Memorial Day weekend is usually my first chance of the year to get out for multi-night backpacking and I’ve had my eye on a 50-mile loop hike around Cranberry Lake in the Adirondacks. 50 miles can be fairly reasonably (depending on your reason) fit into a 3-day weekend, the loop makes it easy to hike without wasting time on shuttling cars, and you get a patch for thru hiking it. Perfect! We drove to the trailhead in Wanakena and started hiking clockwise.
The black flies were with us right from the trailhead so the head nets were on immediately. There was a little bit of road walking to start, but the roads were little used so we didn’t have to worry about traffic. We entered the woods at the SUNY ESF Ranger School on some ski trails and it was fairly easy, if sometimes muddy, walking.
We didn’t see the lake much, only getting near it once in a while, but the woods were nice and peaceful. It had been cloudy at the start and unfortunately started sprinkling much earlier in the afternoon than anticipated. We went through some recently logged areas near Lost Pond before getting back to the road at the town of Cranberry Lake. There was no more shelter from the rain once on the road for another couple of miles, so we were wet pretty quickly.
Once past the town of Cranberry Lake, we ducked back into the woods into Cranberry Lake Wild Forest. We started seeing a few other hikers here and there heading in the opposite direction. We passed a DEC ranger who told us her favorite (and least buggy) campsites of the ones we were heading towards on Brandy Brook Flow, and we passed lots of lumber that had been brought in to replace some bog bridging.
The rain kept stopping and we’d just about dry out, then it would sprinkle again. As we were getting towards camp, it held off, but then we missed camp. On the map it looked like all the campsites were on the trail, but it turns out they must have all been down a side trail at the first campsite. Once we figured this out, there was no going back, despite sore feet, so we continued on to a campsite at East Inlet Flow, making about 17.8 miles for the day.
We were mostly dried out at this point, and there was some blue sky around, but there were also dark clouds and thunder. We raced to get camp set up and dinner cooked before any storm came in, and we were successful! Despite the thunder and occasional lightning, the rain held off until we were safely tucked into the tent, rather early for bed. I fought not to fall asleep too early because I didn’t want to wake up too early, but it was a losing battle.
By morning the rain was over and we were back to blue skies. Continuing down the trail, we hiked out away from the lake and passed several small ponds. We ran into even more muddy areas as we entered the Five Ponds Wilderness Area, where we’d be for the rest of the trail.
My favorite part of the day was a dancing bird we came across while crossing below a beaver dam. He just kept walking up and back on the log, bouncing the whole time. We must have watched him, laughing, for 5 or 10 minutes.
The bugs continued to be horrendous, making any breaks very difficult Despite my long pants and sleeves, head net, and bug spray, the black flies were still getting me, not to mention the mosquitoes. My feet were sore again today as the day got longer. I was thrilled to see the side trail to Cowhorn Pond and we headed down to the lean-to after another 17.8ish miles for the day. There were a couple of guys with their tent and hammock set up in the lean-to taking up all the space so we set up our tent nearby. At least they had a little fire going. I tried to eat next to it to keep the bugs away but that didn’t particularly work. The only relief was getting in the tent early again.
Our last day was nice and sunny again and the theme of the day was beaver dams. We had to walk around them and over them, through very flooded trail a large portion of the day. I had heard this section was particularly wet so that’s why we started in Wanakena and saved it for last – at least we could take our shoes off at the trailhead!
There was finally a nice, flat, dry trail for the last several miles out. The bugs were driving me insane and my feet were really sore so I wasn’t having the best time at the end. When you can’t even enjoy a break and sit down unharassed, it’s rough. I hate black flies and mosquitoes so much.
We made decent time getting back to the car with a little less than 15 miles for the day. I was so happy to put different clothes on, be in an air-conditioned vehicle with no bugs, and get off my feet. I don’t know why I always think I’m ready for a big hike Memorial Day weekend when I’ve barely been doing any hiking due to mud season. Will I learn my lesson next year? We’ll see.
Overall, I enjoyed the trail, although I would recommend it later in the summer or in early fall to get away from all the bugs. Obviously it’s their time of year, but it’s a very wet area too so I’m sure they hang out longer in the season than most places. The perk of going at this time of year was seeing all the spring ephemerals. There were tons and tons of trillium out and a surprising number of lady slippers too.