The Cranberry Lake 50 is a beautiful and serene multi-day hike. It’s suitable for all skill levels and a great multi-day option for beginners.
Why I selected the Cranberry Lake 50
The Cranberry Lake 50 found its way onto my radar when I was looking for a multi-day hike that met the following criteria:
- Within a few hours drive so overnight accommodation other than camping was not required
- Preference for minimal encounters with other hikers on the trail
- A loop route so point-to-point transport was not required
- Possible to complete the route in less than 5 days
- Reasonable access to drinking water
- Minimal elevation gain to ensure a knee injury didn’t flare up beyond what I could manage
- Well documented such that it was a comfortable solo hike option
These criteria stemmed from my comfort level with both COVID-19 as well as my experience with multi-day hiking.
Introduction to the Cranberry Lake 50
Information on the Cranberry Lake 50 can be found on the Five Ponds Partners Cranberry Lake 50 website.
I read through all the material on the website, then purchased the Cranberry Lake 50 waterproof/tearproof map from Adirondack Mountain Club as well as the Cranberry Lake 50 Pocket Guide from The Mountaineer. Other retailers are listed on the Cranberry Lake 50 website.
Highlights from the Cranberry Lake 50
My overall assessment is that my experience couldn’t have been better!
Time of Year
Early spring meant the leaves were not yet fully formed on the trees and the numerous lake views were relatively unobstructed.
I had perfect weather. Probably mid 60s-70s degrees Fahrenheit daytime temperatures and 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Certainly warm enough during the day for shorts and a t-shirt and cool enough in the evening for comfortable sleeping with few bugs. However, just a week or two prior there was still snow so I got very lucky!
Side Trips / Route Modifications
There are a number of side trips available just off the main route. It’s also possible to alter the route to lengthen the time spent on the trail or shorten the loop if it’s necessary to bail early.
I was fortunate enough to complete the entire loop as well as the Cat Mtn. and High Falls side trips. More details and photos on these side trips are included in my route description below.
There are a plethora of marked campsites on the Cranberry Lake 50. Some of these sites have a firepit and privy (pit toilet) and most have access to water. In addition to the marked campsites, it’s permissible to camp anywhere so long as you are 150 feet away from water, roads, and trails.
Of the three marked campsite locations I stayed at, I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite. They were all that good.
My Route on the Cranberry Lake 50
Given a 6+ hour drive on my start and end days, I had allocated 5 days/4 nights for the trip but ended up completing the route in 4 days/3 nights. In retrospect, I wish I had slowed down, covered less ground per day, and enjoyed the sights and sounds more fully. Hindsight is 20/20.
I followed the exact route outlined in the Cranberry Lake 50 Pocket Guide. It made things simple, easy to follow, and hey, why not? I figured the author knew their stuff!
A brief synopsis of my route is as follows:
Day 1 Hike: ~8 mi // Clifton Community Center → East Inlet Campsite 13
I drove 6+ hours from New Jersey to Cranberry Lake and parked at Clifton Community Center. Started at about 2:45pm. A brief road walk later and I entered the trail at the Gilbert Tract Trailhead. Easy dry walking and covered ground quickly. Stopped for a cold-soak curry rice dinner break along the way. Concluded the day around 6pm at East Inlet Campsite 13.
Day 1 Campsite: East Inlet Campsite 13
I had East Inlet Campsite 13 to myself. The campsite has a privy, picnic table, and fire ring. It’s located in an open clearing directly on the water where swimming would be possible. I thoroughly enjoyed the views and location of this campsite.
Day 2 Hike: ~18.5 mi // East Inlet Campsite 13 → Cowhorn Pond Campsite
Woke shortly after 6am and enjoyed the view of the mist languishing over the water. Departed campsite at 8am after a cold-soak breakfast of oats with nuts, berries, and instant coffee.
I enjoyed the walk around the perimeter of the inlet. Registered at the Otter Pond Trailhead at 11am after having crossed a beaver dam and hopped a few rock crossings. Of course I neglected to don my neoprene socks and, ever the klutz, my feet were wet and muddy by this point in the day.
Arrived Chair Rock Flow about 1pm. Stopped for lunch of crackers with cheese and hummus along with matcha tea. Would be a very nice spot to camp.
Registered at West Flow trail register at 2pm. Drizzling by the time I reached Olmstead Pond around 4:20pm. I carried on to Cowhorn Pond and arrived about 5:45pm. What a beautiful spot for the night!
Day 2 Campsite: Cowhorn Pond Campsite
I set-up and ate a cold-soak Mexican rice and veggies dinner. I thought I was going to have a second campsite to myself but close to sundown a group of ~8-10 showed up. They parked themselves away from me and were respectful and quiet neighbors. Cowhorn Pond Campsite has a small sandy beach area slightly downhill from the camping area where swimming would be possible. There’s a lean-to, multiple fire pits, and a privy located up the hill. Another winning campsite!
Day 3 Hike: ~20 mi // Cowhorn Pond Campsite → Peavine Swamp #3.
Woke shortly before 6am and departed camp at 8am after another cold-soak breakfast of oats with nuts, berries, and instant coffee.
Day 3 Side Trip: 1.4 mi return // Cat Mountain Summit
My first stop of the day was a side tip to summit Cat Mountain. I arrived at the summit of Cat Mountain at 9:30am. The climb took 30 minutes and was well worth it. I was alone at the summit and sat down for a bit to enjoy the views of the surrounding Five Ponds Wilderness Area. By the time I descended Cat Mountain and started hiking the loop again it was 10:30am.
Day 3 Side Trip: .8 mi return // High Falls
The second stop of the day was a side trip to High Falls where I stopped to eat my lunch: peanut butter and crackers with matcha tea.
High Falls is a popular overnight camping spot. Whilst walking here I encountered a gentleman who hiked the Cranberry Lake 50 last year and was back for a week to further explore the region. He was spending two nights at High Falls and was on a day hike to Cat Mountain. I also discovered a new privy at a nearby campsite. There were a few of these new privies over the course of my few days on the loop.
I departed High Falls around 1:15pm. Today I wised up and donned my neoprene socks for the afternoon jaunt across the muddy terrain and beaver dams.
I passed the intersection for High Rock about 3:45pm and arrived in Wanakena just after 5pm. I paused in the town center gazebo and used the public restroom and potable water tap. Next visit I’d like to explore the town and stop in at Otto’s Abode.
After a short road walk, I passed the forestry school and arrived at the entrance to the Peavine Swamp Trail at 6pm. I stopped for a dinner break: more cold-soak Mexican rice and veggies. Shortly thereafter I arrived at the Peavine Swamp Loop 3 Campsite for the night.
Day 3 Campsite: Peavine Swamp Loop 3 Campsite
Peavine Swamp Loop 3 Campsite was another spectacular campsite location. There’s a lean-to, fire pit, privy, and a dock. I wandered around and watched some folks on a kayak, canoe, and motorized boat in the water.
Once again I thought I was on my own at the beautiful campsite but at sundown a solo hiker arrived for the night.
Day 4 Hike: ~8.25 mi // Peavine Swamp Loop 3 Campsite → Clifton Community Center
After eating breakfast I began my last day on the Cranberry Lake 50 at 8am. I really enjoyed the Peavine Swamp trails. These appear to be popular cross-country skiing routes and I imagine they’d be awesome snowshoe trails!
By 10:45am I was walking through what is described in the pocket guide as private land that has been timber harvested. The sun was shining and with increased temperatures and no tree cover, I was feeling the heat. This section of the loop was definitely my least favorite.
Just after 11am I joined up with the Lost Pond Nature Trail where the visual interest increased with interesting rock formations.
Shortly thereafter the trail ended and I found myself walking on the road into Cranberry Lake. Arrived at my car in the Clifton Community Center parking lot prior to noon.
Sadly, back to reality and a 6+ hour drive to New Jersey.
Cranberry Lake 50 FAQ
There were a three questions that I saw repeatedly asked online about the Cranberry Lake 50. Here’s my responses to those questions:
Q: What’s the drinking water situation? Will my filter work?
A: There are plenty of natural water sources but the water needs to be purified. Many people complained about their filter malfunctioning.
I brought two 1 liter Vapur water bottles with one bottle using the Vapur microfilter attachment. I have used these bottles for many years and think they are great! Lightweight, flexible, and the interchangeable and removable cap/filter works well as an inline filter within the bottle or as a straw. No need to pump water.
However, after reading about filter malfunctioning I planned on using purification tablets. But, it wasn’t necessary. My water bottled filter worked fine. I dipped a bandana into the water and wrung it into my water bottle. Repeat.
These Katadyn tables offer protection against viruses, bacteria, cryptosporidium, and giardia after 4 hours. I’ve also used Aquatabs but it does not protect against cryptosporidium. With the beaver activity in the Five Ponds Wilderness Area, I opted to bring Katadyn.
Q: Will I encounter a bear? Do I need to use a bear canister?
A: There are black bears in the Five Ponds Wilderness Area and many people do see them. Thankfully the bears are not deemed “problem” bears; let’s please keep it that way by ensuring the bears don’t have access to human food. Bear canisters are not required but proper food storage is a must.
A bear encounter is not something I’m interested in having. Thankfully I didn’t see any bears. I used an Ursack All-Mitey / OPSAK odorless bag combination and hung the Ursack away from camp. There was no evidence of the bear bag being tampered with overnight by any creatures.
Q: How many days do I need to complete the Cranberry Lake 50?
A: IMHO, take your time and ensure you are realistic about your abilities. Hiking all day is not for everyone. I hiked two full days (8am – 6pm) and two half days with 6 hours driving tacked onto each half day. If I could turn back time I would have slowed down and added another day or two. Mainly to enjoy the lovely campsite locations.
Cranberry Lake 50 Resources
Read all the Information on the Cranberry Lake 50 on the Five Ponds Partners Cranberry Lake 50 website.
Although you are not likely to get lost on the Cranberry Lake 50, I strongly suggest purchasing both the Cranberry 50 waterproof/tearproof map that the Five Pond Partners produces as well as the Cranberry Lake 50 Pocket Guide authored by James Savage. Retailers are listed on the Cranberry Lake 50 website.
It is both interesting and helpful to read the commentary in the pocket guide whilst traversing the route. There are useful tips, well-documented mileage tables, and a useful campsite comparison chart.
Please support the foundation and community that lovingly cares for the land that we are all able to enjoy for free. Make a donation to the Five Ponds Partners. The mailing address for donations is located on the Cranberry Lake 50 website.
TIP: Don’t forget to register your trail completion and request a patch.
Cranberry Lake 50 Hike: May 16 – 19, 2021