Occupying a large portion of upper New York State, and less than 2-hours from the State Capitol, Albany, the Adirondacks offer a unique mountain experience. At 6-million acres, the Adirondack Park is larger than the States of Vermont or New Hampshire and is one of the oldest protected wildlands in the Nation.
With 46 “High Peaks” above 4,000 feet, it is home to fragile subarctic alpine summits, rare flora and fauna, lovely little towns, and some of the most remote hiking in the Northeast. (Some hikes are close to 20 miles for a single peak.)
So, what is the easiest Adirondack High Peak to hike? “Easy” is a relative term, but most Adirondack hikers will tell you to begin with the same mountains we did: Cascade and Porter. With a manageable distance of 2.4 miles to Cascade’s peak, a gentle ascent, and an open summit with 360-degree views, this is the perfect introduction to the Adirondack High Peaks. A single trail will lead you to both peaks, with a turn-off for Porter about 4/5 of the way up. Cascade has better views, but Porter is an easy side trip and you will have two High Peaks under your belt. Well worth it.
On your way to the trailhead, take note of the glacial lakes at the foot of Cascade, and enjoy a beautiful drive through lovely mountain towns like Keene Valley, Keene, and Lake Placid. When you’ve completed your first climb- reward yourself with legendary homemade pie at the Noonmark diner in Keene. (Trust me.)
Cascade (4,098 ft)
2.4 miles to the summit, 1,940 ft elevation gain.
Porter (4,059 ft)
.7 miles from trail junction, 1,960 ft elevation gain.
*Note: All mileages and elevations are referenced from Adirondack Trails High Peaks Region, 2013.
How my own High Peaks journey began…
On a chilly November morning in 2006, my brother and I followed route 73 as it threaded its way into the heart of the Adirondack High Peaks. It was a crisp, gorgeous dawn as we parked and took our first steps onto a trail in the High Peaks.
The sky was clear, and within just a couple miles we were enjoying stunning views in all directions. I was hooked, and within a few years, I had climbed all 46 of the Adirondack High Peaks, including a handful in winter.
Once you’ve knocked the easiest off the list, here’s what to do next:
Here are a few moderate High Peak hikes to consider for your early adventures. Each hike is a manageable distance and ascent, and each offers a different perspective on the stunning High Peaks region.
Phelps (4,161 ft)
4 Miles to the summit, 1,982 feet elevation gain.
What I love about the Phelps (and Table Top) hikes is they both begin at the Adirondack Loj trailhead. The Loj is owned and operated by the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) and offers numerous options for overnight lodging, camping, and first-rate, family-style meals.
On weekends in the summer and fall, you’ll likely find NYS Park Rangers around to offer helpful updates and advice. Definitely take time to chat with them.
The first two miles of this route are gentle and soon bring you to Marcy Dam. The dam and pond were lost during hurricane Irene in 2011, but the open space still offers a gorgeous perspective on the High Peaks. Take a break and soak in views of Avalanche Pass, Colden, Wright, and Algonquin.
The trail for Phelps then follows the Van Hoevenberg Trail, the oldest tail to Mount Marcy, the state’s highest peak. You’ll likely meet many hikers and enjoy fun trail conversations along this popular route. The Phelps turn-off appears at 3.2 miles, followed by a steep 1.1-mile ascent to the summit ledge where you’re rewarded with beautiful views of Mount Marcy.
Table Top (4,427 ft)
1 miles to the summit, 2,248 ft elevation gain.
Follow the same route as Phelps Mountain, just an additional 1.1 miles further on the Van Hoevenberg Trail for the turn-off. Note: the last .6 miles of this trail is a herd path (unmarked trail), but there is a summit sign indicating you’ve reached the top. The summit is largely wooded, but this is still a great hike!
Wright Peak (4,580)
8 miles to the summit, 2,400 ft elevation gain.
This is a great, open summit on the shoulder of Algonquin, the State’s second-highest peak. The route takes you on a gradual trail towards Marcy Dam, before turning and following a steady, steep ascent. You’ll pass by a cascading waterfall, and finally savor some stunning views from Wright’s open summit.
You can gaze down at Heart Lake and the ADK Loj on one side, and Avalanche Lake, Colden, and Mount Marcy on the other. Check your guidebook for tips on finding the remains of a World War II-era bomber wreck and historical marker a short distance from the summit.
Note: The temptation to continue on towards Algonquin will be strong, but no change in plans should be made on-the-fly. Algonquin is a great hike, but it’s an additional 1,300 feet of steep climbing from the Wright trail junction, so make sure you and each member of your party are well-prepared ahead of time.
Always best to walk out safely and enjoy that piece of celebratory pie at the Noonmark, rather than risk a bad day.
Big Slide via the Brothers (4,240 ft)
7.6 mile out and back to the summit, 2,800 feet elevation gain.
I love this trail. The route begins in Keene Valley at the entrance to Johns Brook Valley, a stunning region bordered by the Great Range. The trail is a mix of gradual and steep ascents and offers views along the way from each of the Brothers. Stop and gaze down into Johns Brook Valley, with perfect views of adjacent High Peaks like the Wolf Jaws, Gothics, and Saddleback.
If you’re not feeling up for the entire hike, just stop at one the Brothers and take in the views. (And the blueberries when they’re in-season!)
Can Kids Climb the High Peaks?
Yes! Many children have begun climbing the High Peaks at an early age, and recently a child under 5 completed them all. It can be done! Only you will know your child’s abilities, but if you want to start on some lower mountains and still get a taste for the High Peaks, here are a few options:
Mount Jo & Heart Lake
Known as the “Finest Square Mile”, The ADK Loj at Heart Lake is a great place to introduce children to the High Peaks. Make the short climb up Mount Jo to enjoy stunning views of the High Peaks, then relax with a swim in Heart Lake. Great for kids of all ages.
Excellent starter hike for young ones. Only .6 miles to the summit and offers a great variety of views. Get them hooked early with this short journey, and still have energy left to explore the local towns.
An easy two-mile hike to Marcy Dam will offer a great place to eat your lunch and take in views of the surrounding mountains. Make it a fun overnight and stay in one of the shelters. Great place for beginning backpacking. Just be prepared, the Eastern High Peaks have a lot of bear activity, and Marcy Dam is particularly popular with Ursus Americanus.
Whiteface Mountain Toll Road (by car)
My personal credo is to never drive up a mountain until I’ve climbed it, but if you’re short on time, or just want a fun family experience- consider the toll road up Whiteface Mountain. At 4,867 feet, it is the 5th highest peak and with no other High Peak nearby, it has unparalleled views.
There is a castle-like restaurant just below the peak, and the choice of either a scrambling stairway or a tunnel and elevator to the actual summit. Yes- Whiteface is, in fact, an accessible high peak. A great option for family members with motor ability challenges.
Once atop the summit, there is an enclosed structure with a weather station, and a fun scramble out onto the open, rocky summit. Eat lunch in the restaurant, and reward the kiddos with a sticker or patch to remind them of their first foray into the High Peaks.
For More Information
Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) – www.adk.org
Founded in 1922, the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) “is dedicated to the conservation, preservation, and responsible recreational use of the New York State Forest Preserve and other parks, wildlands, and waters vital to our members and chapters.” They are a great resource for information, publications, and for finding group outings in the High Peaks.
I learned much of what I know about hiking the Adirondacks by joining their group hikes. Check out their extensive activities list for year-round hikes and workshops, many of which are hosted at the Adirondack Loj at Heart Lake.
ADK Loj at Heart Lake – https://www.adk.org/stay/adirondak-loj-at-heart-lake/
The “Finest Square Mile” features a fabulous lodge and campground in the heart of the High Peaks. Great place to launch your first (or 100th) ADK adventure.
ADK 46ers – www.adk46er.org
Established in 1936, and formed to bring together all those who have climbed the 46 High Peaks, the Forty-Sixers have grown to include more than 11,000 members from around the world. Earning the coveted 46er patch is a fun motivator and a great accomplishment for you and your family.
What to Read
Adirondack Trails High Peaks Region, Tony Goodwin, and Neal Burdick, Editors, ADK publication, 2013. This is your bible for High Peaks trails and includes a detailed topographic map.
Adirondack Peak Experiences, Compiled and edited by Carol Stone White. Great collection of unique, fun, and quirky stories from the Adirondack region.
Heaven Up-h’isted-ness: The History of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks by The Adirondack Forty-Sixers, Inc., 2011. The essential companion for the High Peaks.
The Adirondacks: A History of America’s First Wilderness, By Paul Schneider, 1998. A nice introduction to Adirondack history and lore told through the writer’s many first-hand experiences.
50 Hikes in the Adirondacks: Short Walks, Day Trips, and Backpacks Throughout the Park, 4th ed., By Barbara McMartin, 2003. This book started it all for my brother and me. Excellent book for exploring the variety of trails in the Adirondacks.
Adirondack Alpine Summits: An Ecological Field Guide, By Nancy G. Slack and Allison W. Bell, ADK publication, 2007. An excellent guide to safely exploring these fragile resources. The book is light and fits nicely in your pack.
Wherever your ADK adventures take you- remember to be safe, educate yourself on the route and the weather, hike within your limits, and make great memories. And as we say in the ADK 46ers, I wish you:
Bryce Waldrop (46er #7,331)
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