Peaking in the East: Hiking the Adirondacks

When urban Ontarians get the urge for autumn hiking, we usually go north. Torontonians head to Algonquin or the Bruce Peninsula. Ottawans cross the river and hit the Gatineau hills or the Laurentians. But a three-hour drive from the capital, or a couple hours more from the GTA, gets you to New York State’s Adirondack Park—six million acres of mountains, forests, lakes and rivers.

The Keene Valley. Courtesy
The road to Placid. Courtesy

By Dan Rubinstein

When the bugs go away and the leaves change colour, this patchwork of public and privately owned wilderness, the largest protected area in the contiguous United States—veined with more than 2,000 miles of hiking trails, the largest network in the country—is a walker’s dream.

My daughters and I did three hikes on a recent visit. We walked a mile and a half through dense woods to the top of Castle Rock, which offers a panorama of Blue Mountain Lake. “Maximum views for minimal effort,” a fellow hiker told us as we left the trailhead; she was right. The next day, after packing up our campsite at Lake Durant State Park, we drove up a dead-end road to the Tahawus Mines trailhead and explored the dilapidated abandoned houses of an old iron mining town before following a gently rising path beside Calamity Brook for a couple hours. The girls scooped up toads and snakes, and we stopped to cool off in a sparkling green pool tucked into one of the rocky creek’s many elbows.

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Owl’s Head Mountain. Courtesy
Near Lake Placid. Courtesy

From Tahawus, it’s only about 15 miles by foot to Lake Placid, the Adirondack’s biggest tourist town, two-time host of the Winter Olympics. The hiking route skirts some of the state’s highest peaks, including the tallest, 5,344-foot Mount Marcy. But there are more trails than roads here, and our looping drive to Lake Placid took an hour and a half. Rested after a night at the High Peaks Resort, and rejuvenated by splashing around at the hotel’s lakeside pool, we went to Cascade Mountain the next morning. The 2.3-mile trail, just a few minutes east of town, is described as “fairly moderate” with “a couple short steeper pitches,” but turned out to be pretty much straight up, a vertical gain of nearly 2,000 feet. The summit offers a 360-degree view of all the surrounding mountains, a blue-green sea of serrated peaks and ridges spanning the horizon. Despite the challenging climb, my daughters agreed, begrudgingly, that it was worth it.

Read more about Dan’s adventure next year in Mountain Life Blue Mountains.