A lonely summit loop
By Phil Brown
Most people looking to climb a peak in the Old Forge region end up on top of Bald Mountain. Or, if they’re looking for something a bit easier, they’ll go up Rocky Mountain. Both hikes are short and sweet, but not for me.
If you’re looking for a longer hike, to a summit that sees less traffic, I think you’ll agree that Black Bear Mountain is the best of these three peaks (all located north of Route 28 between Old Forge and Inlet). At 2,448 feet, it also is a little higher than the others.
There are five trailheads for Black Bear Mountain. I started from the parking lot that’s also used by hikers climbing Rocky Mountain. Beginning here, you can do Black Bear in a 4.9-mile loop.
From the southeast end of the parking lot, walk about 50 yards to the start of the Black Bear trail. Marked by yellow disks, the trail follows an old woods road that parallels a stream. At 0.7 miles, you come to a fork in a clearing. Bear right for the quicker, steeper route to the top. That’s what I did, returning to the fork by the longer route.
If you bear right, you’ll start climbing right away, but the trail soon levels again as it passes through a young hardwood forest. Prepare to encounter wet sections. Generally, this route is marked by blue disks, but I noticed a few yellow ones, too.
Eventually, about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, you’ll cross a creek near a large white pine. The path steepens, angling upward through an attractive spruce forest with a lot of exposed bedrock. A few hundred yards below the summit, another trail enters from the right. Just beyond this junction, you reach a ledge with a lookout to the south over Sixth Lake.
In the short climb remaining, you’ll be able to savor two more views: the first overlooking Seventh Lake to the southeast, the second looking west up Fourth Lake, with the ridges of Onondaga Mountain and Bald Mountain visible just north of the lake. Pay particular attention to the latter vista, because you won’t have a good view of Fourth Lake from the top (at least, I didn’t find one).
The summit, reached at 1.9 miles, is largely open rock, with patches of lichen, moss and grasses and stands of balsam, red pine and mountain ash. The best view looks northeast over the forested hills of the Pigeon Lake Wilderness, with Raquette Lake and Blue Mountain in the distance. If you squint, you might be able to see the Santanoni Range in the western High Peaks. There are several other vistas, but you’ll need to explore a little to find them all.
To return by the yellow trail, look for a small cairn. The best way to find it is to follow the open rock, keeping the summit’s cliffs on your right. At the same time, keep your eyes peeled for a cairn to your left. It sits in the open, half a stone’s throw from the rim.
From the cairn, the trail descends through a forest of red spruce and balsam fir. A few minutes from top, look for a short side trail to an open ledge with more views of the Pigeon Lake Wilderness. The evergreens soon give way to smooth-barked American beeches. Knowing hungry bears love beechnuts, I wondered if the beech forest attracted a lot of bears and thus inspired the peak’s name. Probably not, but it’s interesting to note that Dennis Aprill came across a large bear-paw print on this mountain while researching his guidebook Paths Less Traveled.
At an easy-to-miss T-intersection, you’ll want to turn left to return to your car. If you continue straight here, you could end up on Uncas Road or at Bug Lake, so you need to be alert. About 20 feet before the intersection, you’ll come to large beech fallen across the trail, decorated, if that’s the word, with the carved initials of past hikers. The intersection itself is marked only by a small cairn. From the summit, it’s 0.8 miles to this spot.
From the intersection, the trail is fairly level for the 2.2 miles to Route 28. In winter, it’s a little-used cross-country ski trail. In other seasons, judging from tread prints, it’s used by mountain bikers as well as hikers. As you stroll back to your car, look for impressive old beeches, yellow birches and white pines along the trail.
I can’t guarantee that my route is the best way to see Black Bear Mountain. You may prefer to do it in reverse. Or you might want to start at one of the four other trailheads. Why not try them all?
From the T-intersection with South Shore Road in downtown Inlet, drive west on NY 28 for 1 mile to a parking area on the right. If coming from Old Forge, the parking area will be on the left 1.2 miles past Big Moose Road in Eagle Bay.