George Marshall once called Snowy Mountain the “loftiest mountain in the Adirondacks outside of the High Peaks region.”
Marshall should know. He is widely recognized as the third person to have climbed all 46 High Peaks in the Adirondacks, coming after his brother Bob, a renowned mountaineer and conservationist, and their guide Herb Clark.
At 3,899 feet in height, Snowy Mountain is actually taller than a pair of the traditional High Peaks that were put on the list because they were originally believed to be more than 4,000 feet high. Couchsachraga is only 3,820 feet high and Nye is 3,895.
Snowy is the 49th highest mountain, which is one ahead of Nye, and 11 ahead of Couchsachraga. It’s also the highest in the southern part of the Park.
Because it stands above its surroundings, Snowy offers great views. Mount Marcy is visible to the north, the West Canada Wilderness is visible to the south and the 14-mile long Indian Lake is stretched out in the valley to the east.
Despite those great traits, Snowy Mountain doesn’t draw crowds like the more popular High Peaks or even nearby Blue Mountain. It gets about 5,000 visitors a year and most of those come in July, August and September.
Forest Ranger Greg George said Snowy Mountain sometimes gets passed up by visitors because of its relatively long approach. The hike to the summit is listed as 3.9 miles in guidebooks — though it says 3.4 miles at the trailhead. Because of the relatively long hike, one should plan to spend about six hours hiking Snowy.
“We don’t get the real peak baggers that you get in the High Peaks,” George said. “It’s a different kind of mountain. They prefer something like Blue Mountain, which is 2 miles, even though it’s almost as steep, but it’s over with a little quicker.”
To get to Snowy Mountain’s summit, you have to climb 2,106 feet in elevation, with the steepest section coming toward the end of the trail. The first 2.5 miles is pretty flat.
Those who do climb Snowy will find it rewarding. There is a flat, grassy area just below the summit, where one can sit and enjoy the views mainly to the north and east. This was the location of the forest ranger cabin that was removed in 1990.
The summit itself is covered with trees and herd paths that seem to go nowhere, but if you follow the marked trail you’ll find a 45-foot fire tower that offers views in every direction.
Fire spotting has a long history on Snowy Mountain. Originally, the state built a fire observation cabin on the peak in 1909, making it one of the first five in Hamilton County. The station had a 15-foot wooden tower, providing 40 miles of view to the east, 25 to the west and north and 20 to the south, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
In 1917, the state replaced the wooden structure with a 22-foot steel tower. Then in 1933, it was extended to its current height. The tower was used for fire observation until the 1970s, when it was shut down by the state. It recent years, it has been restored and is open to the public and used solely for recreation purposes. Its presence greatly enhances the view of the summit that is covered in a dense balsam fir and black spruce forest.
The views themselves are reminiscent of another time, with wilderness stretching for miles in every direction. The only visible man-made structures are a slice of state Route 30 and a few light-colored buildings that mostly blend into the forested background.
The “views command Indian Lake at its foot, the Hudson Valley and the High Peaks to the north … and rolling hills and mountains in almost every direction,” Marshall wrote in a 1940s edition of The Cloud Splitter, a publication of the Adirondack Mountain Club.
Snowy Mountain may not be a High Peak but a trip to its summit is as rewarding as climbing most Adirondack mountains over 4,000 feet.
Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
A large portion of Indian Lake is visible from the viewpoint just below Snowy Mountain’s summit.
Fact BoxSnowy Mountain
Distance: 7.8 miles round trip
Height: 3,899 feet (trail climbs 2,106 feet in elevation)
Trailhead: State route 30 about six miles south of the hamlet of Indian Lake, Hamilton County
Perks: Great views of Indian Lake and forested hills in every direction, both from a grassy area near the summit and the fire tower on the summit
Obstacles: Steep climb toward the end of the trail, blackflies in May and June