How to Hike Up Mt. Marcy

by Richard Corrigan
Mount Marcy is one of only two peaks in New York that reach beyond 5,000 feet.

Mount Marcy is one of only two peaks in New York that reach beyond 5,000 feet.

Nestled in the heart of the Adirondack High Peaks region, Mount Marcy is the tallest mountain in the Adirondacks and the highest point in New York State. Its imposing 5,344-foot stature and panoramic views from the top make Mount Marcy a major draw for hikers and mountain climbers. Several hiking trails provide a route to the top, but the shortest and most frequently taken is the 7.3-mile Van Hoevenberg Trail.

Finding the Trail

The Van Hoevenberg Trail begins at the Adirondack Loj, about 8 miles south of Lake Placid. Head south on New York State Route 73, and then turn right on Adirondack Loj Road. Parking is available for a fee at the trailhead. The Van Hoevenberg Trail initially departs to the east from the Adirondack Loj, and then quickly turns south toward Mount Marcy. The round-trip hike to the summit and back is just shy of 15 miles, and typically takes between six and seven hours to complete.

Reaching the Summit

The Van Hoevenberg Trail makes a moderately strenuous ascent up the northern slope of Mount Marcy. After you depart from the Adirondack Loj, the trail passes Marcy Dam, where a side trail on the right leads to several lean-to shelters. These shelters are the only camping options on this route, and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Past Marcy Dam, the Van Hoevenberg Trail parallels Phelps Brook and becomes increasingly steep as it approaches Indian Falls. Once you pass the falls, the climb becomes less strenuous until you reach the tree line near the summit. Past the tree line, the peak of Mount Marcy is rocky and exposed.

Enjoying the Scenery

Most of the trail passes through lush forest, with continuous views of trickling streams and mature trees. A scenic overlook near Marcy Dam provides a glimpse of the surrounding mountains and valleys, but the best views come after you emerge above the tree line. The summit offers a panoramic view of the Adirondack Mountains. On a clear day, you can see each of the 46 mountains that comprise the Adirondacks High Peaks region. Once you've taken in the scenery from the top, retrace your steps along the Van Hoevenberg Trail back to the Adirondack Loj.

Planning Ahead

The Van Hoevenberg Trail is not especially challenging, but it does require stamina. The total elevation gain is 3,166 feet. The hike is not recommended for out-of-shape hikers or families with children. Weather conditions can change quickly at the exposed summit of Mount Marcy, so check weather reports in advance and do not approach the summit during stormy weather. Dress in layered clothing to accommodate changing weather conditions. Wear comfortable hiking boots and bring plenty of water. The best time to hike Mount Marcy is during the warm summer months.

Taking the Long Way

Alternate routes to Mount Marcy include the Phelps Trail, also known as the John Brooks Trail, which is a longer but more gradual climb to the top. This 9-mile trail -- 18 miles round-trip -- begins at the Garden Parking Lot in Keane Valley and approaches the summit from the northeast. The John Brooks Lodge sits partway along the trail, and some hikers choose this route as a two-day hike, spending the night at the lodge. You can take an even lengthier approach by starting at the Upper Works or Elk Lake trailheads to the south.

About the Author

Richard Corrigan has been a full-time professional writer since 2010. His areas of expertise include travel, sports and recreation, gardening, landscaping and the outdoors. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from SUNY Geneseo in 2009.

Photo Credits

  • Colin Young/iStock/Getty Images