Illustration by Brucie Rosch

Babbling brooks, peepers and loons—hiking for an Adirondack soundtrack

arly last spring,
in places where it was normally loud, it was often nearly silent. There was little automobile traffic and few open businesses. And people, if they left their homes at all, were not stopping to chat. The pandemic locked things down and locked us in. As the snowpack melted and the weeks dragged on, the urge to do something outdoors, away from all of the stress and nothingness, became overwhelming. When the state deemed it safe, the beauty of the Adirondack Park was there, unchanged by COVID-19. But there was a twist: an outdoor escape still brought peace, but not, we now noticed, quiet. Sprung from the muted human-made world into some easy-to-find yet quirky corners near the eastern edge of the park, we could hear, and really appreciate, the din of nature, carrying on. And we realized this happens every year, and that every year it’s worth a listen.

Wickham Marsh

From the road, it’s a large, nondescript swamp, which would empty gracefully into Lake Champlain near Port Kent but for a two-lane blacktop and a rail line that gum up the delta. Yet just a few feet from the parking area, a flat trail opens onto an 862-acre landscape purposefully preserved by the Department of Environmental Conservation for wildlife, especially waterfowl, with a specially developed grassland adjacent to the marsh for birds needing drier nesting grounds. In spring, the marsh provides an amphitheater for a glorious cacophony of northbound geese enjoying a sheltered rest stop; for clucking mallards wending their way through open water between the cattail stands; and for bullfrogs whose croaks seem capable of carrying across the lake to Vermont. All of this joyful spring noise clatters over a pulsating hum of what sounds like millions of insects—which thankfully aren’t biting yet. And out in the middle, on a tree snag, is a male red-winged blackbird, a divo singing solo, rising above the chorus.

If You Go: The preserve has three entrances, with the most direct access to the marsh at the trailhead on Giddings Road along the shore of Lake Champlain, north of Port Kent.

Cheney Mountain

We came for the unusual views—an overlook of what was a massive mining operation in Moriah with its High Peaks backdrop, as well as a spectacular southeastern vista featuring the Crown Point Bridge on Lake Champlain. But we stayed for the spring peepers, thousands of randy little frogs in a hurry to lay and fertilize eggs in the transient vernal pools of snowmelt. The frogs seemed to enjoy a game with hikers: Summit a hill or come around a corner to-
ward a large noisy puddle, and the frogs would go utterly silent. But stop, hold still and shut your mouth—and first one, then a couple, then dozens, then a hallelujah chorus of frog song would rise. It immediately hushed again at the slightest movement, at least until the intruders (peeping Toms?) were far enough away for the amphibians to resume the urgent, blaring business of reproduction. And those views were a nice bonus.

If You Go: The trailhead is on the south side of Pilfershire Road, east of Witherbee.

Spectacle Pond

The pond near Schroon Lake is known for its placid waters and the view of Pharaoh Mountain, but in the early spring, the easy 1.7-mile hike to the pond is as rewarding as the destination. The trail through a mature hemlock forest, with a giant canopy of trees above and their delicate, tiny cones littering the ground below, is a classic woodland trek. But what sets it apart is the sublime sound of running water, with the chilly runoff surging alongside the trail in Spectacle Brook. As the trail rises toward the pond, the brook punctuates gently babbling stretches with the low, impressive roar of demure waterfalls. Take your time. This really is about the journey.

If You Go: From Route 9 near Exit 28 on I-87, take Alder Meadow Road to Adirondack Road heading south. The trailhead is on the east side of the road.

Wolf Pond

On a late-May hike, there was still snow on this relatively new trail in North Hudson, and squelching through occasional mud and ice paid off at the end of the rolling, 2.3-mile route in the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest. Small domed rock outcrops rise from the shallows of the 59-acre pond, a foreshadowing of the scenic ridge that rises behind the water. And the soundtrack? On a breezy day, surprisingly choppy water splashes up on the rocks and laps against the shore. When the wind dies, there are fish, probably brook trout, breaking the surface of the water and creating their own ripples as they hunt for bugs. The piping call of a loon emanates from reedy patches across the pond. All of this is topped off by the happy squawking of a family of ducks gamboling on the gentle waves in the middle of the cerulean water.

If You Go: The Wolf Pond trailhead is on the Blue Ridge Road (CR 84), just east of the bridge over the Boreas River and a few miles west of Gulf Brook Road, which leads to Boreas Ponds.

Clintonville Pine Barrens

Sitting atop a plateau of sandy soil left by glaciation, and abutting what looks to be an old sand mine, this 900-acre wood near Au Sable Forks has been wisely preserved by The Nature Conservancy. It’s a rare example of pitch-pine forest, whose trees not only survive but thrive amid periodic fires, as shown by the needles springing from some trees’ blackened bark. Fire is an important part of the pitch-pine life cycle, speeding reproduction and allowing the trees to out-compete other species. Though interspersed with oaks and maples, the pine canopy allows plenty of light for a delicate garden on the forest floor, including ferns, laurels and huckleberry. With cheeping chickadees darting in and out of the evergreen boughs, and gently whispering winds, the barrens’ flat, soft 1.25-mile path is a perfect place for contemplating catastrophe—and regeneration.

If You Go: The trailhead, on the west side of Buck Hill Road, is a little less than 3 miles from Au Sable Forks.   

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