Written by guest blogger Natalie Moore
While there’s a certain sense of accomplishment you get when you emerge from the forest after a long hike to scramble up an exposed summit, there’s another type of hike that’s even more rewarding. I’m talking about hikes that get you up to elevation quickly—that means a steep climb right off the bat—but then give you nonstop views, sometimes off both sides of the trail. In other words: a ridgeline hike.
Now, I’ve hiked Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, arguably the country’s most badass ridge hike, as well as the Franconia Ridge Trail, the crown jewel of northeast ridge hikes that connects Mount Lafayette, Mount Lincoln and Little Haystack Mountain in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. So I feel qualified to say that, though Adirondack summits tend to be much more wooded than those two examples (Angel’s Landing is in the desert, after all), this region does indeed have its fair share of reputable ridgeline hikes. Here are the four of the best, starting with two in the beautiful Whiteface Region.
By far, the easiest way to get ridgeline hike views is to drive up Wilmington’s Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway, which is open mid-May through mid-October, stop by the Castle Café and Gift Shop, and then begin your ascent up what many call the Stairway to Heaven. Also called the Stairway Ridge Trail and the Alpine Nature Trail, the fifth-of-a-mile trail brings scenery seekers up a partially manmade, partially natural staircase to the summit of Whiteface Mountain, the fifth highest peak in the Adirondack Park, and serves up unparalleled views of Lake Placid all the way.
Not to be confused with Jay Peak in northern Vermont, Jay Mountain is a bona fide ridge hike located in—yup—Jay, NY. While you can get spectacular views by stopping at the end of the marked trail 2.5 miles in (keep an eye out for Whiteface’s ski slopes in the distance!), you can keep going another mile-and-a-half along the ridge to the true summit of the 3,6000-foot peak. Keep an eye out for cairns, and beware if making the traverse in the wintertime—those snow drifts are no joke!
You'll also find excellent ridge hikes a bit farther afield from the Whiteface Region, which makes a great base for all of your hiking adventures.
Big Slide Mountain
This one isn’t quite a ridge hike, but when you head south to Keene Valley and hike Big Slide via The Brothers, three smaller peaks leading up to the main attraction, there are so many viewpoints along the way that it might as well be. After hiking a fairly strenuous 1.5 miles from the Garden trailhead up to the first Brother, the trail gets a bit mellower as you ascend the next two Brothers before rising sharply up to the summit of Big Slide. At the top, you can choose to make your hike a loop and descend into Johns Brook Valley, or go back the way you came for the same views with much less huffing and puffing.
Rocky Peak Ridge
With “ridge” right in its name, Rocky Peak Ridge, located in the Lake Champlain Region but just a short drive from the Whiteface Region, is a shoo-in for this list. My favorite part about this hike, which is located in the Giant Mountain Wilderness, is that you can turn back whenever you want and feel satisfied with the views you saw. That is, one you get up to the ridgeline, of course. Whether you’re going all the way—a.k.a. slogging it from the Blueberry Cobbles trailhead all the way to Giant Mountain—or turning around at Rocky Peak or the even-more-manageable Bald Peak located 3.9 miles in, this hike is must for any serious Adirondack explorer.