Mount Colden is an Adirondack favorite amongst hikers of all abilities. For fit beginners the trail offers a mixed assortment of terrain and some of the most spectacular scenery in the High Peaks, for intermediate to advanced hikers/climbers Colden offers up the Trap Dyke and numerous other slides to be ascended. Regardless of how it’s tackled Colden is an extremely rewarding and very full day hike.
From the Heart Lake trailhead take the Van Hoevenberg trail to Marcy Dam, at the junction with the Algonquin Peak trail turn left. For a more detailed description see the Phelps Mountain trail summary. After crossing Marcy Dam stay right at the junction with the trail to Phelps; markers are yellow beyond this point. The trail follows the bank of Marcy Brook closely for the next 1 ½ km before crossing the brook via a bridge at Avalanche Camp, this section is relatively flat and quite enjoyable. At the camp there is a trail junction; to the left is the trail to Lake Arnold, and to the right is the trail to Avalanche Pass, you want to go right. From Avalanche Camp the trail quickly climbs as it heads in an ‘S-shape’ up to the pass which is reached roughly at km 6.7. Much of the damage seen here, which is quite impressive, was produced by a massive slide in 1999. The trail now drops down as you hike the 0.8 km to Avalanche Lake. The scenery here is some of the most stunning in the Adirondacks as you emerge from the forest and take in the sheer cliffs of Mount Colden and Avalanche Mountain seemingly sprouting from water; the lake is a worthy destination on its own. The trail follows the right hand shore of Avalanche Lake and is quite rugged climbing over and around large boulders, up and down ladders, and across several bridges. This is one of my favorite stretches of trail in the Adirondacks. If the trail is wet take caution here as it can be quite treacherous. At the far end of Avalanche Lake the trail crosses over the outlet and comes to a trail register and junction at km 8.4. The trail to Colden heads left. Another 0.8 km later you come to another junction, again the trail to Colden goes left; trail markers are now red. From here on out the trail offers little respite from a strenuous vertical grind as it climbs 600 m in 2.5 km to Colden’s summit. Once the trail starts traveling over open rock, near km 11.2, be sure to follow the paint blazes on the rock as they indicate the easiest route. By following the paint blazes you are also ensuring that the fragile alpine ecosystem is stressed as little as possible. The summit located at km 11.7 offers spectacular views of the Adirondacks two highest peaks, Marcy and Algonquin, as well as a host of other High Peaks. You can now either return via the same route taken to the summit or opt for a quicker more direct route described next. Continue to follow the paint blazes North East off the summit until your back on a clearly defined trail through the forest. The trail now descends towards Lake Arnold, but on its way it first climbs over two small ‘bumps’, nothing quite like having to climb a sub-summit when all you want to do is head down. When the trail finally starts its descent in earnest it is quite steep, moderating in grade as it approaches the lake. Lake Arnold is located 2.3 km from the summit and the trail markers for this section are yellow. Just beyond the lake you’ll encounter a trail junction, turn left here and head towards Avalanche camp, the trail markers are now blue. Next the trail descends steadily as it follows Marcy Brook. There are several crossings of the brook thus during rainy periods this section of trail can be quite wet. At km 14.8 the trail comes to a junction with the Indian Falls trail, stay left and you’ll shortly reach Avalanche camp at km 16.4. From the camp you’re back on familiar trails just reverse your direction of travel from the hike in. Expect to take between 9-10 hours for this 22 km roundtrip.
Heart Lake trailhead. From the West take Route 73 East from Lake Placid for 5.5 km, turn right onto Adirondack Loj road. Follow the road for 18.5 km to the gates of the High Peaks Information Center. If traveling from the East take Interstate 87 to exit 31. Turn right onto Route 9N for 24 km. Turn right onto Route 73/Route 9N and follow for 3 km. At Keene continue to follow Route 73 for 17.5 km, turning left onto Adirondack Loj road. Trailhead is at the East end of the parking lot located closet to the visitors centre.
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