Northville-Placid Trail Backpacking Guide
The Adirondacks are a must-see region of the United States so make sure that’s on your New York Life List if you live or vacation on the East Coast. The region occupies about 1/5 of New York State and at over 6 million acres, there are plenty of lakes and hiking trails to explore.
The Northville-Placid Trail is about 135 miles depending on trail conditions; this trail has highly variable conditions depending on recent rainfall, insects, and beavers. It is often very muddy and sometimes the bridges that have been built for hikers to get across streams have been damaged or knocked down.
“Trees are felled. A dam is built. A pond is formed. The forest opens up. The sun comes through the opening in the canopy. Grass grows along the banks. Soon the scenery is changed. ” – nptrail.org
See how dense and wild the forest can be?
Northville-Placid Trail History
The Adirondack Mountain Club (AMC) began the development of the N-P Trail as their very first project in 1922. They wanted to have a major trail through the Adirondack Park and at that time, both ends of the route (Northville and Lake Placid) had train stations (in a world before many cars).
Since the initial route of the trial, there have been a couple re-routes. Most recently, in 2013 and 2015 the re-routes eliminated about 7 miles of road walking, which means more trail actually in the wilderness.
View of a lean-to from the trail
Northville-Placid Trail Basics
- Most that thru-hike the N-P Trail travel northbound.
- Be aware that spring and early summer is black fly season. Some people avoid hiking the Adirondacks at this time while others tough it out or wear bug netting.
- The trail is often muddy and wet and the weather and temperate can be quite variable.
- Sections of the trail are very remote; this is not like hiking the popular Appalachian Trail where you’ll run into many other hikers.
Plan your route with: Interactive Trail Map
One of the foot-bridges on the trail.
Northville-Placid Trail Safety
- This is remote wilderness. If you get injured on the trail, you might be waiting days before anyone passes by. If you need to get off the trail and find a town, it could be miles before you reach anything.
- There are bears and moose sharing the land with you so be aware of your surroundings at all times. Please arm yourself with bear spray and follow my tips for bear safety.
- There are plenty of ticks in this region so be sure to check yourself (and your pet) every day while on the trail.
- It is not recommended to go alone, but if you so choose, consider investing in a GPS messenger.
Lake Durant to Piseco
Now that we have established some information and background to the N-P Trail, I will share with you the route that Nick and Harlee took.
If you have a limited amount of time but want to spend a few days backpacking the Northville-Placid Trail, the section from Lake Durant to Piseco is a great option. Although the Adirondacks are famously known for the high peaks, hiking that section means trekking by more day hikers, and having less of a chance to capture some stunning views of rugged backcountry. If you’re really seeking some solitude, this 40-50 mile section of the trail is the perfect choice.
According to AllTrails, this route is 42.5 miles with 4,704 feet of elevation gain.
Amazing lean-tos (some even with equipment!)
Night 1: Stephen’s Pond lean-to
Option 1: The night before diving into the trail headfirst, Nick opted to hike in to a lean-to just 3 miles from Lake Durant Campground. The lean-to was located at Stephen’s Pond.
Option 2: You could also camp at the Lake Durant Campground but it will make your first day quite long if you’re looking for lean-tos to sleep in. Depending on the recent rainfall and overgrowth, it may be difficult or impossible to set up camp anywhere except at the lean-tos.
Journal excerpt: I got a later start than I wanted to. I wanted to be on the trial by 16:00 but didn’t until after 17:00. It rained the whole way from the trail head but as long as I kept moving I didn’t get very wet under the cover of the canopy. Harlee was wet and seemed to be pretty upset. Towards the end though he was goofing around and sprinting ahead of me at times. The trail is very easy to identify and stay on. I haven’t gone through anything difficult yet.
I’m very happy with my boots. They have been wet the entire time but my feet are happy and dry.
So I was looking for the lean-to at Stephen’s Pond. Somehow I walked past it and noticed about a half a mile later. I was nervous because it was 19:20 and I needed to eat and feed Harlee and get things done before dark. Also, I was worried that someone might be there if I went back but I tried and found it. I don’t think it’s visible from the trail in summer. It is great though. We ate down by the pond and hung up our packs.
Night 2: Carry Pond
If you chose to hike in the 3 miles to Stephen’s Pond and camp at the lean-to, your hike will be about 15-16 miles today. Don’t worry, it’s the longest day (but even longer if you didn’t hike to Stephen’s Pond!)
Journal excerpt: Rain all night. Cold. Dog in sleeping bag. Stayed dry and slept well. Packing up to start again.
Night 3: Cedar Lake
After a long first day on the trail, this day can be shorter at about 5-6 miles. Today you will hike to beautiful Cedar Lake.
Journal excerpt: Had a rough day yesterday. The trail was very difficult and wet/muddy from the rain the day before. I wanted to get as far as possible but got a late start. Stopped around 13:00 on a washed out log bridge and ate lunch. Spotted a lot of bug bites on Harlee and put bite cream on him, but they don’t seem to bother him.
Came up to Wakely Dam area. The mosquitoes were so bad but I kept walking. I spotted a nice campsite at the bottom of the Cedar River Flow. When I went down to investigate, there was a huge moose standing in the water maybe 1,000 feet away. I decided I didn’t want to camp there; it seemed like a wildlife area, a lot of scat. Finally got to the lean-to and mosquitoes were so bad that I put up the tent inside the lean-to.
Yep, that’s the moose.
Night 4: Spruce Lake
On Day 3, Nick and Harlee woke up to beautiful weather after nearly nonstop rain for the first half of their trek. This is a more difficult section of the trail but hike just over 10 miles on this day.
Journal excerpt: So I ended up getting to Cedar Lake last night. I was so cold and wet. I left late and thought it would be easy to get here but I was WRONG. It was miserable. There were a lot of elevation gains, rained the whole time, and water wash rushing down the trail. I got to the river foot bridge and it was washed out! Completely collapsed. The river was running too hard to get Harlee over it; I had to carry him. It was waist deep on me. We made it but I lost my bear spray.
We did have to cross some water again later on and I fell really hard and bent one of my poles. Harlee came to check on me and was panicked but he showed me the way out. I’ve been proud of that dude; he’s a tough little guy.
On their final day (a Friday), Nick debated about hiking a few miles and camping a few miles from Piseco since I was supposed to pick him up on Saturday. However, his phone finally got a tiny amount of cell service and after contacting me, we arranged for me to pick them up on Friday night (the dog had been getting just tormented by bugs). Since this is easily doable, make this your final day to Piseco, which will be about 10-11 miles.
This bridge was tricky to get Harlee across.
Lessons from the Northville-Placid Trail
Would you go same at the same season again (late spring)? It depends if I could go another time with as few people on the trail. I like the solitude but would prepare better for bugs.
How many times did you see signs of bears? Maybe 4-5 times (scat or tracks) along the way.
What was your favorite part of the trail? The Cedar Lakes, because the lean-to was in a big open area, the lake was big and beautiful and that day was sunny.
What was different than you expected? The forest was more dense than i thought, so scenic views were less common than I expected.
Would you personally recommend bringing a dog? Yes, it’s a great trail because they can be off-leash and have fun. Just keep them within range because of the wildlife.
What gear do you wish you had? Bug netting. I also wish I had a powerbank so I could keep AllTrails running (solar charger wasn’t very good in rainy weather!)
Any tips for someone doing the Northville-Place Trail? Prepare for mud and bugs!