Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
5,810.00 ft (1,770.89 m)
Trail type
Loop
Distance
17.30 mi (27.84 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The Adirondack's High Peaks Wilderness represents the pinnacle of outdoor adventure in New York. This 275,460 acre expanse of wilderness highlights 42 of the 46 coveted "High Peaks" and a wide diversity of stunning environments. At lower elevations the Adirondack's signature deep blue lakes and rolling hard wood forests dominate, but as you climb you enter the mountain boreal forest, where black spruce and balsam fir take over. If you are lucky enough to visit in the fall, you will be witness to the spectacular contrast of these dark mysterious evergreens and an endless ocean of fiery red, orange and yellow leaves.   

Overlooking all of this, are the cluster of peaks that gives this places it's name. At this lonely altitude, there is nothing to contain the winds and violent gusts rip away all but the hardiest of alpine vegetation. Naked and unable to hide, these exposed mounds of granite tower over the rest of New York. 

This 17 mile loop is a perfect way to experience the heart of the high peaks, as it takes you over New York's two tallest mountains, Algonquin Peak (5,102') and Mount Marcy (5,305'). Along with this, for those that have the extra time and leg strength, this route provides ample opportunity for relatively short side trips to nearby summits. Wright Peak (4,557'), Boundary Peak (4,826'), Cliff Mountain (3,940'), Gray Peak (4,800'), Mount Skylight (4,905'), Little Marcy (4,718'), Table Top Mountain (4,304') and Phelps Mountain (4,140') are all within a mile of the main trail, and most have their own trails that will take you to them.

The trip begins at Van Hoevenberg Trailhead, where you are required to check in at the High Peaks Information Center and rent a bear cannister, if you don't have one already. The first part of the trek takes you up 3,000 feet in less than four miles to Algonquin Peak, before descending another 2,250 feet to Lake Colden. The way down is nearly as tiring as the way up as the trail to Colden is in poor shape, and seems to be perpetually crossing over and back a cascading stream full of slippery rocks.  

Once you do reach Lake Colden, there are a number of backcountry campsites and even a few lean-tos that make for a prime location to spend the night. However, this is a popular spot and sites seem to fill up quickly, so get in early if you want the pick of the litter and even if you do expect to have neighbors.

From Lake Colden, it's an arduous 11 mile hike back to the trailhead, which takes you up and over New York's highest point, Mount Marcy. Unfortunately, due to the steep terrain that makes up the meat of this 11 miles, there aren't too many opportunities for camping until you're within a few miles of the trailhead. So, although you could break this up into two days, you'll likely want to hike it all at once. 

On your way back, make sure to take a break at Marcy Dam, which provides a wide open view of the 5,305 foot peak you were just standing on. Looking up 3,700 feet at Mount Marcy will provide you with a feeling of satisfaction that will hopefully push you through the last two miles of the trip.  

 

The Ultimate
Adventure Maps

Access 650K+ miles of trail data, Offline Maps, GPS Tracking, Waypoint functionality, Outdoor Project Adventures, and more with onX Backcountry. Start your free trial today–no credit card required.

Start Free Trial

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Spring
Fall

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

Yes

Open Year-round

Yes

Days

2

Pros

Lots of peaks and vistas. Many opportunities for side trips. Diverse ecosystems..

Cons

Poor trail conditions in spots. Sometime occupied and limited opportunities to camp.

Trailhead Elevation

2,214.00 ft (674.83 m)

Highest point

5,305.00 ft (1,616.96 m)

Features

Vault toilet
Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Historically significant
Wildlife
Fishing
Shelters
Big vistas
Big Game Watching
Bird watching

Typically multi-day

Yes

Permit required

No

Location

Comments

Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.