The Seward Range is the westernmost area of the High Peaks region in the Adirondacks. The Seward range is known for its wildness and the peaks of the range, Seymour, Seward, Donaldson, and Emmons, are all accessed via herds paths (trails not officially maintained). Due to a topography, Seymour is always accessed separately from the other three peaks in the range.
The traditional route for some time to access Seward, Donaldson, and Emmons (hence forward referred to as the range - Seymour will receive its own references in this route report) had been by hiking all of the way into the Ward Brook Fire Truck Road on the Blueberry trail and picking up the herds path that junctions just beyond a fairly significant bridge. The herds path to Seymour also goes off from this Ward Brook truck road about a mile past the first herd path junction, nearer to the lean-tos. Though I have never hiked this route, first hand accounts I received from several hikers suggests that this herd path is more reminiscent of a stream than an actual trail.
The herd path from the western side of the range via Calkins Brook offers a much more comfortable experience (though this should not suggest that the hike is less strenuous). The herd path is easy to follow, the footing is generally good, and the dirt path is an appealling alternative to roots and rocks of the other option. It traverses through some nice open woodlands before climbing through some older blowdown to the col between Donaldson and Seward. The Calkins Brook approach also has some very nice cascades in various streams and has several sources of water if needed. I hiked the range after three days of rain so everything was wet, however some hikers have noted how dry the range can be.
With the shorter approach (and thus exit to the car as well) than the alternative, the Calkins Brook route has grown in popularity. There are a couple of different short climbs of five (5) to eight (8) feet in the area of the blowdown that do require some navigation (though nothing like what is experienced in the range traverse).
Most hikers approach the Seward Range (including Seymour) from Coreys Road. Coreys Road is on the eastern side of Route 3 between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake, and travels almost ue south. The trail head is roughly five and a half (5.5) miles from Route 3. It should be noted that the trailhead (Seward Range) is the second marked trail head on the road. The first trailhead leads to Duck Hole.
Winter hikers take note, there is a gate immediately after the first trailhead and signs suggest that the gate is closed between 12/01 and 05/01 each winter. If the gate is closed, this easily adds an extra four (4) miles to the hike. If interested in doing a winter day hike, check in with sources at users at Views From The Top
or High Peaks Forum
, for staus on the gate and upated trail conditions. Depending on the season, the gate has been left open into January.
From the trailhead, the Blueberry footpath and horse path head generally east from the register. The path is wide open in places and is relatively flat. Signs of trail maintenence are apparent (I even saw some landscaping fabric underneath some of the gravel).
Approximately 0.7 miles from the register is a split in the horse path and footpath. The horse path continue off to the right and the footpath to the left.
Split of horse path and footpath.
I did not hike on the horse path because I was told by several people the condition is much worse than the footpath. The foot path is generally and overland trek. The footpath follows along the border with private property. No trespassing signs and florescent flagging reinforce this point. STAY ON THE TRAIL.
About 1.2 miles from the register, or roughly 0.5 miles from the split, a hiker on the footpath will descend a small hill and see a clearing on the left. At the bottom of the you will be at a 4-way junction. To your left is a metal gate.
Gate at 4-way Junction
To your right will be a road that is overgrown with grass. This has been dubbed "Calkins Brook Trail."
Road at 4-way Junction.
I don't believe this is an official name. The ADK map marks this as an unnamed truck road. Another map I have looked at referred to the road as a horse trail. If someone has more definative information on the naming of this road please feel free to post. If for some reason you are still unsure if you are at the right junction, there is an absolutely huge sign warning against trespassing on the adjacent private property.
One can continue straight here to head roughly 3 miles to the Ward Brook Truck Trail. To get to the Calkins Brook herd path, turn right. In about 300 yards, you will pass the intersection with the Coreys Horse Path. Continue on the road. It is comfortable hiking, not too overgrown, and offering lots of shade. The road narrows at times and widens in other places. It is generally gravel with very little mud. After about a mile and a half, you will go down a hill and come to a creek crossing. There is a cement bridge at the creek. THIS IS NOT CALKINS BROOK! Just keep going on the road for about 0.2 more miles. You will hear Calkins Brook, but not actually cross it.
The road flattens out here and at a sharp 90 degree turn in the road, the herds path goes off to the east. It really looks like a trail junction without a sign.
Herd Path Junction.
As of 07/2007 there was no cairn marking the junction. There has been cairns in the past and may be one in the future (please feel free to update if a cairn is spotted). The sharp turn in the road is obvious. A couple things to look for if you think you missed the turn:
1. Look for this large pine tree on the left side of the road with the yellow marker.
2. There was a Nalgene bottle with a smily face hanging in a tree.
3. Cross Calkins Brook.
The herd's path is fairly easily followed as it has been well travelled. From the Calkins Brook Trail it is mainly flat to the crossing of Calkins Brook. I did not see any cairns on the north bank of the brook when i came to the crossing, but after a moment of looking at the southern bank, I spotted the cairns marking the herds path on the southern bank. This could be a confusing point. Clearly at times of high water, there is a need to look for a better spot for crossing the brook (there really are not rocks to hop over at the main crossing). with gators, water proof boots and low water, it would be a breeze to cross at this spot. If you keep going a little further (generally east) on the north bank, there is some blowdown across the brook. I used the blowdown to cross the brook. It is a little untstable so use care. My brother just allowed his feet to get a little wet. If you pass the blow down (still on the northern bank of the brook) you will come to an illegal campsite (illegal because it is within 200 feet of a water source). It is obviously a campsite because there was a fire-ring when I was there. The reason I point out this campsite ie because there is a pretty decent crossing of the brook here. I actually crossed here on the way out. It is apparent I was not the first person to cross here as there is a faint trail from the southern bank back to the herd's path.
From the brook crossing, you remain on the southern side of Calkin's Brook for the remainder of the hike. This is important to remember. During out hike, we ran into a group that stayed on the northern side of the brook to long and pretty much bushwacked into the midde of no where. They did realize their mistake and eventually got righted but this only reinforces my notes below in essential gear. You now are hiking through an established hardwood forest. The ground is spungy and soft. It is rather comfortable walking. We crossed at least three (3) different stream crossings on our way up to the ridge. One of the streams had some nice cascades. My impression is that if you hike this route in drier weather, you may not encounter any of these streams.
Cascades in stream
The climb is at a slight but steady rate through the hardwood forest. As you begin to gain elevation, the trees start to thin. As you come over a slight rise, you will get your first glimpse of the ridgeline and pretty good views of the rocky cliffs on the false summit of Seward. You can pretty well see the area through which you are going to hike. Shortly after this first glimpse, you will began hiking through blowdown. The herd's path through this area begins to steepen and is muddy in places (may not be muddy when dry). You have to hike around some tree roots and there are a few small rocks that must be climbed over, none more than five (5) to eight (8) feet in height. None of these rocks is particularly difficult, but do be careful of the hand-holds that you choose as there are some small trees that have been used by previous climbers for support and have almost been completely ripped out of the ground.
1st view of Ridgeline.
As you move through the blowdown, you will begin to move through an established birch forest. The trail continues to steepen, but nothing that would be considered extreme. As you hike through the birch forest there are breaks in the trees ahead. The woods change to a mix of pine and birch and the trees begin to shorten. The grade moderates slightly as you reach the ridgeline. By my estimate it is approximately 3 miles from the brook crossing to the ridgeline.
One of the nice parts about the upper portion of this route is that there are decent views of the surrounding ridgelines allowing you to get a guage on where you are for elevation and how much further you have to go (if you like figuring these things out as you hike). Of course for those of you that prefer technology a GPS will do the same thing (I prefer not to carry the weight).
Here is a photo of the ridgeline junction:
If you hop over the tree on the left-center of the picture, you will be headed towards the col (you will notice an immediate elevation drop). Go to the right and you are within 5 minutes of the summit of Donaldson. Overall, this route is pretty easy to follow for someone with some experience hiking off trail.
This route can be followed any season. Appropriate gear is up to the individual hiker.
There may not be any water sources on this route after the Calkins Brook crossing. Carrying enough water is important. This cannot be stressed enough.
As always, make sure you have the 10 essentials for safe hiking.
NO OFFENSE TO ANYONE, but there is no cell phone service in this area, someone tried while we were up there. Take this for what its worth.
I put this here as a side note. The Seward Range is an awesome place to explore. It is more wild than much of the High Peaks Wilderness. The Calkins Brook Route, though shorter than some other options, is still rough. Take this for what its worth, but this is probably not the best hike for an introduction to the High Peaks Wilderness.