July 2018 - HIKING & BACKPACKING
Woodhull Mountain and Remsen Falls
By Bill Ingersoll
It’s fair to say that Woodhull Mountain is no one’s favorite hike. The length of the trail is very disproportionate to the height of the summit, and once you get there you’ll be disappointed by the limited views. But with the resurgence of interest in fire towers has come a renewed interest in this trail, which I had the opportunity to revisit recently. While this is not the most exciting hike you’ll find in the Adirondacks, it does offer a fun adventure for those willing to make the trek.
Woodhull Mountain is a 2,362-foot summit located in a remote corner of the Black River Wild Forest. The elevation gain from its foot is only about 750 feet, but getting there entails a minimum hike of 4.6 miles, or 9.2 miles round-trip. The summit is completely forested, so there is no view without the fire tower, and unfortunately the tower’s cab houses communication equipment and is therefore locked. The public must settle for the partial views available from the topmost landing.
It may seem like I am down on Woodhull, but we did have a fun time on the mountain. We capped our hike with a visit to nearby Remsen Falls on the South Branch Moose River, which only added 0.8-mile round-trip to the day’s itinerary. This part of the Adirondacks may be a realm of understated beauty, but it is certainly worth seeing.
To find the trailhead, turn onto McKeever Road from NY Route 28, about 10.8 miles southwest of Old Forge. This residential road begins south of the Moose River bridge, and north of the hamlet of Otter Lake, and leads into the site of McKeever – once a small mill town but now a quiet residential neighborhood. McKeever Road loops left and dead-ends, but Wolf Lake Landing Road – the main access into state land – veers right near the old train station 0.2-mile from the highway.
This gravel lane crosses the train tracks and reaches a parking area at 0.5-mile. Veer right and follow Wolf Lake Landing Road for a total of 3.6 miles to a pull-off on the left where signs mark the start of the trail to Remsen Falls.
The hike to Woodhull Mountain begins by following the trail to Remsen Falls, which is gated to the general public, but is maintained as a motor vehicle trail for disabled access. In just 0.2-mile you reach a prominent four-way intersection. Straight ahead leads to Remsen Falls (see below) and left leads back to McKeever. To reach the mountain, bear right.
You are now on an old truck trail that parallels the South Branch Moose River without ever once coming within sight of it. The route to Woodhull Mountain follows this truck trail for 2.5 miles, and during that entire distance it is nearly level to a fault. You glimpse an old manmade pond to the north of the trail at 0.6-mile, where an old logging railroad once ended, and at 1.7 miles you skirt the edge of a small fen. The second site is apt to be the muddiest spot on the old roadbed, which is otherwise wide and easy to follow.
At 2.7 miles, the truck trail enters a small clearing and comes to an end, with a footbridge marking the start of the next phase in the hike. Across the stream, the trail is now a narrow footpath. It begins by winding through a stand of Norway spruce, almost certainly one of several planted in this region by the former owner, John A. Dix, a lumberman and mill owner who believed in planting new trees after a harvest. Dix also served a term as governor and helped create the Conservation Commission, forerunner to today’s Department of Environmental Conservation. The state acquired this tract in 1918, and it has been protected as part of the Forest Preserve ever since.
The ascent of the mountain is slow and gradual at first, and quite a bit of time may pass before you realize you are making any vertical progress. The actual ascent, once it begins, is very easy and the trail is never steep. Were it not so remote, this would rank among the easiest climbs in the Adirondacks. Most of the mountainside is forested with hardwoods, with conifers not making a strong showing until you reach the summit, 4.6 miles from the trailhead on Wolf Lake Landing Road.
The fire tower stands in a rocky clearing surrounded by trees; a continuing trail leads into the adjacent Adirondack League Club, where there is no public access. The tower can be climbed, but some people will find the lack of fencing along the wooden stairs to be unnerving, this is no place for small children, pets, or anyone with a fear of heights. You can climb all the way to the landing just below the observation cab, which is locked. From this height you are just about eye level with the treetops, meaning you can glimpse the surrounding landscape without finding any unencumbered vistas. Woodhull Lake is the most prominent landmark to the southwest, with the League Club’s Little Moose Lake to the northeast. Just a little bit more elevation would make this a very attractive view.
After retracing your steps down the truck trail to the four-way intersection near the trailhead, a side trip to Remsen Falls is a great way to cap the day. The “falls” are merely a set of minor rapids on the South Branch Moose River, but the site is a great place to enjoy some sunshine and maybe cool off in the water.
From the four-way intersection, turn north and follow the disabled access trail for 0.4-mile to a modified campsite on the bank of the river. The falls are just 0.1-mile downstream, and they feature a collection of boulders that are fun to explore in the summer when the water is low. The site is historically significant because the original “road” to what is now Old Forge crossed the river here. That route, which was probably just a glorified trail by modern standards, originated in Remsen and was called the Remsen Road – hence the name of the cascade.
From Remsen Falls, it is just 0.6-mile south back to your waiting car.
Bill Ingersoll of Barneveld is publisher of the Discover the Adirondack’s guidebook series (hiketheadirondacks.com). For more information on this region, consult Discover the Southwestern Adirondacks.