Quick quiz: Name an Adirondack Great Camp perched on a wilderness lake with an easy cross-country ski trail.
If you answered “Santanoni” you would be correct, especially if a 10-mile round-trip fits your definition of easy. But if you answered “Sagamore” you’re also correct, and the 3.7-mile loop around Sagamore Lake is a terrific—but little known—winter destination. When we skied there a few weeks ago there were only four entries in the trail register for 2012.
Maybe it’s the 3.6 miles on a dirt road branching off Route 28 across from the Raquette Lake school that discourages visitors. Four-wheel drive is recommended to get to the trailhead, near the entrance to Great Camp Sagamore. A sliver of plowed space accommodates just a few cars, and the register is beyond the snowbank.
Prepare as you do for any backcountry trip. Be sure your bindings work well, bootlaces are intact, poles are ready for action (big baskets are best for the deep snow you may encounter). Your pack should include food, water, extra mittens and warm layers, a topo map, GPS or compass, flashlight, matches and so forth. Once you’ve put on your gear sign the register.
The main trail is gentle, passing between rocky ledges and the lakeshore, then heading through old fields and clearings. Other trails intersect; there are few markers or directional signs so your map and GPS could get a good workout if you choose to explore these other routes to the old sugarbush and powerhouse. If you go clockwise, keeping Sagamore Lake on your right, you’ll end up back at your car after about an hour and a half in truly lovely country. You may need to break trail if there is a lot of fresh snow; take turns doing this so the trudge is offset by chances to glide. Allow more time for the circle too. In early February there was some blowdown on the trail but it was minimal compared to stretches of the Northville-Placid Trail in the central Adirondacks.
Another trail in the vicinity goes to the falls on Raquette Lake’s South Inlet, where the old Sagamore powerhouse operated a small hydro plant. The trailhead is about 2.9 miles from Route 28, so you could ski the Sagamore Lake loop and then try the out-and-back three miles to South Inlet.
Great Camp Santanoni remains a premier ski trip; Newcomb often has better snow than Tupper or Saranac Lakes. Because of its popularity the ten-mile out-and-back on a fine old carriage road is usually tracked out quickly after a storm. It’s unlikely you’ll enjoy the solitude of Sagamore Lake but you’ll pass the historic farmstead just over a mile into your trip, and the Great Camp, above pristine Newcomb Lake, is the best place for a midway lunch. There are even picnic tables on the huge porches.