Mount Marcy is a great notch on the belt for any serious mountain hiker. With an elevation of 5,344 feet, it is the highest peak in New York, a part of the High Peaks Wilderness Area. It’s grand stature, and the amazing views you get from the hikes up it means that visitors flock here to climb it, especially in the summer months.
As one of the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains (or ADK), Mt Marcy is covered in lush forest, lichens and alpine shrubs, but this doesn’t mean that all of the hikes are easy! The last part of some of the routes to reach the summit include a scramble up rocky outcrops. But just how long does it take to hike Mt Marcy?
The question of how long it takes to climb a mountain never has just one answer. Especially mountains like Mt Marcy, that have multiple routes to reach the summit, a large consideration into the time of the hike is which route you choose to take, and what other activities you choose to include in your journey. Another factor is how fast you will attack the hike itself, which is often affected by your level of experience, fitness, and how much training you’ve done to prepare for the hike.
In some months of the year, the mountain is covered in a beautiful carpet of snow. At these points, many visitors choose to engage in winter sports activities like alpine skiing and snowboarding. These activities can be accessed by the shortest and most popular hike to the top, the Van Hoevenberg Trail. So as we can see, even the shortest of routes up Mt Marcy can be extended depending on how you plan your activities in the day.
Even the Van Hoevenberg Trail, the shortest of the trails, is nearly a 15-mile round trip. If you’re planning on reaching the highest point of Mt Marcy, you should plan at least a whole day, or you could extend your trip and look into some of the camping options. To more accurately work out just how long it takes to climb Mount Marcy, let’s look into the trails individually.
Van Hoevenberg Trail
The Van Hoevenberg Trail is the shortest of the trails up to the summit of Mt Marcy. It’s a very popular trail and is heavily trafficked. Probably partly because it’s the shortest of all the trails to the summit, at 7.4 miles one way. The first part of this hike is relatively easy, as you set off from the Loj parking lot. From here, the first 2.3 miles of the Van Hoevenberg Trail are rated easy to moderate as it approaches the former site of Marcy Dam.
From here you can still get stunning views of Wright Peak, Mount Colden, and Avalanche Mountain. If you’re looking for a shorter hike, for example if you have mobility issues or you’re hiking with a young family, we would recommend enjoying the first section of this hike together, taking in the expansive views, which can be achieved in an afternoon.
If you’re looking to continue on the Van Hoevenberg Trail, take a left at the remnants of the dam, which was destroyed by Hurricane Irene. At this point in the hike, the climb becomes steeper and rockier, especially after Marcy Brook, which is about 4.4 miles into the trail. From here, you can cross the brook and take the herd path right to the top of the stunning Indian Falls. Here you may want to stop and take stock, and a few pictures of the beautiful views before you. From here you get a breathtaking view of the MacIntyre Range.
Once you’ve left your pit stop at Indian Falls, you’ll have a moderate ascent up to the tree line, and from here get prepared for some of the best views of your life! As the tallest peak in New York State, Mt Marcy offers views of the state that are unique and expansive. Make sure to take the last section of the hike slowly, not just t take in the expansive views, but to ensure your own safety. From when you leave the tree line, the hike gets a bit more tricky.
You’ll have to scramble up open rock and boulders, up a steep climb, to reach the summit of Mt Marcy. So even though this is the quickest way to reach the summit, you’ll have to be prepared for the climb, and we wouldn’t recommend this route to those of you who aren’t experienced hikers.
Even though this is the shortest hike up to the summit, the round trip is nearly 15 miles, with an elevation gain of 3170 feet. This hike itself will take you approximately 7 hours. If you’re an experienced mountain hiker, it might take you less time, or if the weather conditions are really good. However, if the weather is inclement, your hike might take a while longer, as you’re more careful on the rocks. To climb Mt Marcy, you need to be thoroughly prepared, as the weather and visibility can change very quickly. Make sure you’ve packed the right kit, like a rain jacket, and that you’re wearing appropriate clothing and footwear.
How can I extend the Van Hoevenberg Trail?
If you’re looking for a real challenge, and you’re an experienced mountain hiker, then you can choose to extend the Van Hoevenberg Trail. For a super challenge, you can continue from Mt Marcy to take the Mt Skylight, Mt Marcy and Grey Peak Loop. If you choose this option it will mean you’re not only reaching the summit of the tallest mountain in the state but also reaching the summit of two other impressive Adirondack peaks on the same day.
This lop trails a 17.6-mile trail which is moderately trafficked and is rated as difficult. We would only recommend considering this trail if you’ve trained appropriately for the fest, and you have lots of experience hiking mountains. It’s also essential to take with you some survival kit, such as a compass, GPS and map. Even though this loop trail extends the Mt Marcy hike, if you are experienced it is possible to complete this hike in one day. However, we would recommend starting off before sunrise, to really make the most of the hours of sunshine, and to ensure you’re hiking safely.
The effort it takes to complete this long loop trail will be well rewarded. You’ll come across alpine lakes, the beginning of the mighty Hudson River, and descend from Mt Marcy down the stunning Indian Falls. As with all the hikes including Mt Marcy, you’ll also be surrounded by stunning wildflowers on your hike if you go during the right months. In general, it’s only recommended to hike Mt Marcy and the other mountains from March to November. Many people choose to extend their stay even further, and camp overnight at Marcy Dam, where the loop hike begins. What better way to relax after one of the most stunning hikes of your life, than around a campfire at the end of the day?
South Meadow Trailhead
If you’re looking to extend the length of your hike, or your stay, at Mt Marcy then a great option is to take the South Meadow Trailhead. This is also a great option for those looking to camp for free. To start the South Meadow Trailhead, take the Adirondak Loj Road off of Rt. 73 for 3.8 miles. You take the turn on your left before you reach the Adirondak Loj, taking you to a car park where the South Meadow Trailhead begins. There are campsites around this parking lot where you can set up camp, and spend the night for free.
One good thing about the South Meadow Trailhead is that it’s less heavily trafficked. This is partly because it leaves you starting about one mile further away from Mt Marcy, so it’s not as popular as the Marcy Dam starting point. This is a great factor if you want to avoid the crowds and hike the mountain in solitude. If solitude is what you’re looking for, why not consider camping the night before, and waking up with the dawn to begin the hike? That way you’ll not only catch a beautiful sunrise, and the early morning light, but you’ll avoid the hike at its busiest.
The South Meadow Trailhead takes you through 2.8 miles of stunning old forests and open water. This part of the hike will take you about an hour, so if you’re considering extending your hike along the South Meadow Trailhead, factor in another two hours for the round trip.
The Johns Brook Trailhead
The Johns Brook trailhead starts in Keene Valley at a parking lot named “The Garden”, where you can park your vehicle. But take some cash with you, parking here costs $5. In your preparation, you need to also register with the park service, so ensure you’ve properly researched all the rules and regulations before setting off.
The Johns Brook trailhead is the longest route up to the summit of Mt Marcy that we have looked at. It’s a very difficult hike, so we would not recommend it to those who are not well experienced in mountain hiking. But there are some features of the hike that might make you want to take it, worth the increased amount of time it takes to hike Mt Marcy. For example, on The Johns Brook trailhead, you pass by the Bushnell Falls.
Here you have the option to climb one mile down the steep ravine, offering incredible views of the falls. This stretch is an especially tough climb and might increase your overall hike time for about one hour. This is an excellent option for adventure seekers.
The Johns Brook trailhead intersects the Van Hoevenberg Trail, where you have the option of trails to take. Whichever way you choose to approach it, there will still be a steep, rocky climb up to the summit of Mt Marcy. The Johns Brook trailhead gives options to the adventure seeker, offering more challenging climbs earlier in the hike, and thus allowing you to diversify your experience, and of course, increasing the amount of time it takes to reach the summit. It also increases the length of the hike to 9 miles each way, meaning you should either set off really early or consider extending your stay and sleeping overnight.
One way that you can extend your stay, if you so wish, on The Johns Brook trailhead, is by staying overnight in a lean-to. A lean-to is a simple structure, a little like an open shed, where you can rest for the night. The Johns Brook trailhead is scattered with lean to’s, giving you the option to increase your stay, or even approach the hike with flexibility. Consider taking with you a sleeping bag in your backpack, so that if the mood takes you, you can nestle down in a lean-to for the night.
Also, as when climbing any mountain, it’s imperative for your safety that you are always checking the sky for any indication in change of weather. If the weather looks as if it’s about to change, and especially if you see a storm coming, it may well be a lot safer for you to spend the night in a lean-to rather than risk the hike back down over slippery rocks. Thus a lean-to could extend your stay on the mountain, or how long it takes to hike Mt Marcy, for either pleasure or safety reasons!
Ranger on the Rock
If you’re an avid climber, there are some even more thrill-seeking options for extending your hike up Mt Marcy. For example, you could take the Ranger on the Rock route up the east face of Mt Marcy. The East Face of Marcy is a magnificent area in one of the most remote regions of the High Peaks: Panther Gorge. Any climbing in this area requires a great deal of skill, practice, and of course the necessary kit like snowshoes, so don’t consider this route unless you’re an avid climber.
Just like with the Johns Brook Trailhead, this trip is much easier when broken into chunks, so consider making a weekend of it, and either setting up camp at one of the camping areas or sleeping overnight in a lean-to. Depending on your approach to this route, the round trip could take anything between 17-22 miles. Climbing the Ranger on the Rock requires many techniques, such as bushwhacking, slab climbing, and navigating sheer rock face and large boulders. This route is not for the faint of heart! Consider extending your stay, if you’re not a local, with a night at the local town of Phelps, Adirondack loj (next to Heart Lake), or Lake Placid.
Check the weather forecast
When planning a hike up any mountain, it’s necessary to take into account what the weather might be like. As with any high mountain, the weather on Mt Marcy can change very quickly and unexpectedly. During the summer months, this hike doesn’t feel too difficult, the main challenge is its length. As often happens with a hike up a mountain, you’ll have convinced yourself that you are just about to reach the peak, only to see it fade off into the distance again! The main skill you need to hike Mt Marcy in the summer is perseverance.
However, in the winter, Mt Marcy is usually covered in snow. We would not recommend attempting this unless you are well-practiced in mountain climbing and have properly trained. You’ll need to take snow-boots, and other vital survival gear, which inevitably could add to the length of your hike.
Of course, when it’s snowing, it can be a lot more difficult to navigate yourself and find the markers for the trail. If you’re hiking Mt Marcy in the winter months, a compass, GPS and map are essential. But of course, making sure you stay on track in these conditions can take a lot longer than when it’s sunny, so take your time and stay safe. Inevitably, this can add to the length of time it takes to hike up Mt Marcy.
The simple answer to the question just how long does it take to hike Mt Marcy? Is that it’s probably a day hike! Depending on which route you take, you could add another 1, 2 or even more miles to your hike. It’s possible to complete the shortest route, a round route of 15 miles, in 7 hours. Even 7 hours is a considerable day trip, once you take into account stopping times, and time allowances for inclement weather. As we have shown, however, there are many ways you can extend your hike up Mt Marcy.
Whether it’s extending your hike through lush forests and next to dams, or tackling the rock face and climbing part of the way up, or continuing your hike to reach other Adirondack peaks, there are many ways you can approach your experience of Mt Marcy. However you decide to hike it, make sure you’ve prepared and researched your route, checked the weather forecast, and packed all the relevant emergency gear in your backpack.
Bonus tip: For more information on hiking Mt Marcy in the snow, check out this video!