Trip In A Nutshell:
The base of Phelps is a short and simple hike, compared to many, from the Heart Lake Trailhead. Starting at the trailhead, follow the Van Hoevenberg Trail (ADK #61, McM #133) 2.3 miles to Marcy Dam. Continue from the dam on the Van Hoevenberg Trail an additional 1.1 miles to the start of the Phelps Trail (ADK #62, McM #149), which will be on your left.. The summit of Phelps is reached after 1.0 mile. Add it up and you get a roughly 8.0 mile round trip over easy to moderate ground with nice views of Algonquin, Wright, Colden, Marcy, and several other of the highest Adirondack peaks.
Difficulty and Philosophy 401:
Phelps is one of the easier Adirondack peaks to climb and makes a good hike for the start of the season when your stamina is suffering from too many winter days spent nestled behind a good book in front of the fire. Above all, Phelps is a straightforward hike. There are no tricky rock climbs, no breathtaking passes with sheer cliffs on either side, no graceful waterfalls, none of those elements that spice things up in the woods; Phelps is your basic walk in the woods.
For a long while, I had bad memories associated with Phelps. At the time I climbed to its summit in 1986, I was experiencing very difficult personal problems. I was in the middle of the worst period of my life. The toughest decisions I have ever made were in front of me. The next 3 or 4 years would be pure misery, I knew, and Phelps' summit did not assuage my cares one bit. But after I came off Phelps' summit and got back to the start of its summit trail I turned left, upwards, and continued on the Van Hoevenberg Trail to Indian Falls, perhaps my favorite spot in the Adirondacks. There, I set up my tent and sat at the the top of the falls to contemplate the future and watch an awesome summer sunset. Whether it was the spacious view, the sound of the tumbling water, or the peacefulness of the sunset in its timeless setting, I found some peace and realized that the world had not set me apart for punishment, that it had made no judgments against me. Several decades later, my problems resolved, I remember the day as one of those important days that make you grow stronger and give a sense of renewal.
There is nothing very compelling about the approach to Phelps since it is made via the highway-like Van Hoevenberg Trail. (See the route on the Van Hoevenberg from the Heart Lake trailhead to Marcy Dam. Once you arrive at the junction with the Phelps Trail the hike becomes more interesting and challenging as shown and described below.
1. Heart Lake on the Van Hoevenberg Trail to Marcy Dam
2. Continue on Van Hoevenberg to start of Phelps Trail
3. Phelps Trail to summit