A Guide to Hiking in the Adirondacks

The Adirondack Mountains are some of the most popular hiking destinations in the United States. See pictures of national parks.
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The Adirondacks mountain range and area is among the most picturesque spots in North America. Spanning across upper New York State, Adirondack Park stretches over 6 million acres. There's a lot to do in all of that, including camping, kayaking and swimming, to name a few activities. But there's enough hiking to keep you busy for a decade's worth of summers.

There's a hiking trail for every level of skill and adventure. For the beginners, there are easy and moderate hikes that last between 1 and 4 miles (1.6 and 6.4 kilometers). For the more advanced, there are steep, almost rock-climbing jaunts that last more than 7 miles (11.3 kilometers). There are 46 high peaks to try, and even family hikes with waterfalls, not to mention multiday excursions with the added fun and challenge of camping.

Want to start planning your quest through woods, rocky terrain and breathtaking views? Head over to the next page.

Trail Maps

A view of Whiteface Mountain in the fall.
A view of Whiteface Mountain in the fall.
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Aside from the natural beauty of the surroundings and the incredible views offered by the many peaks and valleys of the Adirondacks, the region offers quite a bit of history. In fact, some of the trails themselves were important for travel, especially for Native Americans -- the Iroquois and Algonquin nations, for instance, often fought over the Lake George-Lake Champlain water route, which provided the easiest passage through the Adirondack Mountains. And for those interested in military history and architecture, there are several routes leading to important battlefronts and forts, including Fort William Henry, Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga.

Today, there are dozens of hiking trails with varying levels of difficulty for the outdoor enthusiast. It's easier than ever to plan a trip to one of the many falls or mountains, as Adirondack.net has plenty of information regarding trails, difficulty levels and attractions.

Of course, there's nothing quite like holding the map in your hand and plotting your route with a simple compass (especially since cell phone reception is unreliable throughout the region). There are several maps and trail guides available in the local New York region, and they're usually free or affordable. If you're looking for topographical information on the mountains and trails, seek out "The Adirondacks: The Lake George Region." Other helpful sources and organizations include the Adirondack Mountain Club Headquarters and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Finding a Tour Company

With 6 million acres, dozens of hiking trails and several daunting mountains, there's a lot of ground to cover, and a lot of possibilities -- particularly if you or your family is new to hiking. Fortunately, a number of tour and hiking coordination companies are around for just this sort of thing. Generally divided by region, a guided hike with a private, seasoned hiker who knows the area can make the idea of hiking these majestic mountains seem a lot less complicated. Some will even provide a package deal that includes another area of recreation expertise, such as fly fishing, camping, hunting, wildlife spotting or canoeing.

These guides (who must be licensed with the state of New York) operate during all four seasons, and they can accommodate beginners, families or seasoned experts looking for a new challenge. They'll even provide equipment for hiking and additional activities.

Family Hiking

What better way to bond with family members than hiking the Adirondacks?
What better way to bond with family members than hiking the Adirondacks?
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There are few activities as wholesome and healthy as a group hike. The Adirondacks has a number of family friendly trails and areas. Gurney Lane Nature Trail offers a 1.3-mile (2.1-kilometer) educational nature walk through a wilderness park, complete with info kiosks and viewpoints. The end reward: a trout-stocked pond for fishing.

Sawyer Mountain is a good hike for beginners or families with children. A little over a mile (1.6 kilometers), it leads to a real summit of a moderate elevation of 630 feet (192 meters). Go past the forested summit a bit to find a rock ledge with great views of the area. With Panther Mountain, the ascent is fast and the peak less than a mile away, making it an ideal, morning-long hike for any family. Round trip, it's a little over a mile and a half (2.4 kilometers).

Roaring Brook Falls has family activities as well as family-appropriate hiking. In addition to shorter trails, there's a waterfall, which older family members can hike up via a steep rock face. The trail that leads to the falls is wide, flat and easy for children.

High Peaks

The summit of Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondack Mountains.
The summit of Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondack Mountains.
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There are 46 Adirondack High Peaks, the name for the particular region of the highest, most treacherous summits that provide the most challenging hiking experiences available in the otherwise easy-to-moderate Adirondack hiking scene.

These are not family hikes, nor are they solo hikes. These are hikes for a seasoned hiking pro. They tend to be more than 10 miles (16.1 kilomters) and might take the typical hiker at least a full day to complete. But who has the stamina to hike uphill for 12 hours a day? That means that you're going to want to bring camping gear with you, as well as a hiking companion to keep things safe. (And make sure to bring lots of water, and to tell someone back home or at headquarters the exact peak you were attempting, so if anything happens, someone can locate you.)

Ranked on a scale of 1 to 7, in which 1 is the easiest and 7 is the most difficult, 35 of the 46 peaks rank at least a 5. That's because the ascent of the climb for most of these peaks is at least half of the total elevation, meaning you've got a steep climb almost the whole way up.

A few of the truly killer peaks have a ranking of 7. Mt. Haystack is 4,960 feet (1,511.8 meters) high with a 17.8-mile (28.6-kilometer), 12-hour hike. Mt. Redfield is 4,606 feet (1,403.9 meters) high for a 17.5-mile (28.2-kilometer), 14-hour hike. The toughest is probably Mt. Emmons, 4,040 feet (1,231.4 meters) high for an 18-mile (29-kilometer), 18-hour hike.

Easy Day Treks

A leisurely hike on the Adirondack Mountains might end up in a tranquil scene like this.
A leisurely hike on the Adirondack Mountains might end up in a tranquil scene like this.
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An easy hike is a great way to spend a vacation day. Most of the trails in the Adirondack range lend themselves to daylong, family excursions, allowing you to bring a picnic, enjoy the views and make it back by dark. Here are some recommended courses to check out.

Mostly a leisurely, easy for most hike with only a few tough spots is Black Mountain. You'll get a variety of lovely views of the northern end of Lake George, as well as the rocky peaks of Tongue Mountain and the Sugarloaf Mountains. The reward at the peak is an abandoned fire tower, an outpost up until the 1970s for fire wardens on forest-fire watch. After or during the hike, there's more recreation at one of three ponds via trails within a mile of the summit.

The Buck Mountain trail provides great views of the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, as well as Lake George and Bolton Landing off in the distance. This is a great place to start if you've never hiked the Adirondacks, but only if you've got some hiking experience, since it's of moderate difficulty level.

Cat Mountain is a 6-mile (9.7-kilometer) hike, and it has many different terrains and sights, including wetlands and even a beaver pond. Taking the side trail up Thomas Mountain leads to scenic lake-views, while other side trails are available in a variety of difficulty levels, allowing you to design your own hike day.

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Sources

  • Adirondack Mountain Club. "Adirondack Hikes You Might Like." 2011 (May 18, 2012) http://www.adk.org/explore_park/Hike_Ideas.aspx
  • Adirondack.net. "Adirondack Hiking Guide." 2012 (May 18, 2012) http://www.adirondack.net/hiking/
  • Adirondack Regional Tourism Council. "Adirondack Great Walks & Day Hikes." 2006. (May 18, 2012) http://www.adirondacklakes.com/files/2010GreatwalksBrochure.pdf
  • Densmore, Lisa Feinberg. "Hiking the Adirondacks: A Guide to 42 of the Best Hiking Adventures in New York's Adirondacks." FalconGuides. 2010.
  • McMartin, Barbara. "50 Hikes in the Adirondacks." Countryman Press. 2003.
  • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. "Adirondack Trail Information." 2012 (May 18, 2012) http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7865.html
  • New York State Outdoor Guides Association. "New York State Licensed Guides - Hiking." 2012 (May 18, 2012) http://www.nysoga.org/hiking.html
  • Starmer, Timothy. "Five-Star Trails in the Adirondacks: A Guide to the Most Beautiful Hikes." Menasha Ridge Press. 2010.