biking, hiking & history
What a way to start the day! Seriously, I can't think of a better way to start a day than with a 6:30 am bike ride through this amazing section of the Horseshoe Wild Forest. I say ride because my main goal for this trip was to test out my new bike. However, based on the trail that we chose, a great hike, spectator views, and even a little history were the icing on the cake of this early-morning adventure. But let's back up a little bit...
It was 6:00 am, I just picked up my niece, and we were excited to meet up with some friends at Horseshoe Lake for a bike ride into Low's Upper Dam. The drive from Tupper Lake to Horseshoe at this early hour was beautiful, to say the least. As we passed Big Tupper Lake, we could see the thick morning fog starting to lift off the calm water. Along the way, we passed some road cyclists with a similar idea: get out and enjoy a summer morning. Our destination, however, took us off the main roads and on to County Route 421 which eventually turns into a dirt road as you near Horseshoe Lake and our meet-up spot where the old railroad bed meets the road. If I had stopped to take a photo of every beautiful sight I saw along the way, we would probably just be getting there now, so the motion shot above that we snapped along the causeway between Tupper Lake & Simon Pond will have to do.
This was my first time out to Low's Upper Dam. I've visited the Lower Dam many times, which is a great place to put a canoe or kayak in, for a nice paddle on the Bog River and into Hitchen's Pond, but I had one main focus at this point: to get some dirt under my wheels! And so that is where we were heading...
Trifecta Part 1:
Biking from Horseshoe Lake to Low's Upper Dam
The bike ride from Horseshoe Lake (starting at the tracks) to Low's Upper Dam is a little over 3 miles one way. The dirt road is the perfect surface to suit both entry level riders and advanced cyclists looking for a beautiful, leisurely ride. After pedaling for a bit we found a trail marked with a yellow gate on the left hand side of the road. There is no sign at this gate indicating that this is the trail to Low's Upper Dam or that it is bike friendly (which it is). We were pretty confident that this was the trail we were looking for, but it's better to be safe than sorry, so we referenced our map quickly to confirm our assumptions.
After passing around the gate, the trail begins to meander along sections of Hitchin's Bog, a beautiful marsh and mixed forest. We rode quietly for a while, enjoying the brisk air against our faces and listening to the morning songs from the birds overhead.
Similar to the ride out to our meeting location, it was difficult at times to keep moving and not stop continuously to take in the surroundings. But again, our goal was: dirt under tires - so we continued along.
It's about 2.5 miles from the first gate to the second gate at Low's Upper Dam. It is here, as you pass through the second gate, that the history of this site greets you in the most pleasant of ways.
Trifecta Part 2:
The Legacy of A.A. Low and the Horse Shoe Forestry Company
Without downplaying the beauty of this spot, it is important to recognize the rich history of the location. If you've been to The Wild Center recently, you may have visited their fairly new Maple exhibit set up in the lean-to near as you leave the Big Wolf Great Hall. Part of this exhibit highlights the history that once took place in this section of the Horseshoe Wild Forest. In 1892, Abbot Augustus Low began purchasing tracts of land around the Bog River for the purpose of establishing what some refer to as the A.A. Low Empire. In anticipation of maple season, I wrote a blog about the legacy of the Horse Shoe Forestry Company, which goes into a little more detail, but in short, here's an abridged history of this location:
- A.A. Low had purchased much of the land around the Bog River in order to develop the Horse Shoe Forestry Company. In addition to the logging operations, the Horse Shoe Forestry Company also featured a maple production plant, berry preserve production, and even a spring water bottling operation.
- Low built the Town of Horseshoe (our starting location) which featured an elaborate train station and post office.
- In order to produce power for the company's operations, Low's Lower Dam was constructed in 1903. When operations exceeded the amount of power the dam could produce, the Upper Dam near Hitchen's Pond was built in 1907.
- It was a place of innovation. In 1907, it held the world record for the largest producing sugarbush in the world and was the location where the modern maple syrup evaporator was invented. Low's employees were responsible for the evaporators creation, but Low himself was known to personally have over 200 patents. In fact, at the time he held the number two seat for the most patents held by one person, having only been surpassed by Thomas Edison.
- The entire operation was destroyed in 1908 by a devastating fire and the reign of the A.A. Low Empire was over.
What I love about this location is the personal walking tour you can take. Stone foundations from some of the different buildings, including that of the boarding house where Low's workers once stayed, are still there waiting to great you at Low's Upper Dam. But to me these foundations don't hold that traditionally abandoned town feel. Rather it reflects the elegant balance between man and Mother Nature. This is a fitting part to the story since the industry here was once built off of the concept of harvesting some of her finest products: timber, maple syrup, berry preserves and spring water. Along the path between between the Dam and Hitchen's Pond you will find an informative kiosk which helps tell the story of the Horse Shoe Forestry Company. I highly recommend taking time to check it out.
As we walked down the short foot path from the Dam to Hitchen's Pond, we noticed that the sun was rising higher and the morning chill in the air was just about gone. We sat for a few minutes by the shore and had a drink of water while we anticipated the next leg of our morning journey. As I sat there, the glass-like water of the pond was giving me the itch to come back soon with my kayak.
Trifecta Part 3:
Hiking Low's Ridge
After exploring the area around Hitchen's Pond and Low's Upper Dam we continued along to our next leg of the journey. Near the gate by the dam you will find a trail head for Low's Ridge - also referred to as Low's Overlook, Hitchen's Pond Overlook, and I'm sure a few other names, but I have always referred to it as Low's Ridge. After quickly signing in we began our climb. The trail never gets really steep. It sweeps around the base of the ridge and at a couple of points it felt almost as thought we were descending the ridge rather than climbing it. After about a mile, you make your final climb up to the peak of the ridge, and it's as though someone quickly pulls open the curtain to a magnificent show.
I have to say that the reward for this short climb truly outweighs the effort. The view of the unspoiled Adirondack wilderness you get from the ridge is breathtaking. I could have spent hours sitting there taking it all in.
We didn't get the chance to spend as long at the top as we all would have liked. The reason we took off at such an early hour is so that we could get back to the real world and go about our day. One of the nice things about living here is that you can take a mini-getaway even before you go to work.
As we descended from the ridge and rode our bikes back to our starting point at Horseshoe Lake, we shared stories from other recent biking trips and made plans for our next outing. But we also spent much of our time the same way we had on the way in, in silence, listening to the sound of the gentle breeze rustling through the trees and enjoying the beauty of our surroundings.
Take a Bike Tour of the Adirondacks
There are so many ways to experience the beauty of the Adirondacks, but one of the coolest ways to experience the backcountry this time of year has to be on two-wheels. Around Tupper Lake you will find a variety of unique bike routes, but the trail into Low's Upper Dam really is something that I would rank on the top 10 places to explore while you are here. This trail is not an aggressive trail by any means, and would be a nice ride for families or beginner trail riders. Whether you choose to take the optional hike up Low's Ridge is totally your call, but history buff or not, you absolutely need to check out the ruins from the Horse Shoe Forestry Company.
After a day of biking in the Horseshoe Wild Forest, tour into town to refuel with a good meal at a local restaurant. Stay for a while and make sure to check out the Maple Exhibit at The Wild Center where you can learn even more about the history this trail holds.
Riding 'round the Park:
Newbie IRONMAN competitor runs (actually rides) down the course.
Run a marathon? Nah, we’ll ride it!
Cycle Adirondacks: tour extraordinaire.