Great Hikes: Adirondacks' Great Range

Grueling, heroic day hike? Relaxed multiday trip? You decide.
Staff Writer

Listen up, peak-baggers. We’ve got the hike for you.

In one grueling day, you can cross much of the High Peaks Wilderness Area of the Adirondacks. The Great Range consists of 10*—that’s right, 10—peaks, including New York’s highest: Mt. Marcy.

While the summits aren’t huge (Mt. Marcy is only 5,344 feet) by Western standards, a day of climbing and descending this almost-marathon-distance trail is guaranteed to wear you down, no matter how many 14ers you have under your belt. Plus, at the end of it—surprise!— you're still atop Marcy, nine miles from the nearest trailhead. It's up to you at that point whether you beat a hasty (and, no doubt, dark) retreat, or set up camp below the Alpine Zone. Tip: If the next morning's forecast is clear, camping just below treeline on Marcy will afford you an unbeatable sunrise at dawn.

The hike gained recognition from Backpacker as the third hardest dayhike in America (though the hiking pub did omit Basin from its list of peaks crossed), noting that “…numerous cols and false summits, plus heinously eroded trail beds, wear you down physically and psychologically.” We second that, but also point out what a fantastic, rewarding hike it is. Since it follows the high ridgeline of the Great Range, you spend more time above treeline—with long views in every direction, including east to Vermont's Green Mountains and northwest to Lake Placid—than on any other Adirondack trail.

While it’s a great feat (and warrants significant bragging rights) to do the route in a day, you can always take it more slowly. If you break up the route into two or more days, be sure to confirm current camping regulations and restrictions with New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation. Also, be sure to pick up a copy of Adirondack Trails: High Peaks Region, published by the Adirondack Mountain Club, before heading out (it includes a detailed pull-out topo map).

Distance: 24-mile traverse

Elevation Change: 17,600 feet

Difficulty Rating: Very difficult

Duration: One very long day or multiple days

Best Time to Go: September through early October

How to get there: You’ll take the Phelps Trail from The Garden trailhead at the end of Johns Brook Road off of NY 73 in Keene Valley, NY. The closest international airport is in Burlington, VT. Once you’ve arrived, rent a car and head out to the wilderness.

*The full list of peaks, from east to west, is: Rooster Comb, Hedgehog, Lower Wolfjaw, Upper Wolfjaw, Armstrong, Gothics, Saddleback, Basin, Haystack and Marcy.

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