Adirondack Hike: Phelps Mountain

Updated on July 18, 2019
Candy on the Summit!
Candy on the Summit!

On Monday, July 9, we found a day to head up to the Adirondacks and hike Phelps Mountain. Phelps is the thirty-second highest peak of the Adirondack forty-six high peaks with an elevation of 4.160 feet. The weather was slated for the mid-eighties and there wasn't a single cloud in the sky.

We planned this as a day hike, so I met my friend Candy in the morning and we drove up and were at the trailhead a little after 11 a.m.

Map of the Turn for South Meadows Parking

To get to the trailhead, we came across route 3 on the northern side, through Tupper and Saranac Lakes and then skirted past Lake Placid to jump on route 73 east. Shortly out of town, the right turn for Adirondack Loj Road is on the right.

We headed down Adirondack Loj Road until we saw signs for the South Meadows parking area (left hand turn). It turns into a dirt road and heads in about a mile until there were about a half dozen other cars and a large metal gate. That is the trailhead and everyone just parks on the side of the road in this area. We found a good spot just past the gate and started preparing.

We were on trail by 11:20 a.m. and went through the gate and started heading down to the sign in book. It took a couple of minutes to get there. This wasn't our first time doing this hike as we parked here when we did Tabletop and Phelps the previous August. Candy had hurt an ankle on an earlier hike that year, so she had to bow out of Phelps and why we were returning to get it for her.

Signing In!
Signing In!
The Route
The Route | Source

After signing in, the trail is basically a two-lane highway in trail terms. There's room to walk side-by-side most of the way to Marcy Dam. The trail does roll a little with some upswings and downswings, but the elevation is very moderate in all areas of the trail.

There were a couple of notable trail markers for the trek home. There is a sign for the Adirondack Loj about thirteen minutes into the hike on the right. The first bridge you come to is forty minutes into the hike and a second bridge is fifty minutes along the trail.

First Bridge (on the way out)
First Bridge (on the way out)
Second Bridge
Second Bridge

At the hour mark, we made it to Marcy Dam and it looked like a party there. There were around a dozen other hikers there taking photos and grabbing a quick snack. We spent five minutes socializing with a group from Lehigh Valley, Pa. and eating a snack ourselves and were on our way.

Marcy Dam views
Marcy Dam views

Just past the dam, the signage is pretty clear. The trail heads off to the right and options for both Colden and Phelps/Marcy head in the same direction.

Marcy Dam Signiage
Marcy Dam Signiage

Shortly afterward, there's another sign in book that we did not log into and then right after the trails split. Colden and Lake Avalanche head off to the right and the trail for Phelps, Tabletop and Marcy go up to the left.

Immediately after the trail splits, the trail is filled with tree roots for a few minutes. After that, it turns into creek bed with large rocks everywhere. It's like this for ten minutes until you come to the a high water bridge. The trail goes by that and continues up, but we did note a nice swimming hole just before the bridge on the left.

Once past the bridge, there is a water crossing that requires hopping from rock to rock. The water level wasn't that high, so the crossing was easy. It was another twenty minutes up the creek bed before we came to some planks that were installed and the trail merge for Phelps. Phelps heads up to the left while the trail to Tabletop and Marcy continues up and straight ahead.

Phelps Trail Signage
Phelps Trail Signage

We spent five minutes snacking and saw a group of eight young men come down off the trail and gather their packs that they had left behind. In hindsight, stashing the pack around the big boulder at the bottom of the trailhead and taking a single water bottle, camera, and snack would be the ideal scenario.

We began up at 1 p.m. and it starts up moderately. It's basically a steep continuation of the previous thirty minutes. It's creek bed, but no really big technical spots to navigate.

Phelps Terrain
Phelps Terrain

We made a couple of stops and met a bunch of people coming down the mountain. In all, I'd say there were about thirty people that passed us coming down the mountain, including a boys camp which accounted for around half the total. I was surprised to see some many people out on a Monday, but Phelps is pretty manageable, so not surprised this would be an option.

There's a little bit of stone work just past the halfway point, but nothing too difficult.

We eventually came to a point where the tree cover opened up a bit and allowed a view back to Colden. From this point, it's only about ten more minutes to the summit and the path takes you in and out of the woods so that you can get a view of what's to come.

Trail Opens Up to View Colden
Trail Opens Up to View Colden

The summit is up and to the right, there's a section right before the summit where you descend a few feet, then you turn and run along ridge until you hit the plateau. Off to the left, there's a hole up on the rock and that signifies the summit. For Candy, it was her twelfth high peak and while I've done twenty-six, originally, it was my eleventh so I showed my eleven sign again.

In terms of time, an hour to Marcy Dam, thirty minutes from there to the Phelps merge, and the ascent took us an hour and a half. The previous year, we did the ascent in a little over an hour with less breaks.

Summit Ledge
Summit Ledge

We had a crystal clear day and there was a light breeze on top of Phelps that kept the bugs away. My first time up Phelps, it was a bit overcast so we didn't spend as much time taking in the sights. Today offered great views back to Algonquin, Colden, Marcy, Tabletop, the entire Great Range, Giant, and Big Slide. Having hiked many of those peaks, I had a greater appreciation of the view now.

We spent around forty minutes on the summit and then began our descent. It wasn't terribly tricky, just a lot of rocky areas and pounding on your feet. We passed a few more groups coming up and the trip down took us forty-five minutes.

Another twenty and we were back to the bridge and we took a short soak-your-feet moment at the swimming hole before heading down and making it to Marcy dam twenty minutes later.

The Swimming Hole
The Swimming Hole

From Marcy Dam, it took us just under an hour to get back and sign out and reach the car. We made note of the bridges and the Adirondack Loj sign on the way out and the timing matched up really well.

It was 5:20 p.m. when we reached the car, so we spent six hours on the hike.

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.


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