With snowshoes, you can go just about anywhere in the Adirondack Park. But with more than two thousand miles of trails, where do you start? Below are suggestions from four gung-ho Adirondack snowshoers.
DEBAR MOUNTAIN – By Tony Goodwin
Although only 3,300 feet in elevation, Debar Mountain rises prominently from the flatter terrain to the north and west—the direction from which it is approached. Summertime views are unique but limited pretty much to Meacham Lake and the lower mountains to the west plus the expansive sweep of the St. Lawrence Valley to the north. A winter ascent, however, offers the possibility of views to the south and east, especially at the end of a good snow year when one stands five or six feet higher on the consolidated snow.
Debar is not snowshoed all that frequently, so you may be breaking trail for the final 2.6 miles from the junction of the summit trail and the snowmobile trail you have followed to that point. Total round-trip distance is nine or ten miles depending on whether Meacham Lake Road is plowed to the lake for ice-fishing access. To ease the trail breaking, the best time for an ascent would be in late February or March after a thaw has consolidated the base. There is also the possibility of skiing as far as the lean-to, which sits 0.8 miles short of the summit.
The start is at the north end of Meacham Lake Road on State Route 30. If the road is plowed, proceed for a half-mile to the parking area at the north end of Meacham Lake. If not, the shoulder on Route 30 is wide enough for easy parking. In any event, there likely will be snowmobile tracks leading into the campground. The snowmobile trail, which runs from the highway to the Debar Game Management Area, receives heavy use, especially on weekends.
Snowshoers should stick to the side to allow passage to the riders.
Nearly a mile from Route 30, you reach the campground’s entrance station. One tenth of a mile beyond, a sign points left to the Debar Mountain trailhead. You can save a few steps by angling away from the road at the entrance station and cross a field to join the road to the trailhead as it enters the woods. It is mostly flat to the summer trailhead, located 1.6 miles from Route 30. A gate and trail register are just beyond. The sign here says it is 4.5 miles to the summit, but it actually is only 3.5 miles.
The trail, really a road, continues mostly flat and is sporadically marked with red markers. The trail alternately traverses thick spruce swamps and mature open hardwoods before reaching the junction with the Debar Mountain Trail at 0.9 miles from the summer trailhead. Any snowmobile tracks go right toward the game-management area. Bear left (still with sporadic red markers) and continue on the flat for another 0.3 miles before starting an intermittent climb, becoming steady a half-mile from the junction.
Through the trees, the profile of the ridges of Debar and Black Peak are visible, and you can finally see that all of the flat terrain traversed so far is actually leading to a mountain. The steady climbing eases at 0.9 miles as the trail crests a shoulder of Black Peak. After a flatter section, the trail again steepens (this may be where some who have chosen skis will change to snowshoes) and reaches the lean-to at 1.8 miles from the junction. If you have traveled by skis this far, this is the place to switch to snowshoes as the final 0.8 miles is quite steep.
If the snow is well consolidated, snowshoe creepers will provide the traction required to ascend most of this steep section. In softer snow, you may have to resort to the age-old and fatiguing technique of kicking steps on a few of the steeper pitches. Fortunately, this steep section is soon over as you sense the approach of the summit rocks. As noted, there are good views to the west and north. Azure Mountain with its fire tower is the most identifiable landmark to the west. Further exploration and bushwhacking around the summit block will likely yield views to the east and south.
The descent to the lean-to should be quick with lots of opportunities for butt sliding on the steepest pitches. The more skilled may even be able to glissade some of the pitches while staying upright. Then it is the joy of easy hiking in the broken track you worked so hard to create on the way up.
Directions: From the junction of NY 86 and NY 30 in Paul Smiths, drive north on NY 30 for 12 miles to the north end of Meacham Lake Road on the right. The turn is 2.9 miles north of the junction with NY 458. If coming from the north, the turn will be on the left, 5.7 miles south of the junction with County 26.
FIFTH PEAK – by Carl Heilman II
Tongue Mountain overlooking Lake George offers many scenic vistas, and one of the best is from Fifth Peak, whose lean-to is an excellent snowshoe destination.
It’s an excursion of moderate difficulty. The round trip totals 5.2 miles, with an elevation change of roughly 1,300 feet.
At the start, the trail descends through a stand of pines and then crosses a bridge next to a beaver dam. It reaches a junction at 0.4 miles. Bear left here (right leads to Montcalm Point) to begin the climb to the Tongue ridgeline. At
1.3 miles, the trail starts switchbacking up a steep slope.
The forest is dominated by beech, maple, oak, and other hardwoods, but you’ll also pass impressive specimens of pine and hemlock. After two miles, you come to a four-way junction on the ridge. Turn right and continue climbing until reaching a short spur on the left that leads to the Fifth Peak lean-to.
The site offers a 180-degree view. To the east, you look across the Lake George Narrows at the steep face of Black Mountain. To the south, you can see more of the Narrows and part of Northwest Bay as well as French Point Mountain, located farther down the Tongue. To the west are the foothills of the southern Adirondacks.
On the way back, you’ll find several sections of the trail are ideal for sliding on your butt.
Directions: From Northway Exit 24, drive east for about five miles to NY 9N in Bolton Landing. Turn left and go 4.7 miles to a parking area on the right. After parking, walk about 100 feet back down the road to the trailhead.
HOPKINS MOUNTAIN – by Carol Stone White
For a sensory experience that’s hard to beat, try snowshoeing Hopkins Mountain in the Giant Mountain Wilderness via the Mossy Cascade Trail.
From State Route 73, it’s a 3.2-mile hike to the 3,183-foot summit, with about 2,120 feet of ascent.
Along much of the route, you’ll see magnificent white pines and large hemlock stands that are especially lovely when adorned with snow. At the start, the trail parallels the East Branch of the Ausable and then climbs above gorgeous Mossy Cascade Brook. This section can be icy, so you need good crampons on your snowshoes. Look for a series of attractive waterfalls where the brook spills through narrow rock walls.
As you ascend, you’ll pass through a hemlock forest. The grades are mostly moderate, with a few fairly steep sections.
At 1.1 miles, the trail crosses into public Forest Preserve. In another 0.4 miles, it comes to a ledge with views of the Great Range and Mount Colvin—just a taste of the vista you’ll enjoy from Hopkins’s open summit.
You reach a junction with the Ranney Trail from Keene Valley at 2.3 miles. Parts of the trail above here are often wet. As you ascend between Hopkins and Green mountains, the landscape closes to form a ravine.
At the final junction at 3.0 miles, just 0.2 miles from the summit, is a big icefall.
Prepare for a steep but beautiful climb from the junction. As the grade moderates, you break out onto the summit.
A spectacular vista of the High Peaks spreads out before you over the valley, from the Dix Range in the south to Whiteface Mountain in the north. All told, you can see twenty-two of the forty-six High Peaks. It’s worth sticking around awhile. Go on a sunny, calm day and cook some soup on the summit.
Directions: The Mossy Cascade Trail begins on the east side of NY 73 just south of the steel-sided bridge over the East Branch of Ausable River. The bridge is about two miles south of the hamlet of Keene Valley and just north of the hamlet of St. Huberts.
JAKES POND – by Bill Ingersoll
Jakes Pond is an elongated waterbody cradled between ridges in the westernmost reaches of the Adirondack Park, near Croghan. This region of rivers, ponds, and intertwined wetlands is one of the Adirondacks’ most enigmatic wilderness areas—and winter is one of the best times of the year to visit. The width of this trail and its gentle grades makes it excellent for both snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
The first 1.6 miles are an easement through private land. Follow the red foot-trail markers from the parking lot to the West Branch of the Oswegatchie River. The trail leads to a footbridge at the foot of an old flow. About a hundred yards downstream there is a spectacular waterfall over twenty feet high. By keeping to the riverbank and avoiding the posted areas, you can reach the falls for a stunning view.
Beyond the bridge, the trail follows the south side of the river to another wooden bridge in the midst of a sprawling wetland at 1.2 miles. After a potentially wet crossing of Hogs Back Creek, the trail skirts the edge of a low, swampy forest of black spruce and reaches the Herkimer County line and the Forest Preserve boundary at 1.6 miles. The trail crosses several small openings in the woods that in summer are rock outcrops. At 2.2 miles you reach the intersection with Keck’s Trail, a yellow-marked trail that continues eastward along the West Oswegatchie.
The red-marked trail turns right, quickly reaching a third bridge over the West Branch. Once across this bridge, you are within the Pepperbox Wilderness. You pass several pine-fringed wetlands—some opening onto the river, and one where you may hear the outlet of Jakes Pond tumbling a few feet over a jumble of rocks on the far side. In between the wetlands are pleasant jaunts through open hardwood forests.
The trail cuts through another wetland at 3.3 miles where breached beaver dams hint at wetter days when the trail was completely flooded. Sooner or later, the beavers will return. Once past the stream the rest of the trip to Jakes Pond is a delightful walk uphill to the crest of an esker with terrific views, which you reach at 4 miles. The trail follows the esker to the southern end of the pond, and continues on for another 1.7 miles to a southern trailhead near Sand Pond.
Jakes Pond, shaped like an inverted seahorse, has a hilly shoreline edged by both conifers and hardwoods—traits shared by a number of ponds in the western Adirondacks and quite distinctive when compared to the more coniferous shorelines of higher terrain. Finding an open spot to stop for lunch will not be difficult.
Directions: Take Belfort Road from NY 812 at the north end of Croghan for 3.6 miles to the hamlet of Belfort and turn right onto Long Pond Road. It is 10.1 miles to the gate at the end of the road. Look for the trail to Jakes Pond on the right.