INTO THE TREES: A rewarding hike up Cobble Hill

On the summit of Cobble Hill, hikers can see the Olympic Center in downtown Lake Placid and surrounding peaks. (News photo — Oliver Reil)

Nestled in the heart of the Adirondacks, surrounded by High Peaks and premier skiing mountains, the village of Lake Placid is a draw for avid hikers everywhere. But not all hiking opportunities end above 4,000 feet. Just across Mirror Lake from Main Street, Cobble Hill offers itself as a hike with Adirondack views without the technicality of the 46ers.

Stepping onto the newly installed, 250-foot boardwalk at the start of the trail on Tuesday, Feb. 13, I was met immediately by three hairy woodpeckers and a chattering red squirrel. I watched the squirrel leap to a woodpecker’s chosen downed tree and run it off. None of the four critters seemed bothered by my presence, perhaps due to the trailhead’s proximity to the road and passersby.

Once past the boardwalk, my feet reached terra firma. The trail was iced over completely; my microspikes echoed through the woods like firecrackers.

The ground was mostly flat, with only an occasional murmur of elevation gain, until I reached the base of Cobble Hill. Looking up, rock and ice loomed over me. To my right, the morning sun pushed its way through the trees that covered the hillside.

The trail suddenly got steep, though nothing compared to the High Peaks. As I stepped, I thought back on a hike up Boundary Peak. The trail was one of the most arduous I’ve ever scaled, most of it class-two scrambling over massive boulders. After leaving my Garmin GPS unit on the top of neighboring Algonquin, I was forced to crawl back to the top. It took everything.

Along with blue trail markers and newer signs, this old sign on the Cobble Hill trail shows hikers the way to the summit. (News photo — Oliver Reil)

This, however, was refreshing. Only at the very top of the hike did I start to work hard. Just below the summit of Cobble Hill, the trail quickly vanishes into a rock face, which hikers can scramble up for the best view. On this day, the mix of ice and rock made scaling it challenging, but with the help of my hands and micro-spiked feet, I managed.

The views from the top were magnificent. From there I could see the Olympic Center and downtown Lake Placid. Beyond that, Scarface and Nye mountains stood tall and looked back at me.

I sat on a flaked-off chunk of rock and soaked up the sun, a rarity in what has proven to be a particularly bleak winter. I sat there, looking down on Lake Placid, seeing it in a way I’d never seen it before. It looked small — smaller than I already knew it to be. This wasn’t the Adirondacks I was used to, but this little vantage point was just as ADK as the rest of them.

I sat there, reflecting on mountains past, until I got too cold to stay. I looked down at my path of ascent and realized it was far too steep and dangerous to go back down that way. Luckily, I managed to find a side trail around the rock face. Generally, I knew these side trails or “herd paths” should be avoided to prevent erosion. But I felt better putting my safety first on the descent.

As I walked out of the woods, the path felt even shorter now that I knew what to expect. I pondered the little trail as I crunched my way home, pleased that something so wonderful lives right on the edge of town. I could see myself — if I worked in town — running up and down in the mornings before work to soak up a little sun and fresh air. With trails like this around us, there is no excuse not to get outside.

Here is a challenging section of the Cobble Hill trail near the summit. (News photo — Oliver Reil)

Trail improvements

Cobble Hill is 2,343 feet in elevation, and hikers will experience a 480-foot elevation gain on their trip. The distance is 1.6 miles roundtrip.

According to the Adirondack Land Trust, Cobble Hill’s hiking trail continues to be improved. In December 2023, the new trailhead at the corner of Mirror Lake Drive and Northwood School’s driveway opened for public use. Tahawus Trails built the 250-foot boardwalk at the new trailhead and re-routed the trail away from the school campus. Professional trail improvements were also completed in 2023 by Wilderness Property Management. This year, trail work around the stone slab on the upper mountain is expected to take place.

Red squirrel on the Cobble Hill trail (News photo — Oliver Reil)

Those interested in hiking Cobble Hill should be aware that there is no trailhead parking lot. Hikers can either find a designated parking space on Mirror Lake Drive or in a downtown lot and walk from there.

In addition to the Adirondack Land Trust, the following organizations are partnering to improve the Cobble Hill trail: Northwood School, town of North Elba, Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center, Lake Placid 9’er hiking challenge, Barkeater Trails Alliance, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and private landowners.

Cobble Hill is one of the peaks in the Lake Placid 9’er hiking challenge. The others are Mount Jo (Lake Placid), Baxter Mountain (Keene), Mount Van Hoevenberg (Lake Placid), Big Crow Mountain (Keene), Bear Den Mountain (Wilmington), Pitchoff Mountain (Lake Placid), Catamount Mountain (Wilmington) and Hurricane Mountain (Keene).

For more information about the challenge, visit lakeplacid9er.com.

Cobble Hill trail (News photo — Oliver Reil)

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