How to Become an Adirondack 46er

From day hikes to weekend trips, here's how to conquer all 46 famed Adirondack peaks.
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From day hikes to weekend trips, here's how to conquer all 46 famed Adirondack peaks.

New York’s Adirondack Park is the largest state park within the continental United States, covering about six million acres of land. It's larger than Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and the Great Smokies National Parks combined. Over 2,000 miles of trails can be found here, which means there's no reason it shouldn't be on every hiker's life list.

In the early surveys of the land, it was believed that 46 peaks in the region sat above 4,000 feet. The first men to reach the top of all 46 peaks were brothers Robert and George Marshall and their friend Herbert Clark on June 10, 1925. Since then, almost 9,000 people have followed in their footsteps by reaching the top of the original 46 high peaks, earning the right to be called Adirondack 46ers.

Here you will find a basic guide to hiking the Adirondack high peaks through day hikes and weekend trips.

Dayhikes

Cascade (4,098’) and Porter (4,084’)

Photo: Adam Riquier/flickr

Photo: Adam Riquier/flickr

The Cascade and Porter hike is one of the most popular hikes in the region. The trail is steep, but not long or too technical, and the views of the surrounding mountains are well worth the hike.

Plan of attack: Wake up early get to beat the rush at the trailhead. The trailhead for these two peaks is located on route 73, about 7 miles west of Keen. The trail is around 4.7 miles long and will take you about half a day to complete. Make sure you sign in at the register, and then start your climb. You’ll come to a junction with trails going off to the tops of each peak. Take the short jaunt to Porter first before coming back for Cascade.

Big Slide (4,248’)

photo: petersent / Wikimedia

photo: petersent / Wikimedia

The summit of Big Slide provides some of the best views of the Great Range. You can hike this as a day hike or the start of a longer stint in the Great Range area.

Plan of attack: The trailhead for Big Slide can be found in the Garden Parking off route 73 in the Keen Valley. There is a $7 fee for the day and spaces fill up fast. A day hike for Big Slide will be about 11 miles long. You follow the Phelps Trail for about 3.5 miles until you reach the Slide Mountain Brook Trail. Just follow this trail all the way to the top. If you are keeping it to a day trip, turn on to the Brothers Trail intersection to make a loop back to the Garden. Some people choose to hike in with full packs, drop their gear off at a campsite by John’s Brook Lodge, hit up Big Slide and return to JBL for trips into the Great Range the next few days.

Giant (4,626') and Rocky Peak (4,383’)

photo: PeterFitzgerald / Wikipedia

photo: PeterFitzgerald / Wikipedia

The hike up Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge is widely considered one of the best in the Adirondacks. These two peaks can be tagged as a point-to-point or an out-and-back.

Plan of attack: This point-to-point trail will require some collaboration as far as vehicles go, but setting up the shuttle is well worth the effort. Your starting point is the trailhead across from Chapel Pond on route 73 after the route 9 intersection, and the end point is along route 9 after it breaks of from 73. It is about 11 miles, and the views are spectacular. For the out-and-back option, park at the Chapel Pond trailhead, go over Giant to Rocky Peak, then back over Giant and to the trailhead. It’s shorter, but not much easier. Giant is called Giant for a reason. The trail up Giant will climb over 3,000 feet in 3 miles. Relax on top of Giant and soak in the breath-taking views of the Keen Valley. When you’re good and rested, descend the back side of Giant over to Rocky Peak Ridge. The descent off Rocky Peak is surprisingly one of the best parts on the hike.

Santanoni Range: Santanoni (4,606’); Panther (4,442’); Couchsachraga (3,793)

Yes, Couchsachraga is below 4,000 feet. But it was included in the original 46er grouping, so purists know that's why it must be climbed anyway. Completing this trifecta makes for a very long day, with "Couch" being a particularly grueling challenge.

Plan of attack: The Santanoni Range has its own trailhead just before the Upper Works parking lot. To tag all three of these peaks in a day, you will be looking at about 17.1 miles of hiking, mostly along herd paths. The primary path leads you to “Times Square”, a four-way intersection to each peak. Some people opt to follow a lesser-known herd path up or down the side of Santanoni, known as the “Santanoni express.” Be aware, your feet will most likely get wet on the way to Couch.

Whiteface (4,867’) and Esther (4,240’)

photo: mwanner / Wikipedia

photo: mwanner/Wikipedia

Whiteface is unique because it is the only high peak in the Adirondacks that has been developed. It has a ski resort, weather station, and a road that you can drive all the way to the top. The peak is often overrun by tourists, but it provides wonderful views of Lake Placid and all the other high peaks.

Plan of attack: Start at the trailhead for Marble Mountain. The trail climbs steeply for about a mile before reaching an intersection for the main trail up Whiteface. You are looking at about 10 miles of hiking. Reach the trailhead and be ready to climb. It is 2.5 miles to the Esther and Whiteface intersection. Shoot over to Esther before returning to the Whiteface trail. Hit the top of Whiteface and try to soak in the view while ignoring most of what is going on around you. You must hike back down the mountain to make it official.

Street (4,150’) and Nye (3,887’)

Pair these two relatively moderate hikes for a mild—and relatively uncrowded—day on the trail.

Plan of attack: The trailhead for these two peaks is at the Adirondack Loj, where parking will cost you about $10 a day. You will be looking at about 9 miles. Follow the Indian Pass trail to the herd paths that act as the main trail. Be aware of high water when crossing Indian Pass Brook.

Dial (4,020’), Nippletop (4,620’), Colvin (4,057’), and Blake (3,960’)

Some people split this hike into two days, which is not necessarily a bad idea. To hike all four of these at once is both painful and rewarding. Be sure you are in excellent condition if you want to tackle this day hike.

Plan of attack: The trailhead is St. Huberts Parking Area off of route 73. Although only four mountains are on the itinerary, before you get to Dial, you will climb over Noonmark and Bear Den, both just a little shy of being considered high peaks, but big enough to put some wear on your legs before you hit the actual targets. For the day, you will be looking at about 19 miles, and strong hikers are looking at a nearly 12 hour day on the trail. Be sure to carry plenty of food and water from the start. Dial and Nippletop will be the first two high peaks climbed, each providing stunning views of the backside of the Great Range. After Nippletop, you will descend Elk Pass, climb over Colvin to reach Blake, then back over Colvin down to Lake Road and back to St Huberts.

Allen (4,340’)

photo: petersent/ Wikimedia

photo: petersent/ Wikimedia

My first time climbing Mt. Allen, I found the wood plaque at the top of the mountain split in half, almost like someone had punched it. That sums up how a lot of people feel about Allen. One of the most isolated peaks, Allen is difficult to get to, frustrating to climb and doesn’t offer as much of a view in terms of payoff. You'll earn your post-hike beer on this one.

Plan of attack: Technically, there is no official trail for Mt. Allen. Hikers wanting to complete the hike in a day are looking at around 17 miles round trip, starting from the Upper Works. It’s a 5.2 mile hike to a herd path out of the Flowed Lands that is initially marked with hanging flags. You’ll follow old logging roads along private land until you reach the High Peaks Wilderness. When you finally reach the base of the mountain, you follow a brook up a slide. The trail can be extremely slippery at times.

Tabletop (4,413’) and Phelps (4,160’)

photo: Pepper/wikimedia

photo: Pepper/wikimedia

Tabletop and Phelps make for a straightforward pairing, with the latter offering outstanding payoff.

Plan of attack: You’ll have to start at the Adirondack Loj again, which costs $10 for the day. The total hike will be about 12 miles. The hike is fairly straightforward, following the Von Hoevenberg Trail most of the way before turning to a herd path up Tabletop. On your way back, the trail to Phelps will be off to the side. It’s worth getting both of these mountains in one shot.

Dix Range: Macomb (4,390’), South Dix (4,084’), Grace (4,006’), Hough (4,409’), Dix (4,839)

photo: Mitchell Joyce/flickr

photo: Mitchell Joyce/flickr

You’ll tag five peaks here in one of the best day hikes in the high peaks region. If you are apprehensive about climbing five peaks in one day, there are campsites with which you can turn this into a multi-day excursion.

Plan of attack: You are looking at 16 or 17 miles for the day. Fill up water wherever possible. Once you start climbing, there will not be too many sources of reliable water. About 2.3 miles in from the Elk Lake trailhead is the path up Macomb, where you will climb its famous slide to the top. It’s a quick jaunt from the top of Macomb to South Dix as well as from the top of South Dix to the newly named Grace, formerly called East Dix. You will have to backtrack slightly to reach the herd path that will take you to Hough. You may find yourself stopping frequently to take in the views along this path. From Hough you will make your way to final peak of your day and the sixth highest in New York, Dix. You will have had spectacular views the entire day, but Dix is without a doubt the best. Soak up the sun for a little while and try to forget that you have another seven miles or so back to your car.

MacIntyre Range: Wright (4,587’), Algonquin (5,155’), Iroquois (4,849’)

photo: Jeffery Pang/wikimedia

photo: Jeffery Pang/wikimedia

A tough but beautiful day of hiking, this loop takes you over Algonquin, the second highest peak in the state.

Plan of attack: Your hike will start at the Adirondack Loj, which costs $10 a day for parking. You will pass by the beautiful Avalanche Lake on your way to the far end of the range, and you will be rewarded with three bald mountains, each with gorgeous views of the surrounding peaks. The 14 miles will go by faster than you realize. Start from the Adirondack Loj and head past Marcy Dam, to the trailhead at Lake Colden. The climb up Iroquois is steep, but once you reach the summit, the majority of your climbing is done. Run the ridge, tagging Algonquin and Wright before continuing down Wright to the Marcy Dam area and back to the Adirondack Loj.

Multi-day Trips

Sewards (2-3 days):  Seymour (4,091’), Seward (4,347’), Donaldson (4,108’), Emmons (4,039)

photo: John Sweeney/wikimedia

photo: John Sweeney/wikimedia

Located in the northwest portion of the high peaks region, a weekend trip to the Sewards will grant you four more high peaks. You can choose to make this a one or two night trip.

Plan of attack: For the weekend, you will be looking at about 28 total miles. The Blueberry Foot trailhead is located 5.8 miles down Coreys Road. Park at the trailhead and hike a little over 4.5 miles into the camping areas where you will find lean-tos and tent sites. Switch to a day pack, fill up on water and head to the Seymour trailhead. From the trailhead, it is 1.4 miles to the top. The next day, the goal is Seward, Donaldson, and Emmons, an 8.5 mile round trip. Despite only being three peaks, this is an out-and-back trail, meaning you will have to climb back over Donaldson and Seward. It's your call whether to spend another night or hike out afterwards.

Great Range (3-4 days): Gothics (4,734’), Sawteeth (4,134’), Armstrong (4,429’), Upper Wolfjaw (4,203’), Lower Wolfjaw (4,173’), Haystack (4,961’), Basin (4,826’), Saddleback (4,528’)

photo: Mwanner/wikipedia

photo: Mwanner/wikipedia

The Great Range is the most famous range of the Adirondacks. Some people try to complete the hike in one day, but most mortals will want to break it up into a few days. Thankfully, this range can easily be broken into two different hikes comprised of the upper and lower parts, making it much more manageable for the average hiker. This also saves Mt. Marcy for another time.

Plan of attack: You will be looking at full days with a lot of climbing, roughly 14 miles for the lower range and 12 miles for the upper. Day 1: Start at the Garden Parking lot, where you will pay $7 a day for parking. Hike into the John’s Brook Lodge area and set up camp. Climb Big Slide if you haven’t yet. Day 2: Your primary trail is the Ore Bed Trail. Follow this until it splits between Gothics and Saddleback, climbing the steel cables up Gothics. At the top of Gothics, take the side trail over Pyramid and grab Sawteeth, before climbing back up Gothics and running the ridge to Armstrong and the two Wolfjaws. Return to camp. Day 3: Head toward Slant Rock and take the Shorey Short Cut to the junction between Basin and Haystack and climb Haystack, the third highest peak in New York. Backtrack to Basin and climb down the other side to the base of Saddleback. Be aware, Saddleback is one of the more intimidating climbs. After reaching the top, head back down the Ore Bed Trail to camp. Day Four: Hike out.

The climbs up Saddleback and Gothics are two of the most difficult climbs out of all the 46er peaks, and can be very intimidating to some. Be sure to carry plenty of water. Once you start climbing, there will not be places to fill up throughout the day.

Marcy (5,344’), Skylight (4,925’), Gray (4,826’)

photo: petersent/wikimedia

photo: petersent/wikimedia

These peaks could be tackled in a long day trip from the Adirondack Loj, but turning this into a weekend trip allows you to truly soak the beauty of Marcy and Skylight.

Plan of attack: Your starting point is the Adirondack Loj, where you will pay $10 a day for parking. Day 1: Head to the Adirondack Loj and pack about 5 miles into Lake Colden. Set up camp and enjoy the beauty of the area. Day 2: Follow the Feldspar Brook Trail a few miles up to Lake Tear of the Clouds, the starting point of the Hudson River. There will be a herd path leading to the top of Gray. Check Gray off and head back down, continuing along Lake Tear of the Clouds until you reach the Four Corners junction. From here you can tag Skylight, 2 miles total up and back, before heading over to Marcy. After soaking up the sun on Marcy, head back the way you came and spend the night at Lake Colden. You'll be looking at 11 miles or so for that day. Day 3: Hike out.

Colden (4,715'), Marshall (4,380'), Cliff (3,944'), Redfield (4,606')

photo: Richard Bonnett/flickr

photo: Richard Bonnett/flickr

These four peaks aren’t all in one range, but the trailheads are all located fairly close together. Colden is known for its large slides and spectacular views of the MacIntyre Range, Avalanche Pass, and Mt. Marcy.

Plan of attack: You’ll park your car at the Upper Works and hike the 5 or 6 miles into the Flowed Land or Lake Colden. From those sites, Marshall is at most a 4 mile hike. Colden will be closer to 6, and Cliff and Redfield are between 8 and 10 miles total. Day 1: Hike into Lake Colden or Flowed Lands from the Upper Works. Grab one of the many lean-tos or campsites in the area and snag Marshall before it gets too late. The herd path up it is almost directly across from some of the main camping areas between Lake Colden and the Flowed lands. Day 2: Your targets are Cliff and Redfield. Follow the trail along the Opalescent to the Uphill leant0. You’ll come to a junction with Cliff on one side and Redfield on the other. Be prepared to use your hands to climb Cliff. Water is usually available for refills on Redfield. If you feel adventurous, you can try to tackle Colden as well. Day 3: If you didn’t feel as adventurous the day before, start early and conquer Colden in the morning. Colden actually has a marked trail. Head back to camp and hike out later that afternoon.