Local residents are buzzing with their winter predictions - all the “whens” and the “ifs": Will we get much snow? Will it last? Will the big lake freeze? In recent years we have seen milder winters. This fall has been unseasonably mild which leads some to believe we are in for it “big-time.” No matter, we are prepared to give you some ideas for a few adventures to enjoy the magic of winter along the Adirondack Coast, regardless of the snow or ice conditions. Go get out the gear!
Winter Wonderland, Naturally
For quite a few years now, Ausable Chasm has been open year-round much to the delight of outdoor recreation enthusiasts. The Chasm is prepared to offer you the condition-appropriate gear for getting about. $10 a day will get you whatever is needed - snowshoes or ice cleats, if you haven’t brought your own. Self-guided rim walks are yours for exploring alone, unless the conditions are extreme. Occasionally conditions require having a guide along to ensure safety.
Or consider the two-hour guided tour of what is known as the Inner Sanctum Trail. There you will find jaw dropping rock and ice formations. It’s a part of the chasm that you normally don’t get to experience during the warmer months. Knowledgeable guides will show you the chasm’s hidden secrets and point out key geological and physical characteristics. The Ausable River has been carving this chasm for thousands of years. Even if winter temperatures are somewhat milder, Mother Nature never fails to produce phenomenal ice sculpture in the colder chasm protected from the sun. Where else might you witness icicles in excess of 100 feet? This winter wonderland setting is enhanced by the thunderous music of the river washing over rock as it rushes its way to Lake Champlain.
For a bit shorter excursion, consider the Waterfall Walk which can be completed in about 30 minutes; that is if you don’t linger, transfixed, watching the icy water as it tumbles over Rainbow Falls. It is mesmerizing. Surrounding trees are ice-gilded from the mist, sparkling like jewels. A mere shaft of sunlight will light them up, exceeding any holiday bedecked tree you may have seen. This walk can be done without any special winter foot gear, but wear warm boots with good traction. At $5 per person, and under 5 free, this provides an excellent winter family adventure.
A Frozen Fort Ticonderoga
Yes, the daily programs may have ended for the season at Fort Ticonderoga, but the Fort’s interpretive staff continues to offer special activities and programs throughout the winter to keep you engaged. For an outdoor adventure, and fun for all family members, on February 13th plan on attending Fort Ticonderoga’s Winter Family Fun Day: an 18th Century Experience. Not only can you enjoy sledding, snowshoeing, and skating on the historical grounds, you can learn about the history of these winter sports and how they were involved in 18th Century activity at the Fort. This educational winter fun begins at 10:00 AM. Hot chocolate will be served inside the Fort for a warm up. Admission is $10. Contact Fort Ticonderoga for more information at 585-2821.
On The Water, Solid or Not
When (and if) the big lake freezes, anglers head out onto the ice - generally first in the protected bays and coves. Portable shelters pop up like mushrooms overnight. With a significant freeze the larger wooden shanties begin to appear. They cluster like little neighborhoods over the lake’s frozen surface and the top fishing holes. Some local fishing guides will rent these heated and comfy structures, along with all needed gear, for the day.
Norm St. Pierre, of Norm’s Bait and Tackle, is one of these guides. He can supply you and your family with all the necessary equipment and bait, as well as the shelter. Relying on his years of ice fishing experience, you will know that you are in a safe, productive location, with the appropriate bait and gear. If you’d rather go it alone with simply a bucket, bait and jig, Norm (along with our other bait and tackle suppliers) can coach you regarding safe locations, where the fish are biting, and supply anything additional you may need for a day on the ice.
Another “on the water” option would be to take the family for a winter boat ride. Yes, here in the Lake Champlain Region you do have a rare opportunity for a winter in the northeast. Lake Champlain Transportation’s Essex, NY to Charlotte, VT ferry operates year-round on all days except those with the most extreme weather conditions. Their ferries are “ice breakers” and the continuous day trips keep an open channel. It’s a great opportunity to see what the lake is like in the winter. The open water in the channel attracts numerous lingering waterfowl, adding extra enjoyment for birders.
An historic shipbuilding port, the entire hamlet of Essex is on the National Historic Register - “quaint” does not do it justice. You will want to stretch your legs wandering around that compact little community. Stop at the Pink Pig for some refreshments and an opportunity to add to any of your vintage or antique collections with a rare find.
Two Bird’s Eye Views
There are two specific Champlain Area Trails that offer awesome views and are quite family-friendly during the winter. Pick a clear day to maximize sight distance and toss the binoculars in the backpack.
Belfry Mountain’s trail head is located on Dalton Hill Road, about one-mile north of the hamlet of Witherbee in the Town of Moriah. Generally the trailhead is plowed somewhat - at least enough for off-road parking for one or two vehicles. On top of Belfry is a fire tower, so the trail is actually the former access road making it wide enough for some cross-country skiing if you don’t mind the climb. It will be fun on the way down. The trail is a bit over ½ mile. Allow plenty of time to climb the tower when at the top so you can take in the 360 views.
Another relatively short trail well worth the effort is the Coot Hill/Big Hollow Trail. This trail is accessed off Lang Road in the Town of Moriah. Lang Road, a dead end, is not plowed its full distance in the winter. Where the plowing stops is where you can start on your skis, snowshoes or ice cleats, depending upon your preference or conditions. From that point it will be about ½ to ¾ of a mile to the cemetery. At the cemetery, turn left and begin the climb to the top, about ¼ mile. The pay-off is outstanding. Views look east, over Lake Champlain and Vermont, for miles. You won't be disappointed.