Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Rattlesnake Mountain (Lake Champlain)

View of Long Pond from the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain
3 miles round trip, 700 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate with a steep stretch
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no parking fee

Rattlesnake Mountain is a low peak near Lake Champlain in New York State's Adirondack Mountains. The peak lies on private land that has been opened to the public for hiking and provides nice views of Lake Champlain as well as the ponds and mountains that make up the northeastern Adirondacks. The hike up to this peak is fairly gentle save a very steep climb at its conclusion, but rewards with views of the Lake Champlain that extend into Vermont on a clear day.

I hiked Rattlesnake Mountain during an early October visit to the Adirondacks. The hike starts near the town of Willsboro on the shores of Lake Champlain, not far from the town of Essex, where a ferry runs across the lake to Vermont. The trailhead is 1.5 hours from Montreal and a little less than 2.5 hours from Albany. To reach the hike from I-87, take exit 33 and follow New York Route 22 southeast five miles to Long Pond. When you see Long Pond Cabins on the right side of the road, you will spot the trailhead- a dirt turnoff with limited parking- to the left (east) side of the road. This hike is on private land; you should always treat the outdoors respectfully but understand when you visit that public access to wonderful hikes like this one is easier to maintain when the landowners don't have to deal with litter, spillover parking, and other problems. Thanks to the current landowner for allowing access to the peak and its views!

The trail- an old roadbed- delved straight into the forest on a gentle ascent on the lower slopes of Rattlesnake Mountain. The former road crossed a low saddle and then worked its way into a narrow stream valley, steepening as it ascended here. At about a mile in, the trail broke off to the left and began a very steep and direct ascent up Rattlesnake Mountain, climbing up an eroded slope with much exposed rock. Just as the beginning of this trail was very gentle, this stretch of the trail was really very steep, ascending 350 feet in just a fifth of a mile. The trail is not steep enough to require scrambling but hiking poles can be quite helpful for ascending and descending this stretch. The trail leveled out atop the pleasant, forested ridge.

Forest at the top of the ridge on Rattlesnake Mountain
At the top of the ridge, I followed the trail to the right. Almost immediately, a spur trail broke off to the right. I followed this spur trail out to a beautiful southeast-facing overlook. Long Pond lay below while the higher peaks of the Adirondacks rose in the distance. The forest below was showing just a few hints of fall color: I had timed my trip for peak color in the Adirondack High Peaks, which meant that I was too early for peak color by Lake Champlain. In a typical year, one can expect to see peak fall color around Lake Champlain in mid-October.

View of Long Pond and the Adirondacks
Returning to the trail, I soon arrived at a larger rocky outcrop that most visitors will probably take to be the end of the hike. From here, there was a wide view over Willsboro Bay and Lake Champlain, with a view to the south down the length of the lake. The northern end of Willsboro Point was not visible from here, but on a clear day the Green Mountains of Vermont, including Mount Mansfield and Camels Hump, would be in the field of view. The weather was unfortunately overcast during my visit, so even though I could see across the lake and make out the city of Burlington I could only see the bases of the Green Mountains.

View of Willsboro Bay, Lake Champlain, and Vermont
Lake Champlain is the largest lake in the Northeast outside the Great Lakes and one of the larger lakes in the US, defining much of the New York-Vermont border and draining Champlain Valley, which is hemmed in by the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains, north into the St. Lawrence River.

Although it's not obvious, the trail continued from this main viewpoint outcrop, heading north for a fifth of a mile along the flat ridge of Rattlesnake Mountain. There was one more good viewpoint, this one expanding the view shed a bit more to the north to take in the northern edge of Willsboro Point and Lake Champlain; past this viewpoint, a sign indicated that the trail had ended and that the land beyond was private and not open to the public.

View past Willsboro Point and Lake Champlain to the Green Mountains from the last lookout
I saw a handful of other people on this hike on a weekday afternoon with a storm threatening, so it's likely that this hike is fairly popular. The views are indeed quite enjoyable and although the steep stretch of this hike makes this decidedly not an easy hike, it is still a nice summit that is within reach for most hikers.

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