Hiking United States of America

Hiking The High Peaks – John’s Brook Lodge

Last year I had the chance to visit the incredible Adirondack mountains in New York state (USA) for the first time. Located just 3 hrs drive from Ottawa (Canada), its hard to believe that I’d never been there before! I had such an incredible time hiking Mt Marcy that I returned to the region again this summer for more.

A friend of mine told me about a back country lodge called John’s Brook Lodge (JBL) that she had stayed at the year before. This lodge is owned by the Adirondack Mountain Club and requires hiking a 3.5 mile trail from the Garden parking lot to reach. This was my destination so I could enjoy a few days of hiking while staying right in the heart of the Adirondacks.

John’s Brook Lodge

Hikers must book their stay in advance to ensure enough space for all. The day you are to arrive you simply hike into the lodge and stay a few days. This is a wonderful arrangement as you can use the lodge as a home base which offers better access to some of the longer and more difficult hikes.

My friend and I set off from Ottawa one early Friday morning and made it to Keene Valley (just outside Lake Placid) in just over 3 hrs. Since there are bunk beds at the lodge complete with a mattress, pillow and wool blanket (no linens) and our food was taken care by the lodge, we hiked in with just some extra clothes, sleeping bag and snacks making our hour and a half hike fairly easy.

The trail had a gradual incline and was fairly easy to navigate. We were always crossing streams and brooks, sometimes with the aid of a bridge, sometimes just hopping from rock to rock.

About 15 min out from the lodge we met with the lodge’s name sake: John’s Brook. And a stunning brook at that! Although there are no glaciers in the Adirondacks, this brook was glacial by any definition. The water was so clean, clear and freezing cold! The rocks and boulders over which the water flowed were smooth and round, polished by the water over many years. Some sections had large flat rocks and the water flowed over them like a water slide.

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We continued on and soon came upon our beautiful lodge, nestled in a small clearing surround by forest.

JBL is a symmetrical building and consists of 2 bunk rooms that sleep 10 people each and then 2 smaller bunk rooms that sleep 4 people each. The bunk rooms are built around a large communal dinning room/lounge area complete with books and board games for the guests to use, with a kitchen in the back.

A beautiful deck wraps around the front of the lodge, complete with Adirondack chairs. A small pathway winds its way from the lodge down to the brook where most hikers take a dip at the end of a long day on the trails, as there are no showers at the lodge (there is fresh, clean drinking water from a few taps, including the bathroom, but the toilets are outhouse style).

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During the busy summer months of July and August, 3 staff members take care of the lodge full time. Not only do they handle the basic cleaning and upkeep duties of the lodge but they also cook all the meals for the guests! The cost to stay overnight includes 3 meals, breakfast and dinner being served fresh at the lodge and a packed lunch to take hiking with you.

Now I don’t mind bringing in my own food and cooking it but let me tell you, after a long day hiking its a nice treat to have someone else do the cooking and cleaning! These staff members are amazing as they hike in all the food, prepare it, serve it and clean up afterwards. In the off season hikers must bring in their own food and do their own cooking in the large communal kitchen.

Upon our arrival at JBL my friend and I were greeted by one of the staff members who showed us to our room, one of the 10 bunk dorms. Basic but clean, this lodge was perfect.

Since we had a bit of time before dinner, we grabbed a few cups and a bottle of wine we’d brought with us (you can bring alcohol into the lodge with you but they do not have/sell any at JBL) and headed down to the brook. I just love sitting in nature and enjoying the sights and sounds of the forest.

At 6:30 pm the dinner bell rang (yes they ring a dinner bell!) and we made our way to the communal tables in the dinning area. Most of the guests had already taken their seats, eager to dig in and refuel after a long day of hiking.

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We met the other guests and swapped tips and ideas, as everyone formed their plans for the next days hike. Being new to the area, my fellow hikers were a wealth of information. My friend and I decided to hike the Big Slide the next day as it’s ranked #27 of the 46 High Peaks (I’m going for them all!) and has incredible views.

The next morning, right after a wonderful home cooked breakfast of french toast, ham and fruit, we set off to conquer the Big Slide Mountain. The trail began by having us crisscross a mountain stream a few times as we traced it’s path back up the mountain.

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We continued onward and upwards through the forest for almost 2 hrs, some sections steep and challenging before leveling off to give our legs a brief break.

Not nearly as long and grueling as Mt Marcy, there were still a few tricky spots, like climbing a wooden ladder/stair case up a bald rock face. Soon enough the trees began to thin and we were teased with views of the Adirondack mountain range as we approached the summit.

It was all worth it in the end for the spectacular views of the Adirondack mountain range, spread out in all its glory for us to enjoy. We had perfect sunny weather for the hike and I have to say, the top of Big Slide has got to be on the best lunch views I’ve ever had!

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With the aid of our map, we were able to point out which mountain peak was which off in the distance, and I thought about my fellow hikers who must be staring right back at me across the vast green valley.

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After enjoying our packed lunch of PB & J sandwiches, made fresh that morning by our wonderful JBL staff, we made our way back down the mountain. Although we shared our mountain top lunch with a few other people, we only saw one other hiker during our 2 hr hike down.

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Since our trek up Big Slide only took us about 5 hrs, we arrived back to JBL in the early afternoon. It was such a beautiful, hot summer day out so we grabbed our bathing suits, towels and my hammock and set off down the trail that runs beside John’s Brook to find the perfect spot on the water to just relax in the sunshine for the afternoon. We found a section of the brook that had some large flat rocks in the center of the stream, perfect for suntanning. I set up my hammock in the shade beside the water and ended up taking a snooze.

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While relaxing in my hammock, my friend called out to me and told me to look over into the forest. To my great surprise, there was a beautiful doe (female deer) munching on some grass not 20 feet away from me! I managed to slip out of my hammock, grab my camera and take a few photos while she grazed. I spoke to her softly and she looked right at me but didn’t seem the least bit concerned with human presence. After she had her fill, she wandered off into the bush. Deer are usually very skittish and don’t let you get very close to them so it was a very magical experience!

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That evening we had wonderful conversation with the other hikers about our days trek over a home cooked meal. In the evening, some trekkers played card games as one of the JBL staff members played guitar in the common area.

The next day after breakfast we bid farewell to JBL and made the hike back to our car. It was nice to have an easy, fairly short hike after the workout we did the day before. Hoping from rock to rock as we crossed the streams, my friend and I walked in silence listening to the sounds of the forest. I hope to return to the incredible Adirondacks this fall to hike another one of the high peaks, while the fall colors are out in full force.

What’s your favorite place to go hiking?

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