1. Heart Lake to Indian Falls
2. Ascend Tabletop
3. Indian Falls to Lake Arnold
4. Ascend Mt Colden from Lake Arnold
5. Return Marcy Dam via Avalanche Camp
Trip In A Nutshell:
This spectacular and varied hike includes Indian Falls, Tabletop Mtn., and Mt Colden. It takes a day and starts and ends at the Heart Lake trailhead. Most hikers wanting to do Mt. Colden would not be including Indian Falls in their hike; it's not on a direct route from the trailhead to Colden, but as Colden alone would be a short day, we decided to hike first to Indian Falls which has terrific/stunning!!! views of Colden and the basin formed by Marcy, Colden, and the Tabletop ridge as its periphery.
All trails are in excellent condition. From Heart Lake follow the BLUE Van Hoevenberg Trail (ADK# 61, McM #133) to Marcy Dam. Continue on the Van Hoevenberg from Marcy Dam as far as Indian Falls (ADK #61, McM #147) and the start of the Tabletop Trail. Depending on your start time from Heart Lake, the falls is a very good place for lunch.
Depart Indian Falls for Mt. Colden by continuing on the Van Hoevenberg uphill a few yards from the falls to the yellow Crossover Trail (ADK #63, McM #148), which you follow to the BLUE Avalanche Camp Trail (ADK #73, McM #145). When you get to that junction, bare left (uphill) and you soon arrive at Lake Arnold and the start of the Mt. Colden ascent. Climb Colden from Lake Arnold on the yellow (ADK #74, McM #144) then retrace your steps to Lake Arnold and descend to Marcy Dam via the aforementioned Avalanche Camp Trail. Allow 10 hours to hike the full route from Heart Lake to Indian Falls (without the Tabletop side trip), to Mt Colden, and back to Adirondack Loj. This hike was last taken by me in the summer of 2001.
The Most Direct Route From Heart Lake to Mt. Colden
If you do not plan to visit Indian Falls and you would prefer a direct route to Mt Colden from Heart Lake, you should head S once you cross Marcy Dam taking yellow (ADK #68, McM #140) which is marked. You will pass by Avalanche Camp and pick up the Avalanche Camp Trail (ADK # 73, McM #144) heading SE to Lake Arnold and the start of the Mt. Colden Trail.
The Van Hoevenberg Trail (ADK #61, McM #147) is easy to moderate in difficulty considering its length, 4.4 miles from Heart Lake to Indian Falls.
The Crossover Trail (ADK #63, McM #148), 0.9 miles, connects the Van Hoevenberg Trail (ADK #61, McM #147) at Indian Falls to the Avalanche Camp Trail (ADK #73, McM #145). This is an easy and enjoyable, gently downhill, walk.
The short section of the Avalanche Camp Trail that connects uphill to the Mt Colden Trail is a slow and difficult 0.5 miles over loose basketball-sized anorthosite rocks and many boulders. It is very rocky, annoying terrain and an excellent opportunity to sprain an ankle.
The ascent of Mt Colden from Lake Arnold on the yellow trail (ADK #74, McM #144) with return by the same route is rated moderate but difficult in places. One way it is 1.2 miles. Elevation change is about 900 feet. We have hiked this route twice over 3 years and have found the trail consistently in good to excellent condition. Occasional short, steep climbs of 10-20 feet pose no significant obstacle to the average hiker. Footing is good to excellent. This is one of the most enjoyable climbs in the Adirondacks.
Total distance from Heart Lake to the summit of Mt Colden via Indian Falls is about 7.0 miles. The return via the Avalanche Camp Trail instead of the Van Hoevenberg Trail will be less. Overall, we consider the hike very strenuous, due mainly to distance and the significant climbs on the Van Hoevenberg and Colden trails.
Outstanding/Exceptional views. Open views around the horizon from Mt. Colden. Features outstanding views of the MacIntyre Range and Marcy. See the photos below. Also, Indian Falls offers fine views of Mt. Colden.
A succession of several false peaks on the ascent from Lake Arnold provide a respite from the climb and the opportunity to have some views during the ascent.
Don't expect Lake Arnold to be a beautiful small lake. It isn't. It is convenient as a spot to overnight, but that's about it. (There is an outhouse there and a roomy DEC-approved camping area.
Trailhead Information for this Hike:
The most common and, certainly, the easiest trailhead for accessing Mt Colden is Heart Lake, also called Adirondack Loj. Go to the Heart Lake trailhead.
Water supplies are not a problem from Marcy Dam to Lake Arnold whether you travel via Indian Falls or via Avalanche Camp. Once you start the ascent of Mt Colden, however, you will encounter no further water until you return to Lake Arnold. As it is a long hike and a long day, we recommend a capacious hydration unit or a water filter/pump.