Monday, August 27, 2012

Blue Ledges: 08/26/2012

Looking upstream in the Hudson Gorge at Blue Ledges, 08/26/2012.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.

I've done the hike to Blue Ledges many times over the years, but today was the first time as a family hike. You could make the case that autumn is the best season to visit, but I wanted to bring our kids here on a warm summer day like today, when they could splash in the Hudson when we reached our destination.

If you’ve never visited Blue Ledges, it’s unique among Adirondack hikes. Rather than climbing to a summit, the trail gradually descends to meet the Hudson River where it makes a sharp bend at the base of sheer 300’ cliffs. Thousands of whitewater paddlers pass through the Hudson Gorge each year, but the Blue Ledges trail is the only marked hiking route into the Gorge, the wildest and most remote stretch of the Hudson River. Even the drive to the trailhead feels remote – it’s 7 miles down the Northwoods Club Road, a dead-end gravel roadway off Route 28N.

The trail passes close to the shore of Huntley Pond at the start of the hike

Easy terrain as the trail veers away from the pond

Newt found by Daniel along the shore of Huntley Pond.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.
As a family hike, Blue Ledges is an ideal destination. In my experience, water features have more kid appeal than a summit view, and the Blue Ledges trail provides a double shot of water with Huntley Pond at the start of the hike and the Hudson River as the destination. For younger hikers, the 5 mile round-trip distance might be an obstacle, but the distance is offset by the relatively easy (for the Adirondacks) terrain. For our two kids, the hike was easy for Daniel (age 8 and a half) and a stretch for Sylvie (four and a half). I picked Sylvie up and carried her for a hundred yards or so four or five times, but she did the vast majority of the hike under her own power.

Looking downstream in the Hudson Gorge

Late summer wildflowers were blooming among the boulders

Don’t be discouraged by abundant mud and tree roots in the first few tenths of a mile as the trail skirts Huntley Pond, hiking conditions quickly improve when the trail veers away from the pond. The trail continues on mostly level terrain with a few gentle ups and downs before gradually dropping roughly 300 vertical feet down to the river. At the river, a campsite and natural sand beach lie just downstream. Since it’s inevitable that kids will want to get wet, bring along flip-flops and bathing suits and let them get knee-deep. Obviously caution is in order when the river is running high. When it’s time to hike out, 15 minuts of steady – but never steep – climbing is followed by easy cruising all the way back to the trail head.

The foot of the cliffs. They are so high and close it's impossible to capture more than just a small section in a photograph.

There are several stretches of sandy beach

If you try this hike and are captivated by the wildness of the Hudson Gorge, you’ll want to keep an eye out for announcements regarding New York State’s recent purchase of 69,000 acres of former Finch Pruyn forestland. Included in the acquisition are significant stretches of the upper Hudson River, the Essex Chain of Lakes and OK Slip Falls. Located within the Hudson Gorge area not far from Blue Ledges, OK Slip Falls has a drop of 250’ and is considered to be one of the Adirondacks’ most spectacular waterfalls. These lands are not yet open to the public, but plans for hiking access and other recreational opportunities are expected to be announced over the coming months.

Huntley Pond, late afternoon, at the end of our hike

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