The hike to Indian Head in the Adirondacks of New York is one of the most popular and well-known hikes of the state. It is a gorgeous hike with views into a lake-filled valley in the High Peaks region. The hike is especially popular in the fall when the trees that cover the two sides of the valley turn a rainbow of colors.
After almost three years of wanting to do this hike, we finally were able to do it! It was gorgeous and so much better than we even expected. If you are looking for a hike to do in the Adirondacks and are up for the challenge, Indian Head should definitely be at the top of your list.
Where is Indian Head located?
Indian Head is located in the Adirondack Park of upstate New York.
It is around 270 miles or 4.5 hours if driving from NYC.
The trailhead is 30 minutes from Lake Placid, New York.
How to Visit Indian Head
To access the Indian Head hike, you must reserve a spot through the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) website. This is a private group that regulates who visits the area. The reservations are free but are required regardless of how you arrive to the area.
The reservations are required usually from May until end of October but be sure to check the website for the latest details. As of 2023, reservation slots are opened 2 weeks in advance and can be booked through the website. In the peak season, which is when the leaves are changing in the fall, reservations will fill up very quickly.
Some people make the mistake of thinking you only need a reservation if parking, but you need a reservation even if someone drops you off and you plan on walking onto the property. So make sure you have a reservation or you will be turned away no matter what your situation is.
The only positive thing about the reservation system is that you can make your reservation and have a guaranteed spot, so you don’t have to arrive to the trailhead so early in the morning to find a parking spot.
How to get to Indian Head
The start of the trail to Indian Head is located in St. Huberts, New York which is close to the town of Keene Valley. If you are coming from farther away, I recommend coming up the day or evening before so that you can arrive to the trailhead early enough to start the hike.
Where to Stay near Indian Head
There are several options for staying close to the trailhead of Indian Head.
There are various camping options in the Adirondacks. When we hiked to Indian Head, we stayed at the Loj Campground, which is our favorite place to stay in the Adirondacks. They have both campsites and lean-tos available. For other camping options in the Adirondacks, check out my blog post about Adirondack Camping.
There are AirBnb’s throughout the Adirondacks. Near the St Huberts (where the parking for Indian Head is), there are a lot of cabin options and guesthouses available. We have personally stayed at an AirBnb guesthouse near Jay Mountain and really enjoyed our stay there.
While there are not any main chain hotels close to the trailhead, there are several Inns and local places available. Booking.com has different options of places to stay, some only minutes from the trailhead.
The Hike to Indian Head
The Beginning of the Hike
There are a few slightly different trail variations to get to Indian Head, but all start from the Indian Head parking lot located in St Huberts along Route 73.
The start of the hike is honestly underwhelming due to the fact that you must walk through a country club on a paved road for about a mile. You will eventually come to a little hut where they will check your name off a list to assure that you have a reservation. They will then allow you pass through the gate and enter onto the trail.
The trail from the little entrance cabin begins with a beautiful wooden AMR gate. Regardless of which route you choose to get to Indian Head, you will walk for a while on a wide gravel road.
The two main options for getting to Indian Head once you are walking on the gravel road in the AMR reserve:
The easy way (continue on the gravel road)
The quickest and easiest way to get to Indian Head is to continue on the gravel road for until you reach the trail to the top of the Indian Head viewpoint. The gravel road is around 3.3 miles long and the trail up to the viewpoint is around 1.1 miles.
If on this route, continue on the gravel road until you see a sign pointing towards a trail to your left with “Indian Head” on it. The trail weaves up the side of the mountain and when you stop ascending, you will have reached Indian Head.
The pretty way (via Gill Brook Trail)
After walking on the gravel road for about 2.2 miles, there will be a sign for Gill Brook trail on the left side of the gravel road. This trail is nice and gets you to Indian Head from the other side as the main trail. This trail weaves along Gill Brook and has several small, but nice, waterfalls.
After passing many waterfalls, the trail will start to ascend up and will eventually have wooden stairs to help ascend the rocky side of the mountain.
Once you reach the top of most of the ascent, there is a short trail spur to the right which has views of the northern side of the point, which you cannot really see anywhere else on the trail.
Continue on the trail and you will pass the high point of Indian Head which has a tiny marker on the rock noting that it is indeed a high point.
Keep on the trail and you will emerge at the Indian Head viewpoint.
You can find this trail on AllTrails, named “Indian Head and Rainbow Falls”
Indian Head Viewpoint
You will know when you get to the classic Indian Head viewpoint (plus you’ll probably hear all of the people there before you see the viewpoint if you’re there on a weekend day lol). It is a gorgeous viewpoint and there are several different aspects. You can walk around all the area and find the best spot to sit and hang out for a while.
The viewpoint is a great place to relax with a nice picnic lunch or just sit to enjoy the view. Just remember to follow all of the rules of the area, which includes no drones and no going off trail.
Fish Hawk Cliffs
If you’re feeling super adventurous, you can continue to Fish Hawk Cliffs where there is a view of Indian Head itself (since when you’re standing on Indian Head, you cannot see the Indian Head point yourself. This area would definitely be less crowded than Indian Head if you are looking to get away from the crowds. The trail to go to Fish Hawk Cliffs is to the right at the main trail junction at the top of Indian Head and then right again, but there should be trail signs you can follow. We ended up not going this way because we had planned a longer route back, but it is definitely worth checking out!
Close by to Indian Head is my favorite waterfall in the Adirondacks. It is an absolutely gorgeous waterfall, especially in the spring when all of the snow in the higher elevations is melting.
After you leave Indian Head, go back down to the gravel road and instead of turning right to head back to the trailhead, turn left and continue on the gravel road until you see a bridge to the left that crosses over the river near the dam. Cross the bridge and follow the signs to Rainbow Falls. The trail from the bridge to the waterfall is around 0.3 miles.
The waterfall is best seen in the afternoon when the sun shining in that direction on the water. For more information about Rainbow Falls, check out my Rainbow Falls blog post.
The return to the trailhead
The easy way (and quickest)
If you’re wanting the quickest and easiest return to the trailhead from Indian Head, continue down the mountain and turn right when the trail meets up with the gravel road. If you took the gravel road to get to Indian Head, just backtrack the way that you came.
After stopping by Rainbow Falls, if you choose to do so, just continue back on the gravel road.
The East River trail (more scenic)
If you are looking for something exciting to see on the trail back, I recommend taking the East River trail. It is mostly parallel to the gravel road and begins to the left after you cross back over the bridge by the dam on the way back from Rainbow Falls.
This trail is less traveled, but has beautiful scenery along the way. The trail passes through beautiful pine forest, past boggy areas, and past several waterfalls.
The most notable waterfall on this trail is Beaver Creek Falls. There are several other smaller waterfalls that you pass along the way. As you near the end of this trail, you can hear huge waterfalls in a rocky canyon to the right of the trail, but there are not really any good views of these waterfalls. If you take this trail, you must have a map of some sort as it can be difficult to find the trial at some points.
If you have the time and the stamina left, I really recommend taking this trail as it has so many different beautiful things to see.
Tips for Hiking to Indian Head
Make Your Reservation (and in advance!)
As I talk about extensively in one of the previous sections, you must have a reservation to visit Indian Head or any of the hiking trails in this area. Reservations can be made online up to two weeks in advance. You can make the reservation through their website. Especially during popular times of year, the reservations can fill up quickly. If you have a specific day that you’re wanting to hike, book your free reservation early. Weekend days fill up quicker than weekdays.
Bring Plenty of Water and Snacks
The hike to Indian Head is at least 10 miles long depending on what route you take and will take you at least several hours, so you will need plenty of water and snacks with you. The Indian Head viewpoint is a great place for a small picnic. We sat and ate our lunch with the beautiful view.
Follow the Rules
When entering the trail, after showing your reservation to the trail attendant, you will see signs with rules. Be sure to follow the rules of the AMR property, some of which are different rules than if you were hiking in any other part of the Adirondacks. All of the specific rules can be found on the NY DEC website, but some include no stepping foot off of the trail, no dogs, and no entering any water (streams or lakes).
Use a map
Use AllTrails or a paper map to help guide you on the trail. It was surprising to me the number of people that weren’t using a map to get to Indian Head and were lost. One group even asked us where to go because they couldn’t find the trail they came in on. Even if the trail seems easy or straightforward, make sure to have a map (downloaded to your phone before coming to the area because there is no service) or printed.
Things to Bring on your hike
The 10 Essentials
You should always have the 10 essentials with you when hiking, no matter how long your hike is. If you’re unfamiliar with the 10 Essentials, you can read more about it on the National Park Service website.
Plenty of Water
Always make sure that you have enough water for your hike. Especially in the summer, it can be really hot and humid, causing you to need more water than you think you’ll need. We like using Nalgene bottles to carry our water, but really any water container should do.
First Aid Kit
I’m a firm believer that you should always have some sort of first aid kit with you on your hikes. Luca and I both carry one in our packs. You can get pre-made first aid kits online or make your own at home. Basic things I like to have in my first aid kit are band aids, an ace bandage (for any sprains), alcohol wipes (for cleaning), pain/fever relief (like Tylenol), and anti-itch cream (for bug bites).
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Overall, this is my guide to hiking to Indian Head in the Adirondacks of New York. I hope that this information is helpful to you!
Please let me know any comments or questions that you may have!
Thanks for reading!