What’s better than a nice snowshoe in a snowy forest? Traversing an exposed ridge and getting the feeling of being on a high summit of the Rockies without leaving the Northeast. This outing will get you above tree line fast and keep you there for a long time on a loop that includes Wright, Algonquin and Iroquois peaks as well as visits to Lake Colden and Avalanche Lake.
This snowshoe outing starts at the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC). After nearly a mile, leave the Van Hovenberg Trail and head on the Wright Trail. Although there is a ski-dedicated trail that goes to Wright Peak, the snowshoeing and skiing trails are shared for some sections at the lower elevations, so it should be shared with respect. The Wright Trail ascends steadily until it reaches a col at about 4,000 feet. From that point, Wright Peak is a short but steep 0.4-mile one-way trip.
Wright Peak (4,587 feet) has the reputation of being one of the windiest mountains in the Adirondacks. On the bright side, one feels the wind because the summit is completely exposed, which means there are fantastic unobstructed views in all directions, including of Algonquin the next target. There is a plaque commemorating a plane crash on the summit, but it can be hard to find in winter under the snow and ice.
Back at the junction, the trail continues south to Algonquin. Tree line is reached quickly, and it starts to feel like real mountaineering. Good traction in the form of aggressive snowshoes or crampons is highly recommenced as the snow is often hard and icy. From Algonquin (5,115 feet), New York’s second highest summit, the views are hard to beat. The only thing shortening the stay may be the frigid temperatures.
Descending Algonquin southwest leads to an intersection that will be used to descend to Lake Colden; first, a trip to Iroquois is worth the detour. The 1.4-mile out-and-back has little elevation change and most of the way is above tree line, thus ensuring the show continues. From this range, most of the Adirondacks 46ers can be seen. Iroquois has the advantage of being much more isolated than Algonquin, and its situation in the middle of the High Peaks gives it a nice feeling of solitude.
Back at the junction the trail descends steeply to Lake Colden (free first-come, first-served lean-tos are nearby) and goes through scenic Avalanche Lake and Avalanche Pass (more free first-come, first-served lean-tos). Avalanches are rare, but the area bears the name for a reason, so it might be a good idea to check the conditions. After Avalanche Lake the trails are straightforward, and the return to the HPIC is via Marcy Dam (more free first-come, first-served lean-tos), a frequent stop on the way to most summits in the area.
This loop is one of the classics of the Adirondacks and should not be missed. It’s also the fastest way to get above tree line in the area. There is lodging at the Adirondack Loj, next to the HPIC, or at Heart Lake Campground, for those into winter camping.
Note: Always carry snowshoes in winter. Even though there might not be much snow at the trailhead, the snow can be deep and unconsolidated in the mountains. Remember that winter conditions can linger well into the spring at higher elevations. Wearing snowshoes also prevents postholing and makes the trails more enjoyable for all. In the High Peaks Wilderness, snowshoes are mandatory when there are 8 inches of snow on the ground.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.