Along with being the largest protected area in the contiguous United States, the Adirondacks boast one of the longest fall foliage seasons in the country. The hot summer temperatures quickly flee with the shorter days, providing a whole new perspective to the endless green mountains you thought you knew so well. From hiking to biking, canoeing, and more, there are plenty of outdoor destinations begging for your exploration! We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite treks to help you get started.
Peak foliage throughout the Adirondacks typically begins in October. Essex County is the first to reveal its colors because it is the farthest north in the region. The transition spreads down through Lake Champlain in Franklin County and the Saranac Lakes slowly crossing over to Hamilton County to the west. Warren County and Lake George hold out the longest with peak foliage emerging during the final weeks of the month. Beginning at the highest altitudes, these colors cascade down the mountain slopes, past fir trees, and into the valleys below. An exuberant display of red, yellow, purple, and gold paints the landscape as far as the wind blows. “I Love NY” publishes a weekly New York Fall Foliage Report to help you track the peaking colors throughout the state.
After the adventure, be sure to check out some of the local festivities. Quaint and bustling towns scatter the region from Lake Placid to Malone with everything from music festivals to apple picking. “Visit the Adirondacks” has a complete list of activities with events, breweries, eateries, and much more to assist you in your grand escapade in the north. Fall is certainly a special time of the year to be celebrated, and there is lots of fun to be had for visitors of all ages!
The covered bridge that spans the East Branch of the Ausable River in Jay, New York, was built in 1857 and is the only remaining Howe Truss Bridge in the Adirondacks. It crosses the river just below Jay Falls, a broad cascade of water that that drops about 10 feet over several tiers. On hot summer days, visitors can be seen enjoying the natural water slides and sunbathing along the shore. There is a small park nearby with basketball and tennis courts, a playground, benches, and a small gazebo.
While the ascent is by no means a walk in the park, it is short and does have scrambling sections, making this a fun outing that will get the adrenaline flowing for most. From the summit of Catamount Mountain (3,169 feet), walking around will allow views in all directions. To the north, Taylor Pond and Silver Lake Mountain are prominent, while the Wilmington Range and the Whiteface area attract attention to the south.
Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain can be recognized by its stunning cliffside that faces the east, a stark contrast to the local landscape. Located in the Taylor Pond Wild Forest, this 2,180-foot mountain is a very popular, highly trafficked destination in the northeastern Adirondacks. There are two trails that lead to the top, and this description follows the Observer’s Trail. It is a 5-mile round-trip route that climbs approximately 1,500 feet to the summit. Atop this momentous peak stands a fire tower with incredible 360-degree views that span from the High Peaks across Lake Champlain and to the Green Mountains in Vermont.
With its short climb, welcoming summit, and great views, Rocky Mountain is a must-visit hike for families with children. It has a pleasant forest to stroll through. One or two steep places may require extra care, but for the most part the trail climbs at a moderate pace and ends in a wide, flat outcropping with excellent views of the surrounding lakes and mountains.
Indian Head and Fishhawk Cliffs provide some of the best views in the Adirondacks, especially during the fall. There are great views here, but they get better as you descend to the exposed rock at Indian Head. Enjoy the view of the Ausable Lakes to the southwest, Gothics and the Great Range to the north and northwest, and Fishhawk Cliffs to the south. You can continue on the trail toward Colvin down a steep slope and back up the other side to reach Fishhawk Cliffs. This area is more secluded and offers excellent views of Indian Head and the Ausable Lakes.
Bald Mountain is a popular hike just outside of Old Forge with a short climb and a big view. The trail begins climbing slowly at first, but it climbs quickly after reaching the first bedrock slope. Most of the trail continues along these bald patches of rock, with clumps of roots providing natural footholds. The trail alternates between steep climbs and rolling terrain until the first opening in the trees reveals a view of the surrounding lakes and hills.
Pharaoh Mountain is a central feature of the 46,283-acre Pharaoh Mountain Wilderness. Located in the southern Adirondacks, this summit offers several wide-open, incredible lookouts to peer across this beautiful landscape in all directions. A trek to the peak takes some time, effort, and a 2,000-foot elevation gain, but with the challenge comes a wonderful scenic reward. From the end of Crane Pond Road you will complete an approximately 10-mile round-trip route on a long dirt road past a few ponds and marsh areas and up a pine covered trail to the top of a rocky mountain with vast overlooks.
While there are several Owl’s Head Mountains throughout New York State, there is only one that hosts a historic fire tower. This Owl’s Head Mountain is located within the Sargent Pond Wild Forest and is accessed by a 6.4-mile there-and-back trail that is moderately trafficked. At the top, there is a cleared area with an incredible cliff-face overlook. The tower’s cabin is also open for visitors to take in the incredible 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape.
Formally adopted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in 2014, Cobble Lookout is a relatively new hiking destination that is family-friendly and very rewarding due to its spectacular 180-degree view of the Adirondacks. The broad view from the lookout gets hikers up close to Esther Mountain (4,240 feet) and Whiteface Mountain (4,867 feet) — two of the Adirondack 46 High Peaks that tower to the right. As you look out to the east you will see the Giant Mountain Wilderness, Hurricane Mountain, Jay Mountain and many other peaks in the distance. Down below, the West Branch of the Ausable River can be seen making its turn toward its confluence with the East Branch of the Ausable River at Ausable Forks.
The Adirondack Mountain Reserve Trailhead is used to access over a dozen trailed peaks in the Adirondacks, including nine 46ers. Two of those, Nippletop (4,620 feet) and Dial (4,020 feet), can be summited from that trailhead in a nice lasso loop. This hike gains serious total elevation, but it offers several fantastic views along the ridge between Nippletop and Dial.
Cobble Hill, standing at 2,332 feet, is a perfect mountain for a beginning climber or families looking for an easy, yet rewarding hike. Originally named Kobl Hill when set up as a downhill ski operation in the late 1950s, Cobble Hill has since become a popular hike due to the views of the Village of Lake Placid as well as the High Peaks. Once at the summit, hikers will see the High Peaks, Olympic Ski Jumps and the Olympic Bobsled Run on Mount Van Hoevenberg directly in front. Looking to the left, Cascade Mountain and the Sentinel Range can be seen. Cascade Mountain is easily identified by the slide that resembles the number seven.
As this mountain is not on any peakbagging list, the trail is not as popular as the ones leading to the higher peaks or to mountains with fire towers. This means there is a higher chance of finding solitude here over the other nearby mountains. The trailhead is on Silver Lake Road, just east of the namesake lake. From the rocky ledges around the summit there are numerous views of the surrounding lakes, ponds and mountains. Whiteface and the Wilmington Range are also quite prominent to the south.
In the Adirondacks, an area that usually attracts hikers gunning for the High Peaks, the Tongue Range attracts plenty of attention by offering a fun hike with tons of great views and several camping options for backpackers looking to make a weekend out of this loop. The hike starts out easy from New York route 9N, but it quickly starts to ascend through an open forest. Take your time because, while this loop never has a long sustained ascent and barely reaches 2,200 feet, there are lots of ups and downs that add up to total elevation gain of over 4,000 feet. Montcalm Point, which has a lean-to, boasts a fantastic view over Lake George.
The Pinnacle is one of several beautiful Lake George Land Conservancy hikes, and it is beginner and family friendly. The trail is mostly moderately graded and includes a few switchbacks further up, so it’s never very steep. There are a couple of benches along the way and one at the top, which offers a more comfortable place to sit and take a break if you need one. The 270-degree view from the ledge overlooks the Sagamore Resort, Lake George, the lake at Shelving Rock, and Buck Mountain.
At less than a mile round-trip, Belfry Mountain is a short, family-friendly hike that offers a big reward for a little effort. Parking is along the roadside, and the trail is accessible year round. The trail is a gravel road with a moderate grade for most of the walk, and it narrows to a footpath near the top. Wildflowers can be found along the trail, and trees give way to a limited view near the base of the fire tower. The fire tower was built in 1917 has since been restored, and it now offers a 360-degree view for those who ascend its stairs. From the top of the tower you can see Lake Champlain and Vermont’s Green Mountains to the east and the Adirondack High Peaks to the west.