May 2018 - HIKING & BACKPACKING
Puffer Pond - A Wild Setting to Visit Year-Round
By Bill Ingersoll
Puffer Pond is a favorite destination for many hikers, from those looking for a rugged day hike to those looking for a reasonably easy backpacking destination. It is not the biggest or the best place in the Adirondacks, but this attractive little body of water nestled at the foot of its own namesake mountain rarely fails to please.
Part of its appeal is its wild setting in the Siamese Pond Wilderness. The hike involves a creek crossing and a bit of climbing, and once you descend into Puffer Pond’s isolated basin you certainly feel as if you have traveled a much longer distance. The enfolding mountains effectively keep out most outside sounds. There are two lean-tos, either of which serves well for an overnight stay or a brief picnic lunch.
I have enjoyed Puffer Pond numerous times over the years, in all four seasons. My girlfriend and I recently enjoyed a winter campout at the western lean-to, when we had the opportunity to sled down a nearby bank, and walk around the entire perimeter of the frozen pond. A few summers ago I carried my canoe over the mountain to paddle its waters, and one Thanksgiving Day I visited Puffer just as its surface had solidified into a glassy sheet of ice.
There is no reason not to visit in the spring, either. The one stream crossing along the way generally tends to not be an obstacle, and the trail has no other defects that would prevent a springtime recommendation. In fact, you can seek out a small waterfall on the outlet stream if you’re so inclined.
The Kings Flow trailhead is located eight miles south of the hamlet of Indian Lake. From NY Route 30, about 0.5-mile south of the intersection with NY Route 28, turn southeast onto Big Brook Road, also marked as County Route 4. This is a twisting country road, with a scenic causeway across the width of Lake Abanakee at 1.4 miles. Big Brook Road makes a hard right turn at 5.4 miles, but otherwise stay with it all the way past the end of the pavement, and the Kings Flow dam to the public parking area at the center of the Cabins at Chimney Mountain campus. The landowner charges a daily fee of $2 per car for parking, which can be deposited into a lockbox attached to a nearby signpost.
Two state trails begin to the east of the parking area: one to Puffer Pond, which bears right, and one to Chimney, which begins at the farthest end of the clearing. Signs point the way. Heading southeast, the trail to Puffer quickly leaves the clearing behind and clings to the side of a hill. Within minutes you pass into state land, and after a gradual uphill you begin to see wetlands off to your right. These in turn lead toward the large vly that surrounds Carroll Brook, which you first approach at 0.8-mile.
The trail once crossed this creek without the aid of a footbridge. The beaver dam that made the crossing possible eventually washed away, making this an awkward crossing. More recently, however, the trail was rerouted to follow the north side of the vly upstream, east, to a new stream crossing at 1.1 miles. There is no bridge here either, but Carroll Brook is a smaller stream at this location with more rocks to step on. The crossing is therefore more manageable.
Across the brook, the trail keeps to its side briefly before angling southeast and uphill, reaching a junction at 1.4 miles. The blue-marked trail to the left leads toward John Pond, and was created as an alternate route to Puffer Pond, at a time when public access to the Kings Flow trailhead was not guaranteed. It is rarely used today.
The trail to Puffer Pond bears right, continuing the climb to the southeast. The grade is moderate, but before it’s done you will ascend nearly 475 feet from Carroll Brook. The trail leads through a notch in the ridge, which is an extension of Bullhead Mountain. Once through the saddle, the descent to the pond begins. The drop is less than 200 feet to the first of the two Puffer Pond lean-tos, this one located on the right at 2.2 miles. The structure is relatively new, located in the open hardwoods about 150 feet from the shoreline. It is easy to walk past the site of the former lean-to to access the water.
Near the lean-to, the marked trail bends left to follow the pond’s north shore. This is perhaps the best part of the hike, with several opportunities to step off the trail and view the water. Just 0.3-mile from the first lean-to, or 2.5 miles overall, you should see the second lean-to near the head of the pond. This is the more scenic of the two shelters, but it is also older, leakier and more exposed. Wind often blows west-to-east across the pond and straight into the shelter, making it less desirable in cold weather. Many hikers prefer it anyway because of its better view.
The trail continues east past Puffer Pond, allowing hikers to go all the way to Hour Pond and Thirteenth Lake.
Changes may be in store soon for Puffer Pond. In 2017, the Department of Environmental Conservation issued an amendment to the management plan for this area, authorizing the relocation and replacement of the second (eastern) lean-to. Also, the long-distance North Country National Scenic Trail may pass along the northern shore of the pond as it traverses the Adirondack Park from Forestport to Crown Point.
Neither of these changes has been implemented as of the spring of 2018, but you can preview a portion of the North Country Trail to seek out the small cascade on Puffer’s outlet stream. From the western lean-to, head west along the pond’s shoreline. The herd path in this area will not be immediately apparent, but if you keep the water in sight it will appear long before you reach the point where the pond narrows into a marshy outlet at its western end.
The path is narrow, but it follows the bed of an ancient roadway down through the valley west of the pond, generally parallel to the outlet stream. The cascade, located roughly 1.3 miles from the lean-to, is not visible from the trail – but you will hear it. The unmarked trail continues toward Kings Flow and Round Pond as described in Discover the South Central Adirondacks, but don’t be surprised if these secretive herd paths become official state trails in the near future, as proposed in DEC’s management plan.
Bill Ingersoll of Barneveld is publisher of the Discover the Adirondack’s guidebook series (hiketheadirondacks.com). For more information on this region, consult Discover the South Central Adirondacks.