An often-passed, yet seldom-used short hike
By Tim Rowland
There is Panther Mountain of High Peaks fame, then there is the “other” Panther Mountain, a popular scoot in Arietta overlooking Piseco Lake. This is about the “other other” Panther Mountain, smack on the main drag between Tupper and Saranac Lake.
It also has a reputation, I think, as a “One of These Days” hike, in that even casual travelers in the ADK have doubtlessly noted the trailhead as they zoom along at 70 mph in a 55 zone and made a mental note to stop and check it out one of these days when they don’t have something better to do.
A third moniker, particularly in the high season, may be that of the “Ampersand Bailout” mountain, viz, if you’ve decided to climb uber-popular Ampersand but when you get there you discover the lot to be full, and cars parked along the road for 17 miles on either side of it, lonely little Panther is just down the road. If dealing with excess humanity is not your bag, Panther seldom has more than a car or two in the lot, if any at all.
It’s reached by traveling 13.1 miles on Route 3 toward Tupper Lake, from the intersection of Route 3 and Route 86 in Saranac Lake. The parking area is on the left, perched above pretty little Panther Pond, a good spot to cool off if the hike has been hot. The trailhead is on the other side of the road, and marked with a DEC sign.
Climbing through roots and rocks in an open, hemlock and yellow birch forest, the summit is just a hop, trip and a jump from the parking area. The official distance is 0.6 miles, but if you’re up for a longer hike you can shop around the online trail guides, where at least one description lists the summit as being a full mile distant. It pays to negotiate.
The elevation gain is also shrouded in mystery. The climb is typically listed at 720 feet, but my own gizmo clocked it at 488. The lower number “feels” more accurate to me, but of course to a chiseled, highly trained athlete such as myself, the additional elevation may not have registered.
My gizmo also put the summit at just a tick under half a mile from the parking lot, but all this is rather irrelevant — the hike, while steep, is short and manageable for most hikers, and takes only half an hour of actual walking time.
You’ll want to linger on the summit, however, to enjoy views to the south toward the Raquette River valley with high mountains rising beyond. To the west you can make out the causeway at Tupper Lake and the glint of flat waters peeking out here and there from around the hills.
Panther may not be one you plan your whole day around, but if you’re new to hiking and want an Adirondack Starter Kit, or if you want a quick workout and a condensed little reminder of everything about the Adirondacks we’ve come to love, this is a fun little jaunt. And if you’re traveling in the heart of the park, Panther always seems to be on the way.
- Distance r/t: 1.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 488 feet
- Elevation: 2,246 feet
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