Friday, September 25, 2020

Cobble Lookout (Adirondacks)

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2.5 miles round trip, 350 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no entrance fee, limited parking

Cobble Lookout is an easy, family-friendly hike to a sweeping view of the upper Ausable River Valley in New York State's Adirondack Park. The trail to this pretty viewpoint is relatively new and although this hike is being gradually discovered by tourists, it is still a little quieter than the loved-to-death High Peaks of the range just to the south. When I hiked to Cobble Lookout during a late September trip to the Adirondacks, I found amazing fall colors from this viewpoint. This is a good short hike if you're visiting the Adirondacks but you're not looking for anything intense or if you just need a leg stretcher on your way to or from Lake Placid.

Cobble Lookout is just up the hill from the town of Wilmington in the Adirondacks, a short drive from Lake Placid, which is one of the tourist hubs in the range. The trailhead is about 2 hours from Montreal and 2.5 hours from Albany. From Lake Placid, I followed New York Route 86 east, passing High Falls Gorge and the Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort and then arriving in Wilmington. In Wilmington, I turned left onto Route 431- the Whiteface Memorial Highway- and followed it 3 miles uphill. Just before arriving at the toll gate for the Whiteface Mountain Highway, I turned right onto Gillespie Drive and followed it 0.3 miles to the trailhead for Cobble Lookout, which was on the right (north) side of the road. A wooden sign indicated that this was the start of the hike. Parking was on the gravel shoulder along the road. This is becoming a fairly popular hike so parking can be difficult to find here.

The trail is marked by round, blue "Foot Trail" medallions that are nailed to trees along the route. From the trailhead, the trail delved directly into forest, initially following a wide path- probably an old roadbed- through second-growth forest. After a couple hundred of meters, the markers led me onto a single track trail that was just a bit rougher, with some stone steps and skirting some rocks, as I continued through the forest. The day was overcast but there was still plenty of light streaming into the forest, illuminating the green, yellow, orange, and red foliage around me.

Autumn forest along the trail to Cobble Lookout
The trail initially ascended gently but later switched to a gentle descent through the forest, crossing streams on short wooden bridges. After just over 25 minutes of hiking, the trail emerged onto a large, southerly facing rock outcrop: Cobble Lookout. Stepping out to onto the outcrop, I found an explosion of fall colors across my view of the Adirondacks. Across the valley from me was Whiteface Mountain, the fifth tallest peak in the state of New York. Its high summit was cloaked in clouds that day, the main reason I chose to skip driving the Toll Road. Whiteface Mountain is home to one of the best known ski resorts in the Northeast, which hosted ski competitions during the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid.

Whiteface Mountain
The trees below Cobble Lookout and across on Whiteface Mountain were displaying magnificent fall colors. While the view that I saw at Cobble Lookout was very pretty but not necessarily remarkable, the fall foliage here was outstanding- these were perhaps the most colorful mountainsides I've seen (and I grew up visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains every fall!). The dark green of conifers contrasted with the light green of deciduous trees that hadn't turned color yet, which in turn contrasted with the yellows, oranges, and reds of trees getting ready to shed their leaves. There's much more orange and red in the Adirondacks than in the Blue Ridge, where fall color is generally dominated by yellow and brown. Peak color at Cobble Lookout will be at about the same time or just after the High Peaks during most years- usually late September or very early October.

Fall foliage from Cobble Lookout
While the view here did not encompass the heart of the Adirondack High Peaks, I still saw a beautiful array of mountains before me. The Sentinel Range and Jay Mountain lay across the upper Ausable Valley. Giant Mountain should've been visible to the south but its summit was in the clouds. Below, the town of Wilmington with its prominently visible church spire was nestled amidst the forest near the Ausable River. 

Wilmington and the Adirondacks in fall color
The views at the main outcrop were excellent, but I had to share the experience with a rotating cast of other hikers. A social path continues east along the outcrop, leading to a few spots on the far end of Cobble Lookout that still had nice views but were far quieter. One of these viewpoints gave me a wider view to the northeast, with even more extensive colorful forests stretching down the Ausable Valley towards Lake Champlain.

View from Cobble Lookout
This was a short and easy hike with a big payoff not far from Lake Placid. I really enjoyed this hike and recommend it if you're looking for a less intense hike that still packs in great views in the Adirondacks.

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