I love standing on a mountaintop, surveying the surrounding landscape and watching clouds roll by, but I don’t always have time to get to those wonderfully out-of-the-way places. That’s one of the many things I love about living in Saranac Lake — there are options to be had — and since I've been too busy to do long hikes I love having a list of easy go-tos. Besides that, at this time of year it’s best to stick to elevations under 3,000 feet to give high-elevation trails time to dry, so it all works out!
Middle Saranac Lake beach
This pleasant hike is great for families or for anyone looking for a quick, scenic out-and-back. It begins in the same parking lot as the Ampersand Mountain trail, which starts across the road. That’s a serious hike with serious elevation gain, whereas the beach trail is pretty much level the whole way.
The Middle Saranac Lake trail begins at the back of the parking lot. Take the steps down into the woods and continue along the easy-to-follow path as it passes large glacial erratics. Shortly after the boardwalk across a wet area you’ll hit the lake and the long, sandy beach. This is a popular destination in the summer — the water is shallow, the view is nice, and it’s such a short walk people returning from Ampersand love to use it is a cool down.
Getting there: From the intersection of Route 3 and Route 86 in Saranac Lake, follow Route 3 toward Tupper Lake. Continue for 8 miles to the Ampersand Mountain parking area on the right.
The Paul Smith’s College VIC
With the exception of the trail up Jenkins Mountain, all of the VIC’s trails are low elevation and perfect for spring exploring. Every Adirondack ecosystem except alpine is represented here — you’ll need to gain a lot of elevation to see that one — so be prepared for a huge variety of wildflowers and wildlife as you walk the area’s 25 miles of trail.
You can’t go wrong with any of the VIC's trails, by my personal favorite route is Heron Marsh to Barnum Brook to Barnum Pond. Begin at the gazebo and head down the gentle slope to Heron Marsh, a huge wetland with several viewing decks along its shore. After the bridge over Barnum Brook take a right on the Barnum Brook path to follow the waterway as it spills over a series of beautiful boulders. As that trail leaves the brook, bear left then continue straight to reach Barnum Pond. You’ll snake through a wetland on a boardwalk most of the time, a rare opportunity to keep your free dry while getting up close to things like cotton grass, bog rosemary, sphagnum moss, and pitcher plants, a carnivorous plant that traps insects and slowly digests them.
Getting there: From downtown Saranac Lake, take Route 86 west toward Paul Smiths. After about 11 miles there's a four-way intersection. Straight is the entrance to Paul Smith's College, turn right and look for the large sign on the left in 0.8 mile.
Bloomingdale Bog trail
Speaking of wetlands, check this out. The Bloomingdale Bog trail is an end-to-end path with one entrance just outside of Saranac Lake on Route 86 and the other in Bloomingdale.
This 3.8 mile route was originally a railroad bed, so it’s wide, straight, and level throughout, making it perfect for bicycles and strollers. The scenery here is spectacular, with plenty of forests and wetlands to see. Listen for the “ka-chunk ka-chunk” sound of American Bitterns, keep your eyes on the trail to see animal tracks, and if you’re lucky you’ll get a visit from one of the bog’s gray jays. They love people!
The Bloomingdale entrance: From downtown Saranac Lake, take Route 3 east. Go straight at the four-way stop sign in Bloomingdale for almost 2 miles. Look for parking on either side of the road; the trail is on the left.
The Route 86 entrance: From downtown Saranac Lake, follow Route 86 west toward Paul Smiths, and after about 3.5 miles there is a dirt road on the right with a parking area.
Ready for more? Try Mount Baker
If you’d like to get a mountain experience while visiting Saranac Lake, I suggest starting with Mount Baker, which is located right in town. There’s a 884-foot elevation gain to get to the top, so this isn’t low-elevation per say, but compared to the High Peaks you’ll see from the summit ledge it’s pretty low-key.
Mount Baker is the easiest member of the Saranac Lake 6ers family of mountains. It’s a steady, 0.9 mile climb to the 2,452 foot summit, but it never stays too steep for too long. If you’re new to hiking mountains, give yourself a few hours so you can take your time — trust me, it’s worth the effort. Fit hikers can easily get to the top in under an hour.
Getting there: From downtown Saranac Lake, head north on Broadway (Route 86) and turn right on Bloomingdale Ave. (Route 3), then turn right on Pine Street after about a half mile. Cross the railroad tracks and turn left on Forest Hill Ave. and follow it as it wraps around Moody Pond. The trailhead is on the left in about a half mile. Park on the right shoulder of the road, and please be respectful of the nearby property owners.