Exploring the Cranberry Lake Wild Forest
It's inspiring living in an area that you have not fully explored. It drives you to get out there to see what there is to see. As mountains go I can’t claim that the Cranberry Lake Wild Forest has tall-peaked summits, or wide expansive views from their mountains which create the foothills of the Adirondacks, but what I can say - and with complete confidence - you won’t find wilderness quite like this everywhere. On this day I was not in search of wilderness or expansive views, but more in the line of just getting out and playing in a part of the park I had not been in. Sure, wilderness would be found along with the sign of man.
Cranberry Lake State Campground
Starting off not far from where I hang my hat is the Cranberry Lake State Campground, located right off Lone Pine Road in Cranberry Lake. This is also the location of the trail up Bear Mountain. I wanted to use this trail, not only to enjoy the wonderful views of Cranberry Lake from its trailside peep show, but also to access Burnt Rock. Burnt Rock is a small knob on the Shore of Cranberry Lake, insignificant as seen from the lake, but a summit I wanted to visit nonetheless.
The day was already showing signs of being hot and humid, and we were almost immediately started feeling the effects. We moved briskly, and soon came to the lean-to located just below the summit ridge. Relaxing in a cooler location, hydrating and finishing one of the four-liters of water we packed, I questioned if we would have enough for all three of us. Not long after we started up again, we worked our way through the switchbacks, through the valley of ferns, and up to the summit of Bear Mountain. The summit of Bear is not all that impressive - and if you didn’t know any better you would be highly disappointed in the outcome. But, the view is on the backside of the loop, and quite nice, worthy of an extended scoot. We passed by the large boulders that lined the trail, but not without a quick scramble to the top of one and then off we went along the ridge to the view.
Views from Bear Mountain
The views start to pop up through the trees in the open fields along the ridge, but it is important to descend a bit further along the trail to come to the rocky resting place and view out over the third largest lake in the Adirondacks, Cranberry Lake. Not far from this view is where we would leave the trail and start our bushwhack (precisely where the trail makes a hard turn away from the direction of Burnt Rock). The forest was open, ferns greeted us in open fields of deep greens, and small rock lips gave us a bit of a scramble to descend. The descent was a bit awkward for footing in some areas, and as such we needed to hike on a side hill for a while to get heading in the right direction.
Heading to Burnt Rock
Tall bundles of interrupted ferns welcomed us into the damp valley's where we waded through a bit of muck and boot-sucking earth in a semi-liquid state. Then we could see it, Burnt Rock a bit in the distance, looking in its true form as a hogback rather than a stand-alone hill. In our path was an old beaver wallow, now partially dried up with a stream running through it. It wasn’t a difficult operation to get over, but if not done correctly one could have surely hurt a limb.
Burnt Rock was now overhead - actually towering above us. It's impressive rocky outcroppings made for and a bit of a steep scramble for the short distance it would take to conquer the summit. We pulled ourselves up over each rock shelf and battled through the massive amounts of sharp, pointed deadfall to reach the top. Fully wooded, as I suspected - although I had hoped I was wrong, the summit lay beneath us. A small bump on the ridge would be our only hope of a towering view out over the lake. It was a quarter-mile away, though more deadfall and ferns, and as with the first proved to be lacking in view. The lake now right below us and the small nipple on the point drew us down to the water’s edge. The descent was almost non-existent and in a couple minutes we stood at the shore. The views out over the lake were superb, and a sand beach under our feet was the payoff of the day.
Now only a few hundred feet from campsite #2 on Cranberry Lake, we could see it was occupied. We found a nice path that led to the campsite but we didn’t want to interrupt the campers so we tiptoed around the campsite and started to head back up to the Bear Mountain Trail. We looked to intercept the trail near where we left it, and not feeling the need to climb anymore we took our sweet time in doing it. We came upon a red-dot trail, which after following it for a hundred feet or so we decided it would surely lead to private property along shore. The private property was the reason for returning to the Bear Mountain Trail and not following closer to the shore back to the campground.
Heading back to the Bear Mountain Trailhead
As we climbed, we took many breaks and finished off water bottle number 3 on a small rock outcropping which overlooked the lake. Then there it was again the red-dot trail and it was heading right back up the mountain, so we followed it and figured it came up from campsite #2 as a secondary trail to access the views of Bear. It was steep and followed the fall-line of the mountain - and what do you know it came right out to where we started our bushwhack. There was a red dot near the trail, but I had ignored it; that will teach me.
We had to now finish off the Bear Mountain Trail as it descended steeply back down toward the valley and out to the opposite end of the campground from where we went in. The walk along the campground roads is about 1-mile, maybe a bit more, but it felt good on the legs to have solid ground under us. Back at the car we had a unanimous decision to stop for ice cream at the Stone Manor, even Abby was all for it.