Fall 2003

A Small Pleasure, Poke-O-Moonshine Stands Tall

An educational marvel in the natural world

By Ash Marshall

View from the top
Photo by Ash Marshall

Spectacular view makes this steep height of Poke-O-Moonshine worth the climb


Compared to the great heights of Adirondack's High Peaks, this mountain may seem timid and dull in comparison. Nothing could be further from the truth. Poke-O-Moonshine provides an enjoyable afternoon's climb for hikers of all ability while offering a spectacular view from its summit.

"It is actually a noble but poor attempt by the early settlers to use the original Algonquin name for the peak, ‘Pohqui Moosie."

The 1.2 mile trek to the top of the mountain begins steeply, and the trail averages a 35 percent grade, about as steep as Giant Mountain. The route is rocky and uneven, but it does provide points where you can stop, rest shortly, and admire shrubbery and wildlife. Its location also helps its popularity – less than three miles south of Exit 33 on Route Nine, situated in Essex County, neighboring Lake Champlain. Directions, ratings, and maps can be found here.

It gives the novice walker a chance to enjoy a taste of hiking, but at the same time it can be used to prepare a veteran for longer, more challenging climbs. Combined with this is its appeal to families where children can enjoy a fun, yet educational, hike with their parents before setting up camp at the foot of the mountain.

Educational Influence

Volunteers have put up 11 interpretive stops at regular intervals along the trail, and the accompanying pamphlet tells its readers about the natural history and wildlife that you can expect to encounter along the way.

J. Scoles suggests where its name originated: “It is actually a noble but poor attempt by the early settlers to use the original Algonquin name for the peak ‘Pohqui Moosie’,” possibly referring to the smooth summit rocks and broken slabs on the southeast side.

David Thomas-Train, the leader of Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine, has been responsible for helping restore the trail and the fire tower as educational sites and resources. The fire tower was first used as a lookout site in 1912, and the Town of Chesterfield passed a resolution supporting its renovation six years ago. The large steel structure gives a greater outlook point from which you can admire the scenery and the old-fashioned map at the top gives you a greater perspective of your surroundings.

Author on a rock standing on the peak

Photo by Kim Weinert

The author enjoying the view

"July and August are the busiest times,” David says. "I think its popularity is due to its short distance from the road, its spectacular cliffs, and its extraordinary view and fire tower."

Adirondack Online voted Poke-O ‘Hike of the Month’ for September, and their website provides information on camping and climbing as well as a daily weather forecast for prospective hikers.

And the view is worth the leisurely four hours that you should set aside for this round trip. On a clear day you can see Canada and Vermont, not to mention the glorious backdrop of the other Adirondack peaks. Even on an overcast afternoon, you will still see the other closer mountains as well as Lake Champlain.

Currently the mountain attracts about 6,000 hikers a year although numbers have been increasing. However, this peak is a magnet for hikers, campers and climbers throughout all seasons. "Obvious difficulties with any steeper slope apply during winter. As this hike is shorter, the difficulties tend to be less severe," says Anthony Lancaster from summitpost.com website.

Despite its popularity, one problem is vandalism. David Thomas-Train mentioned ‘inexperienced or careless hikers’ who leave trash or graffiti, those who start fires with the leanto shingles, or mess up the numbered interpretive posts, which The Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine installed.

This is a beautiful peak, full of nature and wildlife in its purest form. Natural wonders such as these cannot be overestimated, and it is up to those who hike to ensure that they will remain accessible and enjoyable for future generations who choose to ascend Poke-O.

Ever get lost in the woods? Tell us about it!

Advice for safe and enjoyable hiking

Poke-O-Moonshine remains a family peak where parents can take their younger children on an enjoyable, educational hike among nature. Here are the top four tips for responsible hiking from David Thomas-Train and the Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine.

· Stay on the Trail. Shortcuts cause erosion and washouts. Try to step on a dry rock and solid bare ground. One footstep on a plant can kill it.

· Watch your footing. The trail up Poke-O-Moonshine is full of hazards – wet, mossy rocks, dry leaves, and tree roots.

· Take out what you bring in. Cans, bottles, paper, even food scraps. Use a portable stove instead of a campfire to prevent forest fires and to maintain the pristine look of the surroundings. Do not pick plants or flowers.

· Know where you are. Carry a map and don’t get lost in the backwoods. Check the weather before setting out for the day.

Guidelines courtesy of David Thomas-Train














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