More to explore in Wilmington outside of Whiteface
By Tim Rowland
The Whiteface Ski Center understandably sucks up all the recreational oxygen in the Wilmington Notch this time of year, but for those interested in a pursuit that’s a little less hairy, there are some really excellent and under-the-radar hiking trails in the vicinity as well.
Bear Den, Flume Knob and Marble Mountain are literally in the shadow of the Whiteface/Esther ridgeline, and all have something to recommend them for hiking or snowshoeing.
Just before the big snow of Dec. 16, we decided on Flume Knob, the middle of the three, only because it had been years since we’d hiked it. Marble Mountain is a mile-long straight steep shot up an old ski T-bar (the concrete piers still in existence) and is a go-to hike for a quick workout or dog walk.
With more time, Bear Den is the choice, and in winter it has added appeal since it gives you a grandstand seat to watch skiers shooting down Whiteface in all their glory.
Flume Knob might not have quite the scenery of Bear Den, but even though the two mountains are tooth-by-jowl, they feature entirely different views. Access to Flume Knob is at a parking lot off Rt. 86, two miles west of Wilmington. This also accesses the Flume Trail System, part of the network that put Wilmington on the map as the mountain bike capital of the Adirondacks.
As with all mountain biking systems, it’s a bit of a bird’s nest for hikers, and finding your way to the Flume Knob trail is part navigation, part intuition. Just past the trailhead and some spectacular falls on the West Branch of the Ausable River, bear right up the hill and do your best to stay on this trunk line all the way to the junction to Flume Knob.
This is what my brother and I intended to do, but got to talking about that great college football atrocity, the transfer portal, and headed off on one of the many side trails that intersect with the main drag. Which one? No idea. But we could see Flume Knob through the trees and couldn’t help but notice we were headed in the opposite direction, which we corrected with a quick bushwhack the brought us to what turned out to be the contour-hugging Ridge Trail, which we are big fans of from past ski/snowshoe adventures. This brought us out to the Flume Knob trail, from which we could start the climb in earnest.
Actually, that’s not completely true. To reach the junction would have required a serious loss in elevation, and having gained this elevation once, we had no interest in going it again, so it was back to bushwhacking to intersect the Flume Knob trail higher up on the little mountain’s flank. So there you have it: a textbook case on how to make a short, simple hike far longer and more complicated than it needs to be. But the day was beautiful and we had time, so walking in the woods was a joy, trail or no.
Once we joined the Flume Knob trail, the climbing was steep and pretty relentless. These three sub-mountains look like little scoops of ice cream in comparison to the mighty Whiteface and Esther. But they are pretty stout little peaks in their own right.
Flume Knob is an elevation gain of well over 1,000 feet over two miles, about half of which is pretty gentle. It crawls up an esker through some pretty evergreen forests, tantalizing you with several semi-lookouts on the way up. They also mislead you into thinking you’re more or less at the top, but just as you’re gaining this false sense of security, some serious ledge climbing becomes necessary, a chore that is more arduous if you happened to be accompanied by an 85-pound dog who believes that scrambling is unlady-like and requires a good lift/shove to gain the higher ground.
That accomplished, we pushed higher, the climb leveling out before arriving at a spectacular vantage point overlooking the Sentinel and Jay ranges, along with other familiar landmarks including Hurricane, Giant, Fourpeaks and the exceedingly picturesque town of Wilmington, which looks as if it were made to be the featured attraction in a snow globe.
The trip back down was less eventful but no less fun. The myriad of trails give you some attractive options for picking a route different from the one you ascended. Although it’s a little longer, but not by much, you can drop down to the Ausable River and follow it on a handsome trail leading downstream and back to the parking lot.
Also a beauty, and the one we choose, is the Bluff Trail which bounds along the crest overlooking the beaver pond directly behind the Hungry Trout resort. Needless to say, any or all of these trails make for a nice outing in winter, even if you don’t want to hike a mountain. And as we found out, you don’t even need a trail.
- Distance: ~3.5 miles, depending on route
- Elevation: 2,270 feet
- Elevation gain: 1,162 feet