Haystack is one of the most demanding hikes of the 46 High Peaks due to its rugged terrain and hiking distance. The summit of Haystack is a bald dome in the shape of a stack of hay. Its appearance is not like the other High Peaks in the Adirondacks. For the main approach it requires the climber to hike over Little Haystack as well, which may not seem like much, but adds even more elevation change for the day. Heavy winds often buffet this peak, but if you have it in you, it’s worth every step.
This Adirondack 46 High Peak is number 3 on the list.
Primary Trailhead: This route leaves from The Garden in Keene Valley; there is a small parking fee at the trailhead. Also, parking is limited and is usually full early on weekend mornings. On most busy weekends a shuttle bus brings hikers from the alternate parking at Marcy Field lot north of Keene Valley, but be aware that this is a long hike and one may return after the last bus. Leave Lake Placid on Rte 73, continue through Keene and into Keene Valley and turn right after the Ausable Inn and continue for 1.6 miles, the last 0.2 mile on a narrow dirt road.
This is an 8.8 mile hike, one way with a mixture of demanding terrain. From the Garden Parking Area, the terrain is gently rolling hills till you drop steeply into Johns Brook Valley at 3.0 miles. Making a right into the valley you will continue a bit further to Johns Brook Lodge. Continue straight past Johns Brook Lodge and head toward Bushnell Falls. Avoiding the side trail leading to the base of the falls, continue to the junction and go left and down and now with red markers to cross Johns Brook. As you pass by the Bushnell Falls lean-to the grade will be moderate but a continuous climb to Slant Rock. From Slant rock you will climb steep and steady to the intersection with the Marcy Trail. Continue left and climb very steeply to an amazing view of the Haystacks. From here it is a slight descent to the base of the tree line. From here you will be totally exposed to the elements all the way to the summit. First you climb Little Haystack and then descend to a col before an open rock climb to the summit of Haystack.
Second Trailhead: This route leaves from the Adirondack Loj. From the intersection of Rte 86 and Rte 73 in Lake Placid follow Rte 73 through Keene and Keene Valley, take a right onto Adirondack Loj Road – first right after the ski jumps. Follow to the end at the hiker parking area, where there is a fee to use the lot.
This is a 16.5 mile round trip with a moderate climb. Starting from the Loj parking you will pass by Marcy Dam where excellent views of the High Peaks can be had. The trail then follows along Phelps Brook before it enters its steepest portion up to Indian Falls. From Indian Falls you will enjoy a very moderate ascent up to the trail intersection with Haystack at 4,900 feet. From here you will have to descend quite a bit to 4,200 feet to reach the primary trail mentioned above.
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation: 4,960 feet
Ascent: 3,570 feet
Via the Phelps Trail
From the Garden Trailhead you will have a mellow snowshoe for the first 3.5 miles to Johns Brook Lodge. From JBL continue straight toward Bushnell Falls. Continue past Bushnell Falls and pass by Slant Rock as well. Continue past Shorey Shortcut which comes in on the left and start a very steady climb, and at times steep arduous progression. You then come to a T-intersection with Mount Marcy, hang a left here and proceed for another half mile to the intersection with the Great Range Trail that leads to Basin.
From here you will climb up and above tree line where the elements can become much more “in your face.” You will crest Little Haystack where it tends to be windier than Haystack. The descent to the col can be tricky and slippery. The climb out of the col is steep and by this point you are surely getting very tired. The ridge too can be windblown with very little snow coverage, but ice and slippery conditions will be there.
From Basin Mountain
(Please see the pages on Saddleback and Basin in regard to reaching those summits) If you are coming from Basin, which it highly recommended that if you are doing a traverse Haystack be the first do to easier travel and it gets the tallest peak out of the way first.
From Basin it is a very steep drop to the Shorey Shortcut Trail and an even steeper and longer climb up toward Haystack. This trail will bring you to the Phelps Trail and tree line of Haystack Mountain, where it is outlined above.
Haystack alone has a long ridge by climbing over Little Haystack; along here you can expect heavy winds and whiteout conditions with a deep wind chill. The cliffs on the Basin side of Saddleback are dangerous in the winter and much better to be climbing than descending if you plan to do a traverse.
Essential Gear: An ice ax is nice if you plan to do the cliffs and traverse with Saddleback. Wind and cold protection is a must.
Elevation: 4,960 feet
Round Trip Distance: 17.8 miles, Loop with Basin and Saddleback, 18.6 miles