Hurricane Mountain Bridge Over Pond

Introduction to Day Hiking – Your First Hike

If you can walk, then you can day hike!  Hiking is just walking in the wild side.

Roped into going on your first day hike?  Taking a vacation in the Adirondacks? Want to go explore the backcountry?  In this article we will provide some need-to-know information for your first day hike.   This is the first in an introductory series to day hiking.

Hiking Basics

Whether this is your first hike or your thousandth, the preparation is the same.  Let’s take a look at planning, preparing, hiking and returning from your first day hike.

Selecting your First Day Hike

Depending on your current comfort level, your first day hike can be anything from a short, flat hike into a pond to a steep hike to the top of a high peak.

To ensure a fun and successful trip, start small.  A hike into a pond or small mountain (a fire tower is a plus) is a great relaxing way to begin.  From here you can gauge your comfort level and add distance and elevation change in future day hikes.

When you select a hike there are three things to look for:

  • Length – A first hike should be at most a few miles.  A 2 mile hike is probably right if there is elevation change. Over time you can work up to 4-6 mile hikes.  Even seasoned hikers rarely hike more than 8 miles in a day.
  • Elevation Gain – As trails get steeper, hiking can slow to a crawl.  It is not uncommon to take 2 hours to hike only one mile up a mountain.  This needs to be budgeted into your timeline and expected enjoyment.  Gothics Mountain in the High Peaks Region has a spectacular view, but it is not easy to get to due to elevation gain.  Also watch out for rolling trails.  They might not climb up to the summit of mountain, but the constant up and down is more difficult than you might expect.
  • Terrain and Trail Conditions – A one mile hike over relatively flat terrain on a secluded trail sounds like a relaxing day.  The remainder of the story is what the trail conditions are like.  Is it rocky? muddy? unmaintained with down trees and no trail markers?  Icy trails are common in late fall.  Snow and overflowing streams are common through April and into May in deeper valleys. Unfortunately terrain and trail conditions are difficult to know before hand, but keeping to popular trails, during the summer months provides the best bet.  Spring hiking is typically has the worse conditions.  It starts with melting snow (March/April), then muddy trails (April/Early May), and ends with black fly season (late May through June).  There is a small window near Memorial Day that provides pleasant hiking.

Regardless of which hike you start with, your first hikes should be in the warmth of the summer with good weather.  You will simply enjoy it more, with less risks.

Starter Mountains

  • Bald Mountain (Old Forge Region) – A popular 1-mile trail brings you to a summit overlooking the Fulton Chain of Lakes.  As an added bonus there is a fire tower at the summit.  Return down the same 1-mile trail.
  • Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain (South of Plattsburgh) – A steep 1-mile trail or gentler 2-mile trail bring you to the summit with views of the entire Lake Champlain Valley, Giant Mountain and Whiteface.  Climb the tower to see all the way to Montreal on a clear day.
  • Hadley Mountain (Great Sacandaga / Lake George Region) – A very popular, but modestly steep 1.8 mile hike brings you to the summit of this southern peak.  A fire tower provides 360-degree views.
  • Cascade Mountain (High Peaks Region) – Want to start with a 46er?  This is the one!  The 2.2 miles to the summit and 1,940 feet elevation gain reward with a true mountain experience.  Cascade’s rock summit is completely exposed and provides views of Lake Placid and the high peaks.
  • Hurricane Mountain (Keene Valley Region) – A million dollar view.  At 2.5 miles and 2000′ feet elevation gain, this is about the same difficulty as Cascade Mountain, but the view is one of the best!
  • Ampersand Mountain (West Of Saranac Lake) – Another modest mountain with a great view.

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