Short hikes outside the Tri-Lakes
Too often, it’s easy to fall into the trap of exploring the seemingly endless trails that are within just a few miles of the Tri-Lakes. But every once in a while, it’s good to get out to explore something new.
Here are two short hikes — one close by, the other a little farther away — that lead to great views of lakes and hills without a whole lot of effort.
Echo Cliffs on Panther Mountain
Distance: 1.74 miles RT
Difficulty: Moderate, due to steepness
Directions: From the north/east: Take state Route 30 to Speculator, then turn on to Route 8 heading west toward Piseco. At 8.6 miles, turn right onto Old Piseco Rd. Go 5.2 miles to the trailhead parking on the left.
From the west/south: Take state Route 8 toward Piseco, and turn left on Old Piseco Rd. Go 2.5 miles to the trailhead parking area on the right. If coming from state Route 10, turn left on Route 8 and go 2.7 miles to Old Piseco Rd. on the right.
Sometimes you go on one of those hikes where it’s just straight up the entire time. Your legs and lungs burn, and it feels like maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.
The hike to Echo Cliffs is kind of like that, but at less than a mile each way by the time you’re ready to quit, you’re at the top.
Located near Speculator, Echo Cliffs is actually a rock outcrop on the side of Panther Mountain. The cliffs offer a 180-degree view of Piseco Lake and the southern Adirondacks. According to legend, the mountain itself was named in the 1800s due to the prevalence of mountain lions in the area. A local bounty on the big cats quickly led to their extirpation, so there is basically no chance of suffering a mountain lion attack.
The trail starts from Old Piseco Rd., which closely follows the western shore of Piseco Lake. The three nearby state campgrounds, combined with the great views and short distance, make this a popular hike.
One other nice thing about this hike is the parking area is just about 100 feet from Piseco Lake. This provides a great opportunity to outrun the blackflies on your way down, sprint past the car and jump in the lake to cool off.
Due to its popularity, the trail is easy to follow and is marked with blue discs. It’s a short but steady climb that can be wet at times, but also provides plenty of solid footing. This is a good hike for kids, since the steepness is mitigated by the shortness of the trail.
Despite the steep angle of the hike, this is a great trail for kids. There are rocks and boulders, exposed tree roots and wet areas that kids will love to play in and climb on. The nearly constant distraction should help keep their mind off the steepness of the trail.
Once at the top, there are sheer dropoffs that pose a serious danger, but also plenty of big flat sitting places and nearly unobstructed views to the southeast of the Silver Lake Wilderness and Piseco and Spy lakes.
Echo Cliffs is a great place to sit and eat lunch, or snap a bunch of photos. The wind was just strong enough at the cliffs to keep the black flies off, but be wary on very calm days and be sure to bring some bug spray.
Distance: 1.4 miles RT (4.5 miles with low-clearance vehicle)
Directions: From the south, go 9.5 miles north on state Route 30 from Meacham Lake campground to the trailhead on the right. From the north, go 9.7 miles south on state Route 30 to the trailhead on the left. There is parking just off of Route 30, but with a high-clearance vehicle, you can also drive 1.5 miles up the road to the trailhead proper to reduce the overall distance. Walking from the first parking area will increase the mileage, but the road goes up gently and is easy to follow.
Situated just north of the Blue Line near Malone, Elephant Head is a short, easy hike that offers plenty of bang for the buck.
Elephant Head is located off of state Route 30 in northern Franklin County, about halfway between the village of Malone and the state’s Meacham Lake campground. There is a 1.5-mile-long road that leads to the trailhead proper, but this road has some deep puddles, big rocks and a couple of ruts that a small car or low-clearance vehicle will not be able to make it over.
However, pretty much any SUV should be able to get you farther off of Route 30 without much problem.
If you start at the parking area just off the main road, the hike turns into a 4.5-mile round-trip trek that is still quite easy. The road is easy to follow and goes up at a gentle grade.
If you’re able to drive farther up the road, there will be another parking area at the start of the trail. The trail continues along the road that comes up from Route 30, beginning at several boulders that prevent vehicles from going any farther.
About 100 yards up the trail from the boulders, the trail makes a hard right off the former road and turns into a classic Adirondack trail, weaving between big trees and brush. There are yellow Department of Environmental Conservation markers, and the trail is easy to follow.
There is no register at the trailhead, so be sure to leave an itinerary with someone you trust before venturing out.
The trail is an easy walk, with rolling uphills mixed with some flat spots and short downhills. Just before the top, the trail goes past a large rock outcrop and then hangs a right up a moderately steep slope. There is an old but solid wooden staircase here to help you get up the last little bit of steepness, but honestly, it’s there more to prevent erosion than because the slope is too steep.
Once at the top of the staircase, there are numerous herd paths, with some taking you to overgrown views that don’t offer a whole lot but would be fun for kids to explore.
At the top of the staircase, at the 0.67-mile mark, bear left and follow the trail to a cut-out view to the north. The viewing area is small but offers spectacular views of Lake Titus and the St. Lawrence valley, something most Adirondack hikers don’t get on other hikes.