Hiking New York: Dix Mountain via Beckhorn in the Adirondacks

Scooching my way along the trail - something
I did a lot of on the hike! (PC: D. Herscovitch)
Though there are so many big, impressive-looking, challenging mountains to hike up in the western part of North America, I'm consistently humbled by how tough getting up some of the mountains on the east coast can be.

Case and point, my recent 13.2 mile round-trip ascent of Dix Mountain in the Adirondacks.

My partner in crime and I planned a single overnight in the Dix Mountain Wilderness over Memorial Day Weekend, but that quickly turned into a day hike for a multitude of reasons. Regardless, the ascent was one of the most challenging I've done in a long time, but as is typical in the mountains, the challenge was absolutely worth it.

Getting to the Elk Lake Road Trailhead

As is the case with many of the ADK 46ers, there's more than one way to get up Dix Mountain. We chose to park in the parking lot on Elk Lake Road here due to the length of the round trip hike. You can also park in a very small parking lot along NYS Route 73 here.

The parking lot on Elk Lake Road is part of an easement on private land, which means if it's full when you arrive like it was for us, you're either going to have to choose a different starting point, or risk being ticketed or towed by the NYSDEC. Though our plan was just to visit the top of Dix Mountain, Dix Range Trailless Peaks include Macomb Mountain (4,405 ft.), South Dix (4,060 ft.), Hough Peak (4,400 ft.) and Grace Peak (4,012 ft.). We met folks hiking all five peaks in one day, and that requires a start at Elk Lake. 

Hiking to the Lillian Brook Lean-To (3.6 miles)

From the Dix Mountain trailhead along Elk Lake Road, overnight hikers have two lean-tos to choose from - Slide Brook and Lillian Brook - and a few established campsites. We anticipated having trouble finding a campsite on a holiday weekend, so we decided to hike to Lillian Brook, check out our options, and decide what to do from there.

The first 2.3 miles of hiking to the Slide Brook lean-to were predictably muddy and wet, but relatively flat and beautiful. The red-blazed trail meanders through dense woods, characteristically rocky terrain, and in our case, deep mud puddles fed by snowmelt and spring rain. I hiked in my Scarpa Women's R-Evolution Plus boots and was grateful to have kicks that kept my feet dry no matter what I was stepping in.

Looking down at the mud and rocks in all their Adirondack glory! It's rough hiking, but I love it.

We passed completely full campsites and a full lean-to at Slide Brook and made our way to Lillian Brook, chatting with a handful of trail crew members along the way. Some of the work they were doing included adjusting drainage points along the trail to make sure the trail didn't flood, which we were grateful for. Somehow, when we arrived around 2pm, the Lillian Brook lean-to was empty. We planned to spend the night there, dropped our overnight stuff, packed a small day pack, and started the climb up Dix Mountain around 2pm.

Climbing Dix Mountain (4,857 ft.)

We walked over what looked like an absolutely brand new bridge across Lillian Brook, and the further into the woods we got, the fewer black flies we noticed. (They're normally an incredible nuisance this time of year, and their lack of presence was welcomed!) Beyond Lillian Brook, we had another 0.7 miles on the red-blazed trail before we'd turn right on to the yellow-blazed trail up Dix Mountain.

Picking our way up one of the steeper, rockier sections of the earlier part of the trail up Dix Mountain.

After making the turn on to the yellow-blazed trail up Dix Mountain, we had some of the toughest hiking I've done in the Adirondacks, or anywhere, head of us. The trail is steep; hikers gain almost 2,500 vertical feet over 2.3 miles. The first 1.0-1.5 miles involve steady uphill climbing over rocky, muddy terrain, and hiking parties on their way down shared helpful tips about was to come.

The further we progressed, the steeper the trail became, which we anticipated based on how close together the contour lines were on our map. At points along the last 0.8 miles, my partner in crime joked that he hadn't been rock climbing in a while, and it felt good to test his skills. We scaled sections of the trail that were little more than flat, near vertically angled rock faces, holding on to sturdy trees for balance. Other sections required trusting the traction on my boots, planting my hand in a mud puddle, and pushing myself up over giant boulders.

I did a lot of this - sitting on my butt and scooching close to the edge of sections of the trail because that was the only way to get up and down! (PC: D. Herscovitch)
As we neared the top of Beckhorn, a bald knob near the summit of Dix Mountain, I was grateful to be as tall as I am; I'd have had trouble with some of the terrain alone otherwise. It was challenging hiking, to say the least, but as is per usual in the Adirondacks, as we topped out on Beckhorn, the views made it all worth it. We walked the ridge to the top of Dix Mountain, arriving around 4:30pm, our turnaround time for the day.

We didn't stay for long; we'd under-packed food and water and knew it would take us at least as long to get back down to the lean-to based on the terrain. Hikers can chose to backtrack, which is what we did, or take a sightly longer route past the summit and down through Hunters Pass. Picking our way back down the exposed slopes, steep, slick rocks, and portions of the trail that seemed more like waterfalls than footpaths took us two hours, and we arrived back at the lean-to finding others planning to share the space with us.

Obligatory short right near the summit, photo credit to the anonymous gentlemen kind enough to snap it!

We'd already chatted about options on the hike down, and ultimately decided not to stay overnight. After a quick break, we strapped our packs on and made the hike out, arriving back at the car just before dark. A giant dinner at Sticks and Stones and a giant bed in a giant room at the Maple Leaf Motel in Schroon Lake were absolutely amazing after the 13.2 mile round trip.

Things I'd Do Better, and Things to Know Before You Go

Making our way back down the trail.
Arrive and park as early as you can. There are two trailheads - the Elk Lake Road trailhead we chose, and the Round Pond trailhead - and both parking lots are small. To be completely transparent, our late morning arrival was the first mistake we made that day, and we had to either scrap the hike, or park illegally.

We chose the latter after seeing dozens of other cars also parked illegally, which doesn't make it a good choice, and debating for a good 20 minutes. I don't advocate for what we did, and wouldn't do it again. All of the cars parked illegally were ticketed by the NYSDEC. Arrive as early as you can to snag a parking spot, and have a backup plan for a different hike or a different starting point in case the parking lot is full.

Understand the weather and logistics specific to the season you're hiking in. We went in the late spring - prime black fly season - and took bug hats with us. We needed them at lower elevations. Trails were also extremely wet, and waterproof footwear was essential. But with the right gear, you can be ready for just about anything.

Pack plenty of food, water, and layers if you're doing a day hike. We planned an overnight with the majority of our food requiring cooking, resulting in under-packing snacks. I was ravenous by the end of the hike, which ended up being much tougher than I expected. I was also thirsty; we brought what I thought was a bottle of iodine tablets, but as it turned out, they were actually tablets to take the iodine flavor out of iodine treated water (oops).

Remember that even experienced hikers can make mistakes; do your best not to make the mistakes we made! Between our poor parking choices and lack of preparedness, we made a series of mistakes I thought I was experienced enough to avoid. Turns out, even if you have dozens of trail miles under your belt, you can still be under-prepared if you're not careful. Double check your supplies, and be realistic about what you'll need based on the terrain, the length of your hike, and your fitness level.

If you've done this hike, I'd love to hear what your experience was like! And if you're an experienced hiker, have you ever made what you thought were mistakes you were too experienced to make, like we did?