How to Summit the Two Tallest Mountains in New York in a Weekend

Tips to help you conquer Mount Marcy and Algonquin Peak during a weekend, while being able to enjoy the journey.

The Adirondack Mountains has the two tallest mountains in New York: Mount Marcy (5,344’) and Algonquin Peak (5,115’). These two peaks are nestle in the heart of the High Peaks Wilderness Area, which happens to be the largest forest preserve in New York, and they both offer hikers some of the best views on the East Coast. The 360 degree views from both summits are breathtaking and make the climb to the summit worth all of the effort. The best part is hikers are able to conquer both peaks in a weekend.



Friday

My friend who is originally from New York asked me if I wanted to join him on a backpacking trip in the Adirondack Mountains. I jumped at the chance, and we made the drive up from Richmond, Virginia, and parked at the Adirondack Lodge. Neither of us had a bear can to store our food, so we rented a black bear can from the lodge. We loaded up our gear and set out on the trail to start our weekend adventure. We hiked along the Marcy Dam Trail, which is a great, well-maintained dirt trail marked with blue disks that led us through a beautiful forest that has some rolling hills but nothing too strenuous. At 1.2 miles, the Old Dam Trail ended at a large trail junction, and we continued on the Van Hoevenberg Trail for the remaining 1.1 miles until we reached Marcy Dam. Once we got to the Dam, we dropped our gear to look for a camp site. Marcy Dam has 5 large lean-to shelters that sleep 6-8 people spread around the lake. We looked for an open lean-to, but all were taken and full. We planned for this, so we made our way back to our gear and found a nice area to pitch our tents. Once camp was set up and dinner eaten, I headed down to the “lake” to watch the sunset behind Algonquin Peak. The water was very low, so the lake looked like a stream, but this allowed me to hike out to some of the sand bars to take in the views of the surrounding peaks and the stars once they came out. We timed it, so I would have a new moon, which allowed me take advantage of the dark skies to capture some amazing Milky Way images.



Saturday

The next morning, we ate a quick breakfast, loaded up our day pack, filled our water bottles, and off we went to summit our first peak, Mount Marcy. We followed the Van Hoevenberg Trail to the other side of the lake and started the 5.1 miles to the top. The Van Hoevenberg Trail is well marked and easy to follow, but the first few miles of the trail reminded me of hiking up a dry river bed, which could cause problems for people with ankle or knee issues. About 2.4 miles up the trail is a stream crossing; on the far side of the stream is a short foot path that follows the stream and leads to Indian Falls. The path quickly opens up to a large rock outcropping, which granted us a great view of Algonquin Peak. We took a short break to enjoy, eat a snack, and refill our water bottles. This was the last water source for a while. I also climbed down the rock face to enjoy the waterfall from the bottom.



Once the water bottles were filled, we made our way back to the Van Hoevenberg Trail to finish the 2.7 miles to the top of Mount Marcy. The last 0.5 miles of this the hike is breathtaking. Once I was above the treeline hiking up giant slabs of rocks, I was able to see for miles and really took in the beauty of the Adirondacks. The Van Hoevenberg Trail can be steep at times, but it is well worth climbing the 3,500 feet to enjoy the breathtaking 360-degree view from the summit. Once at the top, we enjoyed a nice lunch as we enjoyed the panoramic views of the surrounding High Peaks Wilderness. The weather on top of Mount Marcy can change in an instant, so make sure you are prepared. Luckily for us, we had a nice overcast day with only a moderate amount of wind.



After taking in the views, we continued down the the backside of Marcy along the Van Hoevenberg Trail for 0.6 until we reached a 4-way trail junction. We turned right toward Gray Peak along the Mount Marcy Trail. At about 0.3 miles on this nice dirt trail, we came across a small lake where we once again stopped to top off our water bottles before continuing down the trail. About 1 mile from the lake, the trail makes a hard 90 degree left. Just before this bend, there is a cross country ski trail that heads northeast through a valley. The trail is well marked but not well maintained and leads through a swamp. Most people will follow the Mount Marcy Trail to the Avalanche Pass Trail, but since we planned on hiking that trail the next day and since the cross country ski trail reduced our trip by about 1.5 miles, we chose to take it. The ski trail is about 1.5 miles long and dead ends into the Mount Colden Trail. We then followed the Mount Colden Trail for another 1.5 miles until it “T’ed” into Avalanche Pass Trail. A right turn onto the Avalanche Pass Trail and 1.4 miles later, we were back at the Marcy Dam. We hopped back on the Van Hoevenberg Trail, made our way back to camp, and cooked some dinner down by the dam which allowed us enjoy the sunset as we ate. In total we hiked around 11.5 miles on this day, and because of this, I got a good night sleep so I could do it again the next day.



Sunday

The next morning after breakfast, we packed up our camp and set out to summit Algonquin Peak. We headed back down the Van Hoevenberg Trail toward the lodge until 1.1 miles later we intersected the Algonquin Trail and the Marcy Dam Trail. We turned left onto the Algonquin Trail and started up the mountain. The peak is only 3.1 miles from this junction, but the trail is very steep and at times we had to rock scramble up some rock slabs. 2.1 mile up the trail is the turn off for Wright Peak, and for those who want to check out another peak on their list, this is a good option because it only adds another mile to the trip. For us, we decided to continue straight up the Algonquin Trail because the last mile is the steepest part of the trail. Even though Algonquin Peak is 229 feet shorter than Marcy, I believe Algonquin Trail is more challenging. Like Marcy, the 360-degree view from the summit of Algonquin is gorgeous and well worth the trek. We ate lunch while enjoying the view and then followed the Algonquin Trail down the backside of the peak. About 0.3 miles down from the peak, the Algonquin Trail turns left and becomes very steep and narrow. The next 1.3 miles of the trail is very rocky and reminded me of a dry creek bed. The Algonquin Trail “T’s” into the Avalanche Pass Trail. We turned left and and headed toward Avalanche lake.  



When we turned the corner and finally saw the lake, I had to do a double-take because of the beauty of this narrow canyon. Parts of the canyon walls become sheer cliffs, so the trail during these parts turn into a wooden bridge built into the side of the cliff suspending us over the lake as we made our way along the trail. Avalanche Lake is a great place to go for a quick dip to cool down and has lots of rocks to jump off for some added excitement. We left the lake and followed the Avalanche Pass Trail back to Marcy Dam. From the “T” intersection to the the Marcy Dam the trail is 3.3 miles. We hopped back on the Van Hoevenberg Trail and followed it back to our gear. Once we were all geared up, we hiked the remaining 2.3 miles back to the Adirondack Lodge via the Van Hoevenberg  and Marcy Dam Trail. We hiked about 11.6 miles on Sunday making the weekend total 25.4 miles. We turned our bear cans back into the lodge and loaded up the cars. On the way home, we stopped in Lake Placid for a nice well-deserved pizza dinner.   


Published: February 3, 2017

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Brandon DeweyExplorer

Richmond

I am a Father, Photographer, Adventurer, and World Explorer (26 countries and counting). I'm from the Bay Area but I'm currently living outside of Richmond, Virginia.