Standing alone on the summit of Gothics leaves a person with a feeling of awe as to how big and beautiful our Adirondack Mountain Ranges are.
Winter hiking in the Adirondacks promises unmatched solitude. Deep snow speeds progress through rugged terrain, but subzero temperatures, hurricane-force winds, and limited daylight hours introduce new challenges to trekkers who visit between December and March. Adirondack hiking trails beckon with adventure even in winter and most trails are open for recreation. Before setting out, check the DEC's website to find out if there are any avalanche or storm warnings.
Deep Snow - Use Precautions
In the Adirondacks, even several feet of snow and freezing temperatures won't discourage avid outdoors enthusiasts. Hiking boots alone can't navigate deep snow. When precipitation accumulates or wind piles up snow drifts, each step punches a knee or thigh-deep posthole. Foot travel becomes slow, difficult, and - as energy wanes and ice crystals work beneath layers - dangerous.
Instead, use snowshoes or cross-country skis to move efficiently over snow. With snowshoes, bindings secure boots to two metal-framed plastic platforms about the size of a tennis racket. Expanded surface area keeps hikers atop snow layers. Or employ cross-country skis—although skis designed for backcountry tours look much different than those in Olympic broadcasts. Wider bases keep skiers afloat when the snowpack increases and shorter lengths keep them agile in thick forests. Fish-scaled bases add climbing grip, and metal edges dig into ice. Adjustable poles with oversized powder baskets give snowshoers and skiers stability—swing poles ahead, plant them in the snow, and stride or glide onward.
Practice skills in the backyard, then gradually build winter hiking experience. The Tug Hill Plateau gets the most snowfall in the Adirondacks; visit Barnes Corners in the Tug Hill State Forest for a 4.5-mile tour on Inman Glide Trail with views of frozen Rainbow Falls. Ready for more? In Newcomb, winter morphs the Camp Santanoni access road into a 9.8-mile trip for skiers. And in the High Peaks, the five-mile glide from Adirondack Loj to Avalanche Pass reveals a frozen lake framed by cliffs, where ice crystals sparkle in the winter sun. The Adirondack Loj just outside of Lake Placid is open for winter camping in the Adirondacks.
Winter hiking and camping can be strenuous, so it is important that participants understand the symptoms and signs of frostbite and hypothermia, as well as plan their routes and overnight sites carefully.
Adirondack Winter Hiking Routes
- Whiteface Mountain - Located in Wilmington, it is a relatively difficult climb, with a moderately trafficked 9.3 miles out & back trail to the summit (4,867 feet in elevation). Presents incredible 360-degree views on a clear day.
- Scarface Mountain - In Ray Brook, this mountain is considered a Saranac 6er and requires a 7.4-mile out and back hike. The summit is enclosed with trees, but the trail itself is rather moderate for winter hiking in terms of difficulty.
- Giant Mountain - Located near Saint Huberts, this is one of the most popular of the High Peaks due to its views. It is rated difficult and consists of a 6-mile out and back trail.
- Pitchoff Mountain - Find this mountain near Keene and take the 3.9-mile hike to the top for views of the Great Range in the High Peaks region. This trail is moderately trafficked and is less difficult than others in the same area.
- Cascade Mountain - By far the most popular trail in the High Peaks region, Cascade is located near Lake Placid and offers a 5.6-mile out and back hike. It is heavily trafficked during a large majority of the year.
- Haystack Mountain - Another Saranac 6er located in Ray Brook, Haystack's trail is 7.2-mile out and back and is moderately trafficked. Offers great views of both Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
- Ampersand Mountain - Also a Saranac 6er, Ampersand is located outside of the town of Saranac Lake and offers 360-degree views of the surrounding area at its rock-based summit. It is a fun & challenging 4.8-mile out and back trail.
What to Wear for Winter Hiking
- Base layer that is made of a wool blend, polypropylene or polyester
- Wool or synthetic fleece shirt fleece or wool jacket
- Waterproof pants
- Waterproof jacket with a hood
- Winter hat with ear protection
- Mittens/gloves (preferably waterproof)
- Moisture-wicking socks and dry spares
- Winter boots
- Gaiters to keep snow out of your boots
- Microspikes or snowshoes
Items to Pack for Winter Hiking
- Fire starting supplies
- Heat blankets
- Extra food and water