Cooper Kiln Pond hike

Michael Zeugin and his daughter on the trail to Cooper Kiln Pond. Photo by Michael Zeugin.

A peaceful hike in warmer weather

By Michael Zeugin

No bugs, no crowds, no mud (mostly), colorful foliage and, often enough, previews of winter at high elevation. How can anyone resist hiking in fall? So in early October, I spurred my family out and up into the hills above Wilmington.

We had tried the one-way hike from Franklin Falls Road (County 18) to Bonnieview Road once before, when our daughter was 4. She almost made it to Cooper Kiln Pond. Now she is 7, and toughened by backcountry skiing. At 5.9 miles this trail seemed a good bet.
What a peaceful day. The sun is backlighting the changing leaves, and the wind flutters the yellow, orange and red foliage like prayer flags strung in a Himalayan pass. The pungent scent of autumnal decay permeates our olfactory senses almost like the smell of freshly pressed cider.

As we cross over the hump on Morgan Mountain and head down toward the pond we come upon a carpet of vibrant green moss, covered with snow. My daughter yelps with delight.  She grabs a handful and says, “It’s been so long, since I touched snow.” It has in fact been only five months and one week. The moss looks like a snowy forest seen from an aircraft at 30,000 feet.

Cooper Kiln Pond is not a great swimming or fishing hole, being shallow and silt-bottomed, but the large rocks around the shore make ideal perches from which to enjoy the view of the sloping mountain ridges. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to release with a deep breath all of life’s stresses.

Map by Nancy Bernstein.

“Can we stay overnight in this lean-to?” my daughter asks. She knows a good thing when she finds it. But today we’re doing a through hike.

The downhill to Bonnieview Road follows ridges and creeks that cascade out of the mountains. Snow covers a bridge over the creek and splotches the shady turns in the trail on the first part of the descent. The route is shadowed and cool. The wind shushes us as it rushes through the evergreens, practicing for the whistles and roars of the winter to come.

Near the end of the trail, the kaleidoscope of fall leaves gives way to tall conifers. The forest floor is all cones and needles. I start a pine-cone fight, which my daughter is delighted to carry on for the last half a mile.

We’re hungry and tired when we reach the car. We can think of no better way to cap the autumn day than supping on butternut squash, apple pie and hot cocoa.

DIRECTIONS

Western Trailhead: From NY 86 in Wilmington, head northwest on Whiteface Memorial Highway. Go 2.8 miles to a fork and bear right onto County 18 (Franklin Falls Road). Look for the trailhead on the right about 0.7 mile from the fork.


Eastern Trailhead: From NY 86 in Wilmington, head northeast on Bonnieview Road and go 3.2 miles to the trailhead on the left. (Both Bonnieview and the Whiteface Memorial Highway start at a 90-degree turn on NY 86.)

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