Not everyone who visits Boreas Ponds goes there to paddle. Some people just want to see the ponds and walk in the woods. But since the state has yet to create or mark any trails, what are hikers to do once they get there?
Last Sunday, my girlfriend Carol and I scouted out the old logging roads in the vicinity in the ponds. The next day I went back alone and hiked a loop around the ponds with side trips to White Lily Pond and the headwater pond of the Boreas River.
I rode my mountain bike to the dam on Boreas Ponds, as allowed under the interim-access plan, so I’ll use that as my starting point in the description of my itinerary. If you start your hike from the parking area on Gulf Brook Road, you’ll need to add 3.6 miles to the distances.
Once at the dam, spend some time admiring the view across the water toward the High Peaks. On the logging roads, you won’t find comparable views. There are also good views to be had from the site of the lodge torn down earlier this summer, but the state has temporarily closed the site while it is reseeded. Once it reopens, you can reach it by turning down a driveway just before the dam. You will be able to find even more views by following a short path from the lodge site to the shoreline of Boreas Ponds.
The lodge was built by Finch, Pruyn & Company as a corporate retreat. In 2007, Finch, Pruyn sold its timberlands to the Nature Conservancy, which sold 65,000 acres to the state. The Boreas Ponds Tract was acquired this year.
From the dam, you can hike to White Lily Pond or the headwaters of the Boreas. Either one requires an eight-mile round trip. If you go to both, the round trip will be 12.4 miles. Another option is to do what I did: a 13-mile loop hike, with side trips to both destinations.
Remember, that’s in addition to seven miles of mountain biking. But don’t be put off by the distances. For the most part, you’ll be traveling on well-maintained and hardened logging roads, with easy grades. This allows for fast, easy walking. If you normally hike two miles an hour, you might average three miles an hour. Most of the roads are shady, to boot. Expect to come across tracks of moose and other wildlife as well as evidence of past logging operations such as gravel pits, skidder roads, and clearings.
After crossing the dam, follow the road north. It parallels the east side of Boreas Ponds, but the water is too far away for a view. Be sure to stay on the main road. You’ll pass side roads on the right at 0.15 miles and 1.3 miles from the dam. The second is reached just after crossing Snyder Brook on a bridge.
At 1.75 miles, you reach a fork with another good road. If going to the Boreas headwaters, go straight. If going to White Lily Pond, turn left.
Boreas headwaters. Continue on the same logging road for another 1.25 miles, until reaching a junction with another good road. This is 3.0 miles from the dam. Bear left here, heading downhill at a compass bearing of roughly 340 degrees (assuming your compass is adjusted for true north).
The road has several bends, but it trends west and northwest. Whereas the first road traverses a typical Adirondack forest with lots of hardwoods, this road passes through a spruce-fir forest, lowland boreal habitat. There is no canopy, so wear a hat and bring sunblock. The absence of a canopy affords occasional views of the North River Mountains and Allen Mountain.
At 4.0 miles from the dam, you come to a lovely pond where the Boreas River begins its long journey to the Hudson River, though here it is a mere trickle. The divide between the Hudson and Lake Champlain watersheds lies less than a quarter-mile north of the pond. The waters on the other side feed the Ausable Lakes.
The old road notwithstanding, the pond sits in a wild landscape rarely visited by people. The southern end of the Colvin Range is visible to the northeast. Mount Marcy and Mount Haystack, two of the tallest of the High Peaks, can be seen toward the north peeking over the treetops. The water level has been raised a bit by a beaver dam, and on the other side of the road you can see a beaver lodge next to a wet meadow. If you walk beyond the pond, the road soon peters out, but turning around, you have a good view of Boreas Mountain.
White Lily Pond. This trip will be described from the junction that lies 1.75 miles from the dam. If coming from the dam, turn left. If returning from the Boreas headwaters, as I did, turn right. This road also features an open canopy, with occasional views of the North River Mountains and Allen Mountain. It descends to a wetland, reached 0.4 miles from the junction, with a view toward the Colvin Range. In another half-mile, you come to the Boreas River, which flows under the road in a culvert. Here the river resembles a small pond filled with dead trees and boulders.
Soon you begin the steepest climb of the day. At 1.5 miles from the junction, you reach a height of land. At 1.7 miles, you come to a clearing on the left. The road bends sharply to the right and heads approximately northeast. Be careful, because if you follow the road you’ll be hiking away from White Lily Pond.
According to the USGS topographical map (Mount Marcy), you should find a four-way intersection at this spot. Yet it doesn’t look like an intersection. If you walk left through the clearing, though, you’ll find a woods road that is not as hardened as the one you have been on.
Follow this road less than a tenth of a mile to a junction with another woods road. Take a very sharp right and follow this overgrown road three-tenths of a mile to a large grassy field, reached after crossing two small brooks (or dry beds) and a gravelly open area.
Once at the field, walk through the grass/bushes, heading to the northwest corner of the clearing, and look for a discernible footpath. Marked by blue surveyor ribbons, it leads in a tenth of a mile to the south shore of White Lily Pond, where you’ll enjoy a nice view of Allen Mountain.
The pond’s GPS coordinates are: N44º 02′ 30.08″, W73º 56′ 00.55″.
Loop hike. If you want to do the loop, return to the grassy field and then retrace your steps 0.3 miles to the junction of the two woods roads. Turn right. You’ll be roughly paralleling the west side of Boreas Ponds (again, no views), passing through woods and several grassy openings. Stick to the obvious road or path. Two miles from the junction, you cross White Lily Brook on a good bridge. Shortly after, you reach a junction with a hardened logging road. Turn left. In another 1.1 miles, you come to a junction with Gulf Brook Road. If you biked to Boreas Ponds, take a sharp left here to return to the ponds, reached in a mile. (If you plan on doing the loop, you could leave your bike at the Gulf Brook Road junction to save time.)
The map of my hike, linked here at Adirondack Atlas, should help you visualize the hiking possibilities.
Just a closing thought: the state Department of Environmental Conservation might consider creating spur trails off the Boreas Ponds circuit to provide views along the way. Otherwise, the loop is short on scenery.
And one more thing: the “roads” on maps of the property are not always recognizable as roads. This could have an impact on future planning. For instance, the local towns want horse wagons to operate on the “Outer Loop” roads. In its current condition, however, the Outer Loop is not always passable. Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, also has walked much of the Boreas Ponds Tract and found some of the roads to be non-existent or long overgrown. He calls them phantom roads.
Photos by Phil Brown. Top: Boreas River headwaters. Middle: Northern tip of Boreas Ponds, where the river enters Third Pond. Bottom: White Lily Pond.