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Hiking in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks in Upstate New York Is One of Many Popular Places for Backpacking

Updated on November 12, 2015

High Peaks

High Peaks, NY:
High Peaks, NY, USA

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Mt. Marcy

Mt. Marcy, NY:
Mt Marcy, Keene Valley, NY 12943, USA

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If you love the great outdoors, a backpacking trip into the Adirondack Park in New York State is a beautiful place to visit for a wilderness adventure. When it comes to outdoor wilderness adventures, New York may not be the first place that comes to mind. However, it is home to the largest national forest and state park recreational area in all of the United States. There are miles of hiking trails, remote camp sites, and amazingly scenic views if you are willing to make the trek to the summit of any of the 46 peaks.

If you are planning a trip to the area, you will most likely want to include a hike up Mt. Marcy. With an elevation of 5,244 feet it is the highest peak in New York State. From the lean-tos at Marcy Dam it is a 5 mile hike to the summit (ten miles round trip). The trail is moderately difficult with only a few steep rocky areas that will feel more like rock climbing than a hiking trail. The majority of the rest of the trail is laden with large rocks and boulders at about a 10-15 degree incline that need to be carefully navigated to avoid injury.

Lake Placid, NY

Lake Placid, NY:
Lake Placid, NY 12946, USA

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Adirondack Loj Trailhead

We began our trip at the Adirondack Loj at the gateway to the Adirondack High Peaks Region. There is plenty of parking and a building that has showers, restrooms, gift shop, and an information desk that can supply maps and trail conditions.

On Tuesday morning our plan was to hike the first two miles from the Loj to the leantos at Marcy Dam. Once there, we set up camp and then did a short day hike up Mt. Phelps (about 4 miles roundtrip) to get our legs loosened up for the trek up Mt. Marcy the next day.

We arise at the crack of dawn on Wednesday morning to a breakfast of oatmeal, hot cocoa and Tang. We fill our day packs with Granola bars, trail mix, and other assorted food for our lunch and hit the trail up the mountain at about 7:30 am. Depending on your physical abilities, you can expect to move along at about 1-2 miles per hour on the trail. We reached the summit of Mt. Marcy at 12:37 pm about 20 minutes ahead of our estimated arrival time. On the ascent, once above the tree line, the views were spectacular. However, the weather was a little unsettled and upon arrival to the summit it was cloudy, with a windy wet drizzle and cold. We snapped a quick picture of our group and headed back down the mountain to more enjoyable conditions. Fortunately it was only about 200 feet down from the summit and we were below the clouds again and in much more reasonable weather.

Hiking in the High Peaks area of the Adirondack Park

Heart Lake and White Face Mtn. in the background
Heart Lake and White Face Mtn. in the background
Looking down the trail on Wright Mtn.
Looking down the trail on Wright Mtn.
View from the edge of Indian Falls
View from the edge of Indian Falls
Indian Falls along the trail to Mt. Marcy
Indian Falls along the trail to Mt. Marcy
Trail marker in the summit area of Mt. Wright
Trail marker in the summit area of Mt. Wright
Lake Placid as seen from Mt. Marcy
Lake Placid as seen from Mt. Marcy
The trail down Mt. Marcy
The trail down Mt. Marcy

Weather Conditions Will Challenge Your Packing Skills

One thing about New York and especially in the mountain region of the Adirondacks, if you don’t like the weather you can wait 5 minutes, and it will change. On a three day backpacking trip we experienced everything from 2 inches of icy hail on the ground to 70 degrees and sunny clear skies. Therefore it is imperative that you pack your clothing to accommodate rapidly changing and sometimes extreme variations in weather conditions

Layer Your Clothes for Warmth and Comfort

A multi-layered system is the best. You will want to have a thin moisture wicking layer to wear against your body, a thicker heat retaining layer over top of that, followed by a windproof/waterproof outer shell to keep your dry and warm. There are all sorts of high tech fabrics and materials available to choose from. The important thing to remember is you need to stay dry and be able to regulate your body temperature for both cold and warm conditions. Early mornings are often cool and or cold and by mid-morning or early afternoon after hiking for several hours you most likely will be perspiring so dress accordingly. Many of the mid-level and outer shell layers have zippered vents in the underarm and other critical areas to aid in the cooling process without having to remove the clothing and find a way to carry it.

Your footwear is equally as important as a good multilayered clothing system in making for an enjoyable backpacking trip. Walking, jogging, or running shoes are not recommended. Although they may provide good arch support on level terrain, they are not designed to provide the proper support or traction for rugged mountain hiking.

Just as tread design is important to help keep your car on the road so is it for a good pair of mountain hiking shoes. A deep lug sole, a stiff shank, and tall enough to support your ankles will provide you with comfort and safety. And of course, waterproof! Wet feet make you more susceptible to blisters and blisters are never a good thing. A band aid over top will help to ease the pain, but avoidance is the best cure. A snug fit, tight enough to keep your feet from sliding around in your shoe, but not so tight that you restrict circulation is a good rule of thumb to follow when making your shoe selection. Your clothing needs to include several pairs of moisture wicking sock liners and a wool blend outer sock for cold weather. Avoid cotton socks as they tend to retain the moisture and make for cold feet when wet.

Bigger is Not Necessarily Better in Backpacks

Getting all your gear (i.e. clothing, food-stored in an approved bear canister, sleeping bag, bed mat, and etc.) from your starting point to your destination and back again requires an adequate backpack. A properly fitted backpack will fit your body size and shape. The waist strap should rest comfortably on your hips and the shoulder straps should be able to cinch the pack snug against your back so it doesn’t slide around when you walk and potentially throw you off balance. Bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to backpacks. You’ll want one large enough to carry all your gear but small enough that you won’t be tempted to load it up with luxury equipment that is not essential. A good recommendation would be to find a mid-range size that fits your body type and has plenty of storage capacity and lashing straps. Whether you choose an internal or an external frame is a personal choice as long as it is comfortable.

Lightweight - Waterproof - Breathable!

Three things you want to remember when considering a backpacking trip…lightweight…waterproof…and breathable. Everything needs to be lightweight because YOU are the beast of burden when it comes to backpacking. Why work yourself harder than you need to, unless of course that is your motive. Waterproof because wet is not generally a desirable condition. Wet clothes, wet toilet paper, or wet food can make for an unpleasant experience in any weather conditions. Breathable because many of the high tech materials such as Gortex breath from the inside out which means that moisture can escape from the inside, such as perspiration, but it cannot penetrate from the outside in, such as rain or wind.

Nutritious Food and Quality Sleep are Essentials for an Enjoyable Backpack Trip

No campfires are allowed in the Adirondack High Peaks region so a good quality compact hiking stove that operates on isobutene or some other gas is convenient for quick meals. A satisfying meal is a great way to round out a full day of exhilarating mountain hiking. I use the Pocket Rocket for my cooking. It will boil 16 ounces of water in about 1 ½ minutes in moderately cool temperatures.

Fresh, clean water will also be something you’ll want a plentiful supply of. Water weighs in at 8 pounds per gallon so it’s not something you’ll want to try to pack from home for a multi-day hiking trip. A good quality water filtration system is the best solution. The Katadyn Hiker Pro is an easy to use water filtration pump that will provide clean, bacteria free water from just about any water supply along the trail. It is light weight and comes with a compact pouch for easier carrying. You can fill your water bottles at the start of your journey and if it’s going to be a long hike, refill at any stream or pond along the way.

And last but not least, at the end of the day after a tasty dinner of re-hydrated food it’s time to kick back and relax with a comfortable nights’ sleep. Warm and dry are again the key words when it comes to getting a good nights’ rest. Your sleeping bag needs to be rated for the weather conditions you’ll be expecting on your trip. I have a very compact lightweight sleeping bag that’s rated for 30 degrees Fahrenheit. It works fine for temperatures ranging from 20 degrees or above. Depending on the weather conditions I can adjust my comfort level by adding or reducing clothing for sleeping in. For extremely cold conditions I would upgrade to a bag with a lower temperature rating. Your bedroll or sleeping mat is also an important factor for getting a good nights’ sleep. If you don’t mind sleeping on the hard ground a thin foam mat to act as a moisture barrier will work fine. If you prefer more refined comfort, an air mattress of 1 ½ to 2 inches thick will cushion aching muscles for a more rejuvenating sleep.

The morning of the third day has arrived and it’s time to pack up camp. As all New York State Parks are carry-in / carry-out rules we make sure to pack all our trash for the trek out. On the way, we decide to conquer one more mountain and tackle Mt. Wright, about a 5 mile round trip. The journey up is bright and sunny and the way down is wet and drizzle. Oh well, such is the life of backpacking in New York. At least the rain held off until after we reached the summit. The views at the top were well worth the detour. Every time I crest the top of a mountain the same thought comes to mind…” It sure would be great to have wings for the trip down!”


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    • jrsearam profile image


      6 years ago from San Juan, PR

      Did this hike last October. It really kicked my ass! I went with the intention of doing at least 20 of the 46ers but ended up only doing three! Heavy rains just weeks before had made conditions especially challenging including a washed out Marcy Dam and numerous new slides. But what a trip! I'll always remember the view from Phelps and the trail up to Marcy... Nice write! JR

    • rocketjsqu profile imageAUTHOR

      Ron Karn 

      8 years ago from Gainesville, NY USA


      That sounds like a great hike. I love the area up there and it seems like there is an endless number of trails to explore. The view at the top always makes it worth the effort.


    • WoodsmensPost profile image


      8 years ago from Arizona

      I have experienced Mt Marcy a few times with friends in my younger days. My longest trip was we entered the Northville-Placid Trail somewhere near Duck Hole (I think Bradley pond) passing by the Hermitage of Noah John Rondeau and headed to Long Lake where we meet friends with supplies and caught a boat ride back down the lake to vehicles. What a blast About 15 miles.

    • rocketjsqu profile imageAUTHOR

      Ron Karn 

      8 years ago from Gainesville, NY USA


      I don't know how anyone can take a look around at all the magnificent beauty in nature and not believe in a Creator. A wilderness backpacking trip is a great time to really appreciate the wonders of His handiwork. The whispering woods, singing birds, and babbling streams are music to my ears. I really enjoy being outdoors.


    • rocketjsqu profile imageAUTHOR

      Ron Karn 

      8 years ago from Gainesville, NY USA


      Thanks for your comment. The Adirondacks really are a beautiful place. The hikes are challenging, the views are spectacular, and the fresh air is invigorating. "Someday" will never come unless you make plans and just do it!


    • Kristeen profile image


      8 years ago from Michigan

      Hiking and backpacking bring us close to God and the beauty of His creation.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Oh, I'd love to go backpacking in the Adirondacks someday! This is a fantastic guide- you've really covered all the bases here. Love it!


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