By Tim Rowland
Driving toward the Adirondacks from Plattsburgh on Interstate 87, Trembleau Mountain appears to the east as a giant batwing with multiple distinct nodes connected with taut ridgelines rising from the flat farmland to the north
As the first real mountain along Lake Champlain heading south, Trembleau has also been a magnet for airplane crashes, three at least, the most famous being a military helicopter that slammed into the northern flank of fog-shrouded Trembleau in 1978, killing its crew of seven.
Trembleau’s true summit is on private ground, but the good stuff is all public, courtesy of the Open Space Institute, which purchased the 616-acre tract in 2017 and subsequently sold the land to the state.
OSI partnered with the Lake Champlain Land Trust, which had spent several years working with landowners to explore conservation options and negotiate the sale. The two organizations then evaluated Trembleau for its ecological attributes and recreation potential before OSI subsequently sold the land to the state.
Of all the Lake Peaks that stud the Adirondack Coast — Cheney, Coon, Coot, Split Rock, the Boquets and Rattlesnake, Trembleau has the best views, including a rare vista to the north, looking up the lake to St. Albans and beyond. It’s really a spectacular ridge with multiple vistas that’s currently a bushwhack, but well worth the effort.
RELATED: From 2021, OSI buys additional land near Trembleau Mountain
For the full traverse, follow Rt. 9 north out of Keeseville, and just past Ausable Chasm turn right on Rt. 373 toward the old Port Kent ferry docks. After 4.5 miles, make a right on Trembleau Road and go 1.1 mile to the parking lot on the right.
A logging road leaves the parking lot on the left. Follow it for half a mile to where it dips down and rises out of a ravine and turns to the left, heading down to the lake. At this point, turn right at the intersection with another logging road that continues southwest.
At this junction, you will notice a stake and yellow blazes that mark the private property boundary with state land. This line, conveniently enough, goes straight over the summit of Trembleau, so you can lean on this blazed line as a guide to your destination.
When the land was owned by OSI about four years ago, Champlain Area Trails marked a trail that ran south of this property line to the summit and then along the ridge, taking advantage here and there of the copious logging roads that act as stairsteps up the first two thirds of the mountain.
But the DEC frowned on the project, and CATS took down its markers. So while the trail never took hold, it’s a quasi-sanctioned route that is quite effective, if difficult to explain. Every time I’ve thought I’d discovered a better way, I wound up — I don’t want to talk about it.
So this is to say that if you find hugging a property line too unimaginative you can, with a bit of skill in the navigation arts, find a superior route on your own. The distances reflected here are based on the old CATS route, and hence would be a bit longer than hiking a straight line.
The property line brings you to a point just to the south of the true summit, a distance to this of 1.75 miles, with a 683-foot elevation gain, the climbing being mainly moderate, with a few steep pitches. The better views are down lower, so if you have followed the property line and are now on the summit, the open ledges to the southeast will be obvious. Just descend until you have a perfectly unobstructed view.
From here, you have a fine look at Schuyler Island and Port Douglas, down to Willsboro Point, with Burlington across the lake and the Green Mountains beyond.
As you look south, you will see another forested knob in the immediate foreground, and beyond that another set of open rock. Those ledges are your ultimate goal. To get there, descend some precipitous slopes to the col, heading for the back (west) side of the mountain ridge through a bit of a beech thicket and an ample vernal pool that in August is, of course, neither vernal nor a pool.
Ascend the second knob from here — it’s a steep, but brief climb, through open pine. Ledges open up at ~2.4 miles once you’re on the southeast side. You will find more logging roads here too, and they may help out for a bit here and there, but don’t count on them.
On your topo map or GPS, you will see that you’re now on a mountain ridge that’s gradually losing elevation. As you follow the ridge, the views come often, at least three of them, before you get to the big enchilada at ~2.9 miles. These open ledges extend like a finger pointing out to the lake — don’t turn east too soon on a shorter, stubbier and altogether less impressive finger.
Walking out onto these open rocks you will be treated to a sweeping panorama of Lake Champlain unlike any other. The Brothers islands are now in clear view, as are the bays to the south. To the north is the old railroad causeway out of Burlington, now a rail trail, and the highway causeway through the Vermont islands, with the Inland Sea beyond.
You may, as we did, see bald eagles, deer and porcupine — bring your dog at your own risk.
When it’s time to go, you will need to retrace your steps — the finger is guarded by impassible cliffs — up and back to the north until you find it possible to descend into the drainage between the finger you’re on and the boring finger I warned you about earlier. Descend east toward the lake, angling left to avoid more (viewless) knobs and impressive cliffs.
Soon you will intersect with yet another logging road. Turn left and follow it all the way back to the parking lot, which is less than 2 miles away. (Ignore a pile of sticks “blocking” the route at one point, they serve a different purpose.)
Various logging roads will come in from the left, mostly, The first, well-defined Y you come to is in fact, an intersection with a logging road that would return you to the property line. But for simplicity and to see new ground, stay on the “main drag,” which descends almost to the lake before climbing back up to where you left it at the beginning of the hike.
Or, of course, you could treat this as an out-and-back, retracing your route and taking in those marvelous views one more time.