This isn't exactly a trip report; more of a trail description. After three full passes, and several shorter forays, I'm comfortable writing up a trail description for the Five Mile Trail at Saratoga Springs State Park. I'm sure that I've made mistakes, and potentially omitted sections, so please consider this a work in progress. The tag "Five Mile Trail" should take you to the latest trail description, if I decide to update it in the future. I also plan on making a GPX file of the route available, once I've got a clean one.
This route may have been originally designated as a racing trail and may still be used today. I haven't been able to dig up anything definitive with my (very) limited searches to date, but there are references to five mile races being held at Saratoga Springs State Park (which could have been held along any number of roads or trails).
At any rate, without any further chitter chatter, here's version 1.1.
Five Mile Trail
Saratoga Springs State Park
Doug Harple, 8 May 2013, v1.1
These directions describe the route from the Orenda Pavilion. Due to reservations at this pavilion, it may be easier to park near the Hathorn Spring #3, or near the Roosevelt Baths. Both parking areas lie along the trail itself. It is also possible to pick up the trail at numerous points from the picnic area near the Geyser pavilion.
The marking along this trail is occasionally sporadic, so it is important for the user to keep their eyes open. The trail starts and ends at the grassy area near the Orenda pavilion. Look for a pair of yellow "Five Mile Trail" signs near the head of the pavilion, and follow those into the woods. The trail quickly descends down almost to the paved walkway before climbing back up to the level of the pavilion. Poison ivy grows freely in these woods, and thickets of it have been observed in this area during the summer and fall.
The trail follows the pavilion green momentarily, and then heads back down again. Keep your eyes open for signs in this area. After a short distance, the trail makes its way down to the paved walkway. Continue left, toward SPAC, past the Orenda spring, and under the SPAC walkway. Head down the stairs, and then continue along the Vale of Springs trail back toward the Island Spouter. The portion of this trail that crosses the runoff from the Orenda spring is always wet, and will leave a mineral residue on your footwear and/or feet. Once past the Island Spouter, head left along the road and then take another left as the trail once again heads off into the woods. Climb up to the SPAC fence, head right along the fence, and then head right once again across the Roosevelt Bath's parking lot. Watch for markers, as there are a number of trails in this area.
From here there appear to be two possible routes.
I am describing the main route as the main route only because there is a mileage marker along this route. It could very well be that someone stole the arrow marking the route, and that the alternate route is the correct route. They could have also moved the 1 mile marker sign.
Main route: Follow the trail toward and past the Ferndell pavilion. After a small open area, continue along in the same direction, toward a yellow sign that looks slightly different. This is the 1 mile marker. Follow the obvious path as it swings around and then heads over to the Ferndell parking lot. As it approaches the parking lot, look for a trail heading slightly to the right, and run along side the road before heading to the right again.
Alternate route: As you approach the Ferndell pavilion, a marked FMT path to the left leads off just past another trail coming in from the right. The turn is not marked. Follow this to the road that leads to the Baths, and head right, through the grassy area, running parallel to the road. Find the marked FMT trail markers on the other side of the grassy area, and follow them through a criss-crossing network of trails. Head left once you get to the Ferndell parking area, and then take an immediate right.
Which ever route you took, you should now be running along side the North-South Road. Avoid the trail going down and to the right, and take the second right, heading off into the woods, but more on the level. Follow the well marked path through the woods, staying at roughly the same elevation now. The trail loops around the cliffs above the picnic area as it makes its way over to the Columbia pavilion's parking area. After a hard right, the trail immediately ducks away to the left, at a 45 degree angle. Look up to find the signs. Follow this well-marked section as it makes its way around the Columbia pavilion. Watch out for a hard left that can be easy to miss. A 1.75 mile marker is found in this area. After a short while, the trail comes to an open field. Head straight across, then down a short hill, and around a bend. Cross over a small culvert, and make your way toward the road to cross the creek. Watch out for traffic, as you have to actually walk on the active road for part of this crossing.
On the other side of the bridge, head right along a wide, grassy lane. The 2 mile marker is found on the right along the creek. This is the last mile marker on the course. The trail heads gently to the left as it prepares to cross the road at a crosswalk, then follows the creek briefly. Take the first obvious left, toward the Karista pavilion, and then head left again when possible, to pick up the trails heading up the cliff. Follow the signs to get to the top.
Once you have reached the top, head generally to the left, following the row of trees, and make your way around the massive field. This is a picnic area around the Peerless Pool. The trail is mostly unmarked at this point, but follows the edge of the woods. Avoid the trails leading back down the cliff, and instead follow the edge of the woods until you come to a squared off clearing. Diagonally across the clearing is a trail that leads through a small strip of woods. Once through the woods, head directly across the grassy area and make for a small stand of birches at the far end of the grassy area, directly ahead. You will be walking parallel to the East-West Road at this point. After crossing over the two access roads for the Peerless Pool, start looking for the trail. The trail heads through the woods now, making a left as it goes to cross the East-West Road.
The trail now merges with the blue-marked Wetlands Overlook trail. Follow the blue markers around a swampy area until you find yourself at a junction with a very wide grassy lane. Head left along this lane, then take the next right to pick up the blue blazes once more. Follow this trail, passing by the park fence and the wetlands overlook, before crossing over a small bridge that meets up with the same grassy lane. Continue moving in the same direction, heading toward the road that's visible in the distance. Cross this road, making for the paved walkway on the other side, and pick up the trail as it heads diagonally off into the woods once again.
As of 2013, this section has had recent improvements, and much of this next stretch is gravel. The trail crosses the picnic road and then heads left at a T-junction. A short distance later it heads left again, running through an occasionally wet area before crossing a walkway and ducking back into the woods around the Peerless Pool. Take a left at the next T-junction, and then a short distance later head right. At the junction with the gravel road, go right, and start looking for a marked trail heading off to the left, about 20' down the road. Follow this for a short distance, before coming to another junction. Go right at this junction, following the wide dirt lane as it crosses high above a stream and then crosses the picnic road once again. Head right, following the signs, and find yourself once again standing at the Orenda pavilion's green.
So, that was my first attempt at a trail description. This trail weaves in and out of the park, using many other paths for its route, and can be quite confusing at times. My first attempt at following this trail was a dismal failure, but my second attempt was much better. That left several questions unanswered though, so I headed out for this third trip to try and solve them. Aside from figuring out what is going on near the Ferndell pavilion, I think I have it worked out. I used the mile markers to figure out that the most likely starting and stopping point is at the Orenda pavilion, which aligns with my theory about this being a racing trail, since you would need an open area to stage the start and end of the race.
At any rate, as always, I welcome any comments, suggestions, or even the occasional "hey, idiot, the official trail description is over here".