I woke up early longing to explore more of the Adirondack Coast. It has been unseasonably warm in Northeastern New York State leaving the Champlain Valley almost snow free. I had been longing for a great winter hike. The sun was shining bright at 7:00 am, but the temperatures were hanging near ten degrees. The lake mist from Lake Champlain was blocking a clear view over 100′, but was freezing on every limb and every blade of grass to create a storybook glimmer of dancing light all around me. I have also been longing for a good excuse to use my new snowshoes, but the light dusting of snow was barely enough to cover the grass in our lawns. So where do I go to find great snow, great views, and not too much effort for both? St. Regis Mountain would do the trick! I packed up all of my gear and headed out to Paul Smiths with one of my dearest of friends for an unforgettable walk through a winter wonderland.
The trailhead for St. Regis Mountain is located near Paul Smiths College, 71 miles from Plattsburgh, on Keese Mill Rd. there’s a very convenient parking lot clearly marked with a DOC trailhead marker. After all of the magnificent scenery we witnessed on our trip through the foothills to the trailhead, we were both itching to get started up the trail. Our very first glimpse of the beauty of the area was a small waterfall created by dams that was spouting mist into the cold air glazing the nearby trees with shimmer glass like crystals. A family of five whitetail deer crossed the path next to the glazed trees signaling the wild nature of the Adirondack Park.
The St. Regis Mountain trail is a moderate 3.4 mile trip to a 2,874′ partially bald summit of the 213 highest peak in the Adirondack Park . The only steep section is the final mile to the summit, but is still a much easier ascent than some of the other Adirondack trails of equal distance. The gradual rise will bring you through mixed hardwoods, the occasional pine forest, and beautiful ice formations on it’s many rocky outcrops. We had both sported a pair of microspikes on our feet for the trip up to give us confidence on the ice. I can’t express the need for some kind of traction system when visiting the Adirondack trails in the winter. You’ll notice I didn’t say snowshoes. The trail is traveled often enough by visitors that the snow was packed hard enough not to require them. Score zero for my snowshoes.
About two miles into the hike we stopped for hydration while we enjoyed the sounds of a babbling brook. At this brook is the point where the climb gets steeper. Steeper here means a bit more of a climb but not overly strenuous. There are short sections along this end of the trail that might strain the novice hiker, but each one is topped off with a nice flat space and a length of path that’s rather flat. This is where it gets good! We topped one of the steeper sections of trail to find ourselves suddenly inside of a winter wonderland! There was a perfect line where the bare trees became completely encased in thick frost like what you find in the back of your home freezer. There was just enough snow falling from the sky and sticking to each and every piece to create a scene you’d only expect to find in the most picturesque of travel magazines. All of this right here near the summit of one of the shorter Adirondack peaks and an easy climb? How can this be? I’m not sure if I can be eloquent enough to describe the feelings we were having. We couldn’t put down the camera as the sky was ever changing of clear blue and whisps of thin white clouds. the sun reflected off of each and every snowflake. I didn’t think it could get much better than this, but we knew we had to get to the summit where the 1918 fire tower stood.
The summit was mere feet from the frost and snow encased trees we had focused on for a good thirty minutes. The Fire tower was placed at the 2,874′ summit of St. Regis in 1918, 42 years after a fire had cleared the summit of trees after a surveying expedition led by Verplanck Colvin was accidently ingnited. This fire created a nearly bald summit that provides magnificent views to the south of the High peaks. In the distance we could make out some of the highest peaks including Marcy, Algonquin, Whiteface, Macintyre, Colden, Cascade, and many many more. On a moderately cloudy day, the distant high peaks are shielded from view, but the views below of a vast valley consisting of at least 30 lakes is still well worth the hike to the top.
Don’t worry! I got those snowshoes on after all! I didn’t use them to hike up, or down, but I got them on my feet for about ten minutes and wandered through the deep snow in the treed portion of the summit. I hope someday soon I can wear them right here in the Champlain Valley, but until then I might have to go out to the nearby New Land Trust, or all the way to the top of one of the Adirondack peaks.
St. Regis, in short, it’s worth the drive, worth the hike to the top, and worth sharing with your family and friends. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I can’t wait to hear about it.