JAY - The Jay Mountain Wilderness may be the smallest wilderness area in the Adirondack Park, but that isn't any indication of how remote it may feel while visiting there, especially the Jay Mountain ridge.
I experienced this first-hand on Wednesday, when I visited this area for the first time in a few years. The reason I decided to go hiking there was that a new trail was completed up Jay Mountain this past fall.
The trail was built by the Student Conservation Association's Adirondack Program and the Adirondack Mountain Club's professional trail crew. The trail work was funded by the Environmental Protection Fund and a donation from ADK's Hurricane Mountain Chapter.
Jean Hardy of Saranac Lake walks along the Jay Mountain ridge on Wednesday.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
The new trail is quite different from the previous herd path that used to lead to the ridge on the way to Jay Mountain. The old trail was 1.5 miles long and pretty steep, making it prone to erosion.
"Many sections of the trail are three to four times steeper than the recommended grade," says the state Department of Environmental Conservation's unit management plan for the Jay Mountain Wilderness.
However, the new trail has a more moderate grade. It bypasses the steep and eroded sections of the old herd path, making a gradual ascent up the mountain. Because of this, the trail is now 2.5 miles to the western side of the Jay Mountain ridge. This is a mile longer than the previous one.
Despite the added length, I found this new trail preferable to the old one. For the most part, its moderate grade allows you to walk at a faster pace. The trail is comparable to new ones on Lyon Mountain in the northern Adirondacks and Coney Mountain in Tupper Lake. There are a few roots and places where you have to watch your footing, but for the most part it's in great shape. You walk on a soft duff that is covered with pine needles. It's quite a contrast from well-traveled trails like the one up Algonquin Peak, which makes you feel like you're walking in a streambed because it's so rocky.
At the end of the new trail, you come to a fork. You can either go right and start the ridge walk to Jay Mountain's summit or you can go left up a short spur to a spot where there are great views in every direction. The High Peaks, Whiteface Mountain, the AuSable River Valley, Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains of Vermont can all be seen from this point.
If you're limited for time or don't feel up to hiking any further, you can stop here and feel satisfied that you reached this vista. The hike is just a 5-mile round trip if you decide to do that.
If you decide to continue onward, it will be well worth the trip. For the most part, the terrain is moderate and the views of the mountains to the south are spectacular. You can see the Hurricane Mountain fire tower in the distance and the High Peaks beyond that.
On Wednesday, I actually didn't even bother hiking to the summit of Jay Peak. I stopped near a larger cairn on an open ridge that offered great views. The spot is miles from the road and offered no indication that I was in a wilderness area that is just 7,951acres.
From here, I didn't feel the need to go further. Apparently, neither did another pair of hikers who also stopped there. They also turned around without going to the summit. We were probably 15 minutes from the top.
Overall, if you do complete the full trip it's another 1.5 miles from the end of the new trail to the summit of Jay Mountain. So you go from a 5-mile trip to an 8-mile one. For most experienced hikers, that's not much of a jump.
For those interested in checking out the new Jay Mountain Trail, the new trailhead can be found at the intersection of Jay Mountain Road and Upland Meadows Road in the town of Jay. The new trailhead is located about 300 feet downhill from where the old herd path entered the woods and offers parking for up to five cars.
The new trailhead was constructed by the Town of Jay Highway Department, with additional work by inmate crews from the Department of Correctional Services Moriah Shock Camp and DEC staff.