December 08, 2015
In a place with abundant Adirondack wilderness and gorgeous vistas at every turn, it's difficult to qualify different levels of view. We have a long shoreline with Lake Flower, across the street from the Town Hall, and it takes minutes to walk to this view:
With incredible views everywhere a person turns, can I really choose the top five views in Saranac Lake? Well... I can choose my own top five!
At any time of year, Ampersand offers a dramatic vantage point. Its position is excellent with the Saranac Chain of Lakes to the north, the High Peaks of the Seward Range to the south, the Tupper lake system to the west, and the McKenzie Wilderness area to the east. All viewable from the three hundred and sixty degrees of bald summit which crowns the mountain.
Ampersand has another advantage of trailhead accessibility. It is right off Route 3, and while it is not particularly long, it can be quite steep towards the end. This is helped along by its famous "stone staircases" which help hikers get to the top with a minimum of rock scrambling. While demanding in stamina, it is not a difficult technical climb. The abundant pictures of dogs and children at the summit indicate that almost any skill level can find this view.
Ampersand is just as popular as a winter snowshoe. It also has an additional draw with its closeness to the half mile path (across Route 3) that winds up at Middle Saranac Beach. If we decided to snowshoe back when the trail gets steep, we can add in the mile that is the path to the beach and back. And we get an extra view.
Azure is known as the little mountain with the big view - because of its 1918 fire tower. Even before climbing the tower, there is a wide view of the surrounding mountains and also the St. Lawrence Valley, a rare perspective from the Adirondacks.
It's a short climb, but gets steep quickly. If we are looking for additional places to explore, Azure's location in the beautiful Paul Smiths area makes a stop at the Visitor Interpretive Center a wonderful addition to our day's trip. With more great views!
Azure Mountain is a fine climb in any season, but in the summer, there is often a volunteer interpreter at the fire tower who can answer questions. This makes it a popular climb for children. It is also a known spot for good birding, with species like Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, Blackburnian Warblers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and is an excellent spotting point for raptors.
Don't let Baker Mountain fool you. Yes, it's short and right in the village, and so easy to climb it has the reputation of being a child's First Climb. But it has charms that make it much more than just a cute little town mountain.
Since Baker's trailhead is in the midst of a maze of streets, it can be confusing to drive to. There's not much parking there when we do arrive. That's one of the reasons we came up with the option known as the Trifecta. Park at the Visitor's Center, and we can enjoy a walk through the woods of The Pines, a walk around Moody Pond, and then the climb up Mount Baker.
This is an especially nice option because Baker doesn't have a warmup. We start climbing right away. But the other attraction of the Trifecta is that we get more views, especially of the wonderful Moody Pond area. While it is in a residential neighborhood, most of the houses are set back and from many angles, it is as though we are in the wilderness.
When our hiking trail forks, take the right hand path. That's the secret Baker holds; that by climbing up the steeper side, we get views from about halfway up, and then more, all the way to the summit. Which does not disappoint.
Baker's shortness is balanced by its setting. It is on the very edge of the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness area, and overlooks a stretch of level ground and lakes until our eyeline encounters the McKenzie Range. It is one of those mountains where the effort expended is far less than the spectacular view which is the climb's reward.
St. Regis Mountain
I'll admit it: I have a favorite 6er. And I'm not alone. We all love St. Regis Mountain.
The mountain is a familiar sight to all paddlers of the St. Regis Canoe Wilderness, or on nearby Lake Clear. As a hike, it is friendly - starting slow through interesting blocks of glacial errata, then letting the hiker use stone steps as the going gets steeper, and finally some very easy rock scrambling to get to the top.
The way it dominates the landscape from the ground is a clue about the area it will look over once we summit.
St. Regis is not that far away from Saranac Lake, yet it is in the midst of a extraordinary wilderness. This makes for the special hush that wilderness explorers experience. Only McKenzie Mountain itself is the 6er that is more remote.
Yet it is not a particularly long or taxing climb, especially for the view, which is one of the most spectacular in the area. Also popular as a snowshoe destination.
St. Regis Pond
We should not crank our gaze so high that we miss a lot of the beauty available to us at lower elevations. Not everyone is willing or able to climb mountains. Almost anyone can enjoy a kayak or canoe trip.
And they probably should.
St. Regis is a mountain and a pond, but perhaps most of all, it is a wilderness canoe area, all 18,400 acres of it. There are over 50 ponds and lakes, and St. Regis Pond is the largest. It is 388 acres in size, which gives it far more possible views than a smaller pond can offer.
St Regis also has many islands, an extensive marsh area, and views of St. Regis Mountain. I've paddled many of the areas lakes and ponds, and so I can say there is definitely something special about St. Regis Pond. There's so much variety, with a different vista from so many angles. As part of the wilderness, motor boats are not allowed, so there are only the sounds of the wind and the wildlife.
Paddling is not just for summer, either. These pictures were taken in May, and paddling can continue into October.
I enjoyed St Regis Pond as part of my wonderful canoe trip, the Seven Carries.
The literal beauty of it is, that exploring our own views is so easy. There might be a view somewhere that will be your new favorite. That's what we love about exploring the wilderness around the Saranac Lake area.
The fact that we are spoiled for choice.
St. Regis Mountain photo Source: Mwanner at en.wikipedia