West Mill Brook trail in North Hudson provides a quiet walk, chance to connect to other backcountry treks
By Tim Rowland
It was mid-August and cars were piling up at the Keene Valley trail heads like dust bunnies in a pool hall, and I was hungry for some solitude.
Not a relative, “only see two or three people all day” solitude, but real for sure, drop your pants and run around singing “If I Were a Rich Man” at the top of your lungs, because ain’t no one gonna be around to catch you, solitude.
I had a hunch where to find it. I’ve developed a probably unhealthy obsession with the 1828 Cedar Point Road running from Port Henry to Tahawus, built by legislative fiat — which may explain why a dozen years later it was largely kaput.
Iron ore had been discovered in Tahawus (in the vicinity of the Upper Works trailhead to the High Peaks from the south) and early industrialists were hot to transport it from the Adirondack interior to Lake Champlain.
The route was direct, but apparently problematic, because, according to Barbara McMartin and Bill Ingersoll’s “Discover the Eastern Adirondacks,” by 1841 it had been replaced by a route resembling today’s Blue Ridge Road.
But while much of the old Cedar Point Road has faded away, traces of the route can still be recognized, nearly two centuries after it was constructed.
It pops up west of Moriah along the Champlain Area Trails’ Broughton Ledges trail, and again in the vicinity of the Sharp Bridge Campground. Another three-mile stretch is quite evident as it burrows into the Dix Wilderness, and goes by the name of the West Mill Brook trail.
West Mill Brook trail accesses a number of interesting features, but on a first exploratory hike, McMartin/Ingersoll recommend a leisurely hike along the road with no further agenda, just to get the lay of the land before tackling the mountains and falls that populate this wild territory. That sounded sensible to me.
West Mill Brook is accessed from Route 9 north of North Hudson. From Northway Exit 29 head north, from Exit 30 head south. From both directions, after about four miles, you will come to the DEC sign on the west side of the highway pointing to the trail and Dix Wilderness, 1.1 miles in.
OK, about this road — 200 years has not improved it from a passability standpoint, so if you are in a passenger car and have an attachment to your catalytic converter, you may want to park along Rt. 9 and walk. This will only add two miles to your hike, although you should bring a pair of water shoes for an upcoming stream crossing.
If you have a relatively sturdy Possum Pursuit Vehicle, soldier on by turning and heading down the hill to a ford, which in this dry summer will scarcely get your tires wet. The Jeep trail passes under the Northway before arriving at a gate festooned with a couple of 55 gallon drums, shot full of holes. Of course.
Before long you will come to a second gate, sans drums, on the road, which is high above scenic and cheerful West Mill Brook. Several hundred feet past the gate, the road seriously deteriorates into mud and rocks. This stretch doesn’t last long, and when you emerge on a more civilized (relatively speaking) path, the brook will have drifted a bit away from the trail.
Here, if you so choose, you can leave the road and head to the brook. When you reach it, turn upstream and enjoy a dramatic jumble of boulders, ledges, falls and deep, crystalline pools. Even in low water it’s a show, and reason to file away a mental note to return when the water is higher.
After negotiating this chasm in miniature, turn left and walk perpendicularly uphill until rejoining the road. You have just witnessed the most interesting feature of the hike, but the remaining hike doesn’t disappoint.
The forests are open and in places parklike, with the stream more or less a constant companion. You gain elevation slowly, as the breeze picks up in the high valley and if you care to, you can imagine the creaking of the wagons and the oxen’s harnesses as, for a few fleeting years, supplies went west and ore came east.
About two miles in, the road turns left to the south and follows a brook, eventually bumping right into it in a pile of boulders that invite sitting for a snack. I turned around there, but adventurous bushwhackers will here be pointed directly at Camels Hump and Camel Mountain, which can be ascended alone or paired in a loop with Old Far Mountain, which is southwest of the parking area. Whatever you choose, you can be virtually assured of doing it alone.
- Distance: 4.5 miles round trip
- Elevation gain: 485 feet