One of the easiest of the Adirondack High Peaks to hike, Cascade Mountain is often considered a good starting point for those looking to experience a summit in the area. Along with the accessibility of its trailhead, the low round-trip mileage of this half-day hike has helped make it one of the most frequently climbed in the park.
However, despite its popularity – or maybe in some ways because of it – Jess and I were yet to experience it ourselves. Saving it instead for a day when we had a tight schedule or were feeling less ambitious. That day came on a recent vacation in Lake Placid. Feeling a bit drained from several days worth of paddling and climbing, but looking to share a hike with Jess’ dad, we decided that Cascade, and a quick side trip to Porter, would be the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
View Cascade and Porter Mountains in a larger map
At an elevation of 4,098 feet, Cascade Mountain sits at #36 on the Adirondack 46er Peak List – Porter, at 4,059 feet, is #38. There are three major trails that lead to these summits, but we decided to stick with the shortest and most accessible of them… the Cascade Trail. Its trailhead is located right on Rt. 73 and there are several pull-off parking areas. Since we were hiking on a holiday weekend, these parking areas were understandably packed. I’m not entirely sure you are supposed to park on the opposite side of the street like you see in the photo below, but if you do end up having to park on the side of the highway, be careful when walking up the shoulder or crossing the road.
Near the Registration Box there is a sign asking hikers to carry a rock to the summit. These rocks are then used to define trails and create boundaries on the peak so that alpine vegetation can recover. We kept our eye out and once we found an appropriately sized rock we put it in our pack to haul to the top. Doing so reminded me of our recent visit to Lake Michigan, when we carried a pack full of Petoskey Stones up the Sleeping Bear Dunes.
The Cascade Trail follows red DEC markers for 2.4 miles over an ascent of 1,990 feet. It is very well marked and maintained and is a rather pleasant hike overall. You can really tell that trail crews have put some time into it, and on off hours this would be an ideal trail run. It is a steady upward hike, but with no sections that struck us as particularly hard.
At 2.1 miles the junction with Porter Mountain trail is found (yellow markers). From here it is .7 miles over 270 feet to Porter’s summit. We decided to continue on to Cascade first, and consider Porter on the way back. Shortly after this junction views of Cascade are encountered.
Once above tree line, cairns and paint blazes mark the way. There are a few areas of fun rock scrambling but overall it is a straight shot to the top. The crowds were pretty heavy, but we found an area off to the side where we could take in the views and enjoy some snacks.
On the way back down we took the side trip to Porter Mountain. There is a bit of a descent before climbing back up to this peak, and the trail can be muddy in sections – especially if it has rained recently – but the views from Porter are worth it, and the summit is far less crowded. While there we met a young guy who was really good at identifying the surrounding peaks. This is something I am horrible at, even though I’ve been up most of them… so it was fun to have him point them out for us and put names to them.
Where: The Adirondack Park, between Keene and Lake Placid, near the Cascade Lakes
Directions from Lake Placid: Take Rt. 73 south/east toward Keene, past the Mt. Van Hoevenburg Recreation Area. The trailhead is on the right side of the road as you approach the Cascade Lakes. Keep an eye out for a sign that says “Cascade Mtn, Pitchoff Mtn”. The parking area is a pull off, and this stretch of road can be hairy, so drive safe and keep an eye out for fellow hikers and climbers.
Difficulty: A short, but strenuous day hike. Took us about 4 hours.
Summary: Cascade Mountain is an accessible Adirondack day hike that offers a quick and easy High Peaks experience. It is perfect for beginners or for people with only half a day to spare, and a short side trip to Porter Mountain is possible (and highly recommended). While the popularity of this trail results in crowds on the summit, they can be minimized if you avoid popular weekends and hike on off hours.
- Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra Trail Runners – My new favorite shoe
- Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Hiking Boots – Jess has put some serious miles on these boots
- Black Diamond Bullet Day Pack – I bought this with trad climbing in mind, but find it to be a nice multi use day pack as well
- REI Peak UL Women’s Trekking Poles – Jess’ hiking poles
- EMS Hiking Poles – As best as I can tell EMS no longer makes (or brands) hiking poles. The ones I use are over 10 years old and held together with duct tape… but still seem to get the job done
- Adirondack High Peaks Trail Guide – Amazon.com
- Trails Illustrated, High Peaks Trail Map – Amazon.com
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