From the pullout parking on Beaver Dam Road, look for the aqua blazes of the Long Path heading north into the woods opposite the wooden gate on the south side of the road. Enter the woods and after a short distance turn right as the aqua-blazed Long Path turns left. You will be on a blue-blazed trail although no markers are visible early on. You will see some black circular markers before...
From the pullout parking on Beaver Dam Road, look for the aqua blazes of the Long Path heading north into the woods opposite the wooden gate on the south side of the road. Enter the woods and after a short distance turn right as the aqua-blazed Long Path turns left. You will be on a blue-blazed trail although no markers are visible early on. You will see some black circular markers before blue markers come into view, but it’s the only trail, a wide path running parallel to Beaver Dam Road through the woods.
In .35 mile arrive at an intersection. The marker with W6 on the tree to the left denotes a white-blazed connector trail, numbered at intersections throughout the park. Turn left here on the white W6 trail, a woods road heading away from Beaver Dam Road.
In another .2 mile, white connector trail W6 ends at the blue trail. Turn left on the blue-blazed trail, also a woods road, and proceed downhill. In .15 mile keep straight on blue when yellow joins in from the right. After a few steps, follow yellow to the right as it leaves the blue trail. Come to an intersection with the orange-blazed trail a short distance ahead. Turn left on orange when yellow/orange continues straight. In .15 mile keep right with orange as an unnumbered white trail goes left. Enter a clearing with a park maintenance building straight ahead. Before the building at a post with directional arrows, turn left and immediately cross a footbridge on white connector trail W5. Turn right on a woods road immediately after crossing the bridge. Come up on a gravel park access road crossing over at an angle but keep with the woods road, following the “Overlook” sign just beyond where the gravel road crosses over. You are now 1 mile into the hike.
In a quarter of a mile, cross paved Thacher Park Road. Look for the 15 mph speed limit sign where you will find an aqua blaze of the Long Path, the blazes you will now be following in conjunction with the unblazed Escarpment Trail. Proceed to the parking lot and veer right to the viewing area at Cliff Edge Overlook. Here at the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment you will find spectacular panoramic views of the city of Albany, the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys, the Adirondack Mountains and the Green Mountains of Vermont. Continue along the viewing area and descend the steps at the far end, still following the aqua blazes. Several trails will split off to the left but stay with the path along the fence.
Half of a mile from the Cliff Edge Overlook area when the aqua blazes leave to the left, turn right and descend wide stone steps to the gates of the Indian Ladder Trail. (The Indian Ladder Trail is open from May 1 through November 15 only. If hiking when the trail is closed, turn left and follow the Long Path to the other end of the Indian Ladder Trail.) Go through the gates and proceed down a series of metal steps then under a low rock overhang where you will need to duck to pass under. Continue following the Indian Ladder Trail along interesting talus slopes and rock formations on the left and panoramic views on the right. If water is flowing, you will be passing behind two waterfalls and over an underground stream but in the dry summer months you may only find a few small trickles under the rock overhangs. Even without crashing waterfalls, this is a spectacular hike and the views make up for the lack of water. After .4 mile, the ascent on metal steps marks the end of the Indian Ladder Trail. Exit through the gate, ascend wide stone steps and turn right at the picnic area to the fence. You will now be following the Escarpment Trail with is not blazed but is clearly identifiable by the fence that runs along its entire length. From this point forward, you will be leaving the crowds behind and should find this to be a much quieter section.
In about a quarter of a mile a picnic table on the Escarpment Trail provides a nice break spot with more views. Just after this picnic table, the trail comes out into a large picnic area but stay right following the fence. The trail descends briefly then ascends again in ravine of the Horseshoe area 2.85 miles into the hike.
At the 3-mile point come out into the Hailes Cave Picnic Area and continue on the mowed grass path along the Escarpment Trail fence where you will come up on yet more open views. When the fence makes an abrupt left turn at picnic tables, the Escarpment Trail has come to an end. Turn left and head towards a water fountain in the clearing. Continue beyond the water fountain, cross the gravel circle towards a picnic table and stone pillar, keeping the stone pillar on your right. A few steps after the stone pillar, turn left on a woods road and then left again into the woods on a footpath at the double aqua blazes of the Long Path. You will now be following the Long Path again as it winds through the pretty woods along the other side of the Hailes Cave picnic area.
At the 3.7-mile point, emerge from the woods into a clearing with a park road straight ahead. Turn right before the park road and continue through the field. Keep to the right of a group of trees along the park road. There are no blazes in this area but as you pass that group of trees, turn around to see the aqua blazes in the opposite direction which will confirm you are on the right path. At the end of the field, the Long Path reenters the woods at a double aqua turn blaze.
In .2-mile come out at another clearing which is the entrance to the Hailes Cave picnic area. Proceed straight across the field keeping the brown park building on your right, walking parallel to Route 157. Cross the park road and continue straight towards the Indian Ladder parking lot. There are few blazes in this area. Once in the parking lot, head towards the restroom building and turn left at the Indian Ladder sign just the other side of the restrooms. This path will bring you to the Tory Cave sign. Continue straight towards the fence and turn right to follow along the fence at the double aqua turn blazes. You will now be following the combined Long Path/Escarpment Trail over the top of the Indian Ladder Trail and crossing the tops of the waterfalls that crash down over Indian Ladder in season.
Immediately after crossing the second waterfall bridge, turn right on an unmarked paved footpath leaving the Long Path/Escarpment Trail. Stay with this paved path towards the restroom building and cross Thacher Park Road at the crosswalk to the right of the restrooms. Proceed beyond the Paint Mine picnic shelter, cross the bridge to the Paint Main parking lot, turn left and proceed through the parking lot to the kiosk and trail. After a short distance the trail splits at 3 picnic tables with the right fork crossing a bridge. Turn left here on an unmarked trail, which follows along a scenic creek with cascades, waterfalls and fossils. This short trail ends at a paved road. Turn left briefly, keep left at the fork, then continue straight when you meet up with the aqua-blazed Long Path once more. The lime-blazed Nature Trail will also share this route along with a red-blazed trail as it parallels the right side of the creek. Stay with the aqua blazes as the lime and red trails leave to the left separately.
Keep left at a fork following the Beaver Dam Road sign then watch for an unmarked side trail to a scenic swamp in another .15 mile. The unmarked swamp trail forks left for a view from above the swamp and right for a view at ground level. Retrace and continue right on the aqua-blazed Long Path. Very soon the blue trail will join in from the left. Just before a gate, the Long Path turns left then after a short distance turns right back to the pullout parking on Beaver Dam Road.
Turn By Turn Description:
[ 0.00] From pullout parking at Beaver Dam Road, take aqua Long Path north briefly, turn right on blue (no blaze) at T-intersection when aqua turns left
[ 0.35] Left on white connector W6 when blue goes straight
[ 0.55] Left on blue at end of white when blue goes right also
[ 0.70] Straight on blue when yellow comes in from right; few steps then right on yellow as it leaves blue
[ 0.75] Left on orange when yellow/orange goes right
[ 0.90] Right on orange when white goes left; turn left at directional arrows in field, cross footbridge on white connector W5, turn right after bridge
[ 1.00] Turn right at intersection then left at fork following "Overlook" sign.
[ 1.25] Cross paved Thacher Park Road and pick up the aqua-blazed Long path at the aqua blaze on speed limit sign; continue through parking lot/overlook area
[ 1.45] Descend steps at end of parking lot and follow split rail fence/aqua blazes
[ 1.75] When aqua leaves to the left, turn right and descend stone steps to the entrance of the Indian Ladder Trail
[ 2.10] Ascend metal steps to exit Indian Ladder Trail
[ 2.20] At top of stone steps, turn right at picnic area and continue on Escarpment Trail along fence
[ 2.45] Picnic table with open view
[ 2.85] Escarpment Trail descends and ascends again at Horseshoe
[ 3.00] Come out at Hailes Cave picnic area clearing, continue along fence
[ 3.15] Open views
[ 3.20] At 2 picnic tables and end of fence, turn left towards water fountain, cross gravel circle and keep straight towards stone pillar
[ 3.30] Proceed straight to the left of the stone pillar, make the first left, then left again into the woods on footpath at double aqua turn blaze
[ 3.40] Cross gravel road, continue on aqua
[ 3.70] Come out at clearing and keep right staying to the right of park road (blazes scarce in this area - turn around to see blazes in opposite direction)
[ 3.75] Long Path leaves clearing and enters woods (double turn blaze visible)
[ 3.90] Come out at clearing at Hailes Cave park entrance, keep straight, cross park road to parking lot parallel to Route 157 (almost no blazing here)
[ 4.05] Just beyond restroom in parking lot, turn left towards Indian Ladder Trail/Tory Cave; continue straight past Tory Cave sign to fence with aqua blaze, turn right along fence and resume following aqua blazes
[ 4.25] Top of waterfalls, cross on bridge to the right
[ 4.45] Cross bridge over top of second waterfall then turn right on unmarked paved path leaving the aqua Long Path; at restrooms turn right then cross paved park road to the left on crosswalk towards Paint Mine Picnic Shelter
[ 4.55] After picnic shelter cross bridge to parking lot, turn left through parking lot to path at kiosk
[ 4.65] At fork with 3 picnic tables where right crosses a bridge, turn left and follow unmarked trail along bank of creek with waterfalls
[ 4.70] At paved road turn left to fork then keep left, then straight on aqua Long Path/lime Nature Trail/occasional red marker when same goes left over bridge
[ 5.05] Keep straight when red leaves to the left
[ 5.15] Keep left at fork following sign to Beaver Dam Road; keep straight when white goes left
[ 5.20] Keep right at fork
[ 5.25] Turn right on unmarked short trail to swamp; left fork for view above swamp, right fork for view at ground level; retrace and continue right on aqua
[ 5.35] Keep straight when blue joins in from the left
[ 5.55] Turn left just before gate at picnic table
[ 5.65] Turn right at double aqua turn blaze
[ 5.70] Back at Beaver Dam Road pullout parking
Outstanding views, impressive rock formations and seasonal waterfalls are reached with minimal effort on this relatively flat and highly scenic hike in the popular southern section of John Boyd Thacher State Park.
Whether you are going for a day hike or backpacking overnight, it is good practice to carry what we call The Hiking Essentials. These essentials will help you enjoy your outing more and will provide basic safety gear if needed. There may also be more essentials, depending on the season and your needs.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
Water - Two quarts per person is recommended in every season. Keep in mind that fluid loss is heightened in winter as well as summer. Don't put yourself in the position of having to end your hike early because you have run out of water.
Map - Know where you are and where you are going. Many of our hiking areas feature interconnecting network of trails. Use a waterproof/tear-resistant Tyvek Trail Conference map if available or enclose your map in a Ziplock plastic bag. If you have a mobile device, download Avenza’s free PDF Maps app and grab some GPS-enhanced Trail Conference maps (a backup Tyvek or paper version of the map is good to have just in case your batteries die or you don't have service). Check out some map-reading basics here.
Food - Snacks/lunch will keep you going as you burn energy walking or climbing. Nuts, seeds, and chocolate are favorites on the trail.
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Rain Gear and Extra Clothing - Rain happens. So does cold. Be prepared for changing weather. Avoid cotton--it traps water against your skin and is slow to dry. If you are wearing wet cotton and must return to your starting point, you risk getting chills that may lead to a dangerous hypothermia. Choose synthetic shirts, sweaters and/or vests and dress in layers for easy on and off.
Compass - A simple compass is all you need to orient you and your map to magnetic north.
Light - A flashlight or small, lightweight headlamp will be welcome gear if you find yourself still on the trail when darkness falls. Check the batteries before you start out and have extras in your pack.
First Aid Kit - Keep it simple, compact, and weatherproof. Know how to use the basic components.
Firestarter and Matches - In an emergency, you may need to keep yourself or someone else warm until help arrives. A firestarter (this could be as simple as leftover birthday candles that are kept inside a waterproof container) and matches (again, make sure to keep them in a waterproof container) could save a life.
Knife or Multi-tool - You may need to cut a piece of moleskin to put over a blister, repair a piece of broken equipment, or solve some other unexpected problem.
Emergency Numbers - Know the emergency numbers for the area you're going to and realize that in many locations--especially mountainous ones, your phone will not get reception.
Common Sense - Pay attention to your environment, your energy, and the condition of your companions. Has the weather turned rainy? Is daylight fading? Did you drink all your water? Did your companion fail to bring rain gear? Are you getting tired? Keep in mind that until you turn around you are (typically) only half-way to completing your hike--you must still get back to where you started from! (Exceptions are loop hikes.)
Check the weather forecast before you head out. Know the rules and regulations of the area.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
The Trail Conference is a 2015 Leave No Trace partner.
(c) Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.