Indian Head and Fish Hawk Cliffs in the Adirondack Mountains (The Complete Hiking Guide)

Post summary: Everything you need to know about hiking Indian Head and Fish Hawk Cliffs in the Adirondacks in Upstate New York; including how to get there, what to expect, and the best time to visit.

View of Lower Ausable Lake from Fish Hawk Cliffs, Keen Valley, Adirondacks

Many visitors to the Adirondacks think you have to hike the High Peaks to find mind blowing mountain views. But one of the most stunning views in the Adirondacks isn’t even on a High Peak at all. In fact, it’s on a rocky overlook that hangs a little less than 2000 feet above Lower Ausable Lake – and might actually make you believe you’ve been transported to the Norwegian fjords.

Indian Head has quickly become one of the most recognizable and insta-worthy hikes in Upstate New York. With its unique view of Lower Ausable Lake and the surrounding High Peaks, it’s easy to see how so many people have become enamored with it’s breathtaking vista.

In this post, I’m giving you the complete guide to hiking Indian Head, including how to get there, what to expect on the trail, and essential parking tips you’ll definitely be glad to know.

So let’s dive into everything you’ll need to know to plan your hike to “The Fjords of the Adirondacks”!

 

REMEMBER TO LEAVE NO TRACE

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It’s no secret that outdoor spaces continue to suffer the negative impacts of exposure on social media (and the internet in general). Areas like the Adirondacks are particularly affected because they lack the much of the funding, trail systems, and oversight to mitigate the negative resource and social impacts caused by overcrowding, overuse, and pollution.

So, in in collective effort to keep the beautiful places listed above wild and free for generations to come, please leave all areas better than you found them and practice the Principles of Leave No Trace.

The Leave No Trace (LNT) Principles are built on scientific research, aiming to minimize human impact through respectful, responsible and sustainable outdoor practices.  The Principles include:

  • Plan ahead and be prepared
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Always stay on the trail!
  • Carry out all of your trash (that includes apple cores, orange peels, etc.)
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect all wildlife (don’t feed or harass them)
  • Be considerate of other visitors
  • Leave what you find. Take only pictures
  • Minimize geotagging on social media
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For additional information, please review the new Social Media Guidelines for Leave No Trace.

 

WHERE TO STAY NEAR INDIAN HEAD IN THE ADIRONDACKS

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Indian Head is located in Keene Valley, in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York.

The closest towns to Indian Head are Lake Placid and the town of Keene. There are dozens of hotels and motels in Lake Placid, but personally, I prefer Keene for a more small mountain town  experience. You can browse tons of hotels, motels, and inns online.

If a cozy cabin is more your vibe, check out my list of 17 Cozy Cabins to Rent in the Adirondacks on Airbnb! New to Airbnb? Sign up using this link to save $65 off your first booking.

If you’re coming to the Adirondacks to stay for a few days, here are a few other posts you might like:

Short Hikes with Epic Views in the Adirondacks

How to Plan Your Trip Using Google Maps

How to Find The Best Hiking Trails (Adventuring off the Beaten Path).

 

Sunset is the best time to hike Indian Head in Keene, NY
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ABOUT THE INDIAN HEAD HIKE IN UPSTATE NEW YORK

Indian Head is a low summit that overlooks Lower Ausable Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. The trail is located on the private land of the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR); a private stretch of land between two sections of the High Peaks Wilderness, owned by the Ausable Club.

The trails on the AMR are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by way of a hiking easement, that allows the public to hike on designated marked roads and trails within the reserve. However, there are strict rules and regulations for hiking on AMR property, including:

  • A permit is required between May 1 – Oct 31
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  • Absolutely no dogs
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  • No vehicles or bicycles
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  • The public is prohibited from entering the clubhouse, buildings, lands, and waters outside of the designated, marked roads/trails in the AMR
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  • The public must park in the St. Huberts parking lot, as parking or driving on AMR property/roads/trails by non-members is not allowed. Parking has recently been reduced at the St. Huberts lot, so keep reading for essential tips, parking information, and how to get a permit to hike Indian Head.
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HOW DO YOU GET TO INDIAN HEAD IN THE ADIRONDACKS?

Indian Head is about 30 minutes south of Lake Placid and about a 4.5 hour drive north of New York City.

From Lake Placid, follow Route 73 through Keene Valley into St. Huberts until you reach the St. Huberts Parking lot. If you’re coming from the south, take the Adirondack Northway to exit 30 and follow Route 73 to the parking lot.

The best way is to drive, but you can also take Greyhound or Trailways bus lines into Keene Valley. The nearest bus stop is at Noonmark Diner, which is about 3.0 miles from St. Huberts parking area.

NOTE FOR GOOGLE MAP DIRECTIONS. If you use Google Maps, enter your destination as “St. Huberts Parking Area”. Choosing the option for “Indian Head, Keene NY” will give you driving directions to the start of the Indian Head foot trail at the end of Lake Road. You cannot drive on Lake Road, unless you are a member of the AMR.

You have to park in the St. Huberts parking lot and hike 3 miles to the end of Lake Road to get to the Indian Head trailhead. From there, it’s another 1.5 miles to the summit.

Keep reading for additional directions and essential parking, packing, and trail information. 

 

ESSENTIAL PARKING INFORMATION FOR THE ST. HUBERTS PARKING LOT – Updated 2021

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Parking for the Indian Head trail is at the St. Huberts parking lot, directly off Route 73 across from the Roaring Brook Trail for Giant Mountain.

The St. Huberts lot is the main parking area for all trails originating on the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (not just for Indian Head) – and it’s a small lot – so it fills up fast. In fact, the lot is often completely full by 5AM on holidays, weekends, and during peak seasons in the Adirondacks. Sometimes even earlier!

However, the parking situation should be a lot better now since the implementation of the AMR Permit System, since you can only park in the St. Huberts Parking lot between May 1 – Oct 31 if you obtain a parking permit prior to arrival. Keep reading for more information on how to obtain a permit.

Overflow parking for Indian Head is no longer available along Route 73. As of Spring 2021, the DEC installed metal poles across all parking areas along this portion of Route 73. However, there is talk about implementing some sort of hiker shuttle system to the trailheads along Route 73 sometime in the near future.

Parking is strictly prohibited on the road along Route 73, and anywhere outside of the lot on AMR property. Doing so will result in a hefty parking ticket or having your car towed entirely.

 

Indian Head overlook at Lower Ausable Lake, Adirondacks

HOW TO GET A PERMIT TO HIKE INDIAN HEAD

Planning to hike Indian Head between May 1 and October 31? If so, then you’re gonna need a permit!

In May 2021, the New York State Department of Conservation and the AMR implemented a permit system to regulate the surge in hiking traffic. The permit system applies to all trails located on the Adirondack Mountain Reserve – including Indian Head.

You can get a permit at hikeamr.org

What to know about the AMR Permit System to hike Indian Head, Adirondacks:

  • Hikers will need to create a new profile or login to sign up time slot
  • Permits are free
  • Reservations can be made up to two weeks in advance
  • Walk-ins are NOT allowed. You need to make a reservation in advance
  • All hikers need a reservation, even if you get dropped off or arrive by bicycle
  • The AMR allows 70 reservations per day, but each reservation is good for up to six hikers
  • The parking lot is open from 5am to 7pm daily, unless you’re parking overnight.

Visit this page for permit FAQs and more information

 

BEST TIME TO VISIT

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Indian Head is a great all-year round hike and the views are gorgeous in every season. But there are some times that are a little bit better depending on what type of experience you’re looking for. Here’s a breakdown of the best times to hike Indian Head, so you can figure out what works best for you:
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BEST TIME OF YEAR TO HIKE INDIAN HEAD

SUMMER (June – August): In the summer, the weather is warmer and days are longer, which is nice for doing hikes as long as Indian Head. Lower Ausable Lake Valley is lush and green. However, beware black fly season between mid-May to early July!

Read more: How to Survive Black Fly Season in the Adirondacks
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FALL (September – October): Indian Head makes the list of best places to see fall foliage in New York. This is the time of year when the green valley transforms into different shades of fiery reds, burnt oranges, and vibrant yellows. The timing of peak foliage season in the Adirondacks is unpredictable because its a little different every year, but you can use this leaf tracker to help time your visit for leaf peepin’..

WINTER (November – February): Great if you like the snow. Not great if you don’t. There’s often a lot of snow in the winter, which is perfect for snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Temperatures at the summit are often sub-zero as the wind blows through the valley, so dress warm! Microspikes are highly recommended and often required.

Did you know that shoe shoes are required by law in the Adirondack High Peaks when there is 8+ inches of snow? Click here for more information on winter hiking preparedness in the Adirondacks.
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SPRING (March – May): Not recommended for hiking due to “mud season“, which can be hazardous to both you and the ecosystem. It’s also the start of black fly season. And sometimes the weather is still cold and snowy. You may run into ice near the summit, so microspikes are recommended.
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BEST TIME OF DAY TO HIKE INDIAN HEAD (SUNRISE VS. SUNSET)

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EARLY MORNING/MIDDAY: 
This time is best for casual hikers, groups, families. Aim to start the hike to Indian Head around 7-8AM (but the earlier, the better) to ensure a full day to enjoy the hike! .

SUNRISE: Sunrise is the best time to catch fog rising off Lower Ausable Lake in the fall. It’s also the least crowded time of day, so its your best shot at having the summit all to yourself – especially in peak season. Sunrise on Indian Head is not great for morning light, as most of the valley remains shaded until mid morning..

SUNSET: Sunset is the time for photographers to catch the best light over the valley as the sun sets over the mountains to the west. However, its a popular time to hike Indian Head in the fall (because, well…look at it!), so you likely won’t be the only person there. Allow approximately 2 hours to the summit and aim to arrive about an hour before sunset to claim your spot.

Visit this link to view lighting conditions on Indian Head at different times of the year/day.

Hiking Indian Head, Adirondacks at Sunset
View of Lower Ausable Lake in the fall at sunset

 

HIKING THE INDIAN HEAD TRAIL IN THE ADIRONDACKS (TRAIL MAP, HIKING ROUTES, AND WHAT TO EXPECT)


Indian Head trail length:
11 miles round trip

Difficulty rating: Moderate; strenuous for some people due to the length

Hike time: Approximately 6-7 hours round trip

Trail type: Can be done as a loop or straight out-and-back

Elevation gain: 2000 feet (610 meters)

View from Indian Head Hike, Adirondacks in the fall
.View of Lower Ausable Lake from Indian Head

The actual trail to Indian Head is at the end of Lake Road, the main access road running from the Ausable Club to Lower Ausable Lake.

After you park your car in the St. Huberts lot, follow Ausable Road for about 0.5 miles through the AMR. The golf course will be on your right. Note that the AMR and Lake Road are closed to all vehicles and bicycles, except for those owned by members of the AMR.

Turn left onto Lake Road at the tennis courts in front of the Ausable Clubhouse, and follow the road for about 200m until you reach the big pine entrance gate. Sign in at the trail register. The register is used for collecting data for the DEC and its referenced in the event someone needs to find you in an emergency – so don’t forget to sign in!

Pine entrance gate to Lake Road on the Adirondack Mountain Reserve
The pine entrance gate to Lake Road and the hiking trails on the AMR

After you register, walk around the gate onto Lake Road. From here, walk to the Indian Head trail. Keep reading for a breakdown of the three most popular routes to take.
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HIKING ROUTES: THREE WAYS TO REACH THE INDIAN HEAD TRAIL

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There are three main routes to get to the Indian Head Trail from Lake Road. They are outlined on the trail map and discussed in detail below. Which route you take will depend on your level of fitness and personal preference.

*The color of the routes on this map are intended for visualization purposes only, and do NOT correspond to the color of the actual trail markers.*

Indian Head trail map. Source: AllTrails.
(1) Saint Huberts Parking lot; (2) Pine gate sign in; (3) Lake Road – West River Trail junction; (4) Lake Road – Gill Brook Trail junction; (5) Lake Road – Indian Head trailhead junction; (6) Indian Head summit; (7) Fish Hawk Cliffs

 

Route 1: Lake Road (out and back)

Shown in red on the map. 

Taking Lake Road out and back is a popular route for hikers who are interested in getting directly to Indian Head and back. To take this route, follow Lake Road for 3 miles until you reach the junction for the Indian Head trail. Return the same way you came.

Ignore the other signs for Indian Head you see along the way, as those will lead you up a different trail. Wait for the Indian Head junction all the way at the end of Lake Road (you’ll know you reached the end when you see the shore of Lower Ausable Lake).

Hiking on Lake Road
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Route 2: Lake Road – Gill Brook Trail (loop)

Shown in red and yellow on the map. 

This route is, in my opinion, the best one because it passes over Fish Hawk Cliffs and brings you past several beautiful waterfalls on the way.

To take this route, follow Lake Road for 3 miles until you reach the Indian Head trail at the end (red). Ascend Indian Head. Then, follow the signs for Fish Hawk Cliffs and descend via the Gill Brook Trail (yellow). The Gill Brook Trail eventually meets back up with Lake Road to lead you back to your car.

This loop can be done either way, but I suggest approaching Indian Head via Lake Road and descending via the Gill Brook Trail. If you do it the other way around, the ascent up the Gill Brook Trail is incredibly steep.
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Route 3: West River Trail

 Shown in green on the map.

This route is more difficult, but it’s incredibly scenic and passes by several gorgeous waterfalls before finally connecting with the Indian Head trail at the end of Lake Road. To take the West River Trail, follow the junction off Lake Road a short distance from the pine gate.
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ASCENDING THE INDIAN HEAD TRAIL

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At the end of Lake Road, you’ll see the main trailhead sign pointing to “Indian Head/Fish Hawk Cliffs” just before you reach the shores of Lower Ausable Lake. Turn into the woods onto the yellow marked foot trail. Here’s a picture of the trail sign:

Foot trail to Indian Head and Fish Hawk Cliffs
The main trailhead for Indian Head located at the end of Lake Road.
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The trail starts out relatively flat before before approaching a side trail known as “Gothics Window” after about 0.3 miles. You can follow this side trail for a short way to see a stunning view of Gothics Mountain through the trees. The trail to Gothics Window isn’t very well marked, so pay attention to where you’re going if you choose to take this detour.

Past the junction of Gothics Window, the Indian Head trail to continues to climb steadily for another 1 mile to the top. A series of ladders and switchbacks help you navigate the narrow, rocky trail.

The ladder and switchbacks on the Indian Head foot trail
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NOTE: Make sure to wear sturdy shoes, because the trail is often muddy and slippery in places, especially after rain or snow. Every time I visit Indian Head, I see people hiking in white sneakers, who have seemed to underestimate the length and/or difficulty of the hike. They always look super uncomfortable and end up ruining their good shoes.

Make sure that’s not you by downloading this free packing list for a list of everything you need to hike Indian Head comfortably and safely
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The trail ends at a 3-way junction at the top of the ridge. To the right is the short walk to the Indian Head Summit. Straight ahead is the trail to Fish Hawk Cliffs. And to the left is an alternate route to the Gill Brook Trail and the return.

For now, turn right and continue a short way through the woods to where the trail opens up to rocky summit. This first view from the summit is awe inspiring, but don’t be afraid to explore a bit! The best views are actually on the lower cliff.

Carefully navigate your way down the herd path leading from the upper vista to the lower one. Here, the wide open views of Lower Ausable Lake will surely take your breath away. With the Lower Great Range on one side and the Pinnacle Range on the other, it becomes immediately apparent why many consider Indian Head one of the most beautiful hikes in the ADK.

Indian Head Summit Viewpoint
The Indian Head summit viewpoint
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THE TRAIL TO FISH HAWK CLIFFS

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Fish Hawk Cliffs is an alternate overlook of Lower Ausable Lake from the cliffs below Indian Head.

As the crowds on Indian Head grow every year and more people choose to hike out-and-back via Lake Road, Fish Hawk Cliffs remain relatively quiet and unexplored. I’m not sure if its because the hike to Fish Hawk Cliffs takes extra effort, or if people don’t know what the view from the cliffs looks like, but if you’re looking for views similar to Indian Head without the crowds, then this is the place to go!

Indian Head and Fish Hawk Cliffs Hike overlooking Lower Ausable Lake

 

To reach Fish Hawk Cliffs, follow the sign at the top of the Indian Head trail. The trail to Fish Hawk Cliffs descends very steeply down the ridge for about 0.25 miles before leading to the cliffs below Indian Head.

Walk along the rocks until the view opens up to Lower Ausable Lake – and don’t forget to turn back and take a look at Indian Head! This is where you can see the rock formation that gives Indian Head its name.

View from Fish Hawk Cliffs over Lower Ausable Lake, Adirondacks
Looking back at Indian Head from Fish Hawk Cliffs

To descend, go back the way you came or follow the Fish Hawk Cliffs Trail to the Gill Brook Trail and complete the loop.

*Note: Due to sheer drop offs and open cliff faces, the trail to Fish Hawk Cliffs is not recommended for small children.

WHAT TO PACK FOR A DAY HIKE TO INDIAN HEAD IN THE ADIRONDACKS

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If you haven’t already, make sure to download my FREE Indian Head packing list. It outlines everything you need in order to make your hike to Indian Head safe, comfortable, and enjoyable. It even includes a few things that might surprise you (because it’s always better to be safe than sorry).

 

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

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How long does it take to hike Indian head?
The Indian Head hike is about 11 miles round-trip and takes an average hiker approximately 6-7 hours to complete. This time includes breaks and time spent at the summit. Hike time may be longer if you’re hiking with children or a group.
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Are dogs allowed on the Indian Head trail? No. Dogs are absolutely prohibited on any of the trails/land of the Adirondack Mountain Reserve. This includes Indian Head.
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Do you need a permit to hike Indian Head? Yes. You need a permit to hike Indian Head between May 1 – Oct 31. Permits are free and you get one at hikeamr.org. A permit is not required between November 1 – April 30.
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Is the Indian Head Hike free? Yes. There are currently are no fees associated with hiking Indian Head.
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Can you camp near Indian Head? You cannot camp along Lake Road or at the summit of Indian Head. There are also no organized campgrounds nearby. However, there are a few designated backcountry/primitive campsites along the Gill Brook Trail that are first-come-first-serve. You can see them marked on the trail map above.
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Are there restrooms on the hike to Indian Head? No. There are no restrooms after you leave the parking area. If you must relieve yourself during the hike, you must pack out all toilet paper/tissues/etc.
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Have you done the hike to Indian Head in the Adirondacks? Have you found this hiking guide helpful? As always, feel free to leave a comment below! I love to hear from you!

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