at Cranberry Lake NY
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Bear mountain at Cranberry Lake NY is a wonderful destination. Depending on the time of year you visit, it can be two completely different mountains. Located adjacent to the highly popular Cranberry Lake campground (the trailhead I hiked from is in the campground), and the mountain can be quite busy in the summer. There are 173 campsites on the campground proper, and a great number of private camps on the lake. I hiked Bear Mt. after the first real snowfall of the season in the beginning of November. Instead of the throngs of children racing around in flip-flops, the only signs of people that day was a lone motorboat on the lake, and the hum of a few chainsaws being run by DEC workers cutting trees around the camp sites. It was a perfect day to enjoy the solitude of the forest that the great South woods was noted for in the late 1800’s.
In the mid 1800’s Cranberry lake was a destination for sportsman of all kinds. Big game, small game and fish were abundant and sportsman came from all over to experience the woods, lakes and rivers. Many local men worked as guides for their clients (or sports as they were commonly referred) to seek out the game. Today it’s about an hour drive from Canton to Cranberry lake. In the mid 1800’s it was a two-day stage coach trip. If traveling from Canton, the stage would stop at Clarksboro along what is now the Tooley Pond road. This was originally in the town of Clifton, now it is in the Clare township. At the end of the Civil war Clarksboro was in the process of becoming a boom town. The discovery of iron ore saw the start of an iron mine, a blast furnace, a sawmill, and all the fixtures of a company town. The entire thing came to an abrupt end when the foundry burned.
In 1867, a log crib dam was constructed, and nearly doubled the size of the lake. This made the lake even more attractive to the fish & game. The Carthage & Adirondack railroad had expanded its rail into Benson mines (in the town of Clifton) by 1889. Within the next year, a road was constructed from Newton Falls to Cranberry lake. All of these played a part in the growth of the area as a tourist destination. The early years of the twentieth century saw a new visitor to the forests- the lumberman. Logging and all the related industries changed the face of the area. The Emporium Forestry company in Cranberry Lake, and the Rich Brothers lumber company brought many workers to the region, and Cranberry Lake and Wanakena became bustling communities seemingly overnight. The dam was replaced in 1916 with a larger concrete dam. The timber companies ran railroads into the forests to transport the logs to the various mills. The increase in visitors and workers, and the ease of transportation to the area saw great growth. Hotels were built to serve these visitors. These started small, but soon grew bigger as demand increased. Summers were bustling with vacationers from all over, and the fall was the hunters time.
Bear mountain is our focus here, and it has plenty of history in itself. The story of Cranberry lake could fill volumes, so now a bit more on the mountain and its surrounding forests.
The two hotels that graced the Bear mountain side of the lake were the Sunset inn and the Bear Mountain camp. The Bear Mt. camp was known as Balderson’s, after the couple who purchased the property and had the camp built. The Bear Mt. Park association was incorporated in nearby Benson mines, and included many influential people of the region. This took place around 1902. They had the property surveyed, and engineered on paper, to be substantial community of camps. This would have included a series of streets and avenues. It never came to fruition, which may or may not be a good thing- depending on your point of view.
The property that would eventually become the state campgrounds, belonged to Vasco Abbott of Gouverneur. Abbott was a judge in nearby Gouverneur NY, and an extensive landowner. After his death, his wife Anna sold all but a select few lots to the state. In November of 1926, the state purchased a total of 2,270 acres from Abbott’s widow. The original 15 sites were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. The supervisors cabin, bathhouse, and latrines were added in 1937.
By the 1930’s the tide had turned on the region. The logging had consumed most all of the marketable timber and moved on to new ventures. Many of the hotels closed and the state started to purchase the surround lands. The state had purchased lands in the area as early as 1881, with the bulk purchased in the 1920’s & 1930’s. The last state purchase was in 1977, when they purchased 1,184-acre Gilbert tract from the Newton Falls paper mill.
Today the lake totals eleven square miles, and fifty -five miles of shoreline. Over forty miles of that shoreline is state owned. It is still a popular destination for summer vacationers and sportsmen. Snowmobilers, snowshoers, cross country skiers and Ice fishermen all enjoy the snowfall that blankets the lake and forests in the winter months. In total, the Cranberry lake wild forest is 22,111 acres.
Take NYS Rt. 3 to Cranberry lake. Turn south onto Lone Pine road. Follow this road approximately one mile to the campground entrance. There is a small day use fee charged at the gate between Memorial Day and Columbus Day. The trailhead is next to camp site #27. If you do the loop, you will walk the road back to your car.
On the trail
From the parking lot, you will find the sign in booth- and then the trail leads south east through some mixed hardwoods. The trail is marked with red markers. There isn’t much elevation in the first part of the trail, but it is climbing. It is rather stony along the beginning of the trail, and this helps with trail erosion. Estimates of this trail use were as high as 6000 hikers yearly, and that was in the 1980’s – and its popularity has certainly increased since then.
At about 8/10th of a mile from the start, you come to an Adirondack lean-to. These are always a treat for me, no matter how many I see. This makes a nice place to grab a drink and catch your breath for a minute. From here the trail starts to get steeper, though not terribly so. The trail is well thought out, with plenty of switch-backs to ease the steepness of the grades, and also lessen trail erosion. The elevation gain from the lean-to to the summit is only another 255 feet. On the day I hiked, we had gotten some snow the evening before, and I started to see it at around 1800’. The trail was pretty much bare on the lower elevations. Near the summit there are more evergreens and bare rock. At a mile and a quarter, you reach the summit, though there is no view to signal your arrival. The only hint that you are at the top is a small cairn on a bare rock face. Here is a survey bolt, but time and weather have worn away the elevation on it. At one time a survey signal tower stood here. Details are scarce on this tower, but the dates that are available point to this being a USGS tower. According to Susan Thomas Smeby’s book- “Cranberry Lake and Wanakena – postcard history series”, the tower was demolished sometime before 1920. The summit was cleared and offered much better views in the years past. Today it has grown up considerably. Despite the lack of views at summit proper, it was still quite beautiful when I visited. The sun was trying to shine through the heavy cloud cover and made the snow-covered trees as picturesque as a postcard.
Being there that morning alone in the wilderness seemed a world away from the hubbub that would have been the norm only a few months earlier. Like many of my destinations, timing is everything. I choose to continue on along the loop. This follows along the ridge top of the mountain for about half a mile. As you start down the south side of the of the mountain a few views start to reveal themselves. There is a shelf at about the 1.8-mile mark that offers great views of Cranberry lake and Joe Indian Island. From this point the trail becomes fairly steep for the next quarter mile or so. If you were doing this in winter, you will experience some icy conditions so extra care and traction devices will be needed. The grade of the trail will soon lessen, though you are heading downhill till you reach the lake at the 2.7- mile mark. The road is only another 1/10th of a mile away from here, and then your car at the trailhead is about one mile away. My mileage for the day was 3.9 miles.
This is a wonderful hike anytime of the year and can be a very tranquil and peaceful depending on the time of year. The big hotels are gone as are the railroads and logging operations. That is sad in a way, as the community has very little economic life left in it. On the other hand, it has gone back to a more rural and woodsy state of being, and that’s a great thing. If you get a chance to make this trek, you’ll be glad you did. If not, I hope you enjoyed reading a bit about it.
A special thanks to
A long -time resident and town of Clifton Historian, for offering some great inside information on this.
A retired New York state Forest Ranger who also maintains the NYS Forest Ranger website. He provided me with some great historic references and insight that I never would have found on my own.
The article greatly benefited from their vital contributions.
Credit & references
New York State D.E.C.
Shared shelf commons
NYS Historic Newspapers
North Country Public Radio
The Adirondack Experience (Formerly the Adirondack Museum)
About the Author
I am a life-long resident of the north country, calling Edwards my home. I have always had a passion for the outdoors, and for local history. I recently started this site to share places that have been part of our local history and heritage. I hope you get a chance to hike some of these trails for yourself and reflect on the rich history of those that walked here before you. And if not, sit back and experience these from where ever you are right now. Either way, enjoy!
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