Note: The parking area for Pitchoff often fills quickly, especially in the summer. Consider choosing a less popular, and less crowded, trail.
The Balanced Rocks are located 1.6 miles up the trail to Pitchoff Mountain from the west trailhead. The 2.7-mile long Pitchoff ridge guards the northern side of Cascade Pass and looms high above the Cascade Lakes.
This fairly easy hike starts on Route 73, across from the popular Cascade Mountain trail. Parking can be a problem here, sometimes requiring several hundred yards of walking along the busy highway to reach the trailhead.
Starting on the west trail for Pitchoff, the route climbs steadily above Route 73 before leveling off along a lower ridgeline. Look to the right during this level stretch — there are two spots with nice views of the Cascade Lakes, which stretch like two inky ribbons far below. A third overlook is located just above a steep scramble. It provides outstanding views of the new #7 slide and the namesake cascade waterfall on Cascade Mountain.
After a slight descent, there is a nice view through the canopy of the Balanced Rocks above. After passing through a low area that's usually muddy (please stay on the trail by walking through the mud. This will avoid widening the trail and damaging the surrounding vegetation.) the trail swings up and left. It crosses the base of an old slide and continues steeply up, circumnavigating the ledges below Balanced Rocks. Be aware that there are a couple of well-worn herd paths in this area. For safety, do your best to stay on the marked trail by bearing left at these junctions. A steep climb over rocky and eroded terrain ends at the three-way junction with the 0.1 mile spur trail to Balanced Rocks. Turn right to reach the rocks, turn left to continue to the summit in another half mile.
At the end of the mostly level spur trail is a broad ledge with two enormous rocks that are just waiting to be explored. The rocks are glacial erratics — debris left behind by the last glacier to pass through the region.
Plan on taking a couple of hours or more to complete this hike.
Trailhead: From the intersection of Route 73 and Route 86 in Lake Placid, follow Route 73 toward Keene. Continue on Route 73 for 7.5 miles to the Pitchoff West Trail.
Distance: 1.6 miles one way
Elevation: 2,990 feet
Ascent: 850 feet