The conservation easement offers several great outings to escape the crowds
By Phil Brown
Although New York State has yet to build most of the trails and parking areas promised in its recreational plan for the Sable Highlands, hikers, mountain bikers and paddlers still can find plenty to do on the easement lands.
For hikers, the big prize is the 2,870-foot summit of Norton Peak, which boasts great views. The Department of Environmental Conservation intends to build a trail that will go over Norton and continue to Haystack Mountain (the one by that name in the Sable Highlands) and Wolf Pond Mountain. For now, though, hikers must content themselves with a bushwhack up Norton.
Norton lies within the Cold Brook Public Use Area—a designation that, under the terms of the easement, allows liberal public access. Haystack and Wolf Pond Mountain lie outside the public use area. Hikers cannot continue to these peaks until a trail is built. DEC doesn’t know when that will be.
I hiked Norton twice this year, starting each time at a parking area off Standish Road. Because the summit lies due west, you could set your compass bearing accordingly. I found a faint path on an overgrown logging road at the end of the parking area and followed it for about 0.6 miles. I then cut into the woods, bushwhacked up the south slope to the ridge and followed the ridge to the top. I ascended about 1,000 feet over 2.2 miles.
I emerged onto rocky ledges with wide-open views to the south, a vista that included Whiteface Mountain and, farther away, numerous other High Peaks. After hunting around, I discovered ledges on the west side of the summit that offered a grand view of the Sable Highlands, including the tantalizing ridge leading to nearby Haystack.
In the two months between my hikes, only four parties—all local—had signed the Cold Brook register. Three of them listed Norton as their destination. If a trail is built, Norton undoubtedly will attract more visitors, especially as it would be one of the few trails outside the High Peaks offering hikers an opportunity to bag multiple summits.
To reach the Cold Brook parking area, drive north on Standish Road from State Route 3 in Clayburg. You’ll see the parking area on the left after 6 miles.
Following are some other suggestions for outings in the Sable Highlands.
Sugarloaf Mountain bike or hike
You can reach the 2,313-foot summit of Sugarloaf Mountain by an
easy bushwhack after mountain-biking up a logging road east of the hamlet of Owls Head. The road curves around the southern flank
of Sugarloaf before ending in a clearing. In 3.5 miles, you gain about 400 feet in elevation. From the clearing, the summit lies to the south only 0.75 miles away and 300 feet up. When I did the trip in late May, I followed a bearing of 200 degrees. Although the summit is wooded, I could discern several peaks through the trees, among them Ragged Lake Mountain, West Mountain and Loon Lake Mountain. I also could see pieces of Mountain View Lake and Indian Lake. In “Adirondack Canoe Waters: North Flow,” Paul Jamieson describes an outcrop just below the summit on the west slope that offers “fine views of the valley of the Salmon, the two lakes, and the encircling peaks.” Alas, I was unable to find it. Perhaps you’ll be luckier. The bushwhack back to my bike took only 30 minutes. The ride back, mostly downhill, was a blast.
Directions: From the junction of County 27 and Ragged Lake Road in Owls Head, drive east on Ragged Lake Road for 2.4 miles to a dirt road (no sign). Turn right and drive 1.0 mile to a sandy clearing on the left. Look for the logging road at the edge of the clearing.
Piney Ridge Road bike
This well-maintained logging road cuts through the heart of the easement lands and boasts some great scenery that can be enjoyed on a mountain bike. From the parking area, head down the dirt road to a clearing at almost three miles that affords views of Sugarloaf, West and Ragged Lake mountains to the northwest. In another half-mile or so, you pass an alder swamp on the left with spectacular views of Norton Peak and other mountains to the southeast. At 4 miles, you come to Middle Kilns, a four-way intersection of dirt roads with more great views of nearby mountains. Either turn around here or continue straight another 3 miles to the Salmon River. Be aware that much of the return trip from Middle Kilns is uphill.
Directions: From its junction with NY 3 in Clayburg, drive on Standish Road for 7.8 miles to the Piney Ridge Road parking area on the left.
Grass Pond paddle
DEC built a wheelchair-friendly boardwalk from County 26 to the south end of Grass Pond. The water level has been raised by a beaver dam that extends the width of the pond. After doing a mile-long circuit, you can pull over the dam and paddle a shallow channel to Fishhole Pond. There is a short carry over an old railroad bed that is now a power-line corridor. If you do a circuit of Fishhole as well, you can get in about four miles of paddling. Despite the proximity of the road and utility lines, both ponds and the channel reward paddlers with wild vistas of forest and mountains—including Loon Lake Mountain, Baldface Mountain, Lookout Mountain and Catamount. On my outing, I saw a red-winged blackbird nesting in a dead tree, a deer drinking from the shore, a spotted sandpiper basking on a rock islet and a pair of Canada geese taking off from a marsh.
Directions: From its junction with NY 3, drive down County 26 for 7.2 miles to a parking area on the right.
Barnes Pond bike
The Barnes Pond Public Use Area features a dirt road that’s superb for mountain biking, though it doesn’t lead to the pond. From the parking area, the road begins a long, gradual climb and soon passes the first of several handicapped-accessible campsites. It’s worth stopping at the second campsite (at 0.8 miles) to take in the view of Averill Peak and other mountains. At about 1.5 miles, the road descends to a beaver dam. In April, the road was flooded, but the water was only a few inches deep. After some short uphills, the dirt road comes to an end at 4.0 miles. I continued riding a short distance on a grassy road that led to two parallel beaver dams. You may find other roads to explore.
Directions: From its junction with NY 3 in Clayburg, drive on Standish Road for 4.4 miles to True Brook Road. Turn right and go 3.0 miles to the parking area on the right.
North Branch of Saranac hike
In the mood for a short outing? From a parking area off Goldsmith Road, you can walk on an old woods road to a handicapped-accessible campsite and fishing platform on the North Branch of the Saranac River. The soothing sound of rushing water adds to the serenity of the wild scene. The hike takes only 15 or 20 minutes. (Disabled people with a permit are allowed to use all-terrain vehicles to reach the river.) DEC also planned to create a foot trail along the riverbank. If this is done, people will be able to hike in a loop.
Directions: From its junction with NY 3, drive down Goldsmith Road for 1.6 miles to the parking area on the right.