Avalanche Pass is usually approached from the Adirondack Loj. But it can also be approached from the Upper Works, and when the two are combined make for an excellent through hike.
Below both routes are described for those who want to hike the complete pass from Lake Placid to Newcomb or vice versa.
Leave Lake Placid on Rte 73, follow Route 73 toward Keene. Continue for about 3 miles to Adirondack Loj Road on the right. Follow Adirondack Loj Road to its end at Heart Lake and park in the main parking lot. A $10 parking fee will be required.
This is a 5.2 mile hike, one way to the south end of Avalanche Lake. From the Loj follow the hikers' approach trail to the High Peaks that leads to Marcy Dam. From Marcy Dam, follow the trail toward Lake Colden. The first mile is a gentle climb, but the next half-mile is steeper to the new (1999) slide at the top of the pass. Passing by a couple of newer (2011) slides on the side of Mount Colden you make your way through the apex of the pass where the temperatures are typically much cooler. Vast cliffs and wet rocks loom over you as light fights to get to the ground. The trail then descends to Avalanche Lake. The hike past the lake is a bit demanding, especially with full packs, many choose to stop here and enjoy the views of the sheer rock cliffs of Colden and Avalanche Mountain as they meet the cold, placid waters of Avalanche Lake. Past this point you will contend with boulders, ladders and a very windy trail, but the views along this section of trail are amazing and well worth the effort.
Leave Lake Placid on Route 73, follow Route 73 toward Keene. Drive through Keene and Keene Valley and proceed back to I87. Head south on I87 and get off exit 29 and follow the Blue Ridge Road (CR84) toward Newcomb. Continue for roughly 18 miles to the Tahawus Road (CR25) on the right. Follow this road for 6.3 miles to a left at a sign for the High Peaks and then to its end at Upper Works at 9 miles.
This is a 6.8 mile hike, one way to the south end of Avalanche Lake. Starting from Upper Works it is a long day to the south shore of Avalanche Lake and back, but a rewarding through hike to Adirondak Loj.
From the parking area at Upper Works the trail starts mostly flat, but then climbs to Flowed Lands after a junction at 1.6 miles. Flowed Lands, reached at 4.5 miles offers amazing views through the valley past Mount Colden. From Flowed Lands you will hike its perimeter along a difficult trail of many ups and downs to the dam on Lake Colden. From the dam you will pass through a heavily used camping are along the shore of Lake Colden. Past Lake Colden you will climb a bit to the south end of Avalanche Lake where the views are breathtaking.
12 miles RT, Primary trail moderate, Elevation: 925' Ascent: 2,535'
Family with Young Kids: Not recommended
Experienced Hiker: Primary Trail: 3 to 4 hours RT to south side of Avalanche Lake, Secondary Trail: 4 to 5 hours to the south side of Avalanche Lake, Hike Through: 7 to 9 hours
Out of Shape Hiker: Primary Trail: 5 hours RT to south side of Avalanche Lake, Secondary Trail: Not recommended, Hike Through: Not recommended
Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing
This is a long route and will need some backcountry winter camping equipment for safety.
As many people ski this route as snowshoe it, but the trail does require advanced intermediate ability - i.e. a darn good snowplow. The usual start is Adirondack Loj ($10/day parking fee) located at the end of Adirondak Loj Rd., a 5 mile road to the right off of Rt. 73 two miles east toward Keene. One can also park on the road at four miles from Rt. 73 and ski via Meadow Lane and the truck trail. This route has no parking fee, is better with minimal snow, but is over a mile longer each way.
From the Loj follow the "main highway" trail into the High Peaks Region that leads to Marcy Dam. This trail will be packed solid by hikers before and after you. While snowshoes may seem unneeded they are required anytime there is over 8 inches of snow. From Marcy Dam you will need to follow the trail to Avalanche Camps and Avalanche Pass. You will pass by Avalanche Camps 1.1 miles from Marcy Dam, which is a great place to lay your head if you wanted to extend an outing. This is where the snowshoeing or skiing becomes much more serious. The mile or so past Avalanche Camps is often called “Misery Mile;” it’s not really that bad. Snowshoers should bear right and follow the summer hiking trail, while skiers will have an easier time bearing left toward Lake Arnold for 200 yds and then bearing right onto the ski route that twice crosses the hiking trail to maintain an easier grade.
After a long and steady snowshoe uphill, you will soon be passing by a couple newer slides on the side of Mount Colden. This is the top of the pass where the temperatures are typically much cooler. Slightly descending you will enter the heart of the pass with vast cliffs and rocks loom over you. The trail then descends more to Avalanche Lake. Many choose to stop here and enjoy the views of the sheer rock cliffs of Colden and Avalanche Mountain as they meet the surface of ice-covered Avalanche Lake. If there is sufficient snow for skiing or snowshoeing, the ice on the lake is usually solid enough to continue and enjoy the additional views from the surface of the lake.
The outlet at the far end is the only danger spot, so you may need to exit the ice 50-100 yards before the outlet. This narrow pass can also be windy, so be prepared with extra clothing and perhaps even a face mask and snow goggles.
Distance Round Trip
Approximate Time Round Trip
Families with Kids: 6 to 7 hours
Experienced Snowshoers: 4 to 5 hours
Out of Shape Snowshoers: 5 to 6 hours
Difficulty: 1=easiest, 5=hardest
Three: Mainly due to distance, but terrain can be a bit steep in areas as well. If skiing, the difficulty goes up to Four: This is a very demanding ski that requires some experience on backcountry terrain.
Find out more
Spring is a great time to hike our passes, as discussed in A tale of two passes.
Our blogger describes a winter ski with Hitting Avalanche Pass Just Right.