Winter Adventures on the Northville-Placid Trail

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on the Northville-Placid Trail

The Northville-Placid Trail (NPT) is a 138-mile-long path through the Adirondack Park. While thousands have thru- or section-hiked the trail in the summer months, the NPT in the winter sees much lower traffic. With most sections leading to remote areas of the park, snow conditions being deep, and distances often long to get to your destination, winter brings about the need to plan and prepare if you want to have a successful day out. 

With all of this in mind, enjoyable experiences can be had in the Wilderness Areas that the NPT connects, and there are plenty of options for short half-day skis and snowshoes. Connect with the Northville-Placid Trail on its 100th Anniversary, and celebrate its history by making some snowy memories on it.

A blue trailmarker on a tree in the winter

Woods Lake - 0.6 miles round-trip 

Woods Lake, with the popular Lapland Lake XC Ski Center located near its northwest banks, is a short hike along a stretch of trail created in 2013 as part of a rerouting effort for this section of the NPT. After signing in at the trail register, you have the option to veer left at the first junction and follow red trail markers for Wood’s Lake. However, for the full NPT experience, keep right and follow those bright blue markers for a bit over a quarter of a mile. You’ll reach a designated campsite near Woods Lake, with exceptional views of Little Cathead, and I recommend you explore the shoreline to appreciate how wild this backcountry pond feels for being less than a half mile from a road. If the ice is thick enough, you could even get out onto the lake, which is ringed by tall white pines and hemlocks.  

If the short hike along the NPT goes by too quickly, you can always head back and then take the trail with red markers down to another vantage point of the lake! Another pro tip, if you're driving here from the north, stop in at Wells Edge Country Store for some snacks and lunch to eat lakeside.

A close up shot of a snowshoe

Catlin Bay lean-tos - 2.8 miles roundtrip, 425 feet of elevation gain

From the Tarbell Road NPT trailhead, both of the Catlin Bay lean-tos are a short snowshoe over rolling terrain, which might also make this a great cross-country ski. The snowshoe out to these lean-tos might seem a bit backward compared to most, with the descent coming first. After a bit over a half mile of descent, you’ll cross the outlet for Polliwog Pond, then ascend a small hill, before continuing the descent to reach the first lean-to at 1.3 miles in. If you are interested in winter camping, choose this first lean-to, as it is better sheltered from wind than the scenic lean-to you’ll want to check out by the water.

The lean-to by the water is gotten to via a spur trail that heads left (west) from near the lean-to further into the woods. Once there, take in the views of Long Lake, and the bays on either side, with a bit of lunch from the ADK Trading Post in Long Lake. You’ll need some extra energy for the way back, which is when you’ll get in all your uphill!

Two backpackers walking through the woods in the winter

Three Brook Ski Loop - 2 to 5.2 miles RT

Just on the other side of the road from the last adventure is a great walk through the woods, without a real end point. Instead, it’s a chance to experience some wonderful bog bridging that flows through a low-lying area in the Blue Ridge Wild Forest. You can choose to go until the bog bridging ends, or better yet, join the Three Brook Ski Loop for a lovely snowshoe or cross-country ski. 

Once you leave the road, you’ll almost immediately be treated with the spectacular bog bridging (although it may be a little covered by snow!). If you are looking to do the Three Brook Ski Loop, take your first right at 1.5 miles, and then a left after another 0.5 miles. This area is a bit hilly, so ski thoughtfully. After 3 total miles, you hop back onto the NPT and follow it back to the trailhead. This section is nearly all downhill and can make for a wonderful ski back to the car. 

A bog bridge covered in snow

Stephens Pond - 6.5 miles round-trip

If you’re looking for a bit longer trip than the previous one, Stephens Pond is a good choice, with your destination being a backcountry lean-to located adjacent to a pristine pond. The start is a parking area just outside of the Lake Durant Campground. It is closed in the winter months, and wandering through the closed area during this season is a special experience. Usually filled with the sounds of crackling campfires and vehicles going to and from sites, the campground goes quiet in the winter. From the parking area, the trail enters the campground at 0.2 miles and follows the main campground road along the shore of Lake Durant. At 0.5 miles the trail veers left off the road after site #3 and leads into the woods. At 2.8 miles, the trail turns left down towards Stephens Pond, descending sharply compared to the rest of the trail. This trail does receive some traffic in the winter, but once at the lean-to, you can continue a few more steps to the pond and explore the scenic shoreline. If you decide to cross-country ski here, be mindful of the last descent to the lean-to, and consider combining Stephens Pond with Cascade Pond

A person skiing through the woods

NPT100 and Leave No Trace

With 2024 being the Northville-Placid Trail’s 100th birthday, celebrating it is at the front of our minds. It’s also a great chance to recognize that what makes this trail so special, its wildness, can also make it a bit more difficult to recreate in the winter. Much of the trail, especially towards its center, is at the edge of lake-effect snow and can see a serious build-up of snowpack. The NPT is dotted with picturesque ponds, bogs, and babbling streams, which in the summer can be a welcome reprieve from the heat, but in the winter can add to the risk of hypothermia if fallen into. Taking all of this into consideration before you go on a winter NPT adventure is a necessary part of winter trip planning. With diligent trip planning, you can increase your odds of a safe, fun, and successful ski or snowshoe this winter on the Northville-Placid Trail. And if you’re looking to connect with the NPT a bit more, and learn about thru-hiking from the experts, consider taking a guided trip with the Adirondack Mountain Club this coming summer!

Thank you to Mary Glynn for providing winter NPT photos! She’s one of the only people to have section-hiked the entire trail in the winter, read more about her time on the NPT here.