Watch Hill may not be a big mountain, but it's got a lot to offer - from unique views of the central Adirondacks to a mix of hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
Located on state Route 30 between Speculator and Indian Lake, Watch Hill is an easy drive from pretty much anywhere in Hamilton County. And despite clocking in at just over a mile each way, there are three possible summit approaches and a designated cross-country ski loop as well. There's also a horse trail for equestrians to take advantage of.
Watch Hill can be accessed via the Snowy Mountain trailhead, but since the fire tower peak is so popular, sometimes that parking area fills up quickly. Rather, park at the relatively new Watch Hill parking area 0.9 miles south of the Snowy trailhead. From the parking area, sign in at the trail register and then turn left onto a wide road - the old Route 30, and follow red state Department of Environmental Conservation trail markers. At a quarter-mile, you will encounter the Watch Hill cross-country ski loop trail. This blue-marked trail utilizes the old road but also makes its way up the side of the mountain.
Continue straight past the cross-country ski junction and then turn right at the 0.54-mile mark to begin the climb up Watch Hill. At just over 2,000 feet in elevation, this is not a leg-burning climb but rather a pleasant stroll through a couple of different types of forest as the trail winds its way easily up the mountain.
One-tenth of a mile from the junction the trail makes a hard left at the base of some wooded cliffs. Some maps show a trail straight up, but it's not marked and frankly, looks dangerous. Following the trail around the base of the cliffs, the woods are mature and open. There are some massive hemlocks, but mostly hardwoods that in winter allow for a long sight line, and deer and squirrel tracks dotted the snow while winter birds could be heard in all directions.
Pretty quickly you will come to the upper crossing of the ski loop trail and the hiking trail, at the 0.9-mile mark. From here, the trail gains a rocky spine and the forest closes in and becomes much darker as hemlocks and evergreens dominate. In summer, this section of trail offers a cooling respite from the sun, and at any time of year it makes the final summit push more of a stroll.
At 1.1 miles, the first views of Snowy Mountain can be seen, with its fire tower and large slide visible just across the valley that state Route 30 runs through. Walking just a few hundred more feet brings snowshoers to the final destination, an open outcrop that offers about 150-degree views of the southern end of Indian Lake, Snowy Mountain, and the West Canada Lake Wilderness Area.
While not the most demanding hike in the Adirondacks, Watch Hill is a great option for any time of year and any level of hiker. With its fairly gentle climb, Watch Hill also makes a fantastic winter snowshoe destination and if there's little to no snow, then microspikes or traction devices should get you to the top with very little trouble.
Cross-country ski loop
If sliding on the snow is more your style, then take advantage of two possible ski routes accessible from the trailheads. The first is the 2-mile out-and-back trip from trailhead to trailhead along the old Route 30. But for a really good time, park at either trailhead and ski the old road to the junction with the Watch Hill ski loop trail. The junction is a quarter-mile from the Watch Hill trailhead. This trail follows much of the old road and then ventures a little way up the mountain to cross the hiking trail below the summit.
The ski loop trail is marked with blue DEC discs and clocks in at 2 miles, though that distance doesn't include about 0.2 miles each way from the trailhead, so figure about 2.5 miles total. For a little added adventure, carry snowshoes and from the upper trail crossing hike to the summit for views of Snowy Mountain.
In the winter, the Watch Hill trailhead may or may not be plowed, however, the Snowy Mountain trailhead is regularly cleared of snow.
From the intersection of state routes 30 and 8 in Speculator, take state Route 30 toward Indian Lake for 15.5 miles to the Watch Hill trailhead on the right. This hike can also be started at the Snowy Mountain trailhead, 0.9 miles closer to Indian Lake.
From the intersection of state routes 30 and 28 in Indian Lake, take state Route 30 south toward Speculator for 6.8 miles to the Snowy Mountain trailhead on the left, or continue to the Watch Hill trailhead on the left at 7.7 miles from Indian Lake.
After your hike/ski/snowshoe adventure, be sure to stop in one of Hamilton County's delicious dining establishments or book a room or cottage to extend your stay and explore some more!
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