Adirondack Hike: Seward, Donaldson and Emmons

Updated on September 12, 2019
The Seward Range, viewed from Seymour Mountain (from left to right - Emmons, Donaldson, then Seward)
The Seward Range, viewed from Seymour Mountain (from left to right - Emmons, Donaldson, then Seward)

The Basics

We completed this hike on an eighty degree, mostly sunny day in early July of 2019. The hike took us nine and a half hours and our fitbits read between twenty and twenty-one miles. We consumed close to four liters of water on the hike, although there is plenty of opportunity to refill due to the trail following a brook for a good part of the hike.

Seward is the twenty-fourth highest of the forty-six Adirondack High Peaks with an elevation of 4,361 feet. Donaldson ranks thirty-third at 4,140 feet and Emmons is fortieth at 4,040 feet.

What makes these peaks less traveled is that it's a hike to get to them and the terrain at the top is swampy and very buggy.

As a side note, we had done Seymour earlier in the season, so we did this hike as a day trip without worrying about camping out. I have provided the link to that trip report at the end for those that want to see it.

The Overview of the Sewards and Seymour Mountain with our estimated route in red
The Overview of the Sewards and Seymour Mountain with our estimated route in red | Source

Getting There

For us, we traveled up from the west, so we took route 3 in to Tupper Lake. After making a stop at the McDonald's there to gear up so that the bugs wouldn't get us while doing so at the trail head. We put on our bug spray, then realized that we couldn't breath in the car after having applied it, and vowed to wait until the trail head next time.

We kept going east for about seven miles until coming to Corey's Road on the right side. Corey's Road will start paved but turns into a rocky dirt road that winds for about fifteen minutes until you find the parking lot on the right side. It is very well marked.

We pulled in to the parking area around 9:10 a.m., with July 3 being a Wednesday. There were only seven cars in the lot when we pulled in and parking was ample. We only needed to grab a few things and were signed in at 9:15 a.m. and on trail.

We had been on this first part of the hike and knew it was twenty minutes to a point where the trails split. The trail to the left goes towards Seymour and the trail to the right to the Calkins Brook Herd Path. There are little yellow markers with horses on them so we dubbed this part the horse trail.

Stay right instead of following the trail sign
Stay right instead of following the trail sign
Friends Along the Way
Friends Along the Way

This next section heads up through a bit of mud, levels off, but then rolls a bit with two light declines in there that you're going to love on the way back. We started seeing plenty of toads on the trail and managed a close up with one of them. This little section took us fifteen minutes and dumps out onto a double lane trail.

The Sign after the Horse Trail
The Sign after the Horse Trail
The Steep, Stony Section and Hour In
The Steep, Stony Section and Hour In

The next forty minutes is a gentle walk in the woods as the trail has a slight decline for the first part, but eventually comes to a steeper, stonier declining section (see above) an hour into the hike. Fifteen minutes after that, we arrived at the bucket cairn (see video below) that signified the Calkins Brook Herd Path that would take us up the mountain.

The initial section of the herd path is easy and you end up crossing over to put the brook on your left side. Then the elevation begins. It's a lot like Marshall during this part, just constant incline, with spots of mud, but nothing too steep and technical as you take the trail that runs above the brook.

One difference we noted was that while the herd path is very easy to follow, it remains pretty tight on the sides and expect to be scratched up a bit more than Marshall.

Stream Crossings
Stream Crossings
Additional Donaldson Ascent Terrain
Additional Donaldson Ascent Terrain

One hour in from the bucket cairn, there is another brook crossing and thirty minutes after that, one last one. The trail heads across Donaldson, moving towards Seward and you can see it on your left as you're heading up. Once you hit this last brook crossing, you're only about thirty minutes from the summit of Donaldson.

Views of Seward from the Climb
Views of Seward from the Climb
The Last Bit Before the Cairn to Seward
The Last Bit Before the Cairn to Seward

After that last brook crossing, the mud kicked in and the bugs came out in full force. There were a few bugs on the lower part, but nothing unbearable. As soon as the canopy started to open up, the swarming started.

At 12:30 p.m. we arrived at the summit of Donaldson Mountain. The section from the bucket cairn to the summit took a full two hours. Ten minutes before the summit, there is a cairn and the trail to Seward is on the left, with a big scramble on the right.

There are some nice views looking back to Seward and Seymour, as well as out to the Santonini Range. We didn't stay there long as the bugs were out in full force.

The summit sign for Donaldson
The summit sign for Donaldson

We left the summit of Donaldson and followed the tight path through some mud across the ridge. There is a light decline before heading up a bit to a nice lookout point as the photo and video below show.

Swampy Mess After Donaldson
Swampy Mess After Donaldson

After the lookout, there's some interesting drop off to head down towards Emmons, a few nice technical areas of scrambling as seen below.

Back of Donaldson Terrain
Back of Donaldson Terrain

There's plenty of mud on this part as you eventually start heading across and then back up to Emmons. One tricky rock ledge about five minutes before you reach the summit got me and I had to stow my gear and bushwack around it to get back onto the trail.

We left Donaldson around 12:35 p.m. and arrived at the summit at 1:20 p.m., although it was more like 1:30 p.m. for me since it took me some time to figure out how I was going to make it up/around that last tricky ledge. So it was forty-five minutes from Donaldson to Emmons.

Emmons Summit Shot
Emmons Summit Shot

We backtracked back up to Donaldson and reached the cairn for Seward at 2:30 p.m. and headed down. The descent down off of Donaldson wasn't too bad at first and knowing we were coming back this way, I decided to leave my pack on the side of the trail to lighten the weight for the ascent up Seward.

Pretty soon after, there is a quick climb up the first, what we called, 'brother' of Seward. As you start going down the back side of this area, you start to see the front edge of Seward, which we dubbed the 'second brother.' The trail down cuts across this second brother until you get between the that peak and the actual peak of Seward (see below).

Terrain and View Between Donaldson and Seward
Terrain and View Between Donaldson and Seward
Terrain on the Climb
Terrain on the Climb
Terrain Near the Summit
Terrain Near the Summit

The trail then starts a nice steep climb and some fun technical areas as you head up and then to the right to reach the summit of Seward. The canopy is wide open with views to look back to Donaldson and Emmons and provides some good photo opportunities.

From the cairn to the summit of Seward took us another forty-five minutes and we made it with a 3:15 p.m. arrival, so all three summits in six hours.

The Views of Donaldson and Emmons from Seward
The Views of Donaldson and Emmons from Seward
Summit of Seward Mountain
Summit of Seward Mountain

Again, we weren't long for the summit and started our descent back down, making sure to grab my pack and arrived at the cairn at 4 p.m., the last brook crossing at 4:30 p.m., and another hour back to the bucket cairn.

That section from the bucket cairn back to the horse trail was grueling. What seemed like a gentle walk in the woods was a consistent incline with a few roughly steeper parts that suck and it took us forty-three minutes.

The horse trail was thirteen minutes and another twenty minutes and we were signing out at 6:45 p.m. in the evening.

General Thoughts

This hike is rated as difficult for a reason. It's a long hike, but the bugs were horrible for well over half the hike. They swarm you on the summits. If I had to do it over, I would have elected to do it during the fall with cooler temperatures. Hitting it in July is not the best life choice we've ever made.

The hike over to Seward was fun though with the steep incline and open views. But all-in-all this hike was a grind and I vowed afterward to never come back to this trail ever again. Easily my least favorite hike of the thirty-eight high peaks we've done so far.

Hiking Product Feature

Sawyer Products SP128 Mini Water Filtration System, Single, Blue
Sawyer Products SP128 Mini Water Filtration System, Single, Blue

This is the water filter I carry in my bag on every hike. I used it last summer when I did Cliff and Redfield and ran out of water during that long hike.

 

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