Exploring Hamilton County’s wet and wild side

The descent from the top of Indian Lake Mountain included this remote beaver pond. (Provided photo — Spencer Morrissey)

The Moose River Plains area is by no means a stranger in my life. However, the end of its massive expanse is a bit more on the unfamiliar side, and eventually we found ourselves set back in the secluded realm of the West Canada Lakes Wilderness.

The “Wet and Wild” side of Morehouse is where we ended up, and along the way we visited three backcountry ponds and an obscure mountain just waiting to be explored.

Where, you may ask?

Well, Indian Lake and Indian Lake Mountain, with side trips to Muskrat Pond and Squaw Lake, none of which are anywhere near the hamlet of Indian Lake. This is a much more wild side of Hamilton County.

The drive for me to get to Inlet has become nothing out of the ordinary, but the drive to within the “Plains” on this day was lengthened quite a lot. The secondary Department of Environmental Conservation roads within MRP are slow going at best and always make up nearly as much time as the drive along state highways. This road trip led us deeper and got us to within 2.6 miles of Indian Lake.

Metal Department of Environmental Conservation trail signs like this one are now obsolete in the Adirondacks after being replaced by wooden ones. (Provided photo — Spencer Morrissey)

The days were getting shorter as we moved ever that much closer to the fall season. While ready for the cooler temperatures and colorful palette about to descend upon the Adirondacks, we loved having longer days to extend our outings without the worry of darkness overtaking us.

At the trailhead, we started our ramblings along the trail, which is our preferred approach to a trailless peak. But this one was a bit different, it was the old access road to Indian Lake.

The wide course through the woods passed by rather quickly as we locked ourselves in possibly inappropriate conversation. Fields of jewelweed lining the edge of the old road as the moist ground supported it so well.

Quickly we passed by the 0.4-mile spur trail to Squaw Lake, deciding to save it for the trip out. The old access road had only a slight change in elevation as we climbed to higher ground, passing by wetland corridors, old and forgotten campsites and the Muskrat Creek vista.

The next intersection we came to was the 0.1-mile spur trail to the shore of Muskrat Pond. The trail was marked with an old metal DEC sign, long exempt from use as they are now all wooden. The trail in its entirety was not even 0.1 miles, but who’s counting.

Muskrat Pond could be seen from the access road, but the small trail did get us to the shore with ease. The colors were surely changing and this was quite evident from the open shore. The hammering of a pileated woodpecker on a hollow snag echoed through the valley of the pond as we soaked in the splendor we were given. This was a worthy location in and of itself.

We were now nearing an obvious end to most people’s wanderings. The trail beyond was much more obscure and overgrown, and I would even venture further to say “forgotten.”

First we visited the shore of Indian Lake. This 0.2-mile side trail dropped us ever so slightly to a campsite and picnic area with a view out over a picturesque sheet of water. Indian Lake Mountain shadowed the pond at the southern end in its wardrobe of changing colors and steep slopes of maples and birches, but not a lick of rock to be seen. We assumed that meant no views, either.

Returning to the trail that eventually leads to Balsam Lake and Stink Lake, we started our hike around Indian Lake to a location where we could easily access the mountain. We passed by a scenic beaver pond and chose this location to hop over the inlet of the lake where Indian Lake Mountain resided.

Now at over 2,200 feet in elevation, we only had a 400-foot climb and it was looking very good. The forest was as open as I had ever seen and travel was quick and uneventful.

We summited rather quickly even while our wanderings switch-backed us over the mountain in search of views. Of course we came up empty, but our motto is “you never know unless you go.”

We searched around the summit for any views, with hopes of a slight opening, a small rock perch, anything. No luck, so we soon descended.

We decided to take a slightly different descent route in hopes of finding a scenic view off the steeper slopes, but again we came up empty-handed.

We landed near the middle of a long finger pond south of Indian Lake, but luckily also near a beaver dam that made it easier to cross. After a few photographs, we pursued that balancing act.

The trail was just opposite us and we soon made our way back to the old access road, past the Indian Lake Trail, past the Muskrat Pond Trail, up over the height-of-land and down to the Squaw Lake Trail.

A quick left onto the Squaw Lake trail soon awarded us another backcountry gem. The trail dropped quickly before us, then briskly over a couple bridges, one with a handrail which was an interesting touch, and then we reached the shore of Squaw Lake.

An amazing campsite rests on the shore of this lake, but surprisingly it was occupied so we didn’t have a chance to examine it closer. After a short break and cooling splash of the water, we returned to the access road and then the car.

Much later now than we had planned, we had just enough time to explore one other feature of the Moose River Plains: Mount Tom. You will have to check back a bit later to read about that little excursion. Let me just say one thing, it was oddly pretty exciting.


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