A straight-forward out-and-back, but this is a challenging trail.
This short but difficult hiking trail to Balanced Rocks and the summit of Pitchoff Mountain can be done in 4-5 hours. Your hard work will be rewarded with exceptional views at many points along this beautiful trail.
Pitchoff Trailhead Parking
Between Keen and Lake Placid, four small roadside lots close together on Route 73 serve some of the post popular hiking trails in the Adirondacks: this one and the amazing hike up Cascade & Porter mountains.
Two lots are east of the trailhead, and two are west.
Get there early-early.
Balanced Rocks Hiking Trail
The trailhead for this hike is on the north side of Route 73, accessible via a short road walk from any of the parking areas along this section of Route 73.
The trail register is just above the trailhead sign. Please sign in, following the directions posted.
Follow the red blazes, which are sparsely distributed. Luckily, the trail itself is easy to follow and there is only one junction.
Spurs & Views
Along the way to Balanced Rocks, keep an eye out on the right side of the trail for several short spurs that lead to excellent lookouts. The mountain across the valley is Cascade Mountain and the two lakes below are Cascade Lakes.
At first, the trail winds through mostly fir and spruce trees. There are a few moderately steep spots, but nothing strenuous.
This is the best view of Cascade, seen from the top of the first knob you’ll cross, right before the trail descends into a small col between the knob and the summit proper.
The slide shown here was originally a drainage. It was further cleared out in 2011 by Hurricane Irene. The bottom section is a waterfall (frozen over in this photo). Cascade Mountain’s bald summit is clearly visible.
Tricky Section Below Balanced Rocks
After this view, the trail dips through a stand of paper birch trees and then heads northwest.
Through the trees, the rocky outcropping below Balanced Rocks comes into view…
Climbing this next section in snowshoes gave me pause. Two spots in particular are tricky. I thought, “I might have trouble here when I’m coming back down.”
I was correct…
Ascent to Junction
After the tricky trail section, which is about 500 ft long, the trail switches back and heads northeast. There are a few steep-ish sections, but nothing tricky. The forest returns to spruce and fir.
Eventually, at the top of a steep incline, you’ll come to the junction.
The junction for routes to Balanced Rocks and Pitchoff Mountain is currently marked with two official red blazes that have been enhanced with two unofficial… white plastic things. One points left toward the summit of Pitchoff. It also has handwritten “Balanced Rocks” and an arrow pointing right. The other red blaze points back downhill to Route 73. Yes, it’s confusing.
Turn right for Balanced Rocks. (Or turn left for Pitchoff Mountain.)
Hike to Balanced Rocks
To visit Balanced Rocks, turn right here and follow the herd path. It’s very short. (A short spur on the left side of the trail, just before the bend, gives a nice view east.)
After just 500 ft or so, you’ll walk out into the open.
I did not expect the view at Balanced Rocks to be as wide and spectacular as it turned out to be…
Balanced Rocks consists of three giant glacial erratic boulders, each taller than a person, with many smaller boulders strewn below.
Several mountains are prominent in the panoramic view.
Starting at left, Cascade Mountain…
To Cascade’s right you’ll see Big Slide…
Mount Colden, eight miles away, looks like a giant Hershey’s kiss. I stepped a little past the Balanced Rocks and was able to see my car parked far below on Route 73…
To Colden’s right, Algonquin and Wright Peak…
Here they all are, together…
Here is some video…
This is an amazing spot. It’s perfect for picnics, for sunrise and sunsets, or just hanging out for a few hours.
This is a major hiking destination. Please always leave no trace.
Pitchoff Mountain Hiking Trail
Behind you, about half a mile away, lies Pitchoff’s modest-looking summit. From here, it looks like an easy climb but, in fact, you’ll soon be hiking a few steep pitches.
Head back to the junction with the two red blazes. Continue straight now along the red-blazed hiking trail.
Although it’s only a short distance from the junction to the Pitchoff’s summit, there are at least two small false summits along the way. Pass over both.
Nearing the summit, the Pitchoff Mountain hiking trail becomes quite steep.
Pitchoff Mountain Summit
I love a good summit boulder, and Pitchoff has a fine one, about the size of a Mini Cooper. It’s right at the top of the steep, final incline…
Up here, the forest is largely fir/spruce. Pitchoff Mountain’s summit is wooded but not completely viewless.
A little past the boulder, you’ll find an opening on the right that gives a partial view of Cascade to the south and, to the east, a look at Hurricane Mountain, which looks particularly mountainy.
Armstrong, Gothics and Big Slide are also just visible to the west / right of Cascade.
From the summit, return once again to the junction with the two red blazes. Turn right, and carefully hike down the steep incline; in winter, it’s a solid butt-sliding spot.
After 1000 ft or so, the trail turns left and heads southeast. This is where you will come to the two tricky sections I mentioned earlier.
In warmer months, they probably don’t pose more than a passing concern. In winter, with snowshoes, on a warm day when the snowpack had turned to mush, they made me stop and consider my options.
The first, I managed to shimmy down by using my hiking poles as brakes and by hanging on to birch tree trunks of various size.
The second spot, the lower one, had fewer trees to hold on to. It also boasted some nasty-looking exposed rock I didn’t want to bang my head against.
I did my best to lower myself carefully — and then, all of a sudden, I’d slipped right off the trail and was sliding down the side of the mountain! I only slid 30 ft or so but, as Mr Rogers might say, it was not a good feeling.
So be careful here on the way up. Consider your own options. Descents are always tricker than ascents.
After scraping the mud off my forearms, I walked out the rest of the way without incident.
I revisited some of the fun lookouts…
…and took one last look at Cascade Mountain in the afternoon light…
…and the woods gave me awesome post-hike photons…
Even in winter, in snowshoes — and with plenty of time for photos and snacks — this hike only took 3 hrs and 45 minutes. However, although it’s short, it’s definitely difficult. You will absolutely feel the hike to Balanced Rocks and Pitchoff.
My one regret for this hike is that I did not continue on to Pitchoff’s lower summits (further northeast). I’d researched only Balanced Rocks and Pitchoff’s main summit, and did not realize that there are amazing 360° views to be had only a mile or two away.
Right across the road from Pitchoff is the trail to Cascade & Porter mountains — one of the easiest and most popular Adirondack High Peak hikes.
The parent mountain for this hike is Pitchoff.
Hey! If you do this hike, let me know how it went in the comments below.
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Trailhead Info for this Hike
Four small roadside lots close together that serve some of the post popular Adirondack hiking trails. Get there early-early.
GPS Location: 44.219249, -73.886938
The map below shows the exact topographic location of the trailhead
Mostly good throughout, from the trailhead to the summit. My network is Verizon. YMMV.