10 great Adirondack hikes that aren’t High Peaks

Explore beauty without masses traipsing along next to you
The 5-mile hike to Indian Head in Keene reveals world-class views of Lower Ausable Lake, shown, and several nearby High Peaks.
The 5-mile hike to Indian Head in Keene reveals world-class views of Lower Ausable Lake, shown, and several nearby High Peaks.

By now, you’ve probably heard some of the horror stories.

A mini keg party on the summit of Phelps. Human waste on the trail up Algonquin. Jam-packed trailhead parking areas on busy weekends, including this past Memorial Day weekend.

By all accounts, the Adirondack High Peaks, 46 in all, are more popular than ever. And it shows.

Many trails are heavily rutted from foot traffic. Some popular mountaintops are being frequented by dozens and even hundreds of hikers on any given weekend. And good luck finding a parking spot at Adirondack Loj, the Garden or the Elk Lake areas after 8 a.m. on a Saturday.

The overuse situation is so serious that state environmental officials have taken to warning hikers away from the High Peaks during peak weekends.

What’s a hiker to do?

Hike on, of course.

Just go somewhere other than a High Peak. Here are 10 great hikes that will let you explore the beauty of the Adirondacks without the masses traipsing along next to you. Enjoy.

PEAKED MOUNTAIN, 2,919 feet, Johnsburg, Warren County

This little gem in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness has it all: Burbling creeks, a great spot for post-hike swimming and a stunning summit view of the Central Adirondacks. The mountains here are different than in the High Peaks. They’re shorter and more rounded, but nonetheless beautiful. On a clear day, the views of nearby Blue Mountain, Moxham Mountain and hundreds of others are as stunning as any in the United States. On the way down, take a few extra minutes for a short paddle around Peaked Mountain Pond. A community canoe is easily found on the pine-needle-padded shore (you might want to bring your own paddle; I usually do). At 6 miles round trip, Peaked Mountain is a perfect family day trip. On your way out, don’t miss a swim in Thirteenth Lake or, on the drive home, in the upper Hudson River.

INDIAN HEAD, 2,700 feet, Keene, Essex County

In the greater Adirondack hierarchy, Indian Head is barely a bump. But the view from here might easily be the most stunning in all of New York state. The granite top, almost perfectly flat for good sitting and picnicking, provides a bird’s eye view of Lower Ausable Lake and the surrounding High Peaks that’s reminiscent of a fjord in coastal Norway. The hike to Indian Head, a longish but never-too-tough 10 miles round trip, offers several other views that are among the best in the ‘Dacks. Rainbow Falls, for one, is a must-see.

SPRUCE MOUNTAIN, 2,005 feet, South Corinth, Saratoga County

This is a short one but a good one, with a fire tower to boot. Spruce is a perfect hike for families with younger children or for hikers in need of a relatively short drive. Located in northern Saratoga County, it’s less than an hour’s drive from most of the Capital Region. The trail is a pleasant rolling path that takes you alongside an old farmer’s stone wall and past a tranquility-inducing creek. The view from the summit is non-exist — until you climb the 75-foot fire tower, that is. Up there, the view is spectacular, with 360-degree views of the Corning Tower in Albany to the south and the High Peaks way up north.

PHARAOH MOUNTAIN, 2,556 feet, Essex County

This mountain is unique in its stunning bi-state views. To the west and northwest, there’s the High Peaks range in New York. To the east, there’s a sweeping view of Lake Champlain and, beyond, the Green Mountains of Vermont. Pharaoh can be climbed from both the north side and the south. I much prefer the south. This trail, reachable off Northway Exit 25, takes you along the shore of Pharaoh Lake, a pristine North Country lake that’s perfect for a blow-up raft ride or a swim. No worries about motor boats or heavy crowds up here. The only way in is by foot. Except for rare occasions, you’ll have the lake to yourself. Back on the trail, the summit is reached in a relatively short, steep pull. Give yourself enough time up top to play the game of identifying the visible peaks in New York and Vermont. There are lots.

Cars are parked up and down Route 73 at the Giant Mountain trailhead on Columbus Day weekend 2016. (Miles Reed)

NOONMARK MOUNTAIN, 3,556 feet, Essex County

Ok, ok, this one might as well be considered a High Peak given its location, but it’s not one. And thank goodness it’s not. The views here are fabulous but the crowds are never too bad, thanks mainly to the fact that Noonmark doesn’t count toward membership in the ever-popular 46er club. This peak is smack-dab in the middle of three quintessentially Adirondack landmarks and thus provides great views of them — Giant Mountain, the Great Range and the Dix Range. As a bonus, it affords an incomparable head-on view of Keene Valley that helps to explain why valley residents of yore used Noonmark to mark the path of the sun at midday.

COBBLE HILL, 2,325 feet, Lake Placid, Essex County

This little hill is short on stature but mighty on views. It’s the perfect hike if you find yourself in the village of Lake Placid with a few hours to fill. The short (1/2 mile) and sometimes steep trail (at one point there’s a slap that requires the use of a cable to ascend) delivers you to a partially exposed peak with great views of Mirror Lake, the Olympic Village and, beyond, the highest High Peaks of Marcy, Algonquin etc. To complete a nice loop, descend via the longer, gentler slope past Echo Lake. Bonus: From the trailhead behind Northwood School, it’s a nice 5-minute walk along Mirror Lake Drive to the front door of the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery.

PITCHOFF MOUNTAIN, 3,600 feet, North Elba, Essex County

This mountain is more like a small range of peaks. Located just outside the village of Lake Placid, it’s best experienced as a traverse of the full range. Leave one car at the western trailhead (which is shared with the busy Cascade/Porter parking area on Route 73) and start at the eastern trailhead closer to Keene Valley. The rugged terrain of this Sentinel Range hike provides a taste of High Peaks hiking — without the crowds! Allow 5 to 7 hours for the whole thing in order to soak in vistas and to navigate the many ups and downs of the false summits. Afterward, reward yourself with a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear and cold Cascade Lakes.

MOUNT VAN HOEVENBERG, 2,939 feet, North Elba, Essex County

Most people associate Mount Van Ho with the Olympic bobsled/luge tracks and the 50k cross-country ski center on the mountain’s north side. But on the south side, there’s a quiet hiking trail that offers perhaps the single-best view of the iconic High Peaks of Marcy, Colden and Algonquin (and, further to the west, Indian Pass). The summit is reached with a short, moderate climb from the popular South Meadow Lane off Adirondack Loj Road. Trailhead parking can be a challenge on peak weekends, but the trail is rarely if ever busy because most of the cars have delivered hikers with loftier hopes of climbing a High Peak.

Moxham Mountain near North Creek and Gore Mountain Ski Center is a pleasant hike with sweeping views. (Miles Reed)

MOXHAM MOUNTAIN, 2,418 feet, Minerva, Warren County

If there’s a more pleasant hike in the Adirondacks, I don’t know it. From start to finish, the 5-mile round trip is never too difficult or steep. Instead, the trail offers a gentle walk through the woods with numerous views along the way. The best views come during the final climb along the mountain’s exposed ridge. You can keep an eye on your final destination as you get closer and closer. At the summit, one is treated to a 180-degree view of the Southern and Central Adirondacks, including Crane and Gore mountains nearby and Blue Mountain further off in the distance.

VANDERWHACKER MOUNTAIN, 3,386 feet, Newcomb, Essex County

Vanderwhacker is relatively indistinct, except for one thing. From its fire tower, one is afforded a sweeping view of the entire High Peaks region. It’s fun to spend 30 minutes or so in the tower trying to identify as many High Peaks as possible. Vanderwhacker is busier than it used to be, thanks to the craze over hiking mountains with fire towers, but it’s still quieter than just about every High Peak. Warning: The dirt road from Route 28N to the Vanderwhacker trailhead is very rough in spots. Unless you have a heavy duty four-wheel-drive vehicle, it’s best to walk the dirt road or, better yet, mountain bike in and lock your bike at the trailhead.

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