Hiking in the Adirondacks High Peaks Region
Table of Contents
I've been to the Adirondack Park a few times over the years primarily for the hiking in the High Peaks Region. Yes, it's true that the mountains in this area can't compare in height to those in other states, but they do represent the highest peaks in New York and that makes for some great hiking.
Where to Hike
I always start my trip off with a hike up Mt. Marcy which is has the highest peak in the park. The hike can be grueling especially in the areas where the incline is steep. Not to mention the last mile or two on the way back when your legs are sore and you're out of energy. My first attempt took 10 hours for the round trip and I ran out of water about half way through. On my most recent visit to the park, I managed to do the hike in 8 hours with water to spare (I carried 4.5 quarts). Also on my most recent hike I was lucky that the clouds at the top were actually lower than the peak. So I could see the tips of other mountains while the clouds blocked the view of lower elevations. This made it feel like I was much higher up than I actually was which was pretty cool. On another trip the top of Mt. Marcy was literally in a cloud so visibility was horrible.
Overall the trail is well marked and you're not likely to make a wrong turn. On the weekend there are plenty of other hikers should you want to confirm your location. The trail has been wet and muddy every time I've been on it and rain is very likely especially as you ascend so dress accordingly. The top of the mountain is also significantly cooler than the base although if you aren't going to spend much time up there you probably don't need extra clothes for warmth — I did see one guy with gloves on in August.
Mt. Marcy trail details: 14.8 miles roundtrip, ascent 3166 feet, elevation 5344
Rocky Falls via the Indian Pass Trail
The day after hiking up Mt. Marcy you're likely going to be sore — I know I was. And so an easier hike with little elevation is what I like to do to keep moving while not making myself miserable. The hike to Rocky Falls is perfect for this. Starting from the same parking spot as Mt. Marcy close to Adirondack Loj, head back to the ticket booth and you'll see some trail signs directing you to Rocky Falls. The falls themselves aren't huge, but there's a pool at the base that is good for swimming. And you can clamber on the rocks at the top of the falls for some good photos. This is a popular spot and you'll likely be sharing it with others if you go in the afternoon rather than early morning.
Indian Pass to Rocky Falls trail details: 4.8 miles roundtrip
The hike up Ampersand Mountain is about half that of Mt. Marcy, but there's significant elevation and so pretty steep as far as hikes go. On the way up I passed two couples and later I found out that one of them had bailed because of the steepness. If you're up for the challenge, and there's no rule about how many times you can stop, I recommend this hike for the great view. At the top there are no trees, just bare rock. Of course, if there are clouds your view won't be so good.
Ampersand Mt. trail details: 5.4 miles roundtrip, ascent 1175 feet, elevation 3352
At under 5 miles, I chose this as my last hike for my visit to the Adirondacks. It also happened to be on my way back to where I lived so it knocked off about 30 minutes from my return drive home. I started it around 8:30 am and was done by noon including stops to admire the falls, take some pictures from the overlooks, and even watch a salamander I found on the trail. More than the other hikes, this one needed a map and an understanding of the various destinations along the trail. There were many intersections that would have otherwise been confusing especially since the trail is a loop with two paths back to the road and branches leading off to destinations like Giants Mountain which on its own would add another 5 miles round trip.
The hike is otherwise great with a lot of variety — elevation, scenic views, a lake, and a 315 foot waterfall near the trail head which is a great place to rest after the hike.
Giants Nubble trail details: 4.4 miles roundtrip, ascent about 1400 feet
There are two books I used to find trails of interest. The most detailed in terms of trail specs is the Adirondack Trails High Peaks Region by the Adirondack Mountain Club. No other books I've seen has more detail, but it does lack commentary about what trails are good, fun, or scenic. For help on classifying trails based on features picked up Five-Star Trails in the Adirondacks by Tim Starmer which is particularly good if you've you got specific interests or restrictions. The first book I mentioned comes with a map which is good, but made out of regular paper so it won't hold up in bad weather. For something more durable (and in color) I grabbed the Adirondack Park Lake Placid / High Peaks map by Trails Illustrated.
Where to Eat
I haven't explored all of the restaurants in Lake Placid and, truth be told, I don't head to the area for the food. However, I have been to the following establishments.
Mr. Mike's Pizza and Pasta
The pizza here is pretty good. It isn't thin crust like what you'd get in NYC, but it isn't thick crust like Chicago either. I had their chicken garlic specialty pizza along with a customized one with olives, pepperoni, and tomatoes. The price was reasonable for the area — for 2 large pizzas and 3 soda's the bill came out to $47 before tip. Being just outside the main Lake Placid tourist area was also convenient especially with the free parking lot in the back. I'd go again.
Arena Bar and Grill
Also on the edge of the busy area of Lake Placid, this grill was conveniently located. Since the weather was favorable, it was good that there was outdoor seating. The menu has everything you'd expect from a grill such as burgers, wraps, and sandwiches. And the food itself is what you'd expect from such a place. The one standout for me was the sweet potato fries which I always like. Service was a little spotty with a waitress coming over to ask if we wanted drinks despite there being drinks on the table. Still, a good enough place for a meal away from the crowds.
Where to Stay
First a caveat. I go to the Adirondacks to hike. I'm outside all day and in my room only to sleep. I don't care about pools, spas, or good food in the hotel. All I want is a decent bed, A/C if it's hot, and ideally not too much noise at night. As such, my selection criteria for where to stay may differ from yours.
The Comfort Inn is located on the far side of Lake Placid if you're coming in from southern NY. If you're going to be doing hikes around the Adirondack Loj you'll have to deal with the traffic of main street Lake Placid. However, this side of the town gives you easy access to Price Chopper which is handy if you're looking for meals on the cheap. The accommodations fit the criteria I described above although they're not as nice as the Courtyard Marriott described below.
The Courtyard Marriott is located on the other end Lake Placid compared to the Comfort Inn so it's slightly closer if you're coming in from southern NY. It's a little higher end than the Comfort Inn and overall I was pleased with it when I stayed. They offer a breakfast package which is convenient, but perhaps a little overpriced if you don't take advantage of things like the omelets (I'm a waffle guy).
Also, the windows are prevented from opening more than a couple of inches which, if you're trying to dry clothes from a wet hike, means the room can get musty. I recommend bringing a screwdriver and removing the window attachments that prevent the window from opening. Putting them back in is easy to do.
There's a variety store close by with drinks and snacks so you don't have to cut through the traffic in Lake Placid. There's also a Subway.
For your hotel criteria try Econo Lodge. Beds were comfortable, bathroom clean, a/c worked. Only a short drive to Adirondack Loj road. Corner Store deli just down the road and you might save a couple bucks. They do have nice looking hot tub and pool although I haven't tried them.