Hiking the Adirondacks in Lake Placid, New York
I hate to admit my ignorance, but I had no idea that the Adirondacks existed until fairly recently. When I had been looking for some good outdoor adventure, a friend recommended the Adirondacks in upstate New York for some fantastic hiking – mountains, lakes and endless trails. It was a done deal the moment I learnt of it. We did our research, booked our accommodations and packed our gear for the journey.
The Labour Day weekend my partner and I ventured out to Lake Placid, New York. We took off the Friday before and the Tuesday after the long weekend, making it a four-night five-day adventure. This was the perfect amount of time for our plans. We knew we couldn’t plan activities on our days of travel (approximately 6.5 hours in the car), which left us three full days of hiking. We planned for two full day ventures and one shorter venture in between. Our first full day we would hike Mount Colden (full day), second day Giant Mountain (half day) and third day Algonquin, Iroquois and Wright (full day). By the end of the long weekend we would have hit 5 of the 46 high peaks!
Where We Stayed
We stayed at Spruce Lodge B&B and Guesthouse. This was the cheapest place we could find in Lake Placid at just about $100 a night. I was shocked at the cost of staying in town ($$$), so this was a happy find, despite its somewhat mixed reviews online.
My opinion on the place – It has a country home feel with some real charm, I thought it was a nice little place. They have a few super sweet and adorable cats who live in the main common area (separate from guest rooms). There is a lovely front porch with comfortable chairs and great evening sunlight – we had a few relaxed nights sitting on the porch with a bottle of wine and our books, and it was lovely! It was also a great location for the hiking we planned to do, a mere 20 minute drive away. The various ladies working there throughout the days we visited were kind – they said hello and answered our questions, but for the most part they left us alone. We stayed in room #4 which was equipped with a double bed, single bed and private bathroom. The room was cozy and perfectly adequate for the small amount of time we were spending there. The only drawback here was no blinds or curtains on the windows, so we had to drape blankets over them to keep the streetlights from shining in our eyes while trying to fall asleep.
Would we stay there again? Absolutely! Great location, good rates, and free continental breakfast (though we were often gone before it was served). Next time, I would consider upgrading to a room with a kitchen suite so that we could do our own cooking instead of restaurants.
Day 1 – Mount Colden, High Peak #11 of 46
Elevation 4700 ft, Ascent 2850, 15 mile round trip
We packed our gear the night before and woke at 6am. We were on the road at 6:30am, we were at the trailhead around 7am. We had read online that parking can be a challenge if you aren’t there early, and we were surprised that it was already more than half full at 7am! We paid the $10 parking fee at the Adirondack Loj and began the journey.
There are two routes to Mount Colden, the primary one is the more popular and less difficult of the two. The secondary trail is more formidable and a much steeper approach to Colden. We wanted to do the loop and decided we would take the secondary trail in and the primary trail out. We passed Marcy Dam, we saw the beautiful and majestic Avalanche Lake and we scaled Colden slowly but surely. It is very easy to READ about the challenges of the trail, it is much different to DO the challenges. This hike was a long grueling day. We tackled a steep ascent of 1900 ft in about 1 mile taking the secondary trail, we scrambled uphill on sheer rock faces! At moments it was scary, but more than anything it was completely exhausting.
The false summit from the Avalanche Pass side, in my opinion, was more beautiful than the view from the top of Colden itself. Despite this, reaching the summit was a true accomplishment. The day could not have been more perfect – warm temperatures, blue skies and sunshine. To me, this was the most challenging hiking day that we had. That steep ascent was a huge challenge, and perhaps doing that first made every other ascent seem so much more manageable! We took our time at the top and had numerous breaks along the way. This round trip took us 9 hours.
If I had to do it again – For the time of year and the weather conditions we had, I would wear shorts (I started in pants and had to change fairly early on in the trip, which was a bit of a challenge with so many hikers on the main trail). This meant carrying extra clothing. Every bit of weight counts on hikes this long, and we didn’t know what to expect for the weather. We were overly prepared for sure, I packed a fleece, long johns, hat and bathing suit – none of which were used! I for sure was carrying extra (useless) weight that first day.
*Note, it is important to be prepared, so never overlook important items relevant to your trip and the weather conditions. Don’t be stupid about cutting weight.
Day 2 – Giant Mountain, High Peak #12 of 46
Elevation 4600 ft, Ascent 3050, 6 mile round trip
After working our butts on Mount Colden, we decided to take it ‘easy’ on our second day. Giant Mountain, though challenging, is a much shorter distance and therefore only a half day venture.
Again, we were up early at 6:30am. On the road at 7am, and at the trailhead around 7:45am. While we desperately wanted to sleep in, we were concerned about limited parking, especially it being the long weekend. Also, from what we had researched Giant Mountain was a popular trail and much more family-friendly. While we have nothing against people or families, we thought being on the trail first thing in the morning would avoid crowded trails and all the noise that comes with those bodies – and were we ever right! The way up was SO quiet and lovely, with a small handful of folks along the way and only 3 or 4 people to share the spectacular view with. By the time we were descending the trail was much much busier.
From the trailhead you essentially walk up for the next few hours. It was quite steep at times (but nothing steep like we experienced on Colden). Beautiful views were to be had throughout the hike, you got a nice taste of it as you trudged on, each view getting better and better as you climbed higher. We took a long break at the top knowing we had more than enough time to relax and enjoy.
Giant Mountain took us about 2.5 hours to reach the summit, and an overall 5 hour round trip (with lots of downtime at the top).
As a bonus, the area we parked at (Chapel Pond) is a lovely little swimming spot. We had packed our suits in the car and changed after finishing the hike. We took a quick swim, which was completely refreshing. Cold water on hot sore feet is the perfect remedy!
If I had to do it again – I would do this one just the same. A 5 hour hike does not require the same volume as a 10 hour hike, and I had already learned my lessons the day prior. I would have enjoyed a dry shirt at the top of the summit, as it is easy to catch a chill when your sweat starts to cool. Other than that, the early start made for a nicer hike and would definitely recommend that.
Day 3 – Algonquin, Iroquois and Wright Peak, 9 mile round trip
Algonquin – High Peak #2 of 46, Elevation 5100 ft, Ascent 2900 ft
Iroquois – High Peak #8 of 46, Elevation 4800 ft, Ascent 2900 ft
Wright – High Peak #16 of 46, Elevation 4500 ft, Ascent 2420 ft
This was a wild day! We were up at 6am, on the road at 6:30am and at the trailhead at 7am. I was for sure intimidated by this hiking day. At this point, we had already been on some major hikes – feet were sore and unused muscles and tendons were awakened. My legs were strong and keeping up just fine, but minor aches and pains in my heel and knee were starting to speak a little louder than before.
Despite my trepidation, this was my favourite day of hiking! I am not sure if it was just a less challenging hike (unlikely), or if my body was just a bit more adapted to the longstanding uphill burn, but this hike was very manageable for us. The three peaks are all close together, but the kicker is that to reach Iroquois you must first summit Algonquin. This means to get back to the primary trail from Iroquois, you must summit Algonquin twice. It sounds like a lot, but it was very manageable. With slight ascents and descents of 500-800 ft (give or take). We did very well on our ascent of Algonquin, making it there in 2.5 hours, though when we arrived it was very windy, quite cold and foggy, and there was sadly no view to be seen. We were happy to have our raincoats, which gave a shield from the wind. We did not linger too long, as there was nothing to see, and we descended to the boundary pass towards Iroquois.
We were the only two people on Iroquois and it was beautiful. We were at just enough elevation decrease from Algonquin that it was warmer, less windy and much clearer. We took pictures and enjoyed a nice break. Fortunately, we could see the weather at Algonquin turning in our favour, and the fog dissipated and the view was clear again. When we summited Algonquin for the second time (this was the steeper side), we could see the amazing 360 degree view it had to offer. We spent a bit more time soaking it all in.
Finally, we began our descent to where Wright Peak would jog off the primary trail. It was a tough but short 0.5 mile trek straight up, and the wind was fierce. We spent some time talking to the Summit Stewards on the mountain that day, offering a worldful of information about the peaks, the park, the wildlife and even restaurant recommendations (these are great folks to talk to if you meet them on the trails).
From there we started the endless descent back to the car. The pain in my feet was indescribable. I could have cried with joy when my shoes finally came off – what I would have give to have a masseuse there ready to rub my poor feet!
When I head back, next time I will invest in Quick dry shirts. I wore my standard workout tops and they essentially soaked up all my sweat and then stayed wet all day. This happened every day, but it was on day 3 when I really felt the temperature changes on the trail, particularly on Algonquin and Wright. I might even invest in one of those hydration packs. Using a water bottle when in pairs is easy, but in moments of being solo, it is much more time consuming and inconvenient to have to take off your bag every time you need a sip of water! Small conveniences that could make a big difference. I have always preferred the short length hiking boots that don’t hinder ankle movement, but after day 3, my ankles were really feeling the downhill. My next pair of hikers may be a pair with greater ankle support.
Another huge realization on the trip – yes, carrying a camera is heavy and completely inconvenient, but is totally worth the trouble!
A few last minute thoughts on my Lake Placid Adirondack adventure:
-Best thing I ate: Nachos with burnt Brisket ends at Smoke Signals and Peach Pizza at Lisa G’s.
-Best free activity: Giant Mountain followed by a swim at Chapel Pond.
-Best cheap activity: Any hike where there is a small parking fee!
-Best money saving tip: Bring snacks from home, cook what you can on your own (we brought our camping stove and cooked pork chops and boiled eggs for the hike), fill up your gas tank in Canada before crossing the border and make it last until you return! Skip the patio and buy some wine to enjoy where you are staying, there is nothing like drinking wine from a plastic camping cup. Although, if there is a $2.50 margarita deal ANYWHERE, you have to do it.
-Best totally random activity: The Lake Placid Car Show, for $3 we got to see a whole whack of ol’ beauties, it was unplanned and definitely a fun little change to our routine.