November 14, 2018
The VIC pretty much has every kind of Adirondack experience you could want — lakes, wetlands, forests, a nice waterfall, and a sweeping mountain view, all in one 25-mile trail network. In fact, the nature center is home to every Adirondack ecosystem except high alpine tundra, the hard-to-reach landscape found atop many of our highest peaks, so visitors are guaranteed to see a full sampler of Adirondack habitats when they visit. Besides that, the VIC is just beautiful. My family visits a few times a month, and it looks a little different each time as a steady rotation of birds, wildflowers, and other plants and animals cycle through the seasons.
The wild array of bright fall foliage is now behind us, and the tamaracks are fully displaying their soft, fiery orange needles, a final hoorah before winter white sweeps across our forests engulfing trees, boulders, and waterways. We usually visit the Heron Marsh and Barnum Pond areas of the VIC — they’re outrageously pretty locales with boardwalks and bridges over wetlands — so we decided it was time to see a different side of this beloved property, Black Pond.
We love the VIC
Compared to hiking mountains in the High Peaks, the VIC’s trails are mellow and pleasant. The loop around Black Pond is no exception. A 2.3 mile-hike in the mountains might involve 700 feet or more of elevation gain; here it’s nice rolling terrain that delivers plenty of scenic views across this large pond’s glassy surface. And since the Black Pond Trail is connected to the greater VIC network, options for a longer trek are plentiful.
The Black Pond parking area is easy to find. It’s on the right about 2.5 miles down Keese Mills Road, just before the large parking lot for St. Regis Mountain, one of the Saranac Lake 6ers. This was a true family outing with my wife, Anna, our 10-week old daughter, Lucina, and our faithful and always obedient dog, Belle, along for the journey.
The path starts right next to a dammed section of Black Pond Stream, making for a scenic introduction to the hike. It follows the river for a short distance — check out the enormous rocks! — and then Black Pond comes into view. There’s a lean-to that’s worth a visit, or a picnic if you’re already hungry, then it’s back into the woods.
Carved by ice
Black Pond is a 72-acre glacial pond, which simply means its basin was formed when an enormous chunk of ice got wedged into the ground as the glacier receded. The chunk of ice melted and the depression that is now Black Pond remained.
Along the western shore there’s a low ridge called an esker — the trail winds between the base of this landform and the shoreline as it approaches the pond’s northern point.
Today it looks like a long, wooded hill, but eskers are pretty amazing. Imagine a time when the entire region was covered by a glacier. As the massive ice formation melted, the meltwater created streams that flowed under it and carved tunnels inside of it. Those streams dislodged sediment and rocks trapped in the glacial ice; that sediment settled to become an inner-glacier stream bed. As the glacier receded those massive stream beds were left behind, and now they appear as snakelike ridges throughout the Adirondacks — eskers.
We made our way past the esker and came to a trail junction. Straight goes to Long Pond and Jenkins Mountain; we turned right to continue the loop. After walking through a pleasant forest that’s littered with boulders we came to a bridge that crosses the inlet to Black Pond. There’s a great lean-to with a large picnic table just past the bridge, and there’s an outhouse on the hill behind the lean-to.
From this spot it’s an easy walk back to the road along the pond’s eastern shore. Take a right to follow the wide shoulder of the road back to the parking area, less than a minute walk.
There were pockets of ice and snow during our adventure —winter is upon us in the Adirondacks! Black Pond is a great place for snowshoeing if you have your own pair. If not, head to the VIC's main building, where you can rent cross-country skis or snowshoes and take advantage of their lovely groomed trails. The paths at the VIC are all well marked, just be sure to grab a map before heading out or snap a picture at one of the map kiosks on the property.
Getting to Black Pond
From downtown Saranac Lake, follow Route 86 west toward Paul Smiths for about 10 miles. At the four-way intersection (straight is the college entrance), turn right on Route 30 and make the first left on Keese Mills Road. Follow that for 2.5 miles and look for the parking area on the right.