Mount Colden is one of the more popular mountains in the High Peaks, and with good reason: the hike is challenging and beautiful. Colden has two main approaches, both of which begin at the High Peaks Information Center. The trails can be combined to make for an excellent, but very long and strenuous, loop. If you are not an experienced hiker, consider choosing an easier mountain before attempting Colden.
- Elevation: 4,714 feet
- Elevation gain: 2,535 feet
- Distance one way: 6.3 miles via Lake Arnold Trail, 7.3 miles via Avalanche Pass
- Mount Colden is the 11th highest mountain in the Adirondacks
- Mount Colden's summit is home to fragile alpine vegetation — avoid trampling it by staying on the rocks at all times
- Read about an exciting winter ascent of Mount Colden
- Always follow Leave No Trace principles
Both of the routes described below begin at the High Peaks Information Center parking lot, near Adirondak Loj. There is a parking fee to use this large lot. Leave Lake Placid on Route 73, turn right on Adirondack Loj Road, and follow it to its end. Pay the fee at the booth, even if no one is inside.
Below are brief descriptions of the two major routes up Colden. These can be combined to make a long, rugged, and scenic loop. We recommend ascending via the Lake Arnold trail, then continuing over the summit to descend to Lake Colden and Avalanche Pass for a spectacular 13.6 mile loop.
Colden via Lake Arnold
The first 2.3 miles of this 6.3-mile route are easy and follow the popular and often busy trail to the former site of Marcy Dam. From the remains of the dam — it was destroyed by hurricane Irene in August 2011 — continue on the well-used trail toward Avalanche Camp at 3.4 miles. Make a left and start a moderate to steep climb up to Lake Arnold. At just under 3,800 feet, Lake Arnold is one of the highest bodies of water in the Adirondacks. Turn right and hike past and above the pond for some outstanding views.
From the turn at Lake Arnold it's 1.4 miles to Colden's summit. The terrain gets very steep in sections, but there are views as the path approaches the mountain's secondary summit. Note that the trail doesn't actually go over this small rock outcrop, but instead bears left at its base. After the left turn, the trails makes its descent to the base of the true summit, then climbs steeply to the top of Mount Colden, where excellent views await.
Colden via Avalanche Pass
The longer approach to Colden first goes through Avalanche Pass — some of the most striking scenery in the Adirondacks. Follow the Colden via Lake Arnold trail to Avalanche Camp, 3.4 miles from the trailhead, then bear right to head toward Avalanche Pass. This next mile is referred to as “misery mile" — it’s a bit steep, but it's nothing compared to what's to come.
After the not-so-miserable mile, the trail levels off as it enters Avalanche Pass. The rest of the route is jaw-dropping from this point on. At 4.4 miles, forest clears as the gorgeous Avalanche Lake comes into view. The impressive cliffs on the left are the base of Mount Colden. Bear right to follow Avalanche Lake's extremely rugged shore. This trail is very demanding and consists of scrambling, boulders, and numerous ladders — allow a good hour just to get through this section. Once past the lake, the trail moderates and descends to a register at a junction at the 5.8 mile mark. Head left and follow the shore of Lake Colden a bit before going left again to start the very steep and strenuous 1,950-foot climb to the summit of Colden.
There are many options for backcountry camping in this area, just be aware that all sites are first-come, first serve. The former site of Marcy Dam has several options, including tent sites and a couple of lean-tos. There are more tent sites at Avalanche Camp and in the Lake Colden and Lake Arnold areas.
Mount Colden in winter
Snowshoeing Mount Colden in winter is a serious endeavor that should only be attempted after tackling a few of the area's smaller mountains. Snowshoes are required and will suffice on the lower reaches of the trail, but snow spikes are highly recommended on the steep upper reaches of the mountain. We do not recommend anyone but the most experienced hiker attempting to go up or down the Colden via Avalanche Pass trail in winter, as the slopes are particularly hazardous when icy and should only be attempted by hikers with the proper gear and with experience on steep, open, icy routes.
Expect a significant drop in temperature as elevation is gained, and be prepared for strong winds along the ridge line and on the summit. Always bring extra layers, especially for higher elevations, and don't hesitate to turn around if the weather starts to turn. Goggles and a face mask are highly recommended.
The Avalanche Pass ski trail is designated for use by skiers only and is a great excursion for experienced backcountry skiers.