Fulton County is long on short hikes
By Alan Wechsler
While office cleaning, I found a pamphlet picked up years before: “Route 29A Hiking Guide.” Published by the state marketing folks behind the I Love NY campaign, it listed a dozen hikes accessible from an unassuming road in northern Fulton County.
I had only been to this area a few times. This after hundreds of trips to the more well-known mountains of the High Peaks, central Adirondacks and Lake George region.
Compared to those destinations, northern Fulton County is something of an outdoors newcomer. Author Barbara McMartin, in her 1974 guidebook “Walks and Waterways,” described the area as some of the wildest and least-known lands in the Adirondacks. At the time of that printing, there were few marked trails, and her hikes mainly followed old logging roads or snowmobile routes.
Today, trails are well-marked, as the 29A pamphlet indicated. The attached map showed a variety of hikes in proximity, most of them only a mile or two. Clearly this region, just a few miles over the Blue Line, deserved more attention. So earlier this summer, my girlfriend Beth Koessler and I spent a day exploring.
Our first stop, Kane Mountain, offers a 2,200-foot-high peak with a fire tower. It can be accessed by a .9-mile trail, but we elected to follow a longer loop route, bringing the total to just over two miles. The trailhead is located on scenic Green Lake Road, which offers a nearly unobscured view of the lake as you drive past (note that Google Maps sent us to a long-closed trail to Kane from nearby Schoolhouse Lane. Don’t listen to it.).
We were greeted by a man wearing a “Volunteer Steward” T-shirt and matching cap. It was Marcus Harazin, a Delmar resident who owns a camp near the peak. He’s with the nationwide organization Forest Fire Lookout Association and spends time on the summit in warmer weather to help educate visitors and prevent vandalism.
“I grew up in Johnstown and my wife grew up in Broadalbin,” he said, referring to two towns near Kane. “When I was young, only local people came here. Today, it’s no secret.”
Indeed, the sign-in sheet held a smattering of far-flung destinations amid the locals from Little Falls, Fort Plain and Dolgeville: Wichita, Kansas. Portland, Oregon. St. Catharine, Ontario. Harazin says he’s run into people from Germany and England. Many visitors drive by on the Thruway, find the hike on their phones, and take the half-hour detour on a whim, he said.
He handed me a pamphlet for the Fulton County Five Hiking Challenge, with five short hikes on the 29A circuit. Similar to the Saranac Lake Six or the Fire Tower Challenge, if you complete them all, you get a patch. We ended up getting four in one day.
Our longer trail up to Kane came with steep sections that Beth thought would be easier to ascend than descend. The trail takes an abrupt left turn part way through. With arrows mounted onto a tree, 10 feet up, it would be easy to miss and keep walking on an old road.
The steep ascent was not too taxing. Before we knew it, we were on top. The trail threaded through a pair of cottage-sized boulders and led to the tower.
Built in 1925 and last staffed in 1988, the 60-foot tower is one of two dozen remaining around the Adirondacks. For 23 years, volunteers have kept the structure in good repair, making it safe and accessible. More recently, the tower drew the attention of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which installed an array of solar panels, batteries and a radio repeater.
The tower provides a fine view of Canada Lake and Caroga Lake, with the mountains of the central Adirondacks in the distance. On a clear day, the massive wind turbines of Central New York are visible on the western horizon.
We had the mountain to ourselves, but that didn’t last. First a couple, and then a family of four showed up. It was a good reason to keep moving, since we had more hikes to explore.
The recently enlarged parking lot for Kane is trailhead for two paths. The second is a two-mile (one way) out-and-back to Stewart and Indian lakes. Heading east, the trail rises steadily before passing Stewart in the distance at about 1.2 miles. I didn’t see any way to get to the shoreline, so it’s not much of a destination.
Beth elected to turn back here, while I kept going. Indian Lake (not to be confused with the popular lake and town by that name farther north) proved scenic enough, with a couple of spots for camping. However, it would make a lousy swimming spot, with a mucky shore. It’s probably more fun in winter; the route is also designated a cross-country ski trail.
As I walked the muddy shoreline, a frog skipped across the water and disappeared. It was, if nothing else, a peaceful place.
Nine Corner Lake
Our next stop was Nine Corner Lake. We could tell it was popular by the size of the pull-outs, big enough to accommodate dozens of cars.
The hike follows a .9-mile trail used by snowmobiles. It’s a steady but easy climb of about 300 feet. About halfway up, a stream bubbled from a small ravine.
The lake is a popular swimming spot, judging by the rope swing hanging from one tree. Its cliffy shore and deep water looked like it would be appealing on a warm day. On this June afternoon—cool enough to keep the black flies at bay—there was no one in the water, and just one couple sitting side-by-side, enjoying the scenery.
Nine Corner is also home to the best bouldering in the Adirondacks. A short walk from the trail across the lake outflow leads to an amazing array of boulders, up to 30 feet high, which are popular with climbers. I noticed a set of bouldering pads leaning against a tree, likely left by climbers who were gone for the day but planned to come back. It’s worth a walk around these behemoths any time of day, but certainly more exciting when you can watch climbers push themselves on these chalk-covered vertical routes.
Willie Wildlife Marsh
It was clear we wouldn’t have time for Chase Lake, with its water-side lean-to, or the views at Irving Pond or Broomstick Lake. But we did manage one more stop: the boardwalks of Willie Wildlife Marsh.
Located in the Peck Hill State Forest, this network of boardwalks and trails had been allowed to decay for years. But beginning in 2016, the state funded the replacement of three aging boardwalks and the installation of a half-mile wheelchair-accessible trail. The work was recognized by American Trails, which gave the project its 2019 Trail Accessibility Award.
An hour before sunset, we had the place almost to ourselves. We lingered for a while on the boardwalks, enjoying the late-afternoon stillness and the sounds of croaking bullfrogs. It would have been nice to stay until sunset, but after such a long day we had one more important destination: dinner.