Mountains have the power to stir within us a passion for wide open, wild places. In the Adirondack High Peaks Wilderness of northern New York, you will find this to be true. On this particular backpacking loop you will get to see the picturesque Avalanche Lake that’s nestled between two Adirondack Mountains, climb Mount Marcy the highest peak in New York at 5,344’, and enjoy many spectacular mountain views that extend as far as the eye can see. This hike will surely be a challenge for anyone, but the reward is an incredible adventure that will leave a lasting impression.
Length: 25.4 Miles
Duration: 2-3 Days
Peak Elevation: 5,344 Feet
Best Season to Hike: Late Spring to Fall
Difficulty Level: Challenging
Bear Canisters: Required
Permits: Not Required
Climb Mt. Marcy the Highest Point in New York
Abundance of Wildlife
Maps & Information
Trails of the Adirondack High Peaks Topographical Map: For finding your way, I recommend using the Adirondack Mountain Club’s waterproof map. It provides you with detailed information on elevation profiles, mileage, water sources, shelter, and campsite locations.
High Peaks Trails Guide Book: The guide book is designed to be used in conjunction with a map. It supplies more detailed information on rules and regulations, how to find the trailhead, where to park, mileages, elevation gains and heights, and all essential navigational information.
Parking for this hiking loop can be found at the Adirondack (ADK) High Peaks Information Center at Heart Lake. One thing to keep in mind is that, even though there is an abundance of parking spots, this place can still fill up on summer weekends by 9 or 10 a.m. I recommend arriving very early in the day. There is a daily parking fee of $12. After 1 p.m., the rate drops to $6. The weekly rate (5-7 days) is $48. If you’re a member to the ADK Club, parking will be cheaper. The parking fee might seem a little expensive, but you have to remember that this money helps protect the Adirondack wilderness. If you arrive and find that the lot is full, there is overflow parking available. You can park on Meadows Lane or on the right side (on your way out of the High Peaks Information Center) of Adirondack Loj Rd. from Meadows Lane out to Rt. 73.
Rodeway Inn: This is a nice budget hotel if your looking for something very simple to spend the night at. It’s conveniently located right off of Rt. 73 in Lake Placid, New York, which is only about 7 miles from the Van Hoevenberg Trailhead where you will start your hike from. Click the link provided for the latest price for a room.
ADK Wilderness Campground at Heart Lake: This campground is the most convenient option for a place to stay since it’s located within walking distance of all the hiking trails. You can choose between regular tent sites, lean-tos, or canvas cabins. There is also wash-house facilities with showers. Click the link provided for the latest rates.
Hiking in the Adirondack High Peaks can be difficult. When hiking up these mountains you will notice that there are no switchbacks at all. Just footpaths that seem to go straight up the side of the mountain. With this type of terrain don't expect to be putting in 15 or 20 miles per day, but closer to 10 miles or even less.
On certain sections of the trail you will find rocks and boulders that sometimes require rock scrambling. Because of this, trekking poles are a real help to keep your balance and to keep you safe. I recommend the Leki Corklite trekking poles because they have comfortable hand grips and have a durable design.
Around Avalanche Lake you can expect flatter terrain, but there will still be big boulders to navigate. To make the trail less challenging the ADK Mountain Club installed wooden ladders and catwalks which will add some fun to your experience. In other areas you will find the trails to be a little overgrown. You will have to keep your eyes on trail markers and reference your map frequently to avoid getting lost.
The Adirondacks High Peak Wilderness is known to have a very healthy population of black bears. Many of them have mastered the art of stealing food from backpackers. This is what happened to a guy who was camping next to me. He was making oatmeal early in the morning at his camp and walked away from his food for just a second to grab something. When he came back he found a bear eating his oatmeal. Because of this situation and others the Adirondack Mountain Club requires you to eat your food at least 100 feet away from your camp and to store all your food in a bear canister. If you decide to buy one I recommend the Backpacker’s Cache Canister because of it’s durability and superior design. The other option is that you can rent one at the ADK High Peaks Information Center near Heart Lake for $8 (1-2 days) or $16 (3-4 days).
Another thing to be careful of is the weather. There are many beautiful exposed summits to climb in the High Peaks, but bad weather like thunderstorms can make them very dangerous. Make sure to check the mountain weather forecast ahead of time at Mountain-forecast.com
There is also a particular section on this trail that is dangerous - climbing up Saddleback Mountain. When you get close to the summit, it will change from hiking on a trail to literally rock climbing with both your hands and feet. Having a backpack makes this section even more challenging. Make sure to take your time here you don’t want to get seriously hurt in the middle of the wilderness.
In the Adirondack High Peaks, spring time means lots of black flies and mosquitoes. They can be a real nuisance if you don’t come prepared. So, I recommend that you bring a long-sleeved shirt and long pants treated in Permethrin (insect repellent for your clothing and gear), a head bug-net, and some Deet bug spray. If your trip is more in the summer time or later, usually the bugs are not that big of a concern and you could get away with just bringing some bug spray.
Water is very easy to come by in the Adirondacks. You are never too far away from a lake or stream. Because of this I would recommend only carrying 2 liters of water at one time. The only area of concern on this hike would be when you’re climbing the big mountains, like Mount Marcy. There are no water sources up high and you will go through a lot of water because of exertion. Plan to top off your water bottles before your big ascents. I have many of the water sources marked on the interactive map below so you can plan your hike accordingly. Also, make sure to always filter your water because giardia and bacteria are a concern. One of the best water filters on the market is the Sawyer Micro Squeeze because it’s lightweight and has a fast flow rate.
Camp Spots & Shelters
Backcountry camping is only permitted at designated campsites or shelters. If you purchase the Adirondack High Peaks topographical map it has all the camp spot and shelter locations marked. (The National Geographic maps do not.) Some of the best campsites are located around or close to Lake Colden and Avalanche Lake. Refer to the interactive map below for exact locations. Also, one thing to be aware of is that camp fires are not allowed in the High Peaks Wilderness Area.
Day 1: (6.2 miles)
Start at the Van Hoevenberg Trailhead which is located close to the ADK Info Center at Heart Lake. (Click the link for exact location and directions to trailhead.)
Hike for 2.3 miles on the Van Hoevenberg Trail through forested terrain and eventually come to the Marcy Dam. Crossover the Marcy Brook and then bear right. In about 0.1 miles you will arrive at the Avalanche Pass and Van Hoevenberg Trail junction.
Take the Avalanche Pass Trail for about 1.5 miles and come to an area full of boulders and rock ledges called Avalanche Pass. Hike through this area and in 0.3 miles the forest will open up to Avalanche Lake.
Continue on for 1.1 miles, hiking along the lake on catwalks and climbing up wooden ladders over boulders. After that, you will leave Avalanche Lake and come to the Lake Colden and Avalanche Pass Trail junction. Stay on Avalanche Pass Trail for 0.9 miles, skirting along the edge of Lake Colden.
Eventually you will arrive at the Mount Marcy and Avalanche Pass Trail junction. Turn right onto the Mount Marcy Trail and start looking for a designated campsite area. Campsites are identified by a small yellow marker with a tent insignia on it. This is where you will spend the night.
Day 2: (12.2 miles)
Begin the day by retracing your steps back to the Mount Marcy and Avalanche Pass Trail junction. Continue on the Mount Marcy Trail for 1.8 miles steadily climbing in elevation and following the Uphill Brook.
You will then turn left for 0.5 miles and come to the Mount Marcy and Lake Arnold Trail junction. Stay on the Mount Marcy Trail by turning right. For 1.4 miles the trail will become very steep. Then the terrain will flatten out and you will reach the lake Tear of the Clouds.
Continue on past the lake for 0.1 miles and arrive at what they call the four corners junction. (Where four different trails intersect.) Stay on the Mount Marcy Trail by turning left. This will begin your ascent up Mount Marcy. Hike up this steep section for 0.8 miles and then you will have reached the summit.
After enjoying the views take the Van Hoevenberg Trail down the other side of Mount Marcy for 0.6 miles. You will come to the Phelps and Van Hoevenberg Trail junction. Bear right and take the Phelps Trail for 0.7 miles, dropping rapidly in elevation. You will then come to the State Range and Phelps Trail junction.
Take the State Range Trail for 1.1 miles going uphill for a little bit and then dropping back down into a valley. Then you will begin a steep ascent up Basin Mountain for 0.8 miles. When completed you will have reached the summit.
After taking in all the views continue on the State Range Trail by going down the other side of Mount Basin. Here you will descend very rapidly for 0.5 miles. Then you will immediately start to climb again for 0.5 miles up Saddleback Mountain. This ascent will require you to rock climb. When done you will have reached the summit.
When you’re done enjoying all the views, you will continue on State Range Trail down the other side of the mountain for 0.5 miles. Here you will come upon Orebed Brook and ADK Range Trail junction. Turn left onto the Orebed Brook Trail and descend for 0.5 miles and eventually come to a steep rock slide. Use the ADK-Club-built wooden steps for hikers to help navigate this difficult section. Take the steps all the way down and eventually you will return to dirt trail again.
In about 2.5 miles from the rock slide you will arrive at a 4 trail intersection. Take a left onto the Woodsfall Trail for 0.3 miles passing over the Orebed Brook and the Johns Brook. After that you will come to the John Brooks Lodge. Take a left onto the Phelps Trail for about 0.1 miles and start looking for a campsite designated area. Again campsites are identified by a small yellow marker with a tent insignia on it. This is where you will spend the night.
Day 3: (7 miles)
Start the day by retracing your steps back to the John Brooks Lodge. Here you will take a left onto the Klondike Notch Trail. For 4.8 miles you will hike through dense forest and follow multiple streams. This trail will noticeably be more flat then the day before. Eventually you will come to the Mr. Van Ski and Klondike Notch Trail junction.
Turn left onto the Mr. Van Ski Trail (This trail will be slightly overgrown) for 1 mile and come to Marcy Brook. Cross the brook and continue on for 1 more mile. You will then arrive at the Mr. Van Ski and Van Hoevenberg Trail junction. Turn right onto the Van Hoevenberg Trail and in 0.1 miles you will arrive at the parking lot. This will complete your hike.
Do you have a question about backpacking in the Adirondack High Peaks? Leave a comment down below
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