The Santanoni Range

Saturday was a big hiking day. Brendan and I hiked the Santanoni range in the high peaks of the Adirondacks, Santanoni, Couchsachraga and Panther peaks. And FYI: Couch isn’t technically a high peak since it’s not 4,000 feet in elevation–but its still required to hike as part of the 46. The trailhead to this range is at the Upper Works in Newcomb. On the sign at the parking lot it said trailhead to Bradley Pond, with no mention of the Santanonis at all. We took exit 26 on the Northway and drove through Minerva to get there. The trailhead is at the start of an old dirt road. We couldn’t figure out where this road lead to, but there is a locked gate at the start of it. We actually drove up in Brendan’s hatchback on Friday night and slept in his car since the back seats folded down. I had never done that before, but it turned out to be a good idea because it meant we got an early start. We were hiking down the dirt road by 6:30AM.

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I had done extensive research on this hike because the herd paths to these three peaks are unmarked and unmaintained. I studied maps and read trip reports and even taught myself how to use a map and compass by watching a youtube video. Thankfully I didn’t need to put my newfound skill to work. 😉

We walked for 1.7 miles on the dirt road until we saw the blue trail on the right that leads to the Santanonis.

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I had read that there was an express herd path that leaves from the blue trail and takes you straight to the summit of Santanoni. We decided this would be the best option since it would create a loop so we could hike Santanoni first, followed by Couch, then Panther. I kept my eye out for the cairn that lead to the Santanoni Express herd path. After hiking for almost 3 miles, we saw it!

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I was worried the trail would be difficult to follow, but turns out that it was a very well worn path and was super easy stay on. It was a bit steep, but not the worst I’ve seen in the high peaks! It was quite enjoyable actually. Finally, we hit tree line for Santanoni at about 9:40AM and got some nice views.

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There is a false summit which we got to at about 10:00am.

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We walked a little bit further to look for the summit sign and found it not too far away.

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After having a snack and staying for about 15 minutes max, we headed back in the direction we came from and passed the false summit again. This time, we saw a trail that turned left and took that one down to Times Square, a clearing not far from Santanoni’s summit that also leads to Couch and Herald Square. All of the squares are a bit confusing, but after googling and finding maps of said squares, it was quite easy to figure out. There are two squares, Times Square and Herald Square. Times Square has paths leading to Santanoni, Couch and the not too far away Herald Square. Herald Square is where you pick up the path to Panther and the herd path back down to Bradley Pond and the blue trail, which will take us back to the road and back to the car. Confused yet?

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Small cairn at a clearing signifies Times Square.

When we got to Times Square, we took a left and headed to Couch. The herd path to Couch is 1.5 miles one way and took us about 1.5 hours. There is the infamous bog down at the col which I had been dreading. Thankfully we had our poles to help balance on the logs as we crossed. But if we lost our balance, we would have sunk into knee-deep mud. Because of the bog and the long trek out to Couch, its not a favorite peak of many. You also lose significant elevation going over to Couch, and you have to climb back up to Times Square after. Not fun.

 

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Following footprints in the mud also helps to discern the herd path. We made it through the bog unscathed and found ourselves at the viewless summit of Couchsachraga Peak at 1:15PM, more than three hours after we hit Santanoni.

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My thoughts Couch. It took us three hours to get there and back and were back at Times Square at 2:47PM. Time to hit the last summit of the day, Panther! We got to Herald Square four minutes after leaving Times Square! We knew we were there because there were markings carved into a tree.

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From there the path to Panther is on the right with a scratching into the rock pointing that direction.

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There is also a rock with directions to Times Square.

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Panther is only .5 miles round trip from Herald Square. I’m so glad we took the express route up and saved Panther for last, because it was SO EASY and had phenomenal views.

We also had a fantastic view of Santanoni.

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And the lovely Couch, to the far right.

 

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All together now, the range we just hiked.

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Summit bench marker at Panther.

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Glad to be done–BUT with still 6 miles left to hike back to the car!!

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Santanoni Range complete–26, 27 and 28th peaks done. Going back down to Herald Square was a breeze–then from there we took another unmarked path that didn’t lead to TS or Panther back down to Bradley Pond. This trail was annoying, rocky, and pretty awful. It followed a dry stream bed all the way down and was hard on the feet. I was tired from already hiking 11 miles and just wanted to be DONE. Finally we saw the pond, and the herd path went left around it, spit us out into this forest that thankfully had some tape on the trees to tell us where the trail went. We hit a Beaver Pond and followed some footrprints to the right and came onto a well-maintained trail. I had brought Christine’s trip report from last year with me and read hers which told us this was the blue trail. Soon enough, we saw blue trail markers !

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We followed the trail back to the dirt road, and ultimately back to the car as the sun started to set.

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At 7:15pm we signed out of the register, 12 hours and 45 minutes after starting the hike. This one left me physically drained, bruised and covered in mud, but extremely worth it because I’m 3 peaks closer to my goal. It has also helped me feel more confident in my hiking ability when it comes to the trailless peaks! This range was not easy.

Santanoni Range via Santanoni Express
Distance ~17 mi RT from Upper Works
Total hiking time 12 hrs, 45 minutes including stops
Santanoni Elevation 4606′
Couchsachraga Elevation 3720′
Panther Elevation 4442′
Total Elevation Gain 4395′

santas

Gear used Osprey Sirrus day pack, 3 L Platypus hydration bladder, 1 L Hydroflask, Kelty trekking poles, Under Armor crops, New Balance tank, Merrell Moab hiking boots, Exofficio long sleeve, EMS Gaitors, Smartwool socks, Buff headband

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6 comments / Add your comment below

  1. You are amazing! Thanks for sharing! We’ve been getting our 6 and 8 year old children into hiking this year – we’re done Hadley, Kaaterskill Falls, Buck, Black, Sleeping Beauty and Giant’s Nubble! And we’re read about several of them here!

  2. Hi Jen-
    Very nice detailed description of this trail, very helpful in finding it, the best there is on the web.
    I did this route today, took just less than 11 hours including all stops. Nice day for it.
    Some comments:
    The GaiaGPS app is perfect for this kind of trail and route finding.
    Kook wasn’t so bad – there is a little view.
    You did not photo or mention the main trail route out (down from Panther), which runs along the base of some impressive rock cliffs with overhangs at some points.
    Also, some of the cliff descent moves on that section were the most difficult of the entire route.
    Agreed that the bog section of the trail to Kook is pretty trivial, there is plenty of mud throughout the Adirondacks, including these trails.
    David

  3. I’m thinking about hitting the Santas the first weekend in October and was wondering (after doing this hike) what your thoughts on going up Panther Brook and down the Express (reversing your loop)?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi! So, I much prefer taking the steep routes UP versus down, since my knees hate steep descents. But I guess it’s all up to your preferences. I didn’t think the express to Santanoni was awful, I actually liked it. But I didn’t care for coming down Panther Brook, probably because I was so tired and it’s very rocky and long. So, if you want to summit quicker, I’d take the express up. Also saving Panther for last was a good decision for me since it has great views and it is VERY short distance to the summit. So it is all up to your prefer. Hope you have a great hike!

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