Mount Marcy is the highest of High Peaks, tallest mountain in the Adirondacks and highest point in New York. We’re going to explain everything you need to know about hiking Mount Marcy, from planning to packing and from step 1 to step 31,434.
Yes, our combined smartwatch tally clocked in at an average of 31,434 steps, which means this is no easy hike. Technically, only the last mile is challenging with exposed and steep rock faces to ascend. However, the length and total time of the Mt Marcy hike do give this trail a strenuous rating.
Nearby Lake Placid is a hugely popular mountain resort town and hiking Mount Marcy is our top recommendation for best things to do in Lake Placid.
There are four major trails you can climb to summit Mt Marcy, but in this guide we will walk you through the shortest and most popular: Adirondack Loj parking lot and Van Hoevenberg trailhead.
Let’s get right into planning your Mount Marcy hike in New York’s spectacular Adirondack Mountains!
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What is Mount Marcy?
The summit of Mount Marcy is the highest point in New York and commander in chief of the spectacular Adirondack High Peaks.
In Mohawk, the mountain is known as “cloud-splitter’ but it was renamed Mount Marcy after a 19th century governor of New York who gave the go ahead to survey the Adirondack region.
Most of the 15 mile round trip trail is inside forest, following Phelps Brook and Marcy Brook, before opening up above the tree line for a final steep climb to the summit.
A cone shaped summit is flat enough to accommodate dozens of hikers at the same time and in Summer you will share the peak and stunning views with plenty of others.
Mount Marcy is a full day hike, starting very early and ending in the late afternoon. Let’s take a look at preparing thoroughly for your hike.
Interesting fact: Teddy Roosevelt was at the top of Mount Marcy when he had to descend and head for Buffalo to be sworn in as president in 1901.
Preparing for the Trail
Preparing properly for hiking Mount Marcy comes down to making sure you have the right gear and food / drinks for the season you are climbing the mountain.
The 15 mile round trip hike will take you anywhere between 7-11 hours, depending on how quickly you hike and how long you spend admiring the views.
Here are some things to consider:
- Check a detailed weather report for Mount Marcy the day before but be prepared for changeable conditions. The summit is extremely exposed and wind gusts can be strong.
- Weather conditions will play a huge role in what you need to wear and carry in your day pack, which we will cover next.
- Check Alltrails in the days leading up to your hike to see what other hikers are saying about current trail conditions.
- Remember, this is not a technical hike, but it is a long one and most of the trail is uneven underfoot. Choose the right footwear!
- Pack layers, unless it’s a baking hot day you will need them every time you stop.
- Eat a hearty meal and get completely packed up the night before. An early night is recommended because you will have to get up excruciatingly early in order to get a parking spot – more on that later.
- Do you usually hike with trekking poles? If so, use them on this trail.
What to Pack for Hiking Mount Marcy
What you pack for the trail will depend entirely on weather and season, but for the average hiker in average conditions, we suggest you pack the following:
Food – Do not underestimate how much food you will need. We took sandwiches, energy bars, trail mix, chocolate, energy gels and gummy’s. It was only just about enough and we were hungry at the end.
Drinks – Depends on weather conditions but carry at least 3 liters / quarts per person, plus electrolyte drinks if you can carry the weight. You can top up water bottles at Indian Falls but use a Lifestraw to filter.
Footwear – Sturdy running / hiking / trail shoes are fine unless you hike in Winter (snowshoes recommended). Kristen hiked in these Columbia Newton Ridge Boots and Mark wore these Adidas Terrex Free Hikers. Both help up perfectly.
Layers – We hiked Mount Marcy in October with one pair of pants, one pair of thick Merino wool socks, short sleeve base layer, thin long sleeve mid layer, thick fleece layer, thin waterproof jacket, hat, gloves. That was enough and we only used the warmer gear for the summit. This list works for most of Spring and Fall. However, if you hike in Summer, you can pack fewer items. In Winter you will need serious cold weather gear.
Daypack – Take a comfortable and breathable day pack for you hike. We used our Peak Design Everyday backpacks to carry our media equipment and they performed perfectly throughout the hike. Our typical hiking backpack is the awesome Osprey Daylite Plus.
Headtorch – The first 30 minutes to 1 hour of your hike (depending on time of year) are likely to be in total darkness. Smartphone torches aren’t powerful enough, all hikers should wear a quality head torch.
What Time Do You Need To Arrive To Get A Parking Spot?
Hiking Mount Marcy is going to be a long day, so you will naturally need to get an early start from your hotel in Lake Placid or nearby.
It is better to start earlier than necessary because walking in the dark is easier when you are fresh and more alert. The alternative is finishing later in the darkness when you’re exhausted and that is when accidents happen.
The problem is there’s a limited amount of parking spaces in the Adirondack Loj parking lot and to make matters worse, the whole ‘parking situation’ is a taboo topic. When planning our own hike, getting parked was our major concern.
What time would we have to arrive in order to guarantee a parking spot? And what do we do if there are no spaces left?
We arrived at the Adirondack Loj parking lot at 5.25am at the beginning of October. The car park was approximately 40% full.
By the time we had paid to park, grabbed our gear and signed in at 5.45am, it was more like 70% full. We imagine by 6am it would have been full. Aiming for 5.30am arrival time should secure you a space in all seasons.
Unfortunately, due to the furore around getting parked, hikers are arriving earlier and earlier just to guarantee a spot.
If you don’t get a space, you will have to park at South Meadow Trailhead, 1 mile back up the road you drove down. Therefore, you would be looking at an additional 2 miles total hiking distance.
Directions from Lake Placid to Mount Marcy Hike Trailhead
Mount Marcy hiking trailhead begins in the Adirondack Loj parking lot near Heart Lake. To reach the parking lot you need to take Adirondack Loj Road off NY-73 (Cascade Road).
The majority of hikers will set up base in Lake Placid. From Mirror Lake in town, head South and take the right onto Sentinel Road and follow this until you turn right onto Adirondack Loj. It is an easy route, so no need to worry about getting lost in the morning!
- Distance from Lake Placid: 8.5 miles
- Drive time from Lake Placid: 15-20 minutes
New York’s Tallest Peak Trail Facts
Walkthrough of the Mt Marcy Hike
Preparation, packing and parking are out of the way, now let’s get onto the fun part!
We’ll walk you through hiking Mount Marcy with plenty of images so you can visualize the trail and what you’re up against.
Parking and Signing In
Arrive around 5.30am to guarantee grabbing a parking spot in the dirt track parking lot, note there are no designated lined spaces.
Entry to the parking lot is US$ 15. You will either pay a person inside a kiosk or put an envelope into a mail slot if you arrive before a person is in the kiosk.
- Important: You are still required to pay US$ 15 if the kiosk is unmanned. Post a filled in form (registration plate) and cash inside an envelope inside a mail slot at the kiosk.
- Top-tip: You will need a pen at hand in order to write your details down on the envelope.
Once you’re paid and parked, walk through the parking lot, away from the kiosk and bathrooms toward Van Hoevenberg trailhead. You will sign a register with names of all hikers in case of emergency.
Forest Trail in Darkness
By the time you set off on your hike at around 5.45am, the sky might be brightening in Summer but in early Spring and late Fall it is likely to be pitch black. No matter what time of year you hike, don’t forget your head torch just in case.
Check Lake Placid sunrise times here.
The first part of the trail is flat, easy and beautiful (although you won’t know that until you return later!). You will walk through dense forest, across wooden bridges and narrow boardwalks. It has a Narnia vibe.
In Fall, foliage will be amazing. When we returned later in the day and saw how gorgeous the pink, red, orange and yellow leaves were through this section, we were disappointed we hiked in total darkness in the morning.
Be aware of slippery leaves and exposed tree roots along these forested sections of the trail.
Marcy Dam Marks the Beginning of a Slow and Gradual Climb
The first real landmark you reach is Marcy Dam at 2.1 miles into the hike. In truth, there’s not much to see here but it should now be starting to brighten up, even in Spring and Fall months.
Follow signposts to Mt Marcy and cross the wooden bridge to a notice board, which will display any current warnings or closures.
Pay attention to the sign!
When we hiked, a very confusing notice stating that a section of bridge was closed didn’t really make much sense at the time, but it did when a bridge was closed further ahead. We knew to continue and cross at a later point.
Once you begin to notice a gradual incline as you walk along uneven rocks, settle into a nice and easy but efficient cadence. This is a long, slow and steady incline for quite some time.
Indian Falls Waterfall Stop
After what feels like forever carefully watching every foot placement in between small boulders, you will finally reach Indian Falls. This is the perfect place to take your first real break of the hike to Mt Marcy summit.
Follow the flow of water until you reach the point in which it cascades over smooth rocks and take in stunning views of rolling hills as far as the eye can see.
Fuel up with food and water before heading back into the forest and taking on the next phase of your ascent.
Fun Hiking to the Summit
Not long after re-entering the forest at Indian Falls, you will burst out of the tree line and the trail becomes far more exciting. Follow yellow painted markers to stay on trail.
Uneven boulders with footsteps forged into them, long wooden boards crossing swampy grassland and steep inclines will keep you on your toes. By now, you are out in the open, exposed to the elements and in the hands of the weather gods.
Even on a sunny, warm and calm day, it is likely to be windy up here. A more likely scenario is strong wind and horizontal rain battering you as you navigate the steeper sections of the climb.
When we hiked in October, large sections of boulders on the main trail approaching the top were covered in thin layers of sheet ice. This is the time to slow down and carefully consider your approach to the summit.
Safety aside, this is the most fun and interesting section on the Mount Marcy hiking trail. There are sections of fragile Alpine vegetation which must be avoided for preservation.
Take In Spectacular Summit Views
You can see Mt Marcy summit from afar, which means you know your target and can set your mind to the goal.
Once you arrive at the summit, you will be met by a park ranger who will tell you to stay clear of cordoned off sections of vegetation and answer any questions you might have.
A little further along the flat summit you will find plaques dedicated to the history of Mt Marcy, with some large boulders as the official ‘top’ of the ascent.
You have officially climbed the tallest mountain peak in the state of New York!
Enjoy your achievement and the truly awesome 360 degree views stretching into Canada, Vermont’s Green Mountains and the Adirondack High Peaks.
If you hike on a clear day, your views will be much better than our grey, overcast, dull and misty views.
Weather permitting, it’s time for lunch. We couldn’t eat at the summit, it was too windy and cold, so instead we dropped down the steep section and took shelter behind a huge boulder.
Descend The Same Way Via Van Hoevenberg Trail
It’s important to enjoy the summit because now you have to come to terms with the fact you have a 3-4 hour descent to contend with.
Quick and experienced hikers can be back at the parking lot in a few hours but for most it will be a long and at times arduous descent. Be sure to take regular breaks and top up with water and food when necessary.
It is important to watch your footing on the way down, slippery leaves and rocks are common along the trail. The difficult part is keeping your concentration 8, 9 or 10 hours in because it only takes one misplaced footstep to fall and have an accident.
The section you walked in darkness between Marcy Dam and the car park will feel much longer on the way back, but at least this time you can enjoy the scenery in daylight.
Time for a shower, a nice meal out and a celebratory beer!
Best Time To Hike Mount Marcy
Spring / Fall
Shoulder seasons are always a good time to visit national parks or hike popular trails in beautiful places like the Adirondacks. Crowds are much thinner than in Summer, not only on the trails but also in accommodation around the region. Spring will bring higher levels of water but Fall flaunts vibrant foliage. Note the 7-14 days of ‘Peak Fall’ will be a busy and expensive time to visit Lake Placid / hike Mount Marcy.
Earlier sunrise and later sunset means you have more time to hike in daylight, warmer conditions and a higher chance of a clear summit. However, Summer brings swarms of crowds to the trail and local areas. Hotels are even more expensive and in demand.
Harsh upstate New York Winter brings a different world to the Adirondacks. If you want to hike Mount Marcy in Winter, you will need serious clothing and equipment, such as snow shoes, crampons or snow spikes, several extra layers, goggles, survival gear and extra food in case of emergency. Only experienced hikers should attempt this hike in Winter.
Where to Stay Near Mount Marcy
Most people visiting the region and hiking Mount Marcy will stay in nearby Lake Placid. If you’re looking for a shorter and easier hike in the area, try family friendly High Falls Gorge on the way to Whiteface Mountain.
Lake Placid is perfectly located as a base for the best things to do in the area and is just 15-20 minutes drive from Adirondack Loj parking lot.
However, there are other small nearby towns and accommodation options to consider if you are visiting just to hike this trail.
We’ve rounded up the best accommodation options in Lake Placid for you to consider. Our recommendations are base on top guest rating, location and price, catering to all visitors to Mount Marcy.
Each accommodation has a rating out of 10 as per Booking.com – who we use and recommend for all hotel stays.
- Read: Our ultimate guide to saving money when booking hotels to learn more about picking up great deals.
Click on any Lake Placid hotel name to check prices and availability for your dates:
If you’re looking for somewhere special to stay in the Adirondacks, book a room at Snow Goose Bed and Breakfast (9.5 / 10 on Booking.com).
The quaint B&B is located in Keene Valley, which is 22 miles (32 minutes drive) from Adirondack Loj parking lot.
So, you would either have to get up and set off 15 minutes earlier on the morning of your hike, or do what we did, which was to check out of our Lake Placid hotel, hike Mount Marcy and then check into Snow Goose and unwind after a long day.
Gorgeous rooms and bathrooms, fantastic hosts who make a genuine effort to get to know you and an incredible freshly homemade breakfast in a peaceful setting make Snow Goose by far our highest recommendation.
The B&B is also located very close to Indian Head, an immensely popular photography location. Next time we’re in the Adirondacks, we’ll be staying here again!
Read More About New York
- Lake Placid: 9 Amazing Things to do on a First Visit to Lake Placid NY
- Mount Marcy: See the Trail and Summit of New York’s Highest Point in Photographs
- High Falls Gorge: Hiking Guide to the Family Friendly Lake Placid Gorge With 4 Waterfalls
- Watkins Glen: Hiking the Stunning Gorge Trail to Epic Rainbow Falls
- Taughannock Falls: Ultimate First Time Visitor Guide to Taughannock Falls
- Letchworth: Complete Guide to Visiting Letchworth, Waterfalls and Photography
- Buttermilk Falls: Hiking, Waterfalls and Photography in Ithaca, NY
- Robert H Treman: Hiking the Gorge and Rim Trails to Lucifer Falls, Ithaca NY
Read More About Amazing US Hikes
We hope this hiking guide helped you plan your visit to Mount Marcy!
Have you been to the Adirondacks? What are your favorite hikes in the area?
Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help planning your hike.