The Adirondack Mountains in New York is home to some of the most rugged and undeveloped landscapes on the East Coast. This region is filled with endless hiking trails but one hike that has become very popular, especially in recent years, is the Indian Head Trail.
If you are planning a trip to the Adirondack Mountains and are looking for information on where the Indian Head viewpoint is located, how to get there and how difficult the hike is, we are here to make your life a bit easier!
In this guide, we cover all you need to know for hiking the Indian Head Trail plus we include photography tips on how to capture amazing photos at this location.
Indian Head Trail Hiking Guide:
- Quick Trail Highlights
- Location & Parking
- About Indian Head Trail
- Trail Overview
- Photography Tips
- What To Expect
- What To Bring
- Other Hiking Tips
Quick Trail Highlights
Here are a few quick trail highlights before we go into more details:
- Length: 9-11 miles depending on which route you take
- Elevation Gain: Around 2000 feet
- Time Needed: 4-7 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Cost: Free
- Dogs allowed?: No
Location & Parking
The Indian Head Trail starting point is located next to Highway 73 in Keene Valley. This is by far the most popular hike in the Adirondack Mountains so you can expect parking to be crowded at any point of the day.
Parking is one of the most limiting parts of hiking the Indian Head Trail. There is a small lot by the trailhead that can fit a few cars. If this lot is full you can see if there are any spots left at the Roaring Brook Trailhead across Highway 73.
When these two lots are full many people also park along Highway 73 itself but you’re taking a chance of getting a ticket plus you’ll need to walk along a major highway to get to the trailhead.
Because of the limited parking, it’s pretty normal for hikers to arrive at the Indian Head trailhead at around 5-6 am. If you arrive any time past that, you might not be able to find a parking spot.
Most people hike the Indian Head trail for sunrise. As another option, you can hike this trail in the afternoon or for sunset. By the afternoon the first wave of the 5 am hikers usually start returning and spots start slowly opening up.
Trail Address: 24 Ausable Rd, Keene Valley, NY 12943
About Indian Head Trail
Indian Head is a crown jewel of the Adirondack Mountains and a must-do hike if you plan to visit this region.
Indian Head Trail is a scenic, but long, hike that leads to an overlook of Lower Ausable Lake. A photo of Indian Head vista point has become a staple for Instagram photographers, especially in fall when this whole area is covered in stunning colors of yellow, orange, and red hues.
Psst! Check out our Instagram page @funlifecrisis for more travel inspiration!
The Adirondack Mountains is one of the most rugged outdoors regions on the East Coast so the Indian Head trail is not exactly a walk in a park. This trail covers over 10 miles in terrain with steep sections that climb up rocks, across tree roots, and along slippery surfaces. But despite its length, the Indian Head Trail is not overly technical or difficult and the effort is certainly worth it!
It takes around 4-7 hours to do this hike, depending on which route you choose and your hiking speed. We like to hike pretty slow and stop for lots of photos so we finished the Indian Trail hike in 7 hours. If you’re just heading to the overlook for photos and then back, you can finish the hike much faster!
The Indian Head Trail starts next to private property and goes along a wide path with slight elevation gain. It only gets difficult towards the end as you near the overlook.
The trail is easy to spot and there are plenty of markers along the way. We also used Maps.Me hiking app to find the route whenever we felt lost or unsure of which way to go. There is limited reception once you head into the trail so it’s best to check out the trail map ahead of time.
Indian Head Trail Map from AllTrails:
The Indian Head Trail is a straight forward hike but you have a few options for the hiking routes that you can take there and back:
- Lake Road. This is the easiest and the most straightforward route along a wide road. Most people take this route.
- Gill Brook Trail. Another popular trail that runs along a narrow path next to the river and passes a few small waterfalls.
- West River Trail. This was my favorite route but parts of this trail were muddy and hard to spot. The West River Trail also passes a few waterfalls and scenic bridges.
- East River Trail. The local ranger recommended us to stay away from this trail and it might even close in the future due to mud and steep drop-offs that can be dangerous.
If you have the extra time, I recommend taking one of the scenic routes especially coming back. The Indian Head overlook is the main destination of this trail but there are other great gems to explore along the way.
If you’re short on time, stick to the Lake Road there and back.
Indian Head Trail is an excellent place for photography no matter when you choose to hike it. But if you’re heading to Indian Head overlook specifically for photos in fall, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The best time to photograph the Indian Head vista point is during sunrise and sunset. Unfortunately, due to bad weather, we could only hike this trail during the day which is not always the ideal time for photography. We reached the overlook at around 3 pm in the afternoon and the sun was shining bright right in front of us creating harsh shadows and muted color tones.
Once you reach the viewpoint there are a couple of popular spots for photography. While there can be a lot of people at the top, if you wait around, you’ll get your chance to get that epic photo of the lake that you often see on social media.
Here are a few photography tips to keep in mind:
- Use a polarizer filter. A polarizer filter can remove sun glare from the lake water and deepen the color.
- Use a lens hood on your camera to help battle direct sunlight.
- Keep the shutter speed high. High winds at the viewpoint can make your photos come out blurry especially if you’re shooting at low shutter speed. Keep the shutter speed high for sharper images.
- Bring a small tripod. If you take one of the scenic routes, you’ll pass a lot of waterfalls. Using a tripod can create that flowy waterfall look and reduce blurriness in a photo.
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What To Expect
It’s 4 am and our alarm goes off. Despite wanting to sleep in, we slowly get out of our warm beds and start getting ready for this 10-mile hike. We knew it would be difficult but nothing we haven’t done before… that is until we check the weather and realize that the temperatures had dropped to freezing overnight.
As much as we wanted to hike the Indian Head overlook for sunrise, it seemed Mother Nature had thrown a little curveball our way. We were well unprepared for these temperatures and got stuck with one choice – to wait out the weather.
Instead, we slowly sipped our morning coffee and watched Lake Placid light up in colorful sunrise hues from our hotel room. When temperatures finally started warming up we made our way down to the Indian Head Trailhead.
By the time we arrived at noon the brave souls that started the hike at 5 am were starting to return and we were able to snatch a spot right by the trailhead. We even ran into a friendly ranger who gave us a few hiking tips and off we went.
The first section of the trail is very easy and passes a golf course and private houses.
A few minutes into the hike you’ll come across a fence that is the starting point for the Indian Head Trailhead. There is a small ranger booth with general rules and guidelines for hikers.
The next few miles go along a wide forest road with gradual elevation gain. You can take this road all the way, but we wanted to explore some of the scenic side trails so at the 2.6-mile mark we made a left onto the Gill Brook Trail.
The Gill Brook Trail is a narrow path that runs along the Gill Brook River and passes a few small waterfalls. This trail is mostly flat but has a lot of tree roots and rocks that slowed us down.
We were on the Gill Brook Trail for about a mile until we reached the turning point for the Indian Head overlook. We made a right and started to climb up a steep trail that leads directly to the viewpoint.
Due to the foot traffic and rainy weather parts of the trail were extremely muddy so we recommend wearing good hiking boots to keep your feet warm and dry.
After the climb we reached the first viewpoint called North Outlook but the scenery was obstructed by trees so we kept going to the South Outlook. Here we were finally rewarded with incredible views of Lower Ausable Lake and stunning landscape all around us!
Most people spend around an hour at the top enjoying the vista, eating lunch, and taking photos. The South Overlook can get quite crowded but there is plenty of space for everyone to spread out and hang out.
After taking in the views we started the hike back down. Once we made it down the steep part we decided to go on a little detour and take the West River Trail back.
Along with the overlook, the West River Trail was my favorite part of the hike. We crossed a scenic bridge, passed a few stunning waterfalls, and even spotted a deer in a meadow.
I do want to note that sections of the West River Trail were hard to spot and we had to keep referencing Maps.Me hiking app to make sure that we were heading in the right direction.
After reaching Beaver Meadow Falls the sun was about to go down so we crossed a bridge that connected with the main Lake Road which we took back to our car.
What To Bring
The Indian Head Trail is not a technical hike but having proper gear and clothing can certainly make it more enjoyable. Here’s what to bring along:
- Hiking boots. For shoes, I recommend wearing ankle boots that prevent your ankles from rolling when stepping across large rocks and tree roots. Ankle boots also protect your feet if you step into a deep puddle of water or mud.
- Jacket. It can be windy and cold at the Indian Head overlook even on sunny days. Make sure to pack a jacket that you can easily throw on when you get to the top.
- Clothing layers. This is an all-day hike so you want to wear layers that will keep you warm during the chillier parts of the day but can be easily removed once you start working up a sweat during the hike.
- Gloves and a hat. I brought along a pair of gloves and a beanie to wear at the top. Gloves will keep your hands warm especially if you plan to spend some time at the overlook taking photos.
- Head lamp. A headlamp is a must if you plan to hike this trail in the dark for sunrise or sunset.
- Portable charger. In case your phone runs out of battery.
- Water. A couple of water bottles was enough for us.
- Food and snacks. This is a long hike so bring some snacks and food to keep your hanger away.
- Small backpack. To store everything for the hike.
Other Hiking Tips
- Dogs are not allowed on the Indian Head Trail. There are other hikes in the Andorack Mountains like the Cobble Lookout Trail that do allow dogs.
- Bicycles and motorbikes are not allowed.
- Keep in mind that black bears are very active in this mountain region.
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Interested in how I capture amazing photos on my trips? Here is the camera gear that I use to create my photos:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for nature shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Sony Camera Charger Set
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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