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Hiking the Northville-Placid Trail Part II: Benson to Piseco
The Northville-Placid Trail is the premier hiking trail across New York State’s 6-million-acre Adirondack Park. It stretches from the village of Northville near the southern boundary of the park to Lake Placid, the storied village that twice hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980. This is a wilderness foot trail that passes numerous ponds and lakes where loons cry hauntingly at night. In its entire 125-mile span, there are only four road crossings.
Is this what you expect of a hike in the Empire State? While you may pass near the headwaters of the Hudson River, there are no skyscrapers or torch-bearing statues along this route!
This is indeed a wilderness trail, traversing through the heart of the Forest Preserve, public land owned by the state and protected by its constitution from logging, sale, and commercial usage. There is private land along the way, but only near the road crossings. The rest is remote and wild: Silver Lake, the West Canadas, the Cold River. Four sections of the trail take you straight through regions protected by state law as wilderness.
Does this sound like something you might want to try? This article is the first in a five-part series that breaks the 125-mile hiking route into sections that can be hiked in long weekends, or combined into one continuous end-to-end hike. I completed a traverse of the Northville-Placid Trail (or NPT for short) in 2010, although by that time I was so familiar with the individual segments that this trip was more like a long sojourn with an old friend rather than an exploration of someplace new. If you only have one chance to hike in the Adirondacks—and you are an experienced long-distance hiker with a strong yen to seek out wildness—then you will certainly love the NPT. It offers some of the best of this outstanding park lined up into one attractive package.
Make no mistake, the NPT is a wilderness footpath. Some of the more accessible portions are very clear and well maintained, but many of the remoter portions can be challenging. Mud is so common along the entire route that it is essentially just part of the scenery! By all means, if you are new to hiking and backpacking you will want to gain experience on other trails before tackling this one.
This article describes the southernmost section, from Benson Road to Piseco. This entire segment passes through the Silver Lake Wilderness, a rugged but under-appreciated region that is rich with wild streams, secluded ponds, and deep forests. Depending on your hiking speed, this section can be covered comfortably in 2 or 3 days.
The NPT Series Continues!
- Hiking the Northville-Placid Trail Part I: A Preview of Coming Attractions
Explore a new beginning for a favorite Adirondack trail
If you are new to the region, follow the New York State Thruway (I 90) to the NY Route 30 exit in Amsterdam. Follow NY 30 north to Northville, and then beyond for another 3.3 miles to the junction with Benson Road. Bear left onto Benson Road, and follow it for 4.6 miles. There is a parking area on the left, and a small "TRAIL" sign pointing the way into the woods on the right. The two are diagonally across the road from each other. In August 2014 DEC was in the process of enlarging the parking area.
Overview of the Southern Adirondacks
NPT Waypoint Chart: Southern Section
South to North
North to South
Woods Lake campsite
Junction with Grant Lake path
Abner Brook bridge
Small campsite 100 feet north of trail
North Branch West Stony Creek ford site
Merge with old trail near North Branch bridge
Side trail, Rock Lake
West Branch Sacandaga River
Silver Lake Lean-to
Boardwalk over extremely muddy area
Mud Lake Lean-to
West Branch Sacandaga River, suspension bridge. Look for side trail leading west to campsite 200 feet from the south end of the bridge
Jct, trail to Whitehouse
Hamilton Lake Stream
Hamilton Lake Stream Lean-to
Buckhorn Lake outlet
Route 8, Piseco
Leaving the north side of Benson Road, the NPT enters the woods and immediately bears right. It ascends a hillside and turns northeast. It enters a hemlock stand as it begins to descend toward the east shore of Woods Lake, passing above a scenic campsite at 0.3 mile that features views of a not-too-distant Three Ponds Mountain. The trail is benched into a steep hillside as it traverses below some rock ledges, but it slowly drops to a stream crossing at 0.6 mile next to a collection of enormous erratics.
The NPT hooks back westward to contour along the foot of Little Cathead Mountain, far enough back from Woods Lake that there are few good views of it. At about 1.7 miles, the trail drops off the mountain and turns north to follow its foot. Here the trail passes through a wide-open forest across gentle terrain, with stream crossings at irregular intervals. The biggest of these crossings, at 2.8 miles, is the outlet of Grant Lake. A short distance later, at 3.1 miles, you reach a junction where the NPT turns left, southwest; the route to the right is the unmarked path to boggy Grant Lake, a 0.8-mile side trip that most through-hikers will probably choose to skip.
For 0.2 mile the NPT piggybacks on an informal trail maintained by the Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center in Upper Benson; at 3.3 miles it bears hard right (west) while the ski trail continues southwest. The through trail winds through a hemlock forest, climbs a small, unnamed hill, and then begins a 0.7-mile-long descent toward Abner Brook. You reach the log bridge at 4.7 miles; it spans a wooded stretch of the stream between two long wetlands.
Across the bridge, the trail loops through a low-lying area to higher ground. Two small streams are crossed within the next few minutes. Shortly after the second, a side path leads right (northeast) to a small campsite located beside the stream, with room for two tents. As of August 2014 the path was marked only with a small cairn, 4.9 miles from Benson Road. This was the only established campsite found between Woods Lake and Notch Brook.
The NPT follows the foot of a broad hillside southwest, intercepting an old road about 10 minutes after passing the campsite. At times you can glimpse the open wetlands that flank much of Abner Brook, although the surrounding alders make it difficult to see the brook itself. The old roadbed is wide and easy to follow, although it is prone to occasional wetness. The NPT leaves it briefly to switchback up a small knoll crowned with huge hemlocks.
The foot trail reaches a log bridge over Notch Brook at 6.9 miles, and then rises to a junction 200 feet further. This is a potentially confusing area, with several trails leading in different directions. Fortunately, the blue NPT disks make the correct route easy to spot. Bear left, but watch for the next right turn within 300 feet—just before you reach the North Branch West Stony Creek at 7 miles. If you ford the creek here, you will find a designated campsite in the meadow on the opposite bank, as well as a trail to Upper Benson just beyond.
Bearing right, the NPT climbs a knoll and parallels the North Branch on high ground. It descends to a junction at 7.4 miles, within sight of the footbridge over the North Branch. The trail to the left was the original NPT prior to the 2014 reroute.
Are you planning to hike the Northville-Placid Trail?
Goldmines, Hermits, and Suspension Bridges--Oh My!
The NPT embarks on a westward course along the foot of Blue Ridge Mountain. It reaches the first significant stream crossing at 8.2 miles. This is Goldmine Creek, named for the period in the 1880s when a number of local companies made dubious claims that this area was rich with gold and silver deposits. Preposterous! If there was gold here, you would not be standing in a pristine wilderness now; most of the companies disappeared from record after just a few years. You can find the remains of the purported Amsterdam Mining Company’s gold mine by following Goldmine Creek north to a wetland. The site is now more of a curiosity than anything else; there is no shaft, just the remains of two small ore-crushing mill devices, a pile of shot rock, and numerous bricks.
You encounter other small streams after Goldmine Creek, all of them flowing off the slopes of Blue Ridge Mountain to the north. The trail is clearly following an old woods road as it climbs into the foothills through the maturing forest. At 10.2 miles you reach the marked fork where a 0.1-mile-long side trail goes left to a campsite on Rock Pond, located near the eastern shore where a long-forgotten lean-to once stood. Rock is an 8-acre trout pond nestled in a valley at the foot of its namesake mountain. There is a rock rising out of the water near its west end, but this seems to be a weak basis for the pond’s name.
The NPT passes around the north shore of Rock Lake, but so far above it there are no good views. About 1 mile from the Rock Lake fork, at 11.2 miles, you reach the West Branch Sacandaga River; it is here just a small creek, only a little bigger than Goldmine—but big enough that you may not be able to step across it without a change of footwear.
After crossing the river, the trail immediately turns north to climb beside it. The route is a little narrower, and the grade a little steeper as the NPT ascends 250 feet in 0.8 mile to Meco Lake, which is shaped vaguely like a pistol; for one brief moment as you hike around its west shore you can see Blue Ridge Mountain down the barrel of its outlet.
North of Meco, the NPT crests a height-of-land and begins the final descent toward Silver Lake. The trail circles around the lake’s southern tip remarkably close to the water, under the shade of wind-swept hemlocks. Moose Mountain can be seen on the distant horizon. The trail reaches a small opening in the woods where the old lean-to once stood, and then bears right to the site of the current lean-to, which stands on high ground with a modest setback from the shore. This spot is 12.9 miles from the new Benson Road trailhead.
The lakeshore is a bit muddy for swimming. Its deep clear waters were once among the best for fishing, but in the twentieth century it fell victim to acid rain; by 1969 no fish were left. It remained this way until the turn of the twenty-first century, after surveys revealed that the pH level was moderating. DEC began stocking the lake again in 2002 with brook trout, and in May 2013 a local resident caught a record six-pound fish here—a victory not just for the fisherman, but for the health of the lake as well.
From the Silver Lake Lean-to, the NPT heads northeast along the foot of Silver Lake Mountain before veering westward toward Canary Pond. The site of the Daniel Wadsworth hermitage was located near this bend, approximately 0.7 mile from the lean-to. Wadsworth died at the age of ninety on October 28, 1924, the year that the NPT was opened, although it’s not clear if he had any interaction with the Adirondack Mountain Club members who built and hiked the trail. He had been squatting on state land for many years; this was illegal even during the laws of the day, although officials tolerated his presence due to his age and affability.
At 14.7 miles you reach a large wetland bisected by a deep stream. Be thankful for the long, elevated bridge that spans this wetland, because without it this would be a quagmire. The trail winds through a coniferous forest, reaching Canary Pond at 15.1 miles. An attractive campsite sits atop a rocky point on the northeast side of this quiet trout pond, which is the source of the stream known only as North Branch. If remoteness is your goal, you will find few spots further removed from civilization than this.
Beyond Canary Pond, the NPT swings north once again and gradually meanders toward the foot of Moose Mountain. You reach the edge of a massive beaver meadow, which could either be a scenic pond reflecting the foliage, or a sprawling mudflat—it all depends on the state of the beaver dam. The trail begins a long detour around this obstacle by turning northeast, then sharply west around a corner of the flow grounds. You reach the site of the dam, where the NPT resumes its northerly heading after crossing the stream.
You are now contouring around the foot of Moose Mountain through a hardwood forest. As the slope turns more northwestward, so does the trail. You cross the small stream known as Noisy Brook before wandering closer to the side of Mud Lake; extensive shoreline wetlands will prevent you from getting too close, however. The trail circles around the west shore, where you are faced with a narrow log bridge across a deep inlet channel; this bridge can be submerged in times of high water.
At 18.5 miles you reach the Mud Lake Lean-to, which stands just inside the woods near the northwest corner of the lake. The lean-to is an attractive campsite, although it takes a special sensibility to appreciate the view of the shallow, muddy pond with its extensive wetlands. The presence of Moose Mountain rising more than 900 feet to the south is certainly one of Mud Lake’s grace notes. Getting to the water is not always easy, so campers looking to replenish their supply typically use a small stream located about 0.1 mile further north along the NPT.
From the lean-to, the trail ascends 120 feet to a height-of-land, but it then descends 570 feet to reach the West Branch Sacandaga River again. It has grown into a substantial river since you crossed it the first time! Here, at 21.4 miles, you cross a double-length suspension bridge to a cabin site on the far bank, marked by an aging chimney. This was part of the hunting camp complex called Whitehouse, which was owned and operated by the Lawrence and Fountain families during the first half of the twentieth century. When the Adirondack Mountain Club opened the NPT in 1924, it passed through Whitehouse without the benefit of a bridge to carry hikers across the river. Fording was possible in the summer, but otherwise people were dependent upon the lodge’s fishing boats; if none were available on the riverbank when you arrived, you could yell across the river and ask someone at Whitehouse to fetch you. The bridge was constructed in 1962, after the state acquired the land. Nothing remains of Whitehouse other than two chimneys, some clearings, and an old cemetery.
There is a good campsite on the south bank of the West Branch Sacandaga just 200 feet from the trail. Look for the short side path leading west from the NPT, beginning at the bridge's southernmost tower. Note that there is NO camping at the old chimney north of the bridge.
Whitehouse, Hamilton Lake Stream, and Piseco
At 21.5 miles you reach a junction. A right turn would take you to the parking area at the end of West River Road, which leads to Wells. (The detour to Wells is so long that it is not recommended as a resupply option.)
Bearing left on the NPT, you are led away from the river past a hill called the Flat Iron. The trail reaches another suspension bridge at 23.8 miles, this one over Hamilton Lake Stream. It is the smaller, younger sibling to the bridge at Whitehouse. Built in 1966, it spans the brush-lined banks where cardinal flowers can be found in August. The NPT hooks left along the bank on the far side of the bridge and circles around a bend on the Priests Vly outlet stream, leading west up the knoll where the Hamilton Lake Stream Lean-to sits to the right of the trail at 24.1 miles. The shelter stands over 100 feet back from the edge of the brook on a high, dry spot deep in the forest. It is not known for its views, but it is an attractive campsite nevertheless.
Continuing northwest to Piseco, the NPT makes several successive stream crossings until you reach the large meadow known as Priests Vly at 25.0 miles. In years of beaver activity, there may be a pond here. The terrain becomes hilly as you push on, reaching a footbridge at 26.5 miles. Dead Vly is visible through the trees to your left, and Buckhorn Lake lies unseen just 0.1 mile upstream to your right.
Soon you can hear cars ahead of you, and then you reach a trail register and cross a snowmobile trail. After cutting through a reforested meadow you arrive at NY Route 8 in Piseco at 27.7 miles. Casey’s General Store is a useful and convenient food stop across the road. You can load up on snacks and get a meal for immediate consumption, although they do not carry much backpacking gear.
If You Really Want that Patch...
This is the end of the first trail section on the Northville-Placid Trail. It should be pointed out that the Schenectady Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, who is responsible for recognizing successful end-to-end hikers, requires you to hike the next road section—even people who are doing the trail in sections—if you would like to earn a trail patch. This is a 3-mile walk through Piseco that is entirely on pavement. Brown DEC signs direct hikers off NY 8 onto Piseco Road, past the Piseco airport and post office, and then onto Haskell Road 2.2 miles later. At the end of this section—30.7 miles from the start of the NPT—you reach the Cold Stream trailhead, and the start of the next leg: the West Canada Lake Wilderness.
Discover the Southern Adirondacks 40th Anniversary Edition
To Learn More about the Southern Adirondacks:
- Discover the Southern Adirondacks
This edition of Discover the Southern Adirondacks features updated trail information, dozens of photographs, many new route descriptions, and newly redesigned trail maps—making this the definitive guide to the southern Adirondacks.
- Adirondack Wilderness Explorers Meetup Group
Gain experience hiking and camping in the Adirondack wilderness by joining this Meetup group.
- Official NPT Website
NPTrail Chapter ADK adirondack backpacking information, conditions, and more!
- Northville-Placid Trail - Schenectady Chapter - Adirondack Mountain Club
Click on this link for information on how to apply for your NPT patch once your hike is completed.