Santanoni Peak: My First 46er!

Santanoni Peak from near Panther Peak, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Santanoni Peak from near Panther Peak

Last fall I climbed my first 46er in the Adirondacks!  It was super challenging on a crazy trail – in fact, it’s more scramble than trail in many places – but the views were great and the forest was peaceful and there’s a very nice waterfall along the trail.  Santanoni Peak is the 14th highest peak in New York, and as such, it’s fairly well-frequented by peakbaggers.  By that I mean that you might possibly meet someone; the range is in a remote section of the High Peaks Wilderness that doesn’t see much foot traffic.  The peak is also the highest point in the Adirondacks west of the Hudson River.  There’s no official trail to the top, but there is a route, which I’ll describe along with the ridge trail toward Panther Peak (we ran out of time, so we descended via the Panther Peak route without bagging the peak).

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: 14.2 miles Trail Type: Lollipop Loop Elevation Gain: 3,938ft. Pets: Yes Fees: None

Views toward Bradley Lake and Algonquin Peak from partway up Santanoni Peak, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Views toward Bradley Lake and Algonquin Peak from partway up Santanoni Peak

The trailhead is too small for everyone who hikes up from the trailhead on any given summer weekend.  We visited in early September and it was almost full (mostly with overnight hikers) by the time we arrived in the mid-morning (far too late to be attempting Santanoni Peak, but we’ll get to that later).  The first part of the hike is easy and quick along an old road.  At one point the road passes a small pond, which has the most far-reaching views you’ll find along the trail section of the hike.

The pond along the Santanoni Road, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
The pond along the Santanoni Road

At 1.8 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come to a trail that strikes right (north) off of the road.  It’s well-marked (maps call it the Bradley Lake Trail), but do keep an eye out for it since the road continues beyond this point.  Turn right on the trail.  Within a quarter mile, it turns left to cross over Santanoni Brook.

Santanoni Creek under the bridge on the Bradley Lake Trail, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Peak, New York
Santanoni Creek under the bridge

The trail winds through the woods usually fairly close to the brook.  The trail itself isn’t in the greatest of shape; while it’s very walkable and you’re rarely (never?) in doubt as to where it goes, it looks like it’s a streambed some of the time.  Exposed rocks and deeply eroded sections keep you on your toes.  You’re also ascending most of the way, though it’s rarely steep.

An example of the Bradley Lake Trail, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
An example of the Bradley Lake Trail

About 3.6 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come to what I found to be one of the best parts of the hike: A multi-tiered waterfall that I call Santanoni Cascade.  It’s just a beautiful waterfall.  You’ll be able to hear it over on the left in the brook and a social trail leads out to the rocks where you can see it.  You may have to scramble down the rock face to get more than a glimpse of it from the top of the falls.

Santanoni Cascade - there's more waterfall both above and below this vantage point, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Santanoni Cascade – there’s more waterfall both above and below this vantage point

Only 0.8 miles beyond the waterfall, the trail to Santanoni Peak goes off on the left (west); maps call this the “Santanoni Peak Express Route.”  It’s not marked with a sign, though there is a large cairn made of rocks next to the fairly well-trod path that strikes off to cross the stream above the waterfall and a swampy area.  Keep your eyes out for the path – it may be hard to follow in this section, and I got off of it at one point by following a social trail up into the woods.  It petered out pretty quickly.  Go back down and try to find it again; the trail is there and visible once you’re on it.

Cairn marking the turnoff for the Santanoni Peak Express Route, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Cairn marking the turnoff for the Santanoni Peak Express Route

After the swampy section through a dead forest (which offers some views toward Panther Peak), the trail begins climbing.  And when I say “climbing,” I don’t mean that it gets a little bit steep as it switchbacks up the hillside.  That would be nice.  But no such luck.  Instead, the trail begins scrambling upward at an alarming rate over giant boulders, tree roots, and tons and tons of mud.  How a hillside so steep can harbor so much mud is beyond me.  We gave up trying to stay clean or even making quick progress.  It’s an adventure and a half!

First views of Santanoni Peak from the swampy area before the trail begins climbing, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
First views of Santanoni Peak from the swampy area before the trail begins climbing

The great thing about this section of the trail is the lushness.  There is moss galore, ferns, and green trees.  It really was pretty – and that coming from someone who’d usually rather look at views than a forest!

An example of the terrain along the Santanoni Peak Express Trail, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
An example of the terrain along the Santanoni Peak Express Trail

For the most part, the scrambles weren’t too bad; no more than 5 feet or so.  (If you’re ever in doubt as to which way the trail goes, look for the scratches on the rocks from many hikers’ trekking poles.)  There was only one section that was really crazy, a huge rock slab that there was simply no way we could climb.  We went around on a social trail that wasn’t great but was better than scrambling the rock.  At the top of it, we picked up the trail, looked at each other, and more or less said, “Well, at least we know we won’t be coming back down this…”

Climbing up Santanoni Peak.  As you can see, the trail is easy enough to follow.  High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Climbing up Santanoni Peak. As you can see, the trail is easy enough to follow.

Most of the people we met had started out by hiking Panther Peak, taken in Couchsachraga Peak, bagged Santanoni, and were on their way back to the parking lot.  All I can say is that I was thankful I wasn’t coming down that trail.  It was hard enough going up!

Rocks along the trail up Santanoni Peak, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Rocks along the trail

About mile 5, one viewpoint offered fantastic views northeast across Bradley Pond and Henderson Mountain to Algonquin Peak (New York’s 2nd highest peak at 5,114ft.).  To the left of Algonquin (and much lower!) is Wallface Mountain where we’d hiked up to Summit Rock in Indian Pass the day before.  This was, per me, the best view to the east that we saw that day.

Views north along the ridgeline from the good view to the west, Santanoni Peak, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Views north along the ridgeline from the good view to the west

After this was a section of bog that got our muddy shoes even muddier.  It’s really just a collection of streams and stagnant water and mud amongst the trees in a rare flat section.  Don’t worry; the route will become steep again.  At the junction with the trail along the Santanoni Range ridgeline at mile 6.0, we turned left.  By this time, the weather had taken a turn for the worst, or at least, it was cloudy and rain was threatening.

Views southeast from the good viewpoint below Santanoni Peak, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Views southeast from the good viewpoint below Santanoni Peak

But we turned left and pushed on up to the summit of Santinoni Peak.  The trail was better (or at least not as steep) as the trail up the mountain, but it was still muddy and rocky and required a little bit of scrambling.

Clouds to the west over Long Lake and beyond from near Santanoni Peak, High Peaks Wilderness, New York
Clouds to the west over Long Lake and beyond

And then – joy and bliss! – we arrived at Santanoni Peak.  Or at least, we arrived at the high point and a sign tacked to a tree told us that we were at the pinnacle of Santanoni Peak.  There was no view to be seen, since the peak is covered in dwarfed fir trees.  Oh well!  Some of my group scrambled up the trees to see the view.

Atop Santanoni Peak, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Atop Santanoni Peak

We headed back down the ridge trail, very proud of ourselves for having bagged a 46er and very much ill at ease about how we were going to get back down.  Combing back the way we’d come up didn’t seem like a good idea, but the lack of trail and scrambling had taken far longer than we’d expected.  We sat down to eat lunch on rocks with a view along the ridgeline and to talk it over.

Heading down from Santanoni Peak, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Heading down from Santanoni Peak

We finally decided to continue along the ridgeline (the trail can’t be that bad, right?) over toward Panther Peak.  If we had time, we’d bag Panther, otherwise, we’d just go down via the Panther Brook Route.

Views down the Santanoni ridgeline toward Panther Peak from a little later in the day, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Views down the ridgeline toward Panther Peak from a little later in the day

It was a great idea in theory.  And it was scenic.  Every once in a while we’d get a great view either west toward Long Lake or east toward Algonquin Peak.  Plus the ridgeline and views toward Panther Peak were often quite good.  The only trouble was that the trail didn’t really improve.  It was better than the Santanoni Express Trail, but it still required many, many scrambles, some more than 6 feet high.  Basically, you’re dropping off of Santanoni Peak and then scrambling up Panther Peak – but there’s quite a saddle in the middle.

A very mossy boulder and a very muddy trail along the Santanoni Ridgeline, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
A very mossy boulder and a very muddy trail along the ridgeline

We met a couple coming back from Couchsachraga Peak – both were totally covered in mud.  Apparently the bogs between the ridge trail (which, while a little muddy at times, wasn’t too bad) and the peak were, well, wet.  They were definitely looking forward to bagging Santanoni and getting off of the mountains!

Views west from near Times Square, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Views west from near Times Square

The sun began to set as we scrambled up the trail toward the Panther Peak Trail Junction.  This was another very scenic section of woods trail, and the scrambles were fewer.  A campsite trail goes off at mile 7.3; nearby, the trail to Couchsachraga Peak strikes left (west).  This junction is called Times Square.  Just before Times Square, a great view can be had by looking west – in fact, I’d call it the best view to the west we saw all day.  We kept right on hiking, racing against daylight.

Times Square.  The Couchsachraga Trail goes left,  High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Times Square. The Couchsachraga Trail goes left,

Finally, only a tenth of a mile later, we came to what maps call the “Panther Brook Herd Path” in “Herold Square.”  I would have loved to have turned left up Panther Peak to see the sunset, but we all knew that wasn’t a good idea.  (I hear the views from Panther Peak are the best in the entire loop – but I can’t verify that.)  Instead, we turned right (east) down, down, down the Panther Brook Herd Path.  (Note: Few of these junctions are actually marked.  You just have to know which trail it is that you’re near and go from there.  Most are marked with cairns.)

Harold Square - notice the P sign pointing up Panther Peak.  High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Harold Square – notice the P sign pointing up Panther Peak

The Panther Brook Trail is definitely not as steep or difficult as the Santanoni Express Route.  On a normal day, I’d consider it a fun scramble that’s much too crazy to be called a trail.  But given what we’d already seen that day, it was just a rocky route with plenty of scrambles that didn’t seem to be as difficult as what we’d done.

Boulders near the top of the Panther Brook Route, High Peaks Wilderness, New York
Boulders near the top of the Panther Brook Route. They were pretty easy to climb down, all things considered.

The path follows Panther Brook for much of its distance.  It’s steep and there are plenty of rock scrambles, but the drops tend to be less than 3 or 4 feet.  It would have been very pretty, but we were in a hurry, racing against the setting sun, so we didn’t take too much time to enjoy it.

A little waterfall in Panther Brook, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
A little waterfall in Panther Brook

The sun vanished about the time we reached the bottom of the mountain and turned north and east to go around the north side of Bradley Pond.  We had just enough light to take the trail across the marshy area near the lake (much better than being off of the trail!) and meet the main trail again.  Oh, hurray!!  This junction is also marked with a large cairn, but it was so dark that I didn’t take any photos.

Bradley Lake Trail, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
And now to walk down… this… back to the trailhead

But now we faced another dilemma.  It was too dark to see where we were going, and while we could stay on the trail, it was far too rough to go walking in the dark.  One of my group members held his phone on the flashlight function for all of us, and we stumbled our way down the dry-creek-bed-turned-trail that wasn’t altogether dry and sometimes had boardwalks just wide enough that you didn’t want to accidentally walk off of them.  I brought up the rear; with the little bit of light that reached me and my hiking poles, I did just fine.  In fact, I don’t know how the others managed without hiking poles – the poles let me know what was coming and where I could put my feet.  It was like suddenly learning to use a sixth sense!

Walking on the Santanoni Road was definitely easier than the trail!  Adirondack Park, New York
Walking on the road was definitely easier than the trail!

We finally cheered our way into the parking lot 14.2 miles richer about 11:30pm.  By then we were giddy with weariness and the strain of walking a trail in the dark, so we sat around near the van and ate cold cereal (yum!) and joked and laughed about how little traffic was on the road at midnight.

My very muddy hiking boots.  I'd find out later that I had split the right one across the bottom of the sole.  Santanoni Peak, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
My very muddy hiking boots. I’d find out later that I had split the right one across the bottom of the sole.

So maybe it’s one of the crazier hikes I’ve ever done, and I know for a fact I didn’t do it the right way!  But we did bag our first 46er and now we have an adventure to tell our grandkids about someday.  Right?

A little waterfall in Santanoni Creek, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
A little waterfall in Santanoni Creek

Round Trip Trail Length: I clocked 14.2 miles to hike up Santanoni Peak via the Santanoni Express Trail, along the ridgeline, and down the Panther Brook Trail.  Just to Santanoni Peak and back would be only 12.3 miles.

Elevation Gain: 3,938ft. (1,747ft. to 4,604ft.)

Facilities: None

Fees: None

Looking down the Panther Brook Route, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Looking down the Panther Brook Route

Trail Notes: Knowing this is a rock scramble before you begin will put you lightyears ahead of us when it comes to determining difficulty.  Also, were I to do it again, I’d go up the Panther Brook Trail to Panther Peak, maybe go along the ridgeline to Santanoni, and then go back down the Panther Brook Trail.  Also, note that my mileages may be a little off since I spent quite a bit of the hike “spotting” one of my group members on the scramble sections, and that tends to make the mileages a little longer than they’d be otherwise.

Looking down at Santanoni Cascade, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Looking down at Santanoni Cascade

Trail ★

Road ★

Signs ★

Scenery ★

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★

Overall Rating: ★

Views west from the rock near Times Square in the Santanoni Range, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Views west from the rock near Times Square

GPS Coordinates for Santanoni Peak

Trailhead: 44.0691390°, -074.0618630° (44°04.14834′, -074°03.71178′ / 44°04’08.9004″, -074°03’42.7068″) (1,747ft.) (0.0)

Trail Junction (onto the Bradley Lake Trail): 44.0738220°, -074.0859000° (44°04.42932′, -074°05.15400′ / 44°04’25.7592″, -074°05’09.2400″) (1,965ft.) (1.80)

Santanoni Brook: 44.0771190°, -074.0858400° (44°04.62714′, -074°05.15040′ / 44°04’37.6284″, -074°05’09.0240″) (1,911ft.) (2.07)

The trail junction beside the Santanoni Road, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
The trail junction beside the road

Santanoni Cascade: 44.0878020°, -074.1047190° (44°05.26812′, -074°06.28314′ / 44°05’16.0872″, -074°06’16.9884″) (2,623ft.) (3.60)

Santanoni Express Trail Junction: 44.0891180°, -074.1078640° (44°05.34708′, -074°06.47184′ / 44°05’20.8248″, -074°06’28.3104″) (2,762ft.) (3.84)

Santanoni Ridge Trail Junction: 44.0839630°, -074.1305800° (44°05.03778′, -074°07.83480′ / 44°05’02.2668″, -074°07’50.0880″) (4,562ft.) (6.01)

The outlet of Bradley Lake and Panther Peak from the Santanoni Peak Express Route, High Peaks Wilderness, New York
The outlet of Bradley Lake and Panther Peak from the Santanoni Peak Express Route

Santanoni Peak: 44.0825080°, -074.1309330° (44°04.95048′, -074°07.85598′ / 44°04’57.0288″, -074°07’51.3588″) (4,599ft.) (6.15)

Camp near Herald Square: 44.0951140°, -074.1340670° (44°05.70684′, -074°08.04402′ / 44°05’42.4104″, -074°08’02.6412″) (4,305ft.) (7.34)

Couchsachraga Trail Junction in Times Square: 44.0951850°, -074.1340950° (44°05.71110′, -074°08.04570′ / 44°05’42.6660″, -074°08’02.7420″) (4,306ft.) (7.35)

Panther Peak from partway up Santanoni Peak, High Peaks Wilderness, New York
Panther Peak from partway up Santanoni Peak

Panther Peak Trail in Herald Square: 44.0956270°, -074.1337120° (44°05.73762′, -074°08.02272′ / 44°05’44.2572″, -074°08’01.3632″) (4,298ft.) (7.44)

Regain main trail (Panther Peak Trail Junction): 44.0969320°, -074.1072000° (44°05.81592′, -074°06.43200′ / 44°05’48.9552″, -074°06’25.9200″) (2,943ft.) (9.2)

End: 44.0688110°, -074.0610460° (44°04.12866′, -074°03.66276′ / 44°04’07.7196″, -074°03’39.7656″) (1,741ft.) (14.21)

The top of Santanoni Cascade, High Peaks Wilderness, New York
The top of Santanoni Cascade

The gpx file for Santanoni Peak can be downloaded – please note that this and the GPS Coordinates are for reference only and should not be used as a sole resource when hiking this trail.

Download GPX File size: 312.9 KB Downloaded 4 times

(Note: I do my best to ensure that all downloads, the webpage, etc. are virus-free and accurate; however, I cannot be held responsible for any damage that might result, including but not limited to loss of data, damages to hardware, harm to users, from use of files, information, etc. from this website.  Thanks!)

Tree roots on the Santanoni Peak Express Route, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Tree roots on the Santanoni Peak Express Route

Getting to Santanoni Peak Trailhead

From Newcomb, New York, drive east on NY-28N E.  After about 5 miles, turn left onto Blue Ridge Road for 1.2 miles.  Turn left on Tahawus Road, following the brown sign with the yellow lettering pointing toward the High Peaks Wilderness.  Drive 6.3 miles, then, just before the bridge over the Hudson River, turn left onto the Upper Works Road.  Drive 1.3 miles to the Santanoni Trailhead, on the left.  I forget exactly how it’s signed, but it’s little more than a short dirt road to a dirt parking area with a sign near the driveway.

Peek-a-boo view from the Panther Brook Trail, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York
Peek-a-boo view from the Panther Brook Trail. That’s probably Algonquin Peak on the far left.

From I-87, take Exit 26 toward Minerva/Pottersville/NY-9.  Turn left onto Stone Bridge Road for a half mile, then turn right onto US-9S for 0.6 miles.  Turn right onto Olmstedville Road for 5 miles; continue straight for another mile on County Highway 29, then turn left to stay on County Road 29.  After 0.4 miles, turn right onto AP Morse Highway for 2.9 miles.  Turn right onto NY-28N W.  After 13.8 miles, turn left onto Blue Ridge Road for 1.2 miles.  Turn left on Tahawus Road, following the brown sign with the yellow lettering pointing toward the High Peaks Wilderness.  Drive 6.3 miles, then, just before the bridge over the Hudson River, turn left onto the Upper Works Road.  Drive 1.3 miles to the Santanoni Trailhead, on the left.  I forget exactly how it’s signed, but it’s little more than a short dirt road to a dirt parking area with a sign near the driveway

Visual trail map and elevation profile for my hike to Santanoni Peak and down the Panther Brook Route, High Peaks Wilderness, New York
Visual trail map and elevation profile for my hike to Santanoni Peak and down the Panther Brook Route

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