While Inlet is a bustling little town with plenty of shopping, eating, and adventures to offer, one snowshoeing trek — well, three — will earn you a patch and honor as a Fulton Chain Trifecta hiking challenge finisher.
Consisting of three family-friendly hikes between Inlet and Old Forge, everyone in your group will appreciate stretching their legs — whether you’re here for hiking, snowmobiling, or just hanging out.
By snowshoeing the three mountains — Rocky, Black Bear, and Bald (Rondaxe) — you’ll not only get a taste of what the Inlet area has to offer for hikers, but you’ll also take in views of the Fulton Chain of lakes that others simply won’t get.
My friend Christian and I decided to tackle the shortest of the three Trifecta hikes first. At 1 mile round-trip, Rocky Mountain offered a good opportunity to warm up for the second, and longest, hike of the day.
From the parking area, the trail up Rocky Mountain is classic Adirondack. That is, it goes straight up the mountain with little reprieve from climbing. Luckily, the climbing is never too steep, though in winter you will definitely want snowshoes with traction on the bottom or something like microspikes to wear on your boots.
After a quick half-mile jaunt up the side of the mountain, the trail emerges from the woods at the summit; the rocky peak offers 180-degree views, including a show-stopping look at Fourth Lake. After taking some photos and having a quick gulp of water, we headed back down the way we came, reaching the parking lot after less than an hour on the trail.
Black Bear Mountain
After our warmup on Rocky Mountain, we headed to the far end of the large parking area to find the trail up Black Bear Mountain. There is one approach trail up this peak, and it splits part way up, allowing hikers to take a shorter but steeper route, or wind around the backside of the mountain for a more mellow trail.
Armed with microspikes and trekking poles, Christian and I decided to go up the steep route, then over the mountain to descend on the more mellow approach.
The hike in followed an old woods road, marked by the state Department of Environmental Conservation as a cross-country ski trail. While the trail would certainly make for a nice ski, there needs to be a lot of snow on the ground, as numerous stream crossings — easy enough to hop over on snowshoes — would be difficult to navigate on skis.
At 0.7 miles, the trail splits, with the steep route going off to the right and the easier but longer trail going left. We bore right and were pleasantly surprised that the going was still very mellow. That is, until the 1.8-mile mark, where a few cliffs made us take a lot of extra care and time. In fact, unless you’re familiar and comfortable with scrambling and using traction devices, it would be best to avoid this route in winter.
Thankfully our microspikes held, and at 2 miles we popped out onto a rocky outcrop with views of Sixth Lake and the rolling hills of the southwestern Adirondacks.
Continuing along the summit ridge, we ducked back into the woods to take the more mellow approach down. There are a series of rocky spots with great views along this route, and very few spots that gave us pause. Cruising along, we reached the trail junction at 4.3 miles and the car at almost exactly 5 miles, round-trip. While on the longer side, the easy approach and option of a less steep trail still makes Black Bear Mountain an easily obtainable goal for everyone.
Bald (Rondaxe) Mountain
Okay, so this one’s name is a little confusing. You will be climbing Bald Mountain, atop which sits the Rondaxe fire tower, hence the two names. This fire tower was one of dozens the state employed in the 1900s to keep an eye out for wildfires, and a fire spotter was employed for much of the century.
This trail is wildly popular in summer, so winter is a great time to visit if you don’t love crowds. Following red DEC trail markers, this trail stretches just shy of a mile to the restored fire tower, which provides unobstructed, 360-degree views. There are great views of Old Forge, McCauley Mountain ski center, and First and Second lakes from the mostly open summit, as well.
This trail, like Rocky Mountain, also climbs pretty much the whole way, but at a lower grade than Rocky Mountain and with a couple of short, flatter spots. As such, this is more of a walk than a scramble, though there are a few spots along the way where traction devices were much appreciated.
Once at the top, we climbed the steps of the fire tower, which was restored in 2001, for the views. And man, what views! With Old Forge and the lakes stretching out, this is the kind of place you’ll want to linger at taking in the unparalleled views. Actually, all three mountains are like that!
The Fulton Chain Trifecta challenge, with all three mountains, can be done in a day by most people who are in relatively good shape. Although there are some steep spots, none of them are too crazy, and kids will like the quick hikes as well. But if you’d like to stretch this challenge out over a couple of days, you’re in luck because the Inlet area has a number of lodging options for every group size, desire, and budget. Your group can stroll and shop for Adirondack souvenirs or enjoy a great meal after a day of hiking with everything Inlet has to offer!
How to get there
From downtown Inlet, take state Route 28 toward Old Forge for 1 mile to the large parking area on the right. This is the parking area for both Rocky Mountain and Black Bear Mountain, with the Black Bear trail located on the Inlet end of the parking lot.
For the Bald Mountain trailhead, go 7.5 miles from downtown Inlet (6.5 from the Rocky/Black Bear parking area) toward Old Forge on state Route 28. Turn right onto Rondaxe Road and go 0.1 miles to the large and well-marked parking area on the left.