Worth the drive, bike and hike to get there
By Tom French
Drive, bike, then hike – at least that was the plan when Doug and I decided to check out Little Blue Mountain, an 1,840-foot peak in central St. Lawrence County well known on the snowmobile circuit because of the trail to the top. At least one snowmobile trail map even includes inset pictures promoting the view.
I first became aware of this remote summit while exploring the Dean Road along the Middle Branch of the Grasse River. I noticed a “recreational” trail to the top on one of my maps and a potential loop with remnants of the North Tram railbed – foolproof for my kind of biking, you would think.
Doug and I met at Lampson Falls, two miles north of the Dean Road and collected our gear into one car. The Dean Road is paved for the first mile and well maintained by the town of Clare for the next 4 miles – making a perfect, scenic drive for those looking to explore wild areas from the comfort of a car. The road parallels the Grasse including a half-mile stretch where the narrow, rocky river (which does not look easily navigable) is just beyond the shoulder of the road. A long, cable suspension bridge over the river can be seen at the Stillwater Club.
The lands around the road and mountain are part of the Grasse River Conservation Easement with year-round access along the Dean Road for 8 miles from county Route 27 (Fine-Canton-Lisbon Road on many maps) to the Stone Dam Wild Forest. The town only maintains the road to the Rainbow Rod and Gun Club, so further travel may be limited due to conditions on the ground.
After passing the parking for Stone Dam, the road enters a shaded area above the Grasse and joins the North Tram route off and on for the next three miles before the railbed veers to the left. The St. Lawrence County Multi-Use Trail enters from the right at 11.4 miles. It shares the road to Pleasant Lake.
After 12.5 miles and almost an hour, we arrived at a large, open four corners known as “Troopers Shed” where we would begin our loop. I was told the police used to maintain a box, like a trail register, at the site where they would write notes in a ledger. The North Tram arrived from the south. Much of the railbed is now a snowmobile trail with recreational access via various easements.
Built by the Emporium Forestry Company from Cranberry Lake beginning in 1919, the logging railroad had almost a hundred miles of rail (Kudish) with all its spurs. It ceased operation in 1941 and the rails were removed shortly after. To the south, it meets the Windfall Road in seven miles. We would be following its mainline for another two miles north. After spinning through the soft sand at the intersection, the old railbed becomes hard pack as it gently inclines for .8 miles to Pleasant Lake with its accessible boat launch. This is also the limit for cars.
Pleasant Lake is part of a “River Corridor.” Signs indicate that public use (other than hunting) is allowed within 200 feet from Dec. 16 to Sept. 30. An exception in the easement provides access to Little Blue Mountain from the lake through Oct. 10.
I’d seen the lake before, but Doug was taken aback by its size, pristine condition, and potential fishing opportunity. A small rowboat (with oars and oarlocks) was upside-down near the shore. When Doug realized his fishing pole was in the car, he was determined to return when we finished our bike and hike. Alas, it was not to be.
Knowing our destination was along a snowmobile route, I’d brought a SLC Snowmobile Map. Route 8 wraps along Pleasant Lake then north to The Packard Club and Junction 52 in about a mile. The St. Lawrence County Snowmobile Trail Network is well-marked with multiple directional signs, route numbers, and junction numbers at every intersection. If you see a path or woods road without a sign, ignore it.
The North Tram went west past a closed gate – a recreational trail per the easement agreement that reconnects with the Dean Road south of the Stone Dam Parcel as mentioned above. We continued right, down 120 feet in a half mile over a rocky slope to Blue Mountain Stream, a tributary of the Grasse River. It was jarring and be careful of the raspberry thorns that arch into the road at arm height.
Michael Kudish’s “Where did the Tracks Go” suggests a three-branch spur off the North Tram along Blue Mountain Stream. LIDAR imagery shows it did not follow the road, but did pass nearby as it wound its way toward Little Blue Mountain.
Within eyesight of the stream, our path turned right at Snowmobile Junction 53. The SLC Multi-Use trail veers left and heads north for another ten-plus miles to Cold Brook Drive, near Higley Flow State Park, in South Colton.
Unfortunately, this is where our adventure went sideways. At a particularly steep section, Doug overpowered his gears and his derailleur was eaten by his spokes. Fixing it proved futile. We decided to ditch the bikes in the grass and hike.
We passed a couple trails where Doug was tempted to venture, including a path that looked like it went straight up a mountain (Hardwood Ridge), but I assured him our intersection would be well-marked. Twenty minutes later we were at Junction 54. We turned left. The road dipped down over an unnamed stream where gushing water from a culvert appeared to be boiling from a spring, though it could have been a weird hydraulic feature.
If we’d had the bikes, this is where we would have ditched them. The gravelly road (Route 7A on the snowmobile map) climbs steeply to the top of a hill where a rutted and muddy path, clearly chewed up by ATVs and dirt bikes, enters the woods to the right. Public ATV use is only allowed on the SLC Multi-Use Trail (when open). We saw several laminated signs at various locations reminding people of this fact and suggesting consequences if “public ATV-use continues to occur in areas other than on the… Multi-Use Trail.”
Though not marked, the trail to the top of Little Blue continues steeply for a half mile where Explorers will be rewarded with the best view in St. Lawrence County.
Four turkey vultures soared in thermals above Little Blue Pond. Mount Matumbla, the highest point in St. Lawrence County, was the first peak to catch my eye, but then I spotted Whiteface & Ester, the Sewards, Santanonis, Blue Mountain, and maybe even the top of Marcy – a gray shadow on the horizon. After hopping down to a ledge, we spied Debar to complete the 270-degree view. Not a sign of humanity in sight. No buildings, power lines, or even roads to be seen even though we knew Routes 56 and 3 were right there beneath the trees. It was stunning.
After enjoying our lunch, we walked back to the bikes and enjoyed a multitude of fall wild flowers that we probably would have missed had we been pedaling. Indeed, Little Blue Mountain would be an easy 3.5-mile hike from the Pleasant Lake Parking area.
I returned a week later to complete the loop. From Junction 54 back to the Troopers Shed, the road is much rougher and includes a significant climb over a shoulder of Potter Mountain. Erosion on downhill sections has exposed large rocks. Sand bogged down my mountain bike tires at least once and I fishtailed several times. I can say I did it, but next time I’ll stick to the easier western approach.