This hike takes you to Mount Marcy, New York’s highest point at 5,344 feet. The Van Hovenberg Trail to Marcy will be busy, but escape the crowds by adding Mount Skylight and Gray Peak to complete this classic lasso loop.
Start from the High Peaks Information Center, where a large parking lot accommodates a few hundred cars. It fills up quickly in the summer and during leaf peeping season, so plan to arrive early to beat the crowds. You will also want plenty of time to enjoy this outing.
Make your way to Marcy Dam, the hub for over a dozen mountains in the High Peaks Wilderness. This trail is a highway, but hikers start dispersing around the dam, where five trails converge. Even though the dam itself was destroyed by hurricane Irene in 2011, the area is still beautiful, with views of Wright Peak and Mount Colden’s rocky slides. In the summer you will need to backtrack a few hundred feet to cross the river on the replacement bridge; in winter, cross over the frozen pond.
On the way to Marcy you will notice the trail to Phelps and Table Top, two other Adirondack 46ers. Save them for another day. The short side trip to Indian Falls is worth effort, especially when waters are running high.
Just as you emerge from the forest and make the final push to the roof of New York you will be rewarded with fantastic views in all directions. Forty-three of the other 45 Adirondack 46ers can be seen on a clear day, most notably Mount Haystack, Mount Colden, Algonquin Peak, Iroquois Peak and Mount Skylight, your next stop.
From the summit of Mount Marcy, head southwest toward Mount Skylight, the big bald summit directly in front. The trail quickly descends, but there is great scenery to enjoy until you reach tree line again and Four Corners, where four trails converge.
Mount Skylight, New York's fourth highest summit at 4,925 feet, is a mere 0.5 miles away, due south. Reach the tree line quickly and enjoy unobstructed views while finishing the ascent. This flat summit is far from any trailhead, and as a result, it is usually very quiet. Contemplate your next stop, Gray Peak, directly west of Mount Marcy. It’s not as nice, so take time to soak in the views and the peaceful nature. Tradition also has it that you bring a rock to the summit. They are used to build cairns and delimit fragile alpine vegetation.
After Four Corners the trail skirts scenic Lake Tear of the Clouds, right in the middle of the three mountains summitted on this day. At the very end of the lake, notice the cairn on your right (north). This is where the 0.5-mile herdpath to Gray Peak starts. While unmaintained, it is very well-defined and easy to follow. This mostly wooded summit still has something to offer if you walk around; in winter, score a great view of Mount Marcy thanks to the accumulation of snow. This is New York's seventh highest summit at 4,826 feet.
Back on the main trail, Feldspar lean-to is 1.2 miles away (free, as well as the campsites). The long descent back to the HPIC will take you through Lake Arnold, at the foot of Mount Colden, the Avalanche lean-tos (free, as well as the campsites) and eventually, Marcy Dam, where the loop part of this hike ends. From there, it’s 2.3 miles of mostly flat trail to your car.
Want to spend the night at a campsite or lean-to? Solid decision. However, know that bear canisters are mandatory. The HPIC rents them.