This 14.5 mile hike follows a moderate route to the summit of New York’s tallest mountain. At 5,343 feet, Mt. Marcy offers commanding views of the region from her above-treeline summit. This is definitely the crowning jewel of a hiking week in the Adirondacks!
For our grand finale in the High Peaks, we decided we had to hike New York’s tallest mountain – Mount Marcy! After a day of rain (that caused us to bail out a mile short of the summit of Mt. Van Hoevenberg), we woke to bluebird skies and crisp, cool temperatures. After a week of hazy, muggy conditions, we were going to get the prettiest day of our entire vacation week to hike the big mountain. Perfect!
The hike of Mt. Marcy is almost 15 miles round-trip with 3,200 feet of climbing. The trail is never horribly steep, but it’s still a long, challenging day for most hikers. We set out early with our backpacks stuffed with essentials – several liters of water, multiple snacks, and warm layers for the summit. We (once again) parked at the Heart Lake Program Center.
Despite our early start, there were crowds of hikers setting out for the day. We never really had the trail to ourselves or experienced much solitude – not that we were expecting it on such a popular trail. It was also one of those hikes that made me feel guilty each time I paused to take photos. At every photo stop, the slightly slower hikers behind us would catch up and pass us; only to have us on their heels saying ‘excuse me… may we pass?’ ten minutes later. Because the crowd situation was a little stressful, I didn’t take a ton of photos on the ascent.
The first couple miles of the hike were easy going – it was mostly flat trail through lush mixed forest. The first notable landmark we reached was Marcy Dam. Until Hurricane Irene struck in 2011, the dam held back the waters of a scenic pond. When the monster storm passed over, it washed away the sluice gate leaving behind a nothing but a mud flat with a stream passing through. When we hiked by, I was unaware of the history and still found the dam extraordinarily beautiful! Mount Colden, Avalanche Pass, and Wright Peak still stood tall over still water full of cloud reflections. The New York DEC is planning on removing the dam completely over the next few years, so who knows how the vista will change. Read more about the dam.
On the far side of the dam, we signed the trail register and began the climb toward the summit of Marcy. The terrain was extremely varied – there were stream crossings, boulders, cobblestones, root jumbles, muddy spots, plank bridges, logs pressed into mud, and basic dirt trail. The climbing was steady, but gentle almost the entire way to the summit. One odd thing about the hike was that it was not very well-marked. There were several major trail junctions that simply did not list the Marcy summit on the signs. We consulted our map and hiking guide and were able to find the right way, but we met confused hikers at each junction.
After passing through a stretch of trail with big logs pressed into the mud for footing, we reached a saddle on the mountain’s shoulder. Plank bridges passed across an open, grassy marsh, giving us our first clear view of the bald, granite summit of Mount Marcy.
From there, the climbing became a bit more intense and steep. We scrambled across granite faces and over boulders, following blazes and cairns along the way. I didn’t particularly enjoy climbing up this part of the mountain. I always feel like I’m slipping on smooth granite. Also, my legs were covered with bruises from all the other rocks I’d climbed earlier in the week. I’m like a ripe peach when it comes to bruising! At one point, I looked back at Adam and said ‘Seriously… more rocks. I already look like an accident victim’. Of course, Adam caught my expression on camera. I’m not including that photo in the post, but it’s in the Flickr album if you want a good laugh. I was not a happy hiker at that moment!
We slowly but surely made our way to the top – and it was so worth it! What a spectacular view! The Adirondacks almost rival the White Mountains of NH for their terrain and views. The wind was whipping across the summit, so I put on my jacket and found a place to eat lunch. I had tired of PB&J, so I had pepperoni, cheese, and crackers and half of the biggest cookie I’ve ever seen. The day before hiking Marcy, we had stopped for lunch at the Big Mountain Deli and Creperie. In addition to amazing sandwiches (all named after the High Peaks) and crepes, they also sell giant cookies perfect for giant hikes. I definitely recommend a stop there if you’re in Lake Placid!
After a while on top the world, it was time to climb down. We slithered and slid down the steepest parts, enjoying views all along the descent. When we got back to the marshy saddle that had given us our first view of Marcy, I noticed that one of my trekking poles felt shorter than the other. I figured that heavy use on the descent, had forced the pole to retract. However, when I went to adjust it, I found the entire bottom third of my pole was GONE. It was too late and we had covered too much ground to go back for it. I was able to extend the middle third and use the remnant of my pole the rest of the way down, but I was so bummed. Those were great Komperdell poles and they carried me over many miles.
The rest of the descent was pretty easy and passed by quickly. Sometime after Marcy Dam, my right foot decided it had enough for the day and started cramping. It really hurt, but I was able to hobble my way back to the trailhead parking. We were both pretty happy to see the car! What a great day and what a fitting end to our first week in the Adirondacks. We can’t wait to visit again!
When we first planned our trip to the Adirondacks, we both had put on our goals to hike Mount Marcy. Being the tallest peak in New York, it is a big draw to people living or visiting the North Country of New York. When we arrived in the parking lot early in the morning, we kept seeing groups upon groups of people hitting the start of the trail. I felt pressure to try and get started as we knew more and more people were going to get on the trail as each minute passed. This was a beautiful day, so we knew it would be a little more crowded than normal.
At the beginning of the trailhead there was a large stack of rocks with a sign asking to carry one to the top of Mount Marcy. We didn’t realize the full purpose until we got to the summit, but the goal was to bring some small rocks up for preservation projects. We both grabbed a rock, signed the registry at the kiosk, and started the hike. The trail starts off mostly flat, with very little elevation gained. The trail began as a beautiful path through thick woods. We crossed a footbridge through a marshy area. Further up the trail, we passed a sign that pointed towards Fangorn Forest. As big Lord of the Rings fans, we quickly got the reference – I said to Christine, “What madness drove them in there?”, a quote from the movie The Two Towers and we both chuckled. Staying on the main trail, we came to a large junction at the one mile marker. There are a lot of trails that criss-cross through the hike up Mount Marcy. We saw a lot of people consulting maps trying to decide what to do. We did the same and I bore us left at the junction following the direction to the Marcy Dam lean-tos. The trail begins to climb a bit here.
At 2.3 miles, we arrived at Marcy Dam, a very picturesque spot to enjoy some reflective water with mountains ahead. The trail winds down and then crosses the water on a longer footbridge, before leading to the other side with another perspective view. You will come across signs on this side of the water crossing that are pointing to several lean-tos, bathrooms, and campsites along the way. We found it strange to have toilets this far off the main trail. We didn’t realize until our return trip that a ton of people like to camp out here. Many of the groups that we saw heading on the trail go no further than to one of these campsites, so numbers on the trail can be misleading.
From the other side of the dam, we found another kiosk which we signed again and followed the signs that pointed us to Mt. Marcy. The trail starts off with a gradual climb here. At 3.0 miles, we reached a junction with a side trail that led to Phelps Mountain. Peakbaggers seeking all of the 46 mountains over 4000 feet would follow this side trail to summit Phelps Mountain, #32 on the list, in 1.2 miles (2.4 miles roundtrip from this point). We skipped Phelps and continued up the trail. The trail became steeper and rockier.
At 4.2 miles, we reached another junction, which seemed to be the most confusing. There were no signs stating which way went to Mt. Marcy. The sign was weathered and half of the letters were hard to read, which only added to our confusion. We saw several people at this junction trying to figure out the correct path. Staying straight on the trail would lead you to Table Top Mountain, but we had to take a right on this trail and up a few rock stairs to stay on the trail to summit Mt. Marcy. At about 4.4 miles, we came to another junction, We bore to the left, which was the correct path. The trail continued to be rocky and wet from recent rain.
At about 6.2 miles, we reached a large clearing, which gave us our first views of the summit. At about 6.6 miles, we arrived at another junction, bore right, and the views above began to open up as we headed above treeline. The last .6 miles were challenging, with some areas requiring you to scramble up using your hands as well as your feet. There were also some sheer, slick granite faces, so you had to pay attention and take care. We finally reached the top at 7.25 miles. The wind was whipping around us fiercely, but the views were absolutely breathtaking. I would say these views compare very similarly to some of the views we have seen in Mount Washington and Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire, two of our favorite all-time hikes.
At the summit, there was another sign asking for everyone that carried their rock to drop it here. While we stopped to eat a snack, we were greeted by a summit steward. The Adirondack Mountain Club has hired people to talk to others at Mt. Marcy and other summits to educate people about the ecosystems and fragile plants that live on the top of these mountains. They explained to us how the rocks we brought up would be placed to form barriers to protect plants from the wind and people. I was amazed the ADK has people that hike Mt. Marcy every day to keep counts of people and talk to people at the summit. We told the summit steward we have always wanted to be paid to hike and she was getting that dream job of ours. Read more about summit stewards.
We knew we had a long way back down, so we eventually pulled ourselves from the summit to make our way back down. The views were so stunning coming down also. On the way back down, I slid and pulled a muscle in my shoulder trying to stop my fall. The mountains are no joke up here.
We finally got back to our car after a long hike downward at 14.5 miles. After the hike, we were completely beat. We drove to Lake Placid and stumbled into Johnny’s, a pizza place. I hobbled in and we ate in a pure exhausted state.
The memories on Mt. Marcy will last with me for the rest of my life. It is an iconic mountain that definitely won’t disappoint if you can handle the climbing and distance.
- Distance – 14.5 miles
- Elevation Change – 3200 ft.
- Difficulty – 4.5. It’s hard to give this a 5, because while the hike is long, it’s never a difficult hike.
- Trail Conditions – 3. Parts of the trail are fantastic, other parts are a mess.
- Views – 5. Spectacular, panoramic, top-of-the-world.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 3. There are a few pretty streams along the hike.
- Wildlife – 3. Red squirrels and lots of birds.
- Ease to Navigate – 1.5. With several junctions not giving good directions on which way to Mt. Marcy, bring along our map below and consult at every junction.
- Solitude – 1. This is a popular trail and you’ll see lots of people.
Directions to trailhead: From Lake Placid, go east on Rt. 73 to Adirondac Loj Rd., which is the first right after the ski jumps. The parking lots are 5 miles from Rt. 73. There is a $10/day parking fee. Park in one of the large lots near the High Peaks Information Center. The trailhead is on the far side of the parking lot directly across from the High Peaks Information Center. GPS coordinates for this hike are: 44.1830461,-73.9644678