A quartet of Champlain Area Trails (CATS) hikes
Hearing the term “hiking challenge” might conjure up images of hikers holding up their well-deserved 46er patch on a High Peak, but for several small communities scattered across the Adirondack Park, hiking challenges provide tangible benefits. Challenges like the Moriah Hiking Challenge bring in visitors from all over, creating connections with local businesses through the shared love of recreation in stunning settings. If you haven’t heard of Moriah’s own challenge, which features four fantastic paths, read on to find out more about how you can get to hiking these family-friendly trails.
Perhaps the most unique entry on this list, a hike up Belfry Mountain involves just 0.35 miles one-way of walking. The best part? This short distance delivers a view from the fire tower perched atop this short summit. The access to this piece of Adirondack history is special, and something that everyone should try to experience. From the fire tower, far-reaching views to either side of the eastern High Peaks and Lake Champlain will inspire you to explore more of this area, which provides important habitat connectivity between the two distinct ecosystems.
Big Hollow/Coot Hill
Seemingly separate places, this location is actually known by both of these names. Big Hollow/Coot Hill holds an exceptionally unique view of the winding southern section of Lake Champlain from Crown Point to Ticonderoga. To get there, you have two options. You can either walk the unmaintained road up to the historic cemetery, then continue to the top, or you can drive to the cemetery if you have a high-clearance vehicle to shorten the hike. Consider a sunrise on Coot Hill, since the combination of short walking distance, eastern views towards the Green Mountains, and open summit make it one of the best spots for capturing that early morning light on the fog-filled Champlain Valley.
As one of the taller points adjacent to Lake Champlain, Cheney Mountain has a bird’s eye view of the Crown Point Bridge and the boaters below, cruising around on the water. Even as one of the “taller” points rising from the lakeshore, a trip to Cheney won’t take you all day, but it packs history, interesting ecology, and scenic views into its short distance. Upon traversing the meadow, you’ll hike somewhat steeply to the top of Cheney’s ridge. From here, continuing to the end will bring you to a herd path that points left, and looks out over the lake. Going right will take you to a view of the massive mining tailings pile. While not something you’d consider a natural part of the landscape, it reveals in a rather honest way the history of the area, and how conservation efforts from organizations like Champlain Area Trails leads to protecting ecologically sensitive areas, like the space around Cheney Mountain, while also appreciating how folks came to make a living here.
As the longest path that’s part of the Moriah Hiking Challenge, the trail along Crowfoot Brook to Crowfoot Pond is a different experience than the rest. While you won’t be reaching any summits, the snaking trail to the pond is easily followed through tall pine forests, across wooden bridges, and beside the twisting brook. The roughly 6 mile trip is great for every season, with shade during a hot summer day, crunchy leaves for a fall hike, easy grades for a winter cross country ski, and wildflowers and roaring waters come spring. No matter the season, bring some lunch for the peek-a-boo view of the pond at the end of the trail.
Completing the hikes on any challenge list is always a fun endeavor, but connecting with the local community businesses by way of these challenges makes the whole experience all the more meaningful. If you’ll be hiking a couple (or all!) of these hikes in a single day, think about stopping at Boyea’s Grocery and Deli in Moriah Center for your picnic supplies. Post-hike, or after a morning jaunt, a stop at the Red Brick Cafe in nearby Port Henry is a must for their paninis, crepes, or even a late morning coffee to wake you up before the next hike! And if you do happen to complete all four hikes, don't forget to stop in at the Moriah Chamber of Commerce, or contact them via their website, to obtain the creatively-designed patch. You earned it!