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5 Favorite Hikes In the Adirondacks: Explore Some New Favorites

Jun 30, 2023 12:52PM ● By Story and Photography By Lisa Ballard

I’m a hiker. There’s nothing I like better than standing atop a mountain. The view pleases me immensely. I feel rewarded for the effort of the climb and the boost of self-confidence from reaching my goal, but not all of my satisfaction comes the summit. Some of the enjoyment is the journey. The exertion up the trail improves my physical and mental well-being. Along the way, interesting geological formations, wildflowers, and wildlife reveal themselves in delightful ways. I relish the chance to talk with family and friends without distractions and to think through whatever challenge or decision life has recently thrown at me. Then there are the 11 guidebooks that I’ve written.

Writing guidebooks not only gets me on the trail, but makes me explore many routes beyond my old favorites. After all, it’s up to me to cherry-pick the best hikes for everyone else. Each book takes two summers, spending three to four days per week on the trail, observing and photographing the nuances of each potential route. Some hikes get disqualified because they are less inspiring. Some are iconic and must be in there. Once in a while there’s a pleasing surprise, like a couple of the hikes that I discovered last summer while working my latest project, Hiking the Adirondacks, 3rd Edition.

Why go the Adirondacks when you’ve got lots of hiking trails around the Upper Valley and a little farther away in Vermont’s Green Mountains and New Hampshire’s White Mountains? For a change! It might take you an extra hour or two to travel to a trailhead in the Adirondack Park, but if you’re a peak bagger, there are 46 more summits over 4,000 feet to add to your checklist. If you prefer more modest mountains or a backcountry lake where you can swim or fish, the Adirondacks have hundreds of options, most with fewer people vying for the best lunch spots. These five favorites not only made the cut for the book but also are definitely worth crossing Lake Champlain to check out. They all reward handsomely, both on the way up and at the top.

Castle Rock Mountain (2,480 feet)

Nearest town: Blue Mountain Lake, NY

Total distance: 3.7 miles, loop

Vertical climb: 711 feet

Dog friendly: Yes

Why go: En route to this clifftop perch you pass through a boulder labyrinth that opens into a natural echo chamber with a cave in one of its walls. The hike starts in the heart of the Minnowbrook Conference Center, a former Adirondack great camp that was gifted to Syracuse University and now serves as a retreat, meeting facility, and education center for the college and other groups. The route can be done as a loop that closes at a footbridge a half-mile from the trailhead. In addition to the labyrinth and echo chamber, the trail passes a large wetland around a pond that attracts many birds. The “castle” is the rock formation at the top with its tiered 80-foot precipice, from which you can gaze down on Blue Mountain Lake, have a picnic, and relax. The way down is a smooth, joint-friendly path through an impressive old-growth forest. After your hike, stop at the Adirondack Experience, the Museum at Blue Mountain Lake. The museum has 120 acres of interactive exhibits on the history, art, and culture of the Adirondack Park.

Catamount Mountain (3,173 feet)

Nearest town: Wilmington, NY

Total distance: 5.4 miles, out and back

Vertical climb: 2,363

Dog friendly: No, due to rock faces

Why go: This Catamount Mountain is the highest of the five Catamount Mountains in New York state, though it is considered a minor peak because it’s lower than 4,000 feet. It’s still a big climb. The reward is the panorama on the summit of nearby Whiteface Mountain, and Camel’s Hump and Mount Mansfield across Lake Champlain, but the way up is spectacular, too. You’ll scramble up a number of rock chimneys, including one crack nicknamed “the squeezer” because your whole body is in it. You’ll also traverse long lengths of rock slab affording better and better views as you gain elevation. This hike is particularly beautiful during fall foliage season when the mountain and the entire surrounding countryside are aflame with reds, oranges, and yellows.

Lyon Mountain (3,830 feet)

Nearest town: Chazy Lake, NY

Total distance: 6.4 miles, out and back

Vertical climb: 1,904 feet

Dog friendly: Yes

Why go: The trailhead for Lyon Mountain is one of the easiest to drive to from the Upper Valley, about 30 minutes from the New York side of the Grand Isle Ferry. Lyon Mountain is only 171 feet short of a 4,000-footer, but it climbs easier because the trail was recut in 2009. Instead of going straight up like many older trails, it ascends at a moderate rate with switchbacks. What’s more, it’s fairly smooth, unlike the rocky, eroded routes up taller, more well-known mountains in the Adirondacks. The main attraction is the historic fire tower on the summit with a 360-degree view that extends to Montreal, Canada, to the north, the highest peaks in Vermont to the east, and the Adirondack High Peaks to the south. The tower is surrounded by a broad swath of open rock offering many spots for a picnic with a panorama. Take your pick. There’s no competition for a good spot on this lightly hiked route.

Jay Mountain (3,600 feet)

Nearest town: Upper Jay, NY

Total distance: 9.2 miles, out and back

Vertical climb: 2,608 feet

Dog friendly: No, due to rock walls and rough rock texture along the ridge

Why go: Jay Mountain is a local favorite that visitors often ignore. It’s special for its two miles of treeless ridgeline, one of the longest stretches of open rock in the Adirondack Park, which connects the west peak and the higher east peak. The trail technically goes only as far as the west peak, but the ridge is easy to follow, marked by small cairns along a herd path. That said, it’s hard to make it all the way to the east peak because there are so many bald perches along the way, each an exceptional destination. During the spring, a plethora of wildflowers blooms along the lower trail, including clintonia, trillium, spring beauties, white baneberry, Dutchman’s britches, and yellow violets. And then there’s the jaw-dropping view of many prominent 4,000-footers, including Marcy, Algonquin, Gothics, Big Slide, and Giant, that stand like layers of rounded teeth to the south. Lake Champlain and the high spine of the Green Mountains from Camel’s Hump to another peak named Jay—Jay Peak in Vermont—lie to the east.

Wright Peak (4,580 feet)

Nearest town: Lake Placid, NY

Total distance: 9 miles, out and back

Vertical climb: 2,411 feet

Dog friendly: Experienced dogs only on the upper ledges

Why go: If you yearn to stand atop a 4,000-footer and can’t decide which one, I recommend Wright Peak. In the heart of the High Peaks, it’s a sentinel of Mount Marcy, the highest summit in the state, and Algonquin Peak, the second highest. You’ll have the experience of climbing one of the iconic Adirondack Mountains but save yourself a few miles and 500 vertical feet. That said, this is a big climb into the alpine zone, so save it for a clear, calm day. The approach takes you deep into the High Peaks Wilderness, but the real appeal is the scramble up the various rock walls and then leaving the trees behind on the upper mountain. The last half-mile follows a series of rock cairns through acres of endangered alpine flora. On the broad, bald summit you feel as if you can touch Mounts Marcy, Algonquin, Colden, Street, Nye, and many of the other prominent High Peaks that surround you.


Hiking the Adirondacks, 3rd Edition by Lisa Ballard. FalconGuides, 2023. Available through booksellers and at


Adirondack Mountain Club,

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC),

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