By Tim Helms, Long Lake & Raquette Lake Events Coordinator
With the return of winter and a decent snowpack in the Adirondack backcountry, this is the perfect time to explore a new trail or area that you have never experienced before. For this outing I chose the Powerhouse and Cascades Trails in the Historic Great Camps Special Management Area, which is part of the Blue Ridge Wilderness located in Raquette Lake, NY. To access the trailheads head south on Sagamore Road for approximately three miles, the first trailhead will be the Cascades Trail on the left side of the road. The Powerhouse Trailhead is another quarter mile on the left just across the bridge over South Inlet. The Cascades Trail has a very visible sign marking the parking lot, the Powerhouse Trail does not have a sign marking the parking lot, but the lot is very obvious and is just across the bridge and hard to miss.
On this day I opted to ski the Powerhouse Trail first, but it does not make a difference which trail you choose to tackle first as they are very close in both distance and elevation changes. Leaving the trailhead there are plenty of blue trail markers denoting the way, and the signage is all in very good condition and easy to read. Lucky for me on the day I chose to ski the trail was already broken out. The skiing is relatively fast and straightforward as the trail follows the south and eastern shores of South Inlet.
A little under a quarter mile in I come to the first of the two Powerhouse buildings and the trail makes a 90 degree turn right, which is very well marked. Just down the trail a few hundred feet is the intersection of the Powerhouse and Big Slope Trails. The Big Slope Trail is another way to access the Sagamore Lake Trail, which follows the shoreline of Sagamore Lake and is also open to the public year-round. The trail in this section is a classic Adirondack single track ski trail but is very mellow and smooth compared to similar trails and gradually transitions to more of a truck road style
Continuing on, the trail makes some minor turns that are all well signed and easy to follow. Skiing down a gradual hill I miss the second Powerhouse building on the way in as it is tucked down a hill, but on the way out is in full view, and definitely worth a quick stop to check out. My recommendation is to take your skis off on the trail and walk down the short hill to the building to peer inside.
The Powerhouse Trail ends as it turns west to cross South Inlet where a bridge clearly once existed and would connect with the Cascades Trail if it was still passable. Total distance to this point is almost 1.5mi on the nose, with approximately 180 feet of elevation gain, and reaches a high point of 1,880 feet just before the second Powerhouse building.
The ski back to the car retraces my steps, without missing the Powerhouse building this time, and offers nice views of South Inlet down to my right as I climb the gradual hill toward the high point of the trail and then descend slightly back to the trailhead. After finishing the Powerhouse Trail I move my car to the Cascades trailhead, which is about a quarter mile back toward town on the Sagamore Road, and get ready for the second leg of today’s journey. Leaving the parking lot/trailhead, the trail is relatively flat and begins as a truck road style, before transitioning to a more quintessential ADK single trail style, and back to truck road again.
The Cascades trail also follows the same blue trail markers as Powerhouse, which are well spaced and easy to locate. This trail has less signage then the Powerhouse Trial as there aren’t any offshoot trails, and no twists and turns where you could get off trail. As the trail transitions from truck road to woods it narrows and travels through a tight canopy of young spruce and balsam that feels more like a tunnel than a ski trail. As I continue on the trail again changes back to truck road style and the forest turns to more open hardwoods, where I’m lucky to catch the silent flight of an owl as it leaves its perch and glides through the treetops.
I gradually descend toward the end of the trail and the other side of South Inlet, looking directly across at the Powerhouse Trail. The distance from the parking lot to the here is about 1.3 miles with approximately 160’ of elevation change, with the highest point on the trail being 1,912 feet very close to the beginning and the low point being at the end of the trail. The skiing on the Cascades Trail is less technical than the Powerhouse Trail and is a great place for anyone new to the sport or just starting out and is as close to “beginner” terrain as you will find on any ungroomed backcountry trails in the Adirondacks. This is not to say that the Powerhouse trail is difficult or particularly technical, especially compared to most other designated DEC skiing trails, but it is slightly more difficult than the Cascades Trail.
Upon finishing the ski and arriving back at the car, I had to complete the adventure by stopping at the Raquette Lake Tap Room for lunch. On this day there are around 20 snowmobiles in the parking lot and the bar is busy. Kat is the bartender, and waitress of the day and is handling the crowd well. There is no better way to cap off a new adventure than to have a beer and a great meal in one of the most iconic bars in the Adirondacks.
Know before you go: Neither the Cascades or Powerhouse Trails have a registry, so make sure someone knows your itinerary before you go, pack appropriately, wear the right clothing, bring plenty of water, and stay on the trail.
Photo at top: Cascades Trail in Raquette Lake. Photo by Tim Helms, Long Lake & Raquette Lake Events Coordinator.