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Adirondack Hike: Mount Marshall

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The Basics

Let's start with a brief summary of this hike. My hiking partner and I started at South Meadows parking area, heading by Marcy Dam to Avalanche Lake*, then along the west side of Lake Colden to the trailhead of Mount Marshall, the 25th highest peak in the Adirondack Park at 4.380 feet.

The entire trip took us nine and a half hours, with five hours to the summit and another four and a half hours for the return trek. We both wore different Fitbit devices that registered 21.5 miles of distance.

*For those looking for information from the Upper Works parking area, it took two and a half hours to reach the cairn for Marshall from that direction and you can read about it in my Cliff and Redfield trip report.

The views from the backside of Marshall

The views from the backside of Marshall

Getting There

We were coming from the south and west, so we took route 3 east to Saranac Lake. We jumped on route 86 to Lake Placid, then Old Military Road to skirt the edge of town, eventually merging onto route 73 heading east. Just outside of town, Adirondack Loj Road is on the right and that leads to the parking areas.

We had already made plans to head down and turn left a mile before Adirondack Loj and park at South Meadows. It's a little longer of a walk to Marcy Dam from South Meadows (2.7 miles versus 2.1 miles), but we assumed that a 10 a.m. arrival would be a nightmare for finding a parking spot at the Loj and South Meadows would have spots close to the trailhead.

As we started getting nearer to the Loj, we started seeing cars parked on the side of the road way before we had seen them in each of the past two years of hiking from this area. On the way out, we kept track of the distance the furthest car had parked from the actual parking lot and it was 1.7 miles away.

We passed all these cars, took the left onto South Meadows Road and another 1.3 miles down, found a spot about 25 feet from the trailhead. It was a little buggy here, but worth it for finding easy parking.

Signing in at South Meadow

Signing in at South Meadow

We were geared up signed in, and on trail by 10:15 a.m. with a temperature in the high sixties at the start. We always wager on a few things and decided that we'd guess how many people we saw during the hike. Kory guessed 40 and I was 45.

The map below has our planned route in red, the yellow would be from the Loj.

Our route in red

Our route in red

The initial hike takes just under an hour to get to Marcy Dam. There are three bridges to cross and twelve corrugated pipes. The terrain is lightly stones, rolls slightly up and down, and wide enough to walk side-by-side. The third bridge, and largest of the bridges is about forty-five minutes up the trail and ten minutes before Marcy Dam (pictured below).

Marcy Dam

Marcy Dam

Just past the dam, there is all the signage for where you might want to go. We were following signs for Avalanche Lake for this hike (yellow trail markers).

Signage at Marcy Dam

Signage at Marcy Dam

A little further up the trail diverges (see below), with the left option heading to Phelps, Tabletop and Marcy and the right to Colden and Avalanche Lake.

Stay right to head up to Avalanche Lake

Stay right to head up to Avalanche Lake

The next section is a lightly inclined creek bed, hopping from stone to stone as you follow the stream up that will be on your right side. The map says it's eight-tenths of a mile until the split for Colden and Avalanche Lake trails and it took us twenty-seven minutes to do this leg of the hike.

Literally a minute after the bridge, we came to the junction for the trails (see below) up to Colden and Avalanche Lake. The trail to the right was the one we wanted.

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The trail winds up and to the right before eventually plateauing out and splitting between the rocks as shown in the next picture.

Yellow trail markers on the terrain

Yellow trail markers on the terrain

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The trails starts heading down towards the lake and the scenery up above is daunting. We arrived at Avalanche Lake right at the two-hour mark (12:15 p.m.)

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake

The trail heads around the right side of the lake, giving great views of the stone wall of Colden. This is the fun part of the hike as you need to climb up and over ladders and rocks.

Early in the trek around Avalanche Lake

Early in the trek around Avalanche Lake

We passed a bunch of people in this section, including some trail crew hard at work making the path clear for hikers. Ten minutes along the lake, you can look right up the Trap Dike (see below) of Colden and how tricky that ascent would be.

The Trap Dike on Colden

The Trap Dike on Colden

There are a bunch of bridges to walk across in this portion, including one that has dipped below the high water line and makes you jump to reach a ladder right afterwards.

Twenty-five minutes we arrived at the end of Avalanche Lake and stopped to grab a photo looking back along the lake.

The view from the bridge at the end of Avalanche Lake

The view from the bridge at the end of Avalanche Lake

Five minutes later with a little descent, we arrived at the junction for the two trails that lead around Lake Colden. We planned to stay to the right (towards Lake Colden Outpost) and take the longer route (1 mile versus 9/10ths of one) around. It was 12:45 p.m. when we got here, so two and a half hours into the hike. The trail to the left would lead to the trail that goes up the backside of Mount Colden.

Changing to the blue trail markers here

Changing to the blue trail markers here

The next fifteen minutes is pretty light terrain with very little elevation change as you head around Lake Colden. Eventually, you come to a large bridge and the junction for the trail that leads back up to Boundary Peak and Algonquin and Iriquois Mountains. For us, we crossed the bridge and continued on.

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Over the next six-tenths of a mile, you loop around the lake, passing by a lean-to and a privy behind it. There's a good lookout point for photos with Lake Colden in the background.

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Lookout point at the Lean-to looking over Lake Colden

Lookout point at the Lean-to looking over Lake Colden

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It took us twenty minutes (1:20 p.m. arrival) in this section and were at the end of Lake Colden where the trail heads down and across a bridge to trails that lead to Cliff, Redfield, Skylight, and Gray. Our trail to Marshall continues straight and up a tricky little stone ledge that we had been on the year before when we came in from the Upper Works parking area.

Signage at the end of Lake Colden

Signage at the end of Lake Colden

Ten minutes of rolling and muddy trail and we arrived at the cairn and trailhead for Marshall (seen below). It was 1:30 p.m., so it took us three hours and fifteen minutes to reach this point. Our fitbits read about eight miles to this point.

The cairn for Marshall

The cairn for Marshall

The trail heads in, following the brook that is on the left. It's pretty tight down in this section and expect to get a little scratched up here. Eventually, it starts a mild incline before coming to a nice steep mound (see below).

A little elevation on the early part of the hike, go up the left side

A little elevation on the early part of the hike, go up the left side

After the mound, it's a gradual incline as you criss-cross the brook multiple times and have some good opportunities for waterfall photos. Keep an eye out for cairns, although the trail is easy to follow.

Plenty of waterfall shots available

Plenty of waterfall shots available

We ran into a bunch of people coming down from the summit and they all agreed that the hike in this part took between an hour and a half to two hours, so we knew we had some time left. The terrain is not very steep, but there are tons of tree roots that you'll need to navigate on the way down carefully.

One of the multiple cairns signifying a crossing

One of the multiple cairns signifying a crossing

About an hour into the ascent, the canopy starts to open up and you get some good views back towards Colden. Be sure to soak them in.

The view back to Colden on the upper half of Marshall

The view back to Colden on the upper half of Marshall

There's a junction to Cold Brook Pass after the hour mark and the trail starts to get muddy up in this area as you continue up. Just before the summit, there are a few steeper sections and fun scrambles (see below).

At 3:15 p.m., we arrived at the summit. So from the cairn trailhead to summit was an hour and forty-five minutes, and five hours since we had left our car at South Meadows. Summit number thirty-five of the Adirondack forty-six high peaks.

Summit of Marshall

Summit of Marshall

We spent fifteen minutes on the summit grabbing photos, video, and snacking for the long trek out. Both fitbits had over ten miles at this point in the hike.

The descent down to the trailhead only took us an hour and then we headed back along Lake Colden. We decided to each take a different trail around the lake this time and basically both ended up on the other side of the the lake twenty-minutes later. So, not much of a difference.

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The rest of the trek out took three and a half hours as the trail has some inclines and some declines that make the time to hike it pretty even to the way in. We stopped counting the people we saw after our tally had reached one hundred, but if I had to estimate, it would have been close to one hundred and twenty-five people we crossed during the hike.

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Another good day in the Adirondacks with temperatures in the low seventies by the end of the hike. The last mile as we neared South Meadows got pretty buggy, but otherwise it was nice to get another peak in the bag. I liked this hike because it's like Redfield, just a long moderate hike to the summit. My hiking buddy prefers more technical work on a hike, so he had it in his bottom third of the high peaks we had done.

For those wondering about the trek in from Upper Works, it was two and a half hours to the cairn that signifies you've reached the herd path to the summit of Marshall. You can see the summary of that route in my trip report for Cliff and Redfield.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.