Connecting communities through trails: The Grand Hike

Registering for the CATS Grand Hike (Photo provided — Diane Chase)

Since the inception of the Champlain Area Trails (CATS) Grand Hike, my friends and I have enjoyed walking through the interwoven countryside paths of this community 12-mile hike.

The terrain is part roadside stroll and wooded walk. The Grand Hike isn’t about summitting mountaintops, though there are a few available if anyone wishes to detour, but the purpose is to connect communities. The Grand Hike provides us with an opportunity to walk together, converse, and celebrate at the Essex Inn Block Party at the end of the trail.

Hamlet-to-hamlet hiking is not a new concept. In Europe numerous towns are connected via trails with transportation provided for any luggage. In Saranac Lake, the Adirondack Hamlets to Huts (adkh2h.org) has preliminary trails connecting waterways, trails, and bicycle routes with accommodations. This concept allows travelers to enjoy the outdoors, but end each evening without having to set up a tent or pack a heavy pack.

The May 11 Grand Hike starts at 10 a.m. with free parking in Essex and a free shuttle to the Westport kick-off. Dogs are not allowed on the shuttle buses so anyone hiking with an animal will have to make different arrangements.

Through the past few years, I’ve seen seniors walk portions of the trails while runners complete the journey in record time. Parents push strollers or carry their youngsters on their back. The Grand Hike is appealing to all levels of hikers. Whether it’s the volunteer naturalists willing to point out local flora or the opportunity to meet new people, the 12-mile walk has something for everyone.

There are always a few changes with each yearly hamlet to hamlet hike. This year the Grand Hike starts at nearby Westport, along the shore of Lake Champlain, and traverses Viall’s Crossing to some new trails including John Brown and Harold’s Oak Grove before ending at the Essex Inn Block Party. There are several oases along the way with porta-lets, water, and snacks. Most of these trails are easements through private lands so every care is placed to keep the land pristine. Shuttles are available to anyone on a deadline that needs to take a shortcut back to his/her car.

Even though this is an organized event, basic hiking procedures still need to be followed such as wearing good walking shoes, bringing a backpack with snacks and water, carrying rain gear and a headlamp.

The Essex Inn Block Party is open from 3 to 7 p.m. with and food, drink and music. Children’s arts and crafts table and a photo booth are as well as other local business activities. The cost for the Grand Hike is $25 per person (champlainareatrails.org) with all fees used to continue to mission of CATS. Any food ordered at the Block Party is an addition fee.

See you on the trails!

Diane Chase is the author of the “Adirondack Family Activities” guidebook series, “Adirondack Family Time: Your Four-Season Guide to Over 300 Activities.” For more family-friendly activities go to



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