Lake Road to Ausable Lake

Jared Gange
Posted May 15th, 2008

The Ausable Club’s boathouse on Ausable Lake. Photo by Carl Heilman.
This fourth article in a series of articles introducing Vermonters to the Adirondack High Peaks covers the very popular 3.5-mile walk into spectacular Lower Ausable Lake. The High Peaks Region—the rugged mountainous core of the Adirondack Park—has plenty to offer the hiker, snowshoer, backcountry skier, cyclist, paddler, and climber. There are more than 40 summits over 4,000 feet in the High Peaks, dozens of lakes, a couple of long-distance ski trails, and many miles of lightly traveled roads. The canoeing in the Adirondack Park is some of the best in the country. This is well known to some Vermonters, but for many others, the Adirondacks, accessible as they are, are an unknown quantity. So venture across Lake Champlain and explore!
Trip Summary to Lower Ausable Lake
Roundtrip distance: 8 miles
Total time: 3-4 hours
Total elevation gain: 700 feet, plus a 400-foot climb from NY 73
A few miles south of Keene Valley is the tiny community called St. Huberts. It isn’t much, but this area is a starting point for some of the best hikes in the Northeast: Giant, Noonmark, Hopkins, Gothics, and the Great Range, to name a few. Just west of the highway, on a little loop road, is the fabled Ausable Club. Closed in winter, and for that matter closed to non-members at any time, the Ausable Club in summer is an island of luxury, featuring tennis, golf, boating, and fine dining, all ensconced in an Adirondack-rustic setting with a stunning view of mighty Giant Mountain just across the highway. As it turns out, the Ausable Club and its affiliated organization, the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR), own an enormous tract of priceless land of staggering alpine beauty. Accordingly, it controls the access to this treasure. A gravel road leading from the Ausable Club into the mountains, known as the Lake Road, is that access and is the topic for this month. Closed to vehicular travel, the Lake Road offers a mellow stroll along an interesting brook, and it is well traveled in winter and summer. It provides the access to Lower Ausable Lake, and by extension, to Upper Ausable Lake. Slender Lower Ausable Lake, slotted in between some of the highest mountains in the Adirondacks, is the closest thing to a fjord landscape you will see in the Northeast.
Route Description
From the roadside parking areas on NY 73, head up the road for a half mile to the Ausable Club grounds. From the large club hotel building, bear left between tennis courts to the gated entrance a hundred yards beyond. After signing in at the gatehouse, you are officially on the Lake Road. There is a lot of history lurking here; stories of early settlement, exploration, surveying, hunting and fishing with local guides, and more. Note: The Lake Road is called the Lake Road Trail in the ADK Guide to the High Peaks.
As you walk, ski, or snowshoe along the road, you will note various trails peeling off left and right. Some of them are Ausable Club trails which noodle along the streams and through the woods, while others depart for summits like the Upper and Lower Wolfjaws, Gothics, Colvin, and Blake, all 4,000-footers. But stick to the Lake Road for this trip and enjoy the easy-going climb, as you proceed 3.5 miles to Lower Ausable Lake. Here you abruptly break out of the woods and find yourself at the end of a narrow lake in a shockingly precipitous setting. On your right, Gothics (4,736 feet) and the Great Range tower almost 3,000 feet overhead, and on your left, Mount Colvin (4,057 feet) shoots skyward. (See photo.) The Ausable Club’s boathouse is locked up in winter.
For many trekkers, reaching the Lake is the goal and enough of an excursion. After all, 8 miles (roundtrip) is a good effort. However, for many skiers, the snow-covered lake is too enticing to ignore! Besides, remote Upper Ausable Lake lies about a mile beyond the other end of the Lower Lake. You may notice snowmobile tracks on the Lake Road, and that these continue out onto the lake. The Ausable Club has cabins (for members and their guests) on the shore of the Upper Lake, and snowmobiles are used to access them. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since if snow conditions are icy or seriously crusty, the snowmobile tracks can make for better skiing. Needless to say, skiing this lake is great fun. The classy mountain views unfold as you move along. At the far end you will find another, smaller boathouse. This is another natural turnaround point, as you have now bitten off a 13-mile roundtrip.
For those wanting to continue to the Upper Lake, you will generally have tracks to follow, but in any event you need to pick up the (usually well-traveled) tractor road which links these two lakes. The upper lake is only 25 feet higher, but the tractor road climbs and descends about 200 feet over its mile-long distance. The tractor road offers some non-trivial skiing, as it is both narrow and steep for a short section. The Upper Lake’s setting is mellower than the Lower Lake’s—the mountains are farther away, particularly to the west, giving a higher, more open feeling. Enjoy this place, and then return by the way you came.
Further Observations
While on AMR/Ausable Club property, please do not stray off marked trails and obey all signs. Camping is not an option, winter or summer. Clearly, venturing out onto the lakes is at your own risk.
Note that snowshoes or skis are mandated in the High Peaks when the snow depth is 8 inches or more, even if the trail is firmly packed. No postholing, please. You can be fined for not complying with this rule!
Driving Directions
When approaching from the Burlington area, take the Charlotte ferry to Essex, NY. Go left on NY 22 and immediately right (100 yards at most), to stay on NY 22 South. Continue on NY 22 to the tiny hamlet of Wadhams (9 miles from Essex). Here, just past Merrick’s Bakery, make a sharp right turn, and follow County Road 8 to Elizabethtown and US Route 9 (about 16 miles from Essex). Head left and proceed straight through E-town (gas, groceries) to where NY Route 9 North turns right. Follow this up a prolonged climb before descending into Keene Valley and a T-intersection with NY 73. Turn left and continue about 3 miles south to the village of Keene Valley where there are restaurants, a grocery store, and an outdoor outfitter, The Mountaineer. From Keene Valley continue south on NY 73 for another 3 miles to a side road, the second instance of Ausable Road. Parking areas are in here to the right, just off NY 73. Note: This is also trailhead parking for climbing the Giant, the dome-like mountain that is prominent from Burlington. In the winter, when the ferry operates on a reduced schedule, the non-ferry approach is important. To get over without using the ferry, drive south through Vergennes to Route 17, cross the Crown Point Bridge, and head north through Westport and on to Elizabethtown. Then continue as above.
Jared Gange is a guidebook author and the owner of Huntington Graphics, publisher and distributor of outdoor and recreation titles for New England. He has written Guide to Vermont’s Day Hikes, Hiker’s Guide to New Hampshire and 100 Classic Hikes of the Northeast. His most recent publication is The White Mountains, A Photographic Journey.
Check the Adirondack Mountain Club’s website for weather and snow conditions at or 518-523-3441.
Check the Lake Champlain Transportation Co. for ferry times and status,, 802-864-9804. Basically, winter departures from Charlotte are hourly, on the hour, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and hourly from Essex as well, but on the half hour, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The Mountaineer (northern edge of Keene Valley) is an excellent outdoor outfitter and a great source of information on the High Peaks.
The Noonmark Diner, at the southern end of town, is the traditional eatery in Keene Valley.
High Peaks Region, 13th edition, a hiking guide published by the Adirondack Mountain Club. A topo map is included with the book.
Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks by Tony Goodwin. (ADK)
100 Classic Hikes of the Northeast, 2nd edition by Jared Gange.

Jared Gange

Jared Gange is a guidebook author and the owner of Huntington Graphics, publisher and distributor of outdoor and recreation titles for New England. He has written Guide to Vermont’s Day Hikes, Hiker’s Guide to New Hampshire and 100 Classic Hikes of the Northeast. His most recent publication is a coffee table book, The White Mountains, A Photographic Journey. A Biking and Kayaking map for Northern Lake Champlain will be released later in the summer.