Submitted by guest blogger: Jeremy Evans
On a recent Saturday, my family and I awoke to perfect hiking weather - cool and clear with low humidity. My wife and I chose Azure Mountain because we were looking for a hike that our youngest son, who had just turned 4, could do on his own. He is a big kid and he outgrew our baby pack long ago. Since then, I have carried him when he got tired or bored, and my back has suffered as a result. Our oldest son (now 10) climbed most of Azure Mountain on his own when he was about the same age, so we thought we might find success again.
Getting to the Azure Mountain trailhead is an adventure. The 2,518-foot peak, located in the town of Waverly, is 29 miles from Saranac Lake, but it can take about 45 minutes to get there because it is located on a seasonal dirt road called Blue Mountain Road. Except for a couple of spots it is in pretty good shape, but I wouldn’t drive on it with a brand new car or a low-riding sports car. From Route 30 at Paul Smith’s College, turn left onto Keese Mills Road and continue until it turns into Blue Mountain Road, by the gate of the historic Bay Pond Estate.
Heading north from the estate, the pavement ends and so does civilization. We passed through a variety of forest types and a mix of private and public lands, including Madawaska Flow/Quebec Brook Primitive Area and Debar Mountain Wild Forest. Azure Mountain itself is located within a rectangle of state land in Debar Wild Forest, which is surrounded by private land. On the way we passed over the beautiful Quebec Brook and the St. Regis River. As we approached the mountain we could see it and its fire tower through the trees in front of us. The parking lot and trailhead are well marked on Blue Mountain Road by a typical DEC sign.
We parked and our family of five (which also includes our 7-year-old daughter) started walking along a relatively flat, old jeep road. The trail got steeper as we progressed but only moderately so. We eventually arrived at a small clearing with a picnic table and chimney, and we knew we had found the site of the firetower caretaker’s cabin. From that point on we followed a more typical Adirondack hiking trail.
One of the most striking aspects of this well-used trail are the impressive efforts being made by the state DEC and volunteer trail crews to stabilize and improve it. The herd paths and erosion have made parts of the trail downright unattractive, and there is a lot of work to do. I can't imagine how bad trail conditions would be without the work that has already been completed.
After about 40 minutes of climbing, we reached a flat spot on the trail where we could see the fire tower in front of us through the trees. Upon reaching the tower, we walked down to a south-facing, open-rock lookout that provided an expansive view of the distant High Peaks and enjoyed a snack. Nearby, there was family taking pictures and talking to the summit interpreter, a volunteer with the Azure Mountain Friends, a group that was formed in 2001 to save the fire tower.
Summit interpreters can be found on Azure Mountain every weekend from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. After taking our own pictures we walked back up to the tower, where the summit interpreter gave us each small cards certifying that we had climbed the mountain. Then we climbed to the top of the restored fire tower and enjoyed 360 degree views, including northern views into the St. Lawrence Valley.
Before we began our descent we visited "the rock," a large glacial erratic perched on a ledge a short distance from the fire tower. This rock and the fire tower are the subjects of a short essay by Neil Burdick that is posted on a tree at the parking lot, and on the very informative Azure Mountain Friends website.
By the way, our little guy did make it to the summit on his own power. I think he distracted himself by talking the whole way, but as we got ready to descend he demanded to be carried. Not above bribery, I told him that if he made it all the way back down on his own we would go to McDonald’s for dinner. The bribe, along with the chance to hike alongside another 4-year-old he met at the summit, worked!
On the way down, we stopped at a small cliff and collection of boulders that looked like a lot of fun to to explore. I noticed it on the way up but I didn’t want to stop our forward momentum. The kids had a wonderful time climbing and exploring, and they asked if we could return just to explore the rocks!
Azure Mountain is totally worth the effort. The 2 mile round trip hike is perfect for families and it is away from the crowds. The drive is beautiful, especially in the fall, and since you can climb the fire tower the views are excellent for the effort involved. The fire tower restoration and trail work of Azure Mountain Friends, and the presence of the summit interpreter on weekends, adds to the enjoyment of the experience.
The entire hike, including time at the summit, took our family about two-and-a-half hours. To break things up, we drove home via Routes 458 and 30 to complete a scenic loop back to Saranac Lake. And, of course, when we arrived back in town we made one more stop at — you guessed it — dinner! If you're in Saranac Lake for a few days, be sure to check out some of the other nearby hikes.