Although Cliff Mountain is only 3960 ft, it was originally surveyed as being over 4000 ft and so is included among the Adirondack 46ers. The scenery along the trail to the foot of Cliff Mountain is some of the best in the Adirondacks, however the views from Cliff and even the climb itself are not all that inspiring. If your not intending on climbing the 46 than there are many other hikes more worthy of your time and energy.
From the trailhead follow the blue trail markers to Marcy Dam. A wooden bridge spanning Algonquin Brook is encountered at km 0.5 after a slight loss of altitude. The trail then climbs as it heads to the junction with the Algonquin peak trail at km 1.6. To continue towards Marcy Dam head left. The trail to the Dam travels over rolling terrain with only a minor net gain in elevation. Marcy Dam is reached after 3.7 km, from here the trail crosses over the dam and turns right. Shortly, the junction with the trail to Phelps is encountered; stay right; markers are now yellow. The trail now closely follows the bank of Marcy Brook for 1 ½ km before crossing the brook via a bridge at Avalanche Camp, this section is quite flat and enjoyable. At the camp there is a trail junction, the way lies to the right. After leaving Avalanche Camp the trail quickly climbs as it heads in an ‘S-shape’ up to the pass reaching it at roughly at km 6.7. Some impressive damage from a slide in 1999 is observed here. From the pass the trail drops 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 towering above the lake. The trail follows the western shore of Avalanche Lake and is quite rugged. If the trail is wet take caution over this section as it can be quite treacherous. At the far end of Avalanche Lake the trail crosses over the outlet via a short bridge and comes to a trail register and junction at km 8.4. The trail to Cliff heads left and comes to the junction with the Lake Colden trail 0.8 km further south, the trail stays right. This next section of trail starts out with a bit of tricky footing before dropping down and following the shoreline of Lake Colden. At roughly km 9.6 the trail veers away from the lake and begins a slight climb, 200 m further on the trail comes to a junction with the trail to the Lake Colden Dam, turn left. After another 200 m the trail crosses the Opalescent Brook via a suspension bridge and heads east; trail markers are now red. From here the trail begins a steady climb gaining 150 m in roughly 2.5 km. For most of its way to the turn off to Cliff Mountain the trail follows the Opalescent brook, offering gorgeous scenery, with several waterfalls and accompanying pools. The trail to the summit of Cliff is a herd path so there are no official trail markers indicating the correct turn-off. Once the trail starts to level off keep an eye open for a rock cairn on the right, it should be located roughly at km 12.5. If you come to the Uphill lean-to you’ve gone too far. Once at the rock cairn turn right. The trail is quite well defined and is easy to follow. The trail initially passes over some wet and muddy terrain, for some of it logs were placed to create a ‘corduroy road’. After rain this trail can be extremely wet with long sections of the trail becoming running ‘streams’ so be prepared for such. The trail passes under some of the mountain’s namesake cliffs as it makes its way to the summit located roughly 1.5 km from the start of the herd path. The summit is treed, but extensive damage from wind storms has toppled many of the trees making the trail a bit messy up high. It would appear that some views might be available from the summit, though I did not experience any as visibility was limited due to rain. Return to the start of the herd path by returning the way you came. From the rock cairn you can return to the Heart Lake trailhead by retracing your steps from the morning. Alternatively, you can take the Arnold pass trail back to Marcy Dam, but be forewarned after any amount of rain the first section of this trail can be under several feet of water, both times I have taken this trail in the summer and fall I’ve had to wade in water up to my waist. I recommend avoiding this trail. Expect to take 10-11 hours for this 28 km round trip. If this seems too long a trip you can spend the night at Uphill lean-to located 100 m east of the rock cairn or try an approach from the Upper Works trailhead.
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 AMC 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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