Finding Early Season XC Bliss in Blue

Submitted by guest blogger Doug Haney

When you’re hunting for early season cross-country skiing or snowshoeing options, it’s always best to go straight to a trusted local source. Which is exactly why I called Darrin Harr, director of the Indian Lake Chamber of Commerce. Here’s the scoop on Darrin: 

He’s not just the owner of ILSnow.com, president of the New York State Snowmobile Association and an amateur meteorologist — he’s also been dubbed the “King of Indian Lake” by UpstateSnow.com. 

Within an hour of leaving a message at the Chamber, Darrin had me connected with a local cross-country skiing enthusiast who not only provided firsthand info from trails he skied earlier that day, but also called me after my ski to make sure I had fun.  

And did I ever!  

Early winter tracks 

When early season snow is sparse on heavily wooded trails, head to Blue Mountain Lake in Hamilton County and seek out the Old Stage Trail. Parking is located at the Northville/Lake Placid Trailhead three miles from the corner of Route 30 and 28 in Blue Mountain Lake and just shy of the entrance of Lake Durant Campground.

The trail picks up just a few hundred feet from the parking area and will bring you back toward Blue Mountain Lake as it parallels Route 28 and Lake Durant. This route is popular with snowmobiles when the snow gets deep, but is absolutely perfect for pre-snowmobile-season cross-country gliding.   

The rolling landscape offers a series of gentle uphill and downhill sections, making it an ideal place to stretch your ski legs after months of inactivity. And since it’s a 4 mile out-and-back, you can easily turn around at any point and you’ll still have a great time. 

Giant glacial erratics, some the size of my VW wagon and others as big as a two-story chalet, are left along the highest points on the trail. Had my kids been with me, they almost certainly would have unclipped from their skis to climb them. 

You can catch views of Blue Mountain and Lake Durant now that the trees are bare. On this day, I was alone. My tracks may have been only the second laid over the last few days. Deer, fox, and moose tracks were abundant, and I saw signs that a family of deer had chosen to bed up in the middle of the trail the previous night.  

At the two mile mark, the trail rejoins Route 28 just across the street from Lake Durant Road, making for the perfect turnaround point. I couldn’t decide which direction skied better. 

Bonus tracks 

After returning to my car at the Northville/Lake Placid Trailhead, I noticed ski tracks headed toward Lake Durant on the opposite side of the road from which I’d skied toward Blue Mountain Lake. Why not follow? 

The trail crossed a small field and terminated at the entrance to the Lake Durant Campground where the ski tracks continued, and three dogs romped freely as their owner threw snowballs for them to catch.  

As it turns out, skiing around the closed campground is also a favorite of locals in the early season, and while I didn’t have the time (or the legs), I absolutely took the opportunity to enjoy the view of Lake Durant from a stone bridge over Rock River while making a mental note to call Darrin on the way home to thank him.  

Getting there

Trail: Old Stage 

Parking: Northville/Lake Placid Trailhead three miles from Blue Mountain Lake - https://goo.gl/maps/ZAhQ1U5Cbm98j9Eh8 

Terrain: Four round-trip miles of rolling bliss on wide and friendly trail. 

Nearby options: When more snow falls on the forest, additional local skiing and snowshoeing options include Rock Pond, Cascade Pond, and Stephens Pond, all of which are accessed from Lake Durant Road.  

Hamilton County offers a wide variety of snowy activities, places to stay, and restaurants to try. Start planning your trip today!

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Snowshoe in Saranac Lake

Must-do ice activities in Lake Placid

Weekend crasher

Snowboarder turned skier

Snowmobiling for beginners 

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