Of all the times of the year to visit Adirondack State Park, autumn is one of the most special. A crispness can be felt whenever you step outside, and the scent of pine needles fills your nose. The first snows have not yet fallen, but the temperatures have dropped, and the leaves change color into brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow. With so many great views to be had, what’s the best way to take it all in at once? Where can you possibly stand to see the amazing views of the ADK (the acronym for the Adirondacks) all around you? Why, that’s easy… on top of a mountain!
During trips last fall, I climbed
Bald Mountain and Rocky Mountain, two of the smaller peaks located near the towns of Old Forge and Inlet. This past spring, during the Adirondack’s infamous “mud season,” I scaled Eagle Cliff, an exposed hilltop in Eagle Bay. This autumn, as my wife and I spent a long weekend with a dear relative, I managed to climb two peaks to check out the stunning fall colors.
Come along, then, on a trip back to upstate New York, where we’ll climb mountains, relax by a lake, give the drone a workout, eat great food, and enjoy the beauty of the ADK Autumn!
The Adirondacks Once Again.
What should be a familiar map to any longtime readers of the blog… our journey this weekend would once again take us to Adirondack State Park, the largest park in the continental United States! For this trip, I set a goal of climbing to the top of Blue Mountain, located in the heart of the Adirondacks.
Although our drive began with overcast skies, by the time we approached the Adirondacks in upstate New York the clouds cleared and we were treated to a gorgeous day.
Once we entered the Adirondacks, the trees began to show their true colors. Twin Peaks
My first climbing challenge would be a venture to the top of Eagle Cliff, which I first scaled in May. That initial foray occurred during Mud Season, when the trees were not yet in bloom, the ground was mostly covered in mud and rotting vegetation, and it was cold enough that snow fell the previous night. This trip would be a bit more scenic!
Eagle Cliff does win the award for “least ostentatious trail sign.”
The scenery during the climb was terrific.
Although only a 400-foot elevation change from the base, Eagle Cliff does require some scrambling up bare rockface, including this stretch near the peak. While not a particularly difficult climb, I do not recommend the hike on a day when the rocks are wet.
I’d say Eagle Cliff was well worth the hike!
Looking down from the hilltop, a great view of Fourth Lake and the towns of Inlet and Eagle Bay stretched for as far as the eye could see.
Turning to the southwest, the view was simply spectacular.
My descent was a little more dramatic than I hoped. I actually lost the trail among all the fallen leaves, unfortunately popping out of the woods in someone’s backyard. The homeowner was working on his car and glanced over as I strode through his property. I apologized and offered a sheepish wave. He shook his head and went back to working on the engine. Ah, sorry, sir.
Equipped with a far more advanced drone than during previous trips, I did some filming from the top of Eagle Cliff, as well as some sunset footage above Fourth Lake:
The next day, still a little sore from my trek to Eagle Cliff, I set my sights on a far more ambitious goal: climbing to the top of Blue Mountain. Given the numbers of visitors in Adirondack State Park for the long weekend, I was surprised at the relatively empty parking lot for Blue Mountain.
Although it is only a two mile hike to the top of Blue Mountain, a 3,750-foot summit and an approach that involves loose, wet rocks, marshy ground, exposed branches, and scrambles over bare rock meant that this was one of the most demanding hikes I’ve taken in recent memory.
While the colors of the foliage were beautiful, I couldn’t spend much time looking upward – even this section of relatively flat ground is covered with leaves, ruts, and large rocks.
Sections of the trail that get boggy are covered with boardwalks, but many of the boards are loose or built on soft ground, requiring a bit of a balancing act to keep from falling into the muck.
Rocks. Why did it have to be rocks?
Although these “stairs” would make the trail seem easy, countless visitors have worn the rocks smooth, requiring great care to be taken. The theme for the day was “falling down.” I saw tons of people take tumbles as they traversed the terrain. In one spot of particularly slick rocks, a young girl slipped and fell, her older sister came over to help and fell down beside her, and then their dad almost fell on top of them. Be careful, everyone!
Choose Your Own Adventure: If you want to climb up the rocky hillside to the left, turn to page 83. If you’d like to try your luck on the wet roots on the right, turn to page 57. If you’d like to turn around and go home, turn to page 99.
At one point I stopped to catch my breath, and caught this view through the trees. It energized me to keep pushing upward!
The photo doesn’t capture the scale of the uphill angle that you have to scramble up to surmount these bare rocks.
After 90 minutes of climbing, I reached the top. Installed in 1917, Blue Mountain Fire Tower was one of dozens of fire towers throughout the Adirondacks. These towers would provide lookout stations for watchers who would constantly search for signs of forest fires. Now largely replaced by satellites, aircraft, and drones, most fire towers in the Adirondacks are open to tourists (via Outdoor Project). The 35-foot tower would also prove to be a fierce test of my fear of heights!
I did climb to the top (although I was staring straight ahead and resolutely refused to look down). The view was awesome. Terrifying. But awesome.
The view from the fire tower was truly amazing.
After descending from the tower, I put my drone into the sky for some aerial photography, flying it about 100 yards above the summit.
Despite cloudy conditions and poor lighting, I was impressed with the image quality that the drone provided.
I began the descent, and realized that this would actually be the worst part of the hike. My legs were tired, and conditions that were tricky on the way up were far more dangerous on the way down. People who hurried usually ended up flat on their back. I took the turtle approach: slow and steady wins the race.
My only misadventure was when a rock shifted beneath me on the loose soil. I was already squatting as I carefully navigated the rock, so I ended up gently laying down on the ground in slow motion. No bumps, no bruises, and all was fine. I pressed on.
How do you climb down a treacherous mountain path? One step at a time.
I have never been so happy to see my wife’s Jeep Grand Cherokee. After four hours on the mountain, the driver’s seat of the Jeep felt like a Barcalounger.
Blue Mountain Lake sits at the base of the mountain, so of course, I parked the Jeep by the shore for its obligatory portrait session. Although I was utterly exhausted by the end of the hike, I felt a true sense of accomplishment for tackling Blue Mountain, the highest peak I have ever climbed. In addition, I have also now completed two of the twenty-three towers on the ADK Fire Tower Challenge. Odds and Ends
Of course, no trip to the Adirondacks is complete without a stop at The Donut Shop of Eagle Bay.
That’ll be one fry cake please!
And what better way to wash down a donut than with coffee from Blue Line Coffee House? That’ll be a dark roast with cream for me (left) and an almond milk latte for my wife (right).
While I often post indulgent meals that my wife and I enjoy when we’re on the road, most of the time we try to stay on the healthier side, such as my wife’s “Mother-In-Law Goulash” (the name we give it after being introduced to the recipe by my mother-in-law). The meal features ground turkey (or chicken), mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, and gnocchi (in this case, gluten-free cauliflower gnocchi). Yum! Autumn Views
The drone captured some amazing fall scenery.
But my camera didn’t do a bad job with the views either.
And my wife captured this amazing shot of Blue Mountain Lake!
Before heading home, I woke up early to take some aerial footage of the Fulton Chain of Lakes region. I thought it would be fun to share another drone video!
Heading Home and Wrapping Up
Instead of immediately heading home, we decided to meander our way back to I-87, cutting through a large swath of the southern portion of the park. The views were simply spectacular.
After stopping for goodies at Oscar’s Smokehouse in Warrensburg, we enjoyed a wonderful picnic lunch at Lake Moreau State Park, slightly north of Saratoga. I’ll say this view is a little nicer than eating at a highway rest stop!
I was glad lunch was relaxing, because what followed was one of the worst drives back from the Adirondacks I have ever endured. What should have taken 5-6 hours instead clocked in at 8.5 hours. We fought an endless wall of traffic. At times, my wife managed to detour us through small towns and winding two-lane roads, but the end result was still the same: an inexorable date with traffic destiny through all of southern New York. I was thrilled to finally cross into New Jersey.
Once again, the Jeep was a rock star during a drive up to the Adirondacks, offering excellent storage, plenty of power for tackling mountain roads, and comfortable seats for waiting in traffic (LOTS of traffic). It is now nearing 73,000 miles… onward!
Each time I visit Adirondack State Park, I find new destinations to explore. As difficult as Blue Mountain was to climb, it only motivated me to find more Adirondack mountains to climb and new peaks to stand atop. As our next trip will most likely be during the snowy winter months, I’m eager to try my hand at photography (and drone videos!) of snowy landscapes.
As always, thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead (and up some mountains).
’Til next time.