Hiking the Indian Head and Rainbow Falls trail in the Adirondacks

In early November, M and I, together with our friend decided to do a road trip to upstate New York. Riding on the streak of weekend hiking, we decided to incorporate a hike on this trip. While doing our research, we chanced upon the Indian Head and Rainbow Falls trail.

The trail is located in the middle of Adirondacks, home to New York state’s biggest wilderness. Adirondacks is where troves of families head to for their summer vacation.

We’ll be visiting in early November which was off-season. Temperatures would be low and ice would have started forming along the way. Therefore we were a little sceptical as to whether we could actually pull off the hike. Spoiler alert: it actually wasn’t that bad!

Getting to the trailhead

The only realistic way to get to the trailhead is to drive. As it’s a remote region, there’s no easily accessible public transportation.

The trailhead is conveniently located beside Highway 73 and it’s very obvious from the main road. You won’t miss it even if you tried.

Once you’re there, there are plenty of parking spaces available. When we visited in early November, the parking area was about 70% full. However, we can foresee the lots getting filled during the peak of the hiking season. If you’re planning to visit, we’d recommend coming very early to secure your spot for your car.

Parking spaces at the Indian Head and Rainbow Falls trail in Adirondacks.

Where to stay before the hike

The Indian Head and Rainbow Falls is located in the middle of remote Adirondacks. There are several towns within an hour’s drive away from the the trailhead.

For our trip, we chose to stay at the town of Lake George before the hike and Lake Placid after the hike.

At Lake George, we stayed at the Quality Inn Lake George Hotel and at Lake Placid, we stayed at Lake House at Lake Placid.

The trail

The trail is 17.4km long and rated moderate on Alltrails. For our hike, we took a total of 9 hours and 17 minutes including stops.

You’ll traverse through a wide variety of terrains during the hike, from pathed roads to jungle trails and unmarked grounds.

Starting our hike on the Indian Head and Rainbow Falls trail.

From the parking space, there’s a considerable walk to the real starting point of the hike. We enjoyed this part of the hike and saw it as a good warmup.

As we visited in Fall, we barely saw anyone on the trail. The quietness was surreal and beautiful.

About 15 minutes in, you’ll approach a hut for hikers to register themselves.

Adirondacks is situated in the northern regions of New York. The peak fall season tends to occur between early and mid-October, so we definitely missed it on our trip. Most leaves have already fallen and trees are starting to look bare.

In the lower elevations, there are areas with evergreen trees. They also tend to trap water so remember to check the weather forecast before your trip.

Trail marking along the Indian Head and Rainbow Falls trail.

There are markings throughout the trail. However, they are easy to miss and we found ourselves walking on unchartered territories several times.

READ ALSO: Storm King Mountain Loop Trail Hiking Review

Split road along the Indian head and Rainbow falls trail.

Visible signs are also put up throughout the trail for directions.

As this is a loop trail, hikers have the option of either going the clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. We went for the anti-clockwise option and would highly recommend it.

If you choose this, you’d get to do most of the elevation gains at the start of the hike. Toward the end, it’s mostly flat or downhill. If you do the reverse, you’ll have a much more difficult end.

Icy paths leading towards the Rainbow falls.

As we walked towards Rainbow Falls, we started seeing more snow on the ground. The roads became slippery and so we had to be really careful when traversing in this terrain.

Man-made ladders along the way to help us traverse difficult terrains.

The trail was for the most part very well pathed. There are even ladders placed at portions where its difficult to get to.

Walking along the wall of icicles.
A waypoint along the Indian Head and Rainbow Falls trail the indicates the upcoming direction.

Viewpoints

The viewpoints of this hike are all mostly clustered near the Indian Head area. It takes about 4 hours to get to the viewpoints from the start.

At the top of the Indian Head trail's viewpoint, overlooking the Lower Ausable Lake.

From the Indian Head viewpoint, you’ll be greeted with an amazing overhead view of the Lower Ausable Lake. I feel that this view is worth the relatively long hike.

We unfortunately didn’t get to spend too much time at the viewpoints as it was pretty cold and we were trying to get out of the park by sunset.

At the top of the Indian Head trail's viewpoint.

As we visited in late fall, most of the leaves have already fallen. We can only imagine how beautiful the mountains were in peak fall season!

At the top of the Indian Head trail's viewpoint.

Other than the Indian Head viewpoint, the other main attraction of the hike is the Rainbow Falls. To get to the falls, you’d have to make a small detour at the end of Lake Road. Do not skip the falls! It’s absolutely beautiful and is a waste to miss it.

Standing below the Rainbow Falls.

There were a little bit of scrambling through the slippery rocks to get close to the falls. We’d recommend bringing crampons or gloves to help with that.

Things to note before visiting the trail

Remember to check the official park site for the latest requirements as they change frequently.

If you’re hiking between 1st May and 31st October, you’d have to make reservations via hikeamr’s official page.

Conclusion & Final Thoughts

We think that the moderate difficulty of trail is accurate. Although it took a long time to complete, it wasn’t too difficult. The elevation was flat for the most part. There wasn’t really any difficult scrambling or extended stretches of elevation change.

The view throughout the trail was pretty good, scoring the trail a high view-to-effort ratio. If you’re looking for a good hike or a weekend road trip, we’d highly recommend adding the Indian Head and Rainbow Falls trail into your itinerary!

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