the state’s instructions about parking here, but it seems the safest bet is to pass the trailhead (which you will probably do by accident anyway, since the sign is not obvious), turn around and park on the right side of the road at the trailhead to Mossy Cascade. If there are multiple cars here, never fear, they are most likely headed in the opposite direction to Hopkins Mountain.
Cross the road and continue walking north. You will see a dirt road rising steeply into the forest, and then come to the Deer Brook Trail. For those who have indeed had a hip replaced, this road (hikers, but not cars, are allowed) will take you almost to the foot of Deer Brook Falls at the top of the gorge. But you will miss the serious drama of ascending by way of the brook itself, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your stomach for adventure.
Almost immediately on the trail, hikers begin to encounter one falls after another in an enchanted envelope of boulders, ledges and shimmering green mosses and ferns. Shafts of sunlight helpfully spotlight interesting little vegetative vignettes along the way, as old evergreens tower overhead.
By the numbers, Deer Brook Falls itself is 80 feet high, but the stream drops another 500 feet in less than a mile, so it’s mostly a nonstop staircase of cascades.
The trail is marked in an absent-minded kind of way as it flits back and forth across the stream. It is both easy and hard to lose the official trail, since the exact route is sketchy, but even if you lose it, as long as you remain streamside, you and the trail will meet up again at some point.
There are spots where it requires some steep scrambling, and pops up and around a couple impassable sections of the gorge. The aforementioned road is always on your left, though out of sight until you ascend to the upper reaches of the brook, one mile into the hike.
Here, the road crosses the stream, with Deer Brook Falls just ahead.
The road is deemed the “high water” route, but even after a number of pretty good rains, Deer Brook was no rushing torrent — reflective of a small watershed. It might be hard to avoid stepping in water at some point that would swamp a low top shoe, but to hit the low-water route at a time it is truly impassable would take some impeccable timing, it seems to me.
The main falls represent a good spot to sit a spell if that’s your main objective, or to take a bit of a break if you are heading on to Snow.
Descending by way of the road is not a bad idea, not just because it is safer and drier, but because on the way down there is a nice little window onto Giant Nubble and Noonmark Mountain. You won’t want to linger of course, because by this time, the way the summer is going, it will probably be raining again.