Hiking New York: Buck Mountain in the Adirondacks

When it comes to hiking in the beautiful Adirondack region of New York State, the High Peaks typically get all of the attention. But in recent years, I've learned that some of the shorter mountains in different parts of the Adirondacks are just as much fun to experience, including Buck Mountain (2,330').

It might not be one of the taller peaks in the Adirondacks, but Buck Mountain is definitely worth a day hike!

On a recent trip to the Lake George area, I found myself with just enough time for a relatively challenging hike on a sunny, warm Saturday afternoon. I was in the area to help friends and their running company with the inaugural "Have a Drink on Me" 5k at Singlecut North, and knew I'd have about four hours between when we finished breaking down the race and sunset. A friend with experience hiking in the area suggested Buck Mountain, and it turned out to be the perfect option for me.

Getting to the Trailhead

My friend recommended Buck Mountain because it's right on Lake George, which happened to be a where we were staying.  There are two main routes to the top; I chose to start from the clearly marked Buck Mountain Trailhead here on Pilot Knob Road and approach from the west. The summit is technically part of the Lake George Wild Forest, and after reading more about the 63 designated primitive campsites there, I'm already thinking about a trip back.

Hiking to the Summit of Buck Mountain (6.3 Miles, 1,900' Elevation Gain)

Truth be told, I was nervous starting a hike I'd never done before at 3:30pm. But I prepared as best I could by looking at maps, reading route descriptions, bringing extra snacks and water, and carrying a headlamp, layers, and a small emergency kit in case I ended up out later than I planned. I also knew I moved at about a 2mph pace on similar hikes, which meant the route should take me about 3h30m if all went as planned. (I didn't plan on having cell service for most of the hike, but as luck would have it, I did - bonus!)

I told a folks where I was going and when I expected to be back, but signing in to the trail register was still super important.

I saw a half dozen cars in the parking lot when I arrived along with two or three more parked along the road - key indicators of a popular hike. The late start was likely part of why I got a parking spot. I signed in at the trail register, walked around a small gate, and immediately caught sight of bright yellow blazes I'd follow for the majority of the hike.

The trail climbed gradually at first, following what looked like a wide old forest road. I could hear water for most of the first mile or so, and found a small waterfall about 0.5 miles in. After hiking 1.2 miles, I came to a junction with a red blazed trail to Inman Pond and turned left, following yellow blazes. 

This beautiful cascade was right off the trail near the start of the hike.

The trail was still quite wide, and I encountered some super muddy spots typical of Adirondack trails this time of year (hello, mud season!). I did my best to walk through the mud despite only having trail running shoes on; rock hopping made the hike a bit more interesting! And about 1.5 miles in, I started noticing some changes in the terrain; the trail got much rockier, and I encountered some steeper sections.

Just keep following those yellow blazes up and up and up!

Further along, the trees started thinning out, and I arrived at a wide, open, rocky area just shy of the summit. Looking behind me, I could see wide open views of Lake George to my right along with Crosset Pond and Thurber Pond to my left.

Just past the false summit, looking down at Crosset Pond and Thurber Pond.

I turned from the views, kept going, and crossed flat, rocky, open terrain, following small cairns and yellow blazes painted on the ground. I quickly found a sign indicating I was close to the summit. A few short steps later, I was there, making it to the USGS marker in about 90 minutes.

Hunting for these on Adirondack summits is one of my favorite activities!

It was faster than I'd intended to go, fueled slightly by fear of being out in the dark and by the promise of grilled steaks back at the house. I'd seen at least a dozen people heading down from the summit on my way up, including several other solo hikers, which I found comforting. I shared the views with four other hikers at the top before starting my descent.

Staring down at Lake George and the Sagamore after a summit snack.

I didn't linger at the top long, and made the descent to the parking lot in just under an hour. Round trip, I completed the 6.3 miles and 1,900' of elevation gain in two and a half hours, but if I go back to do it again, I'm definitely going to take longer to explore the summit and the trail around it. Take a look at my route here.

Things to Know Before You Go

As far as Adirondack hikes go, this one was easy to find and the trail was easy to follow. But in general, I always recommend picking up a map and/or book before heading out, and this hike can be found in the Eastern Trails Guide.

Though I can't say with any accuracy because I got started to late, my guess is the parking lot fills up on nice days. Plan ahead for parking by arriving early (or late, in my case!), and potentially switching routes if the lot is full.

If you're going in "mud season," this hike is a great one because it's one of the lower elevation summits. Higher elevations are particularly sensitive this time of year, and staying away from hikes that cover elevation above 3,000 feet until June is recommended. It helps keep the trails in better shape, and protects the soil. Read more here. And when you do encounter muddy spots, walk through them, not around them.

Consider waterproof footwear. I did just fine without waterproof shoes, but there was a wide stream crossing at the beginning and the trail was muddy in spots, so I came home with wet feet. If you know you're prone to blisters with wet feet, or don't want extra stinky shoes with you for the drive home, waterproof kicks are best.

Overall, I'm super happy to have had the chance to do this hike, especially given I'd never heard of it before this weekend. If you've done it, any other recommendations I missed? Sound off in the comments!