So, it’s a relatively warm winter day with temps reaching a balmy 23 degrees. Considering the recent below zero days, it almost feels like spring. It’s time to get out and try something new. And, if there is one thing I have been long overdue at trying, it’s snowshoeing.
Today, my partner-in-adventure is Gabrielle. She’s home from college on winter break, and since Oliver is in school, this is the perfect time for the two of us to hit the trails for something a bit more involved than when we have the 5-year-old in tow.
We hit the road out of the High Peaks and head south for our scenic hour drive to the southern Schroon Lake Region. Our destination? Natural Stone Bridge and Caves.
Now, I have been passing the sign for this attraction located off the Northway exit 26 for as long as I remember. But I haven’t actually been here since I was a toddler (and that was quite a long time ago). I was totally psyched to find out that it wasn’t just a summer attraction. In the winter, visitors can throw on their snowshoes, or rent equipment on-site, and hit the miles of awesome trails on most Fridays-Sundays. (They also have extended holiday hours and can arrange group tours on weekdays.)
We pulled into the driveway and found the Store 'Open' sign. We were promptly welcomed by Greg, who has been running the family business for the past 15 years or so. He cheerfully greeted us and after establishing how much time we had and our level of experience, we had a plan of action. He explained all the little details: how to read the trail map, which routes we might want to take, what we should expect to see, what we should be aware of, etc.
Greg was also happy to share some of the history surrounding the place. It has been in his family since the Revolutionary War when a soldier relative was awarded the land. It went through a few changes of ownership (grandparents, aunts & uncles) until Greg became the most recent Rock Guy in charge.
We hadn’t brought our own gear, so we were quickly suited up with the proper equipment and given a quick lesson. Now, you may be questioning the fact that we got a lesson - but here is where I must once again note how clumsy I am. I had never even tried on snowshoes, so Greg explained how the crampons worked, foot placement, and which way to work the intricate-yet-super-easy lacing system. (No problem, I got this!)
We are ready to go and at the suggestion of Greg we decide to take the Stone Bridge Cave Loop and then move on to a few of the longer paths that connect to it. We planned on a few miles and probably an hour on the trail. That seemed like a good starting point, and a great way to try out a new activity.
Within minutes we are out of view of the office and surrounded by nature. The trails are very well-marked and there are cool viewing spots and interesting objects to spy along the way.
Upon departure we had been given a laminated map to wear (smart move) as well as a card with alphabetical markers that explain different features that we may spy along the trail. For example, the letter J spied upon a tree was explained as pileated woodpecker holes. I think one of my favorite things was the light-hearted humor that was melded so seamlessly into some of the descriptions. To totally paraphrase one of the notes which identified a white birch, it ended with something to the effect of 'watch out when you look up, the tops fall off first.' A true fact, but a fun, informative way to pass along the info.
Little did we know that we might run into Sasquatch along the way, things just kept getting more and more interesting.
While I wouldn’t say we took a strenuous route - as a matter of fact, we weren’t anywhere near the expert trails - there were some decent hills and even an area with a rope ladder to ease the climb.
We were soon in a great groove, and I have to admit I wish we had had more time - there are 14.5 miles of trails to explore and we hadn’t even done a quarter of the property. But, it was time for us to head back to the office and on to our next adventure - a warm lunch and some shopping and exploring in Schroon Lake.
As we made our way back toward the check-in area we took a quick tour of some of the summer season activities which are offered in addition to the Cave and Adventure Tours: gemstone mining, disc golf course, climbing wall, playground, ice cream stand, picnic area.
The store is full of fun items from locally produced items to exotic rocks and postcards. Who doesn't need a new coffee mug to remember their trip by? I can't say no!
We returned our gear and Greg took a few minutes to highlight some of the winter activities. As mentioned earlier, there are self-guided tours which are available from 10am-4pm from Friday-Sunday. In addition there are Saturday Moonlight Evening Snowshoe Tours at 6pm by prior reservation (these fill quickly - call to ensure your place!). There’s also a great little fire pit area and hot cocoa to warm up with after a day on the trail. Yum!
Depending on the amount of time you have and your level of experience, you can expect to check out part of the summer trail going over the Stone Bridge and down to Mediation Isle for a close up view of the Stone Bridge, Sawmill Waterfalls, and ice flows. Other trails include geological features including: sinkholes, large glacial erratic boulders, and vertical ledges.
And, of course, there’s lots of local animal activity. You’ll encounter large trees and stumps felled by beavers, and tons of tracks in the snow (deer, rabbits, squirrels, bobcats, coyotes, turkeys, fishers, pine martins, and more). We saw evidence of this within minutes of starting our walk - of course, we have no idea what we were looking at, do you?
Here's a hint on the below pic - I couldn't make any phone calls until it dried out :)
Natural Stone Bridge and Caves will definitely be on our summer tour list. While I don’t think Oliver would enjoy snowshoeing for any great distance (he likes to ski and run and 'go fast’), he will LOVE digging rocks and running trails and exploring caves once the weather is warmer. And, I can’t lie, after looking at the pictures of the many Tour Adventures - I can not wait to return and actually see the caves! (Check out the summer adventure pics on their website.)
What a great day. Tried a new activity. Visited a new (very old) attraction. Got to walk some awesome trails and got some great girl-bonding time. Now that I have a little experience it's time to search for some other great snowshoeing trails in the Schroon Lake Region. Heck, I may even try downhill skiing again, Gore is right up the road, and so is the small hill in Schroon Lake! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again - I love the Adirondacks and all there is to experience! What should we do next? Suggestions happily accepted :)