What to do on a sunny Saturday in August in upstate New York? Go to one of our beautiful lakes for some swimming? Rent a canoe and paddle down one of our wonderful rivers? Go cook out in a gorgeous state park? No, no and no! Daisy and I took the obvious choice of hiking to the top of the 3,759 foot-high Blue Mountain, an exceptionally accessible and aesthetically amazing peak.

All the guide books and websites mention the ease with which the trailhead is reached, directly off of Routes 30 and 28N. They also all point out that the ascent is short (the whole hike is 4 miles round-trip) and steep (the elevation change is 2,700 feet round-trip). It turns out that the guide books were right on both of those points and about the sublime 360-degree views from the top of the fire tower on the mountain’s peak.

Blue Mt. view of Blue Mt. Lake and beyond

But before we got to the top we had to get to the mountain and hike it. Because this wasn’t a birding-dedicated trip we left Albany at the reasonable time of 7:30 AM and were at the trailhead by 9:30. The trail was well-marked and apparently popular, as seven cars were in the lot ahead of us. The forest at first was a mix of deciduous trees (maple, cherry, beech and oak) that gradually gave way to evergreens until near the summit it became entirely spruce and fir. Bird-life was either not abundant or not making itself noticeable: other than a cooperative mixed foraging flock of Black-capped Chickadees, Red-eyed Vireos, Black-throated Green Warblers and a couple of juvenile Chestnut-sided Warblers we didn’t see or hear much besides Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and Black-throated Blue Warblers.

juvenile Chestnut-sided Warbler

juvenile Chestnut-sided Warbler

The first mile of the hike was relatively simple, with moderately-pitched uphills alternating with nearly level stretches. The second mile was a whole other story. The trail was essentially bedrock, wet with runoff and dew, making for occasional slippery spots. It was also extremely steep and we were forced to take three breaks to make it to the top.

Once we got there though, we realized it had been worth the struggle. The last stretch of trail, bordered by the aforementioned spruce-fir forest yielded a couple Blackpoll Warblers and the mostly bare-rock summit was loaded with dragonflies and gorgeous views. We sat and ate our lunch, entertained by the antics of Eastern Chipmunks and Red Squirrels that had clearly been fed by previous hikers. Their begging was ignored but when a White-throated Sparrow came out of the woods and started edging closer I couldn’t resist luring it in with a tiny piece of bread:

White-throated Sparrow

think it was molting?

I figured the bird would probably be stuffing itself at birdfeeders in a couple of months anyway so a tiny bit of bread wouldn’t hurt too much.

The hike down was easier, though we had to take baby steps on the steep downhills to prevent ourselves from slipping. The ascent, descent, and a good 45 minutes at the summit got us back to the base within four hours, one of the quickest peaks I have ever hiked. By the time we got to the bottom the lot was full, which explained why we had met so many people coming up the mountain while we were on our way down. In the springtime this mountain is probably crawling with birds, but I would recommend choosing a weekday for your hike to avoid the crowds. Sometimes accessibility can be a negative.

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.