Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Bike Trip To The Forgotten Pine Lake

Pine Lake near Essex ChainThe Essex Chain Lakes and Boreas Ponds have been hogging much of the publicity over the state’s acquisition of the former Finch, Pruyn lands. That’s understandable, for both waterways are jewels that are sure to become popular paddling and hiking destinations.

Lost in all the hoopla is Pine Lake, another handsome body of water located a little south of the Essex Chain. In another time, Pine Lake by itself would have been a celebrated acquisition.

I visited Pine Lake in early May for the first time. It’s a four-mile trek up a dirt road. If you’re a strong hiker, you probably can reach the lake in two hours or less, not including a possible side trip to Clear Pond.

Another option is to ride to the lake on a mountain bike, which is what I did. Not only is biking faster, but it makes the journey more interesting. Walking on a gravel road is not my idea of a great hike.

We’re allowed to ride to Pine Lake only because of the controversial decision by the Adirondack Park Agency to amend the State Land Master Plan to allow bicycling in the Essex Chain and Pine Lake Primitive Areas. Normally, bicycles are prohibited in Primitive Areas.

Whether you bike or hike, the journey begins at former clubhouse of the Outer Gooley Club. Although the vacant structure is in the Forest Preserve, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is letting it remain until deciding what to do with it. It might be preserved; it might be demolished.

Outer Gooley ClubhouseThe field in front of the clubhouse affords a nice view of the Hudson River. This is just upstream from its confluence with the Indian River. Thanks to the Finch, Pruyn deal, whitewater paddlers can travel down the Hudson from Newcomb and take out just before the confluence. If they were to continue, they’d enter the Hudson Gorge, where the rapids are considerably bigger.

The dirt road, known as Chain Lakes Road South, continues beyond the clubhouse, but there is a motor-vehicle barrier. After signing a trail register, I hopped on my bike and began climbing for a tenth of a mile or so. It was one of several hills I encountered en route to Pine Lake. An experienced mountain biker would find the road a piece of cake. I found the pedaling harder than expected, given the hills, the rocks, and sometime sandy soil. On a few occasions, I pushed my bike short distances. Overall, though, I had an enjoyable ride.

At 0.65 miles, I reached a junction with a road entering from the left. I continued straight here, following a blue trail disk. At 1.2 miles, I came to a hiking trail on the left that leads in three tenths of a mile to Clear Pond. Bikes are not allowed on the trail. Since I had visited the pond once before, I forwent the side trip, but if you haven’t been there, go for it. The pond offers a good view of the hills in the neighborhood.

At 1.5 miles, the road reaches another vehicle barrier and a large parking area. In big-game season, DEC allows hunters to drive as far as here. Beyond the gate, I coasted downhill to Mud Pond, which can be seen from the road through the trees.

Chain Lakes Road SouthI soon passed another junction and then, at 2.75 miles, arrived at a split in the road. Turning left, I came to a short footpath on the right that leads to a flat stretch of the Cedar River. DEC intends to build a snowmobile bridge somewhere in the vicinity. If the bridge is built, mountain bikers will be able to ride from the hamlet of Indian Lake to Newcomb. I say if because some environmentalists contend that putting a bridge here, where the Cedar is designated a Scenic River, would be illegal, and they are suing to stop it. They also say the snowmobile trail would be illegal.

Roughly a mile on, I reached the northeast shore of Pine Lake. At more than ninety acres, it is one of the largest lakes in the region. It’s a beautiful sheet of water, with views to the west of several small peaks. Not surprisingly, the lake is ringed by evergreens, but not just pines. A small island, mostly rock, with two bushes, lay about fifty yards offshore. If it had been later in the season, I’d have been tempted to swim to it. Instead, I had lunch on a spit of bedrock and ate lunch while enjoying the view and the peaceful solitude.

But even Pine Lake is not free of worldly controversy. Floatplane operators are allowed to fly clients to both Pine Lake and First Lake, which is part of the Essex Chain Lakes. On both lakes, at least one campsite is reserved for floatplane parties. Some argue that DEC should put an end to the flights and should not set aside campsites for a special group of people.

I’m not crazy about sharing a wild lake with floatplanes, but I imagine some hikers might not be crazy about sharing the trail with a mountain biker. With that in mind, I picked up my iron steed and began the journey back to the car.

Photos by Phil Brown: Pine Lake, Outer Gooley Club, Chain Lakes Road South.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

25 Responses

  1. Jim S. says:

    It sounds like it was a lovely trip through wild forest.

  2. Cranberry Bill says:

    I want to buy the house. What is the price. No fooling

  3. M.P. Heller says:

    Phil, you biked in, so floatplanes were the object of your ire in this article.


    Had you flown in, who would have been the demon then?

    Had to ask because I think it’s important for you to answer to us, your reading public, just how your priorities break down with regards to mechanized access. Obviously since the bike was OK, ostensibly because that’s what is permitted, and you took advantage of this rather than eschew it in favor of walking in, how does that stack up against say floatplane access, which is also allowed, but which you chose to cast aspersions on?

    Can you tell us about why you think bikes are acceptable, but floatplanes are not? I’m just curious, because now we are talking about preferred mechanized modes and not mechanized versus non-mechanized.

    • Mike K. says:

      A good example of how different people can interpret a post in dramatically different fashion. I didn’t hear any aspersions being cast, no ire being expressed, no demons attacked. Just the opposite.
      Thanks, Phil, for the interesting trip report.

      • Boreas says:


        I agree. Other than stating “I’m not crazy about sharing a wild lake with floatplanes,… “, I didn’t feel he was choosing sides or being controversial – especially when one reads the last part of the sentence. I doubt Phil likes sharing the lake with blackfies and skeeters either, but I think he recognizes their right to be there.

    • Kelly says:

      MP is reading things into the article that were not there. Please re-read the article and tell us where Phil exhibits “ire”.

    • Phil Brown says:

      MP, I was being ironic. I am not demonizing the pilots or their clients. While I am not crazy about planes landing on wild lakes, I recognize their right to do so. At the same time, I recognize that some people might not like my mode of transportation, the bicycle. Both are legal, both have their critics.

      • M.P. Heller says:

        Thanks Phil. I can appreciate irony.

        Thanks everyone else who answered for Phil.

    • derekq says:

      Take the plane if that’s what you do…..I’m sorry I found the “way” you question obnoxious. Lets just say for argument sake float planes are allowed, .Which I realize they are. But…and I realize the pilot owners have to make a living too. It doesn’t mean I have to like it. I never hear the bikers. Much less intrusive. For the record I’m 67 and still “walking in”. There is room for us all but one of the reasons I go to these places is to get away from…..this.

      Tight lines, happy trails and safe landings to all that come to appreciate the beauty of this land.

  4. Justin Farrell says:

    Cool article, Phil.
    I’m curious on the condition of the campsite(s) at Pine Lake near the end of this road/trail from the outer club house?
    I was there a couple years ago when this access first opened to the public and found lots of trash, plywood structures, & several other similar objects left behind. It sort of left a bit of a sour taste, so to speak, and I’ve yet to return. I’m hoping things have improved some since then. Seems like a fun trip.

  5. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Oh, Oh…MP Heller committed a “No No” and criticized Phil Brown.

    He must not realize that Phil can preach about “wilderness” all day long and then hop on his Mountain Bike and pedal through the ADKs to his heart’s content, confident his admiring public won’t think he’s living a double standard……….

    I’m glad Phil Brown biked to Pine Lake and some day he will reluctantly have to admit that folks who are not physically fit or elderly should also be able to experience the ADK’s as younger more capable individuals are.

    Thank you

    • Justin Farrell says:

      Please forgive my ignorance, but when did Phil “preach about Wilderness”?

    • Curt Austin says:

      Phil is a good reporter, giving all legitimate points of view their due (while avoiding illegitimate points of view, unlike many modern reporters).

      He’s also a good writer; here, he cleverly made explicit that an individual’s point of view is not the only one – even within one’s own head. That’s the key to getting to the elusive balance that reasonable people believe proper, and avoiding the extremism that comes from seeking inner piece by adopting a single, simple point of view.

      Phil’s critic here has adopted a “with us or against us” view, thereby judging that Phil is against him rather than accept a more nuanced and complex view.

      • Cranberry Bill says:

        Thank you Curt. What you said crystallized my thoughts. And that is, no matter how much you believe in something, and how justified you are in believing in that something, somebody else will have opposite views that are just as valid. One has to be able to think in somebody else’s head, not just one’s own. Try to understand all the arguments, not just argue. That is why I like Paul Hetzler’s articles. They just show me how to enjoy the woods without all the BS.

  6. Lee says:

    Sounds like a great day! I too prefer non-motorized wilderness areas but I also know that there are some who can not access an area as I do. I am not for the “privileged few” getting special rights. I am for those with physical challenges being able to get to the wilderness. That is why I would have liked to see a rail/trail combo. It could even allow for trash pick up with trash receptacles like the ones at the High Peaks rest area to deter pests.

    I think it really comes down to respecting those around us. Don’t run over those slower than us, look at the road/trail conditions and avoid rutting it up to the point others can not enjoy it, give the right of way to wildlife (they can’t hop in a car and head “home” at the end of the day), play music quietly so that only you can hear it if you must, and if you carry it in, carry it out. The Robert Fulghum book of yesteryear said it best, “Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten.” I wish there were more like you who were listening in kindergarten or when their parents said, “You are never going to see anything in the woods if you don’t walk quietly.”

    • One person’s “privileged few” may be those who go via float plane while someone else who is not “a strong hiker” may see the strong hikers as the privileged few when rules prevent the less strong from enjoying public lands. As with most things it all depends on your point of view.

      • Lee says:

        You are right, James, much in life is a matter of perspective. Thank you for sharing your perspective. Your comment about the less strong was my point. I like to look for those gray areas you mention. There are those in our society who miss out on the wilderness because they are less strong physically and that saddens me. That is just my perspective, that perhaps we look at all things as absolutes.

  7. Mike Tomaszewski says:

    Hi Phil,
    I too am interested to hear what the campsite on Pine Lake was like.
    If I did the math correctly, it would be 2.2 miles from the big game season gate to Pine Lake?

    I am planning a through trip to Pine Lake via the Essex Chain Lakes, the Chain Drain, the Rock and Cedar rivers.
    BTW, I saw you were signed in at the northern end of the Chain Lakes rd yesterday…too bad I missed you!

    Also, those were my comments posted by DEC about the exclusive use of public lands for floatplane clients. How can this even be legal??!!

    • Phil Brown says:

      According to my notes, it’s 1.5 miles to the seasonal gate and nearly 4 miles to the lake. So roughly 2.5 miles between gate and lake. Regardless, be prepared for a long carry. Sounds like a very ambitious trip. Do you know if you can paddle the Chain Drain all or most the way to the Rock? And how much of the Rock and Cedar is paddleable?

      • Mike Tomaszewski says:

        Thanks, 2.5 miles with wheels on an old road is pretty easy for me…
        I’ve been down the Chain Drain all the way to the Rock River a couple of times, last Saturday and in late October of a dry year. There was plenty of water and beaver dams both times.
        If you like, I can write a descriptive tale should you want to publish it. The Chain Drain should have wide appeal for the more adventurous paddler. I have many photos, including many of the nearly 60 ft cascade that drops to the Rock.
        If you want to see what the Chain Drain looks like, look at my Picasa site:
        or see my trip report here:

        • John Warren says:


          We’d be happy publish a story about this here at the Almanack.

          John Warren

  8. Mike Tomaszewski says:

    Both the Rock and Cedar rivers have flat sections and up to class III sections. Navigability is a function of water levels, with the Rock more sensitive than the Cedar.
    The sections of rivers between the Chain Drain confluence and Pine Lake are mostly flat. If a paddler were to attempt a Rock Lake to Cedar River route, it would need to be in spring runoff, and the right combination of boat and paddling experience.
    Same for a Cedar River to Hudson trip.

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