A Solo Guide to Fall in the Adirondack High Peaks Region
Vivid autumn landscapes, tips on the best spots for photographing, and what to bring when exploring this legendary New York area
Nikon F100, Nikon D810
Sean Madden is commercial and editorial photographer based in Jersey City, NJ. Follow Sean on Instagram here.
Fall in the Adirondack High Peaks region has long escaped me. Every time I try to make the trip, something gets in the way. This season though, by a stroke of luck, the opportunity to take a couple days to explore solo came up, and I took it.
Going anywhere solo can be a daunting task, but extremely rewarding. There’s no extra pressure to plan for anybody but yourself, which leaves an inviting sense of flexibility and open-mindedness.
While the first day was filled with steady rain and photographing foggy landscapes on Whiteface Mountain, I spent the following in the air with a 73-year-old former military pilot and outdoorsman named Bob, who assured me that he’d be ready to fly after nothing more than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
So up we went. Bob has been flying for over 50 years, and his passion for flying has yet to waver. Once airborne, every tilt, sway, and dip of our two-seater plane would point out notable rock faces where he ice-climbs in the winter, and hikes in the summer.
While taking in the scenery, we talked about flying, and how the sensation of it can be similar to that of motorcycling, or even surfing—offering a visceral and therapeutic release. While focus needs to be high across all of those activities, they still serve as escapes and allow one to forget all the nuances of everyday life. With Bob’s never-ending enthusiasm, his perspective and familiarity to the landscape made photographing all the more important. His youthfulness exploded with every discovery of a vein of newly changed foliage—this helped too.
The remainder of the trip found me hiking to Indian Head Lookout and meeting up with Brian, another hiker from the hostel. A couple of beers, burgers, and stories later, we had made plans on hiking Hurricane Mountain—A 6.6-mile out-and-back that gains just over 2000 feet—the next morning.
The southern approach snakes up to the summit and greets us with a panoramic view of the High Peaks in one direction and Lake Champlain in the other. Perfect for another late afternoon lunch, we got an even better view from the fire tower nearby. It didn't disappoint.
What I thought was going to be a trip alone to the woods for a few days, turned into realizing that crossing paths with the right people can be just as rewarding as the natural landscapes I was trying to connect with. Something to keep in mind.
5 Gear Essentials to Pack While Exploring the Adirondacks High Peaks Region
Patagonia Long-Sleeved Fjord Flannel Shirt,$99
Such a comfortable shirt - soft and perfect for any 40-60 degree day. A crisp October morning in the ADK can start off chilly and jump 20 degrees by noon. This shirt can handle both times of day and as a personal belief: there’s nothing better than a good shirt tuck.
REI x The Landmark Project Forest Service Hat, $30
Easily the most stylish way to spread Smokey Bear’s message. A low-profile trucker hat that not only looks great, bu ist generous - The Landmark Project donates 10% of every Smokey Bear product sold back to the US Forest Service.
L.L.Bean Cresta Hiking Boots, $260
A classic gore-tex boot that doesn’t have to show off. An incredibly comfortable fit and a great option to keep your feet dry and log the miles. Throw on a pair of wool socks and cooler temperatures don’t stand a chance.
Peak Design Camera Clip, $70
To say I love this accessory is a huge understatement. This little piece of metal has saved the back of my neck from turning into chop meat. Instead of my heavier Nikon D810 constantly pulling, it clips straight to my pack’s shoulder straps, and frees up my hands for any situation - light scrambling, using walking sticks, or even holding a smaller 35mm.
Osprey Atmos 50L Pack, $300
As an overpacker, I love this bottomless pit. It’ll hold everything I need from lenses, to extra water. The older model I use has a million of smaller pouches and pockets that are all easily accessible and fits comfortably on my back.
9 Do’s & Don'ts for Visiting the Adirondacks in Upstate New York
DO start early, parking at trailheads get taken up fast, even on weekdays.
DO ask locals for advice. We met a bartender at Big Slide Brewery who is also a High Peaks Guide. He kept us entertained with stories of the job, and gave us suggestions on what to check out on our future trips. Oh and the burger was killer.
DO have a change of clothes. No matter how hot or cold it is, I always sweat. Having an extra pair of layers helps me feel refreshed in the middle of hike.
DO stop at Old Mountain Coffee Company in Keene Valley. This cozy cafe has all you need pre or post hike.
DO stay at the Cascade Ski Center & Bunkhouse in North Elba. While not flashy, these bunks are affordable and has all your basics. The center is a gateway to 20 miles of cross-country skiing trails, and is home to Knicker’s Bar & Restaurant which serves Nordic comfort food.
DON'T Fly drones when you shouldn’t. Full stop. There are more than enough signs posted and it’s a real bad look for the group on Indian Head when a gorgeous 70 year old plane comes through the mountains just minutes after their drone comes back when things could’ve gone very, very bad. It’s hard enough to pick out other planes in the sky let alone a drone. Respect the rules.
DON'T Forget bear spray. There’s no shame in being cautious, especially when hiking solo. God forbid something happens, you’ll be ready.
DON'T Forget that windbreaker. Sudden changes in weather will happen. That jacket will keep you warm and dry.
DON'T Take the Indian Crossover Trail to Indian Head Lookout. It’s the first sign for the Lookout, but a harder and messier trail to the top that involves light scrambling. Take the second junction on Lake Road