September 2018 - HIKING & BACKPACKING
Fall Backpacking - Brooktrout and West Canada Lakes
By Bill Ingersoll
A trailhead located deep within the Moose River Plains provides access to the heart of the West Canada Lake Wilderness Area, one of the largest and wildest regions of the Adirondacks. This is a sanctuary of remote high-elevation lakes, with an interconnected trail network ideal for backpacking. The loons that patrol the lakes are talented singers, and fall is the last time to listen to them before they migrate to the coast for the season.
Because of its connections with the central trail network in the West Canadas, and because it is the most direct route to West Lake, the Brooktrout Lake trailhead enjoys a moderate level of popularity – despite its out-of-the-way location. Side trails branch off from the trail to places like Deep Lake and Falls Pond, and the main trail extends beyond Brooktrout Lake to connect with the Northville-Placid Trail at West Lake. These destinations are within the reach of day hikers, but most visitors come with overnight packs. There are lean-tos at Brooktrout and West lakes.
The Brooktrout Lake trailhead is located on Indian Lake Road in the Moose River Plains, a popular recreation area with long gravel roads, and numerous roadside campsites. The road system is open through the summer and fall, but after Columbus Day four-wheel-drive is required; this is not the type of place you’d want to get stuck in after an early snowfall!
There are two entrances to the Plains: the Limekiln entrance south of NY Route 28 in Inlet, and Wakely Dam on Cedar River Road, west of Indian Lake. The trailhead is 18.5 miles from Wakely Dam and 13 miles from Limekiln, on the road that heads south from the plains toward Indian Lake. There is parking for a number of cars, with several roadside campsites nearby.
The first two-thirds of the trail to the pond are along a logging road that is so gradual and open that you sail along it. It starts beside flows created by a large beaver dam on Falls Pond Outlet in a young hardwood forest. Fresh beaver work and a washed-out section of road form a minor obstacle at 0.5-mile, and then the trail heads gently uphill on the east side of a big valley. The old roadbed is very rocky, and you need to watch your footing, lest you twist an ankle. Vegetation is encroaching from the sides to turn this old road into a narrow foot trail.
A steeper climb brings the trail back near Falls Pond Outlet. There is a bridge over one small tributary, and at 1.4 miles you reach the trail to Falls Pond – almost hidden to the right. Falls is the largest and prettiest of the three peripheral ponds reached from the Brooktrout Lake trail. Little rock islands dot its northern bay, and there is a campsite on its spruce-covered northeastern shore. The side trail is 0.3-mile long and takes about 10 to 15 minutes to explore, one-way.
After a slight rise, the main trail to Brooktrout leads southeast. You then come to the bridge over Wolf Creek; note the small but handsome rock gorge downstream. The way so far has been so easy that you can reach the creek in 45 minutes without a pack, making the distance seem shorter than the given 1.9 miles.
The trail continues southerly, up a hillside on exposed bedrock like a paved sidewalk; a section that can be very slippery when the surface is wet. It swings to the southwest, cutting straight through a wet meadow. At 2.3 miles, the trail reaches a drying beaver meadow, which has since become filled with bog wool and bottle gentian. The trail circumvents the meadow by leading around its left side.
The trail continues southwest, leaving the meadow. There is a short, steep downhill where the road is muddy and strewn with rocks, then a second descent leading to a second beaver meadow. Again, the trail keeps to the left of the pond.
At about 3.1 miles, you leave the old paper company lands and enter a forest that has scarcely been touched by loggers. Tall spruce line the trail, and you round a spruce-covered knoll to make a moderate descent to reach the outlet of the Twin Lakes. Use the rocks to cross this pretty stream.
You are no longer on a visible roadway, but the narrow trail is still marred with muddy areas; even in dry times the trail will be wet. The trail turns southerly and at 3.8 miles reaches a height-of-land. At 4.2 miles you descend to the edge of the hill and can start to see the lake through the trees. The narrow pathway winds down and easterly, below huge erratics, circling high above the three-quarter-mile-long lake, before finally descending to the flats beside the lean-to at 4.7 miles.
The lean-to faces not the lake, but a boulder that is almost as large as the lean-to. A short path leads west to the shore, where chains of rocks allow you to walk along the shore, and view the protecting ring of steep hills that circle all but a small portion of the southeastern shore.
I often see multiple groups camped in and around the lean-to at the same time. It’s not that Brooktrout is overused, but that this is the only established campsite on the lake, and demand often exceeds the supply of available camping space.
But Brooktrout is just one of the large lakes in this wilderness. After passing the lean-to, the trail leads easterly through the woods for another 0.7-mile to the shallow west end of West Lake, where you will find a tent site. The trail continues along the north shore of the lake for another 1.9 miles to a junction with the Northville-Placid Trail, but it is set so far back from the water that you will not have a good view, until you reach the first of the lean-tos at the east end of the lake.
One interesting way to explore the West Canada Lakes is by canoe, but of course carrying a canoe such a long distance is no small matter. You may get lucky and find an aluminum canoe waiting for you at the Brooktrout Lake lean-to. I have no idea where it came from, but it was a welcome surprise the last time I visited the area.
Fall is one of the best times of the year to visit the West Canadas – the woods contain a large number of red maples, which put on a brilliant show every September. Enjoy!
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 West Central Adirondacks.