Note: The parking area for Pitchoff often fills quickly, especially in the summer. Consider choosing a less popular, and less crowded, trail. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is in the midst of a multi-year effort to reduce hiker congestion, and Pitchoff Mountain is included in this effort. Parking areas may change over the next few years.
Pitchoff Mountain is home to one of the only trails in the entire Sentinel Range, the impressive mountains to the right of Whiteface Mountain when viewed from Lake Placid. Pitchoff is not the highest point of the Sentinel Range, but it does offer the best views. At 3,500 feet in elevation, this is the 80th highest peak in the Adirondacks.
There are two distinct routes to reach Pitchoff's beautiful ridge, simply called the West Trail and the East Trail. The more popular West Trail reaches the high point much faster and is the route to an Adirondack favorite, the Balanced Rocks.
To do the entire traverse, arrange for a second car at the East Trail parking area. Do not attempt to walk back along Route 73, as the shoulder is narrow and traffic along this stretch is quite busy, especially in summer. Also note that parking for the west trailhead is the same as for the popular Cascade Mountain trail. This means hikers might have to park a ways from the trail and walk several hundred yards 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 Upper and Lower 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 - created during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 - 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.
Turn left and continue to the summit of Pitchoff at 3,500 feet, 2 miles from the trailhead. There are no views from the summit, but a handy boulder offers a nice place to relax. From here the hike is a ridge walk that leads to several rocky outcrops and a number of smaller summit knobs. The views are frequent and all are worth the walk.
The rocky north summit is reached at 3.8 miles — it's mostly open and sits at 3,323 feet in elevation. After passing over the final summit in the ridge, the trail begins a steep, 1,400-foot descent to the east trailhead. Along the way, the path goes through an eroded gully and crosses a stream several times before leveling off as it approaches Route 73. The 1.4 mile hike to the north summit is a great destination from the east trailhead.
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. For Pitchoff East Trail, continue 2.7 miles further on Route 73. Both trailheads are on the left side of the road, but parking is along the right shoulder. Be careful when crossing this busy road.
Distance: The entire traverse is 5.2 miles from trailhead to trailhead.
Elevation: 3,500 feet
Ascent: 1,300 feet
The many rocky sections will be slippery in winter. Bring snowshoes and microspikes as conditions require. This trail is not suitable for cross-country skiing.