After coming back from a week long fall trip to the Utah Desert (trip report forthcoming, of course), I was anxious to know if I'd missed the prime autumn color period in the Adirondacks, which typically comes in at the end of September or beginning of October. Fortunately for me, the foliage forecasts were showing that the middle week of October was peak color time this year - and to add to my fortunes, a beautiful mid-October Sunday popped up in the weather forecast.
These days I'm poking around for the good spots in the Adirondacks that I haven't yet hiked, and after scanning around the map for a while, settled on the low-ish prominence of Poke-O-Moonshine mountain, located on the far northeastern fringe of the High Peaks region. Never done that one before, and it wasn't a bad choice for a fall color hike, too, since its lower altitude meant that most (if not all) of the hiking would be within the type of forest that changes color (at the higher altitudes of the Adirondacks, color-forming deciduous trees peter out and give way to the year-round green of coniferous trees.
Amazing Glowing Fall Colors
The foliage and weather forecasts were not in error. Even the drive down to the Adirondacks was spectacular, with many slopes covered with brilliant color, virtually flourescing in intensity.
Poke-O-Moonshine mountain is a favorite of rock climbers, owing to its easily accessed prominent western cliffs. Those cliffs are the main thing you notice as one approaches from the north. Although the I-87 northway runs near the base of Poke-O-Moonshine, to access the trailhead (or rather, trailheads), you must get off the interstate and drive for a bit along US-9 (either via exit 32 from the south or 33 from the north).
Now, Poke-O-Moonshine has two trails - an older, shorter, more direct trail and a newer longer, more gradual trail. Seeing as I'd never visited Poke-O-Moonshine before, I wanted to do both and experience all of the mountains trails in one go. Start point today: the southern trailhead (i.e. the longer route).
Given how beautiful a day it was, and peak the fall colors were at the moment, I was half expecting the parking lot to be jammed. Was presently suprised to discover only 5 or 6 cars in the lot. Perhaps there would be some unexpected measure of solitude today.
The southern Poke-O-Moonshine approach trail (which is claimed to be about 2.4 miles / 4km long) starts off as a very unassuming little forest path, even less visible than normal due to the fallen leaves. After wandering through the forest mostly on the flat, the trail joined up with a wider laneway through the forest, which must have been the old jeep road that I had seen described in some of the trail descriptions.
Except for a few minor bits, the trail follows the old jeep road west, then hops over onto another old jeep road heading north, which gets you heading towards Poke-O-Moonshine itself. Since it's an old jeep road, the grade is always vehicle-capable, meaning not ever all that steep hiking-wise. Under the carpet of fallen leaves were some small loose rounded stones, but nothing that made hiking overly tedious. There were a couple of open areas, one before the mile and a half mark, where the trail crosses an area of beaver bond and/or marshland. With the moderate altitude (meaning deciduous trees), the colors bordering this open area were great.
The other open area was another 300 feet higher and about 400 yards further up the trail. A smaller but more distinct beaver pond nestled underneath the southern escarpment of Poke-O-Moonshine's summit. With perfect light from low October sun and brilliant fall colors bursting from nearly every tree along the pond's shoreline, it was a fantastically scenic spot today.
Beyond the upper beaver pond, the trail soon begins to level out. Poke-O-Moonshine is not all that high (at about 2200 feet ASL) and the trail is already at this point over 1800 feet high. As the trail flattens out, it becomes especially smooth and perfect, leading ahead through a beautiful (in this case) fall forest. Off to the right one could sense the open air of a dropoff in the land and a view to the south (but not quite enjoyable as such, given a layer of trees in the way).
Poke-O-Moonshine Observer Cabin
In a few minutes, the trail reached the junction of the short and long trails. The two trail variants end, and from here a single trail leads up the final bit of terrain to Poke-O-Moonshine's summit. Also at this junction there was an Adirondack Lean-to and an outhouse. And an extremely .... let's say... rambunctious family crawling all over and on top of and in it.
The final bit of trail to the top is short, but there are several things to see along the way. The first are the ruins of the old fire tower observer's cabin - mostly the foundation and a well-preserved chimney. Then a few nice wooden trail stairs and one arrives at an extremely nice ledge that provides views south and west. And what views today! looking south and west towards Whiteface, whose pointy tip is visible in the far distance, one gazes over an amazing undulating carpet of color. Just fantastic.
The ledge is quite spacious and long, and there's a perfect little path leads farther and farther west to several very isolated and perfectly picturesque little open lookouts. Perfect for a pre-summit lunch.
Autumn in the Adirondacks
From the near-summit ledges to the actual summit is a very short walk farther along the trail, with only one brief steep uphill section. Above that, the path returns to easy, smooth flatness through a deciduous forest, as you've basically reached Poke-O-Moonshine's broad dome-like summit. A couple of minutes of walking brings you to the bare cleared out bedrock section that overlooks the precipitous eastern slopes of the mountain. The fire tower is affixed to the solid bedrock here. You can climb the steps, but for some reason the actual observation platform is closed and locked (unlike most other ADK fire towers these days).
There are still great views from the top of the stairs just below the observation deck, and I take shots looking out in several directions. The nearby summit ledge, while it looks very attractive, is teeming with a bit too much humanity for my liking - so a shot of it from above will have to do.
In order to complete our full exploration of Poke-O-Moonshine's "trail system", the short trail needed to be taken on the way down. Once back down at the lean-to, the junction is reached and I turned left, down onto the shorter trail variant.
Not much going on at first
Now, before doing this hike today, I had done a bit of research on other peoples' impressions of the Poke-O-Moonshine trails. And I had read that the longer trail variant had been constructed in order to provide a more gradual, less rough, less precipitous experience.... and to reduce the major erosion that was occurring on the shorter variant. That gave me the impression that the shorter variant was super steep and super eroded. And frankly I'd had enough of steep and super-eroded Adirondack trails. I was still planning to descend the steep trail -- in the interest of personal exploration -- but I was mentally ready for the worst.
Excellent rock-lined path