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Thursday, August 12, 2021

Jay Mountain and Ridge - Adirondacks, NY

I couldn't plan a trip to the Adirondacks without going out for at least one hike.  

The Adirondacks are known for their High Peaks and many hikers head to upstate New York to tackle this "46 list" (hiking the 46 tallest summits above 4,000 feet).  The 46 list wasn't on my agenda for this weekend but I did make a little list of potential hikes before we left. My list focused on hikes with a view and ranged from a 2-mile round trip trek to a fire tower to a 15-mile day hike to New York's tallest peak. I looked at this list, reminded myself we were on this trip to relax and decided that something in the middle might just be perfect. Jay Mountain only 25 minutes from Lake Placid was exactly that.

When I was reading reviews and trail guides trying to pick a hike, I wanted something that was a workout, a little quieter, and super scenic. The second I read Jay's description that included "hiking along the ridge" and "picking wild blueberries" I was sold. Hiking here in the northeast often means you spend most of your time below the treeline, putting in a lot of effort just to see a view at the top. Hikes like Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire and Mount Mansfield in Vermont feel so special because of the amount of time you spend above the treeline and up on the mountain with the amazing view. Hiking up to Jay Mountain gave us a chance to hike as far as we wanted along the ridge, a chance to enjoy the clear skies and mega views on a beautiful summer day in August. 


It was a quiet Monday morning when we left our hotel around 8:00 with plans to be at the trailhead around 8:30. There were about 2 cars in the parking lot as we grabbed our bug spray and water and made our way up the trail. I know it was a Monday but even I was surprised at just how quiet this trail really was.

The first 2.5 miles aren't all that exciting, you are following the blue trail as it makes its way through the woods up the mountains. Switchbacks help you up the steeper sections but for the most part, it's a slow and steady climb from the parking lot beneath the trees and up to the ridgeline.

At about 2.5-3 miles, you approach trail signage that gives you the options of a quick detour left for a viewpoint (worth it) or continuing right onto the ridgeline and summits. We stopped at the viewpoint and enjoyed a water break and our first taste of the Adirondacks surrounding us. We backtracked to the trail signs and continued on to the right which brought us to the ridgeline and summits of Jay Peak.  

It certainly feels a bit more wild when you make your way to the ridge. You are no longer following blue trail signs but instead, it's all open rockfaces and mountain peaks everywhere you look.  Hiking along the ridge can be a little confusing without the blue blazes and I highly suggest downloading the AllTrails app and map which will help you figure out which peak you are on and how much further you want to go to check out any other peaks. 

As far as distance goes, plan on this hike being at least 7 miles (3.5 to the first peak, Jay Mountain). This hike is really in the 7 to 10 mile range depending on far along the ridge you want to hike. We passed the first Jay Mountain summit, continued on past the cairn tower, and turned around just before the dip into a valley that brought you to the second peak. By the time we got back to the car, we logged an 8.8-mile hike.  Hiking along the ridge is gorgeous but to make it to the peaks, you will hike through dips and climbs into the brush and up the rock faces. We decided that at 4.4 miles in, we were tired enough to avoid one last drop and climb and just continued back the way we came. 

One of the best parts of this hike (besides the view and the solitude) is the abundance of wild blueberries on the ridgeline. Everyone writes about it in the trail guides but I was amazed to see just how many wild blueberries border the trail. We would walk a few minutes, stop for a snack.  Walk a few minutes, grab another handful. They are sweet and crisp and I am certain that a blueberry will never taste as good as it does freshly picked in the wild mountain air. 

By the time we made our way back down the ridge and ducked back into the woods, we turned our hike into a trail run. We jogged down the mountain, kid and dog-free, laughing as we made our way down and started to accept just how sore we would likely be tomorrow. 

Once back at the trailhead two sweaty hikers jumped back in the car and started to head back towards Lake Placid. We pulled over at one of the waterways we passed for a chance to cool off in the water. 

Summit, ridge hike, trail run, all ended with a dip in the wild water of the Adirondacks - it doesn't get much better than this. 

t r a i l   s t a t s 

Distance: 7-10 miles depending on how far along the ridge you make it - we hiked 8.58 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,391 ft
Time: 3h 35m
Kids/Dogs: Dog-friendly, older/experienced kids - NOT kid in pack-friendly 
Summits/Vistas: Jay Mountain Lookout, Jay Mountain 1027 meters (west), Jay Mountain 1100 meters (east) 
Parking/Trailhead: 10-15 spots along Jay Mountain Road - there is only one trail from the trailhead (blue trail) 
Trail: Follow the Jay Mountain Trail (blue) up to the ridgeline. Towards the ridge, you will see a detour for an overlook which is worth the 2-minute detour. Once you get to the ridgeline, the trail is harder to follow and is no longer blazed. Follow the rockface in the general direction of the peaks. The trail will dip into wooded sections along a very narrow path (referred to as a herd path some places). You do have to squeeze through narrow areas and scramble up rocks meaning this is not the hike to bring the baby in a carrier on. 
Facilities: No bathrooms or garbage at the trailhead - practice leave no trace 
Why This Trail?: Less crowded hiking and a chance to hike along the ridgeline with amazing views - 360-degree views Lake Champlain and Vermont to the east, Whiteface Mountain in the north, and the High Peaks Wilderness to the west. 

a b o u t    t h e   a d i r o n d a c k s 


As I was reading through Adirondacks Guides, I was surprised to learn that the Adirondacks are not a part of the nearby Appalachian Mountains. It was easy to think they were, located just across Lake Champlain from Vermont's Green Mountains and just across the Mohawk River from New York's very own Catskills, both Appalachian ranges. The Adirondack Mountains are related geologically to the great plateau of the Canadian Shield.


If you spend some time up in the Adirondacks, you are certain to notice one thing - just how wild it all feels. The High Peaks area of the Adirondacks is considered to be the most consistently high, wild, and remote mountain area in the eastern United States.

If you compare the Adirondacks to New Hampshire's White Mountains and the 48 list (48 peaks over 4,000 feet), the Whites are higher. If you compare the Adirondacks to Maines's remote mountain peaks, yes, some of Maine's peaks are more remote. What makes the Adirondacks feel so special and so "wild" is that only the Adirondacks combine a huge area of rugged mountains and remote wilderness. Generally speaking, hiking trails within the Adirondack Park are more rugged than those in New England. Matter of act, about half of the 50 highest peaks don't even have maintained trails and many are far enough from trailheads that an overnight trip in the backcountry is required. With this many mountain peaks spread out through the park, you can absolutely find a quiet peak to hike to or a lonely lake to float on.


If you've spent any time in the Adirondaks, you've probably heard a reference to the Blue Line (we even stopped for lunch at the Blue Line Brewery). The Blue Line was literally a blue line used to depict the proposed park boundary. Today, "blue line" means the actual boundaries of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks. On May 20, 1892, the NY Governor Roswell P. Flower signed the law creating a 2.8 million-acre Adirondack Park and the blue line drawn in 1891 was intended to delineate the boundary.

Since then, New York has expanded both the Adirondack and Catskill parks and they now cover an area of more than six million acres, larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountain national parks combined.

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