Hiking New York: Balm of Gilead Mountain, Central Andirondacks

Spring in the Adirondacks means winter melt, mud, and streams running high. Summer brings drier trails, humidity, and dreaded swarms of black flies. Autumn means stunning fall foliage and moderate temperatures while winter means howling winds, tons of snow, and an entirely new world of outdoor adventure not available any other season.

Wandering around the summit. (PC: D. Herscovitch)

I'm happy to visit the Adirondacks any time of the year, but I have a particular affinity for autumn and winter. In winter, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, and winter hiking are among the many activity options available. And to me, one of the best things about winter hiking is how snow can make an otherwise easy hike, like Balm of Gilead Mountain, a serious challenge!

Getting to the Trailhead

Balm of Gilead Mountain is located in the Central/Southern Adirondacks near North River, New York. The 2,443-foot peak sits in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness, an area home to over 50 miles of hiking trails and beautiful Thirteenth Lake.

Our group at the Halfway Brook Trail intersection. I love how clear the signage is in the Adirondacks! (PC: D. Herscovitch)

The summit can be reached via out-and-back routes beginning at Garnet Hill Lodge (1.8 miles round trip), or from a parking lot along Old Farm Road here (2.8 miles round trip). We opted for the latter on our hike, but could only get within 0.25 miles of the parking lot given the lack of winter maintenance on Old Farm Road. Take a look at our route on a map here.

Climbing Balm of Gilead Mountain (3.0 Miles, 600' Elevation Gain)

After a weekend of downhill skiing at Gore Mountain and cross country skiing at Garnet Hill Lodge, we opted to hike up Balm of Gilead because it's close to both Gore and Garnet Hill, it's accessible, and it's relatively easy. We didn't bring snowshoes, but in hindsight, that would've made things easier given the foot of snow we broke trail through!

A nice, new cross country ski track! Making these is tough enough without footprints in the snow, so we tried to stay off of it.

After setting off from the parking lot on the Old Farm Clearing Trail, it quickly became clear that there was an established cross country ski track on the trail. We did our best to break our own trail to the side and avoid chopping up the snow for the skiers.

Clear signage at the intersection with the Halfway Brook Trail made it easy for us to see where to go next, and we turned left to follow the yellow blazed Halfway Brook Trail. We broke trail through the relatively flat 0.8 mile section, steering clear of the ski track. Though trudging through the new snow was tougher than walking on the track would've been, it sure kept us warm!

Breaking trail up Balm of Gilead Mountain, all smiles and shedding layers like crazy!

After arriving at the intersection between the Halfway Brook Trail and red blazed Balm of Gilead Trail 0.9 miles later, we turned right and headed up the mountain. The ski tracks disappeared and we didn't see any footprints or snowshoe tracks. Thankfully, I could make out a depression in the ground under the snow that looked like the trail, and the blazes were easy to spot in the otherwise white landscape. 

The 0.5 mile route up 400 vertical feet to the summit took us a little over 30 minutes, and once we arrived, the views of Thirteenth Lake and the surrounding mountains made every step we took completely worth it. We had the top to ourselves and stayed long enough to have a short snowball fight along with some snacks.

Hamming it up on top of Balm of Gilead. (PC: D. Herscovitch)

The walk down the mountain was significantly faster than the way up, and we used the soft snow to our advantage. We passed a group coming from Garnet Hill with snowshoes on, and turned left to backtrack along the yellow blazed Halfway Brook Trail. Two hours after we started, we were back at our cars and en route to Becks Tavern for a late lunch.

Things to Know Before You Go

The trails described here are in a wilderness area, and this type of state land has different regulations than state park land, state forest land, and other state managed lands. Read up on the NYSDEC website before you go.

Looking out toward Thirteenth Lake. (PC: D. Herscovitch)

The parking lot appeared large enough for a few dozen cars, but I have a feeling it would fill up quickly in good weather. Make sure you arrive early, and if you find yourself without parking, make sure you're not parking where parking is prohibited.

Review trail etiquette rules, and if you're going in the winter, pay careful attention to where you're stepping. It's poor etiquette to walk on an established cross country ski track, even though you're on public land on a public use trail. We saw giant human and dog footprints all over the track we were trying to avoid. And as it's a high use area, stay on the trail in snow-free seasons.

Taking in the view, and taking one of a bajillion pictures we took!

Consider grabbing a trail map pack for the Central Adirondacks before you go to help with trip planning, and for inspiration for future trips! There are some great primitive campsites all along both sides of Thirteenth Lake.

Have you been to Balm of Gilead Mountain, the Siamese Ponds Wilderness, and/or the Central Adirondacks?