February 05, 2015
People love to come to the Adirondacks to hike our forests, explore our ponds, and climb our mountains. But perhaps only Saranac Lake offers this wilderness experience in a compact and versatile package that is right in town.
It's the Trifecta, and one of its charms is how we can hike through it, and back, two different ways. The different parts make it adaptable to any skill level, in any season. Even winter.
Easy Trailhead Parking
It's easy to find the Trifecta trailhead. It's the Saranac Lake Visitor Center. Ample parking in the back, restrooms, and Visitor Service Specialists who will do their best to answer any questions. It is one of the most awesome trailheads in the whole Adirondacks.
To reach the first leg of the Trifecta, leave the Visitors Center and turn left at the sidewalk. Walk a few minutes to reach the railroad crossing. At the other side of the road is the entrance to The Pines.
The Pines leads to Moody Pond, which leads to Baker Mountain. This means the more difficult parts of the trek come at the end, where it can easily be skipped if time and energy are limited.
Historic Forest Paths
The Pines is a sixteen acre wood named for its abundant white pine. In 1937 it was gifted to the Saranac Lake Tuberculosis Society. They tore down the abandoned resort that once stood there, but kept the hiking paths. Because of the gentle inclines and the peaceful woods, it became a popular spot for tuberculosis patients to exercise. In 1943 it became a park in memory of Dr. Lawrason Brown, an internationally known specialist in tuberculosis who authored the famous "Rules for Recovery."
The southern trailhead is at the intersection of Brandy Brook and McKenzie Pond road. It begins as a single path, but soon it branches into a network which winds through different sections. While we have just crossed a sometimes-busy road, it doesn't take long for the many evergreens to muffle the sounds. At some points, it fades away entirely.
By choosing the left-hand fork and/or sticking to a northerly direction at each intersection, we come to the northern trailhead which is on Moody Pond. If we miss it by a little, a side trail leads to a residential street, and the pond can be seen from there. A very short walk down this street will also take us to the pond.
Easy Access Pond
Moody Pond's original name was Pine Pond, because it borders the tract known as the Pines. But its name was changed in a time honored way; it was once on land owned by the first settler in Saranac Lake, Jacob Moody. His log cabin once rested at the trailhead of the Pines across from the railroad tracks.
Famed writer Robert Louis Stevenson stayed in a nearby cottage in 1887 for help with his lung condition. He wrote of skating on Moody Pond. The place where he stayed is known as Stevenson Cottage, and is now a museum with the largest collection of Stevenson memorabilia in the world.
Moody Pond has preserved a mostly natural shoreline. There are a few docks here and there, but the houses are set across the road. It is in the middle of a residential area, but from many angles, that's hard to tell. There are many trees and the houses nestle into them so the wilderness feels not far away.
Before setting out, take a moment to remember the position of landmarks, like the mountain, a distinctive tree, or a house that might be next to us. This will help us find the trailhead on our return journey.
Choose either the right or left hand side to walk around the lake to the Baker Mountain trailhead on its opposite side. Then, and now, the pond is a popular spot for curling. A space is usually cleared right across the street from the Mount Baker trailhead.
A Mile-High Mountain
Baker Mountain is one of favorite family-friendly hikes. A short distance up the trail is the sign-in station -- please do! And a short distance beyond that is the fork in the trail that allows us to choose which trail will take us to the summit. (See header picture, up top.)
Taking the right hand trail is the best choice for views as we climb, as this was the side that was quarried for building materials in town. The remaining stone in in the shape of stair steps which makes the climb vertically felt, but not technically difficult. This is usually the first mountain our children climb.
If we are going to make the Trifecta loop, the rocky right hand trail is the best choice to start with, as it is easier to climb up than it is down. It is also a bit more demanding as it rises.
Between the steep slope, past rock quarrying, and the forest fires of 1903 and 1908, this side of Baker begins to offer some impressive vistas fairly early. Once we leave the woods below us, the trees thin out, and then we wind up standing taller than they are.
The summit has many vantage points of the distant scenery. To the west, Baker looks over the paddling paradise of the St. Regis Canoe Wilderness and the popular boating lakes of the Saranac Lake Chain. To the east, Baker offers a view of the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness.
An alternate return journey
From the summit of Baker Mountain, we can take a path that descends down the mountain on the side opposite from the path we came up. It is also a very different path.
This gentler, more wooded, path has its own amazing views, but they are from much closer up. There are more lush evergreens, in contrast to the woods on the rocky climb side, which tends towards more leafless birches and other deciduous trees. After a generous snowfall, the trees are so enrobed with contrasting white snow it becomes a magical experience, since everything is shaped in new ways.
This altered perspective continues as we take each alternate path on our way back. If we turned to our right when we left The Pines trailhead to walk around Moody Pond, turning right as we leave the Baker Mountain trailhead will take us along the other side of the pond. When we get back to The Pines trailhead, we have the option of choosing new trails to make our way back to the Visitors Center.
There are many reasons to love the Trifecta. But the way it's not the same going and coming is a big part of its charm.