1. Lake Road (Ausable Club) to RED H.G. Leach Trail (ADK #42, McM #91)
2. Leach Trail to the summits of Bear Den, N. and S. Dial, and Nipple Top
3. Descent to Elk Pass RED (ADK #41, McM #89)
4. Return via Gill Brook Trail RED (ADK #40, McM #84) and Bypass Trail RED (ADK no#, McM #83) to Lake Road
Trip In A Nutshell:
A climb of Dial and Nipple Top via the H. G. Leach Trail, followed by a descent via Gill Brook is, without a doubt, one of the finest hikes in the Adirondacks and one any hiker would enjoy. The hike starts out at the Ausable Club trailhead for access to the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) on Rte. 73. From the Lake Road you will quickly pick up the H. G. Leach Trail you will follow all the way to Nipple Top. The real hiking starts with a steady, sometimes stiff, climb of the segment from Lake Road to Bear Den. En route to Bear Den's wooded summit, you pass through the site of a recent forest fire and get the opportunity to see Mother Nature at work healing this man-made tragedy. Continuing on to Dial and Nipple Top both peaks afford excellent views. Even the walk between summits provides occasional views such as the view of Hunters Pass shown in the photo at the top of this page. There is abundant flora as well. After ascending Nipple Top, the descent to Elk Pass is a steep one, but the pass itself is yet another interesting sight to admire. Finally, you finish your descent with a hike down the Gill Brook Trail, taking a left fork to pick up a better route, the Bypass Trail, down to the Lake Road. And then the long walk down Lake Road to your car.
Best Tip for Dial & Nipple Top:
Hike this loop in the clockwise direction (Dial and then Nippletop). This puts the beauty on the first two thirds of the hike when you're fresh and able to enjoy it. It also positions the major steep, rocky section as a quick descent rather than a slow and arduous ascent.
The elevation change from the trailhead to the summit of Nipple Top is a substantial 3100 ft. The round trip via Elk Pass is almost 15 miles. Balancing those challenging figures is the condition of the trails which are in tip-top condition, providing excellent footing, generally on loamy soil that characterizes the best of Adirondack trails. The route follows gentle contours except for the short, very steep descent from Nipple Top to Elk Lake . Leaving the Lake Road, you start the H. G. Leach Trail, and ascend at a gentle, then increasingly steeper rate. By the time you reach Bear Den's summit, you will have put most of the ascent behind you. It seemed to us that the early steep climbing optimized availability and expenditure of energy and made the hike all the more enjoyable. Beyond Bear Den, the climb to Dial is short and is followed by a 200 ft descent into the col as you proceed along the ridgeline toward Nipple Top. Nevertheless, the ridgeline is rather gentle once past the col just mentioned, all the way to Nipple Top. There is only the slight aggravation of seeming to reach Nipple Top's summit several times only to find that you're still not there. After leaving Nipple Top, the descent to Elk Pass is a very steep 1300 ft. over very rocky terrain. This short 1.1 mile segment is the only rocky hiking on the entire route . We have camped at Elk Pass. The ground is flat and soft. It is an enjoyable spot provided it is not black fly season.
From Elk Pass back to your car the hiking is an easy and gradual downhill. Note that while Gill Brook Trail, which you will follow over most of the distance to Lake Rd., was substantially damaged at its upper third by blow-down during the hurricane of 1999, this has been entirely repaired. In fact, the complete loop described here is entirely blow-down free as far as the trail itself goes, but the upper Gill Brook section has immense blow-down left and right of the trail. Only the Dix Range and Allen Mtn are worse.
All distances in the "Total" column are from the Gate, which is itself 0.9 miles from the parking area on Rte 73, thus adding 1.8 miles to the final Round Trip figure at the bottom. We are using figures from ADK's "Guide to Adirondack Trails: High Peak Region" which differ McMartin's which differ from the signs posted on the trails, but which are intelligible.
Note: We don't usually put a table like the one below on our pages. Beware of taking it with you on the hike. It will be a nuisance because you'll always feel that you still have a long ways to go.
Section Increment (miles) Total
The Gate (entry into the AMR) 0.0 0.0
Start of the H. G. Leach Trail on the Lake Road 0.7 0.7
Look-out on W shoulder of Noonmark 1.7 2.4
Noonmark-Bear Den col 0.3 2.7
Summit of Bear Den Mtn 0.5 3.2
Bear Den-Dial col 0.5 3.7
Dial summit 0.8 4.5
Junction Elk Pass trail 1.8 6.3
Summit of Nipple Top 0.3 6.6
Elk Pass 1.2 7.8
Junction w/ trail to Colvin 0.5 8.3
Upper junction w/ Fish Hawk Cliffs and Indian Head loop trail 0.7 9.0
Lower junction w/ Fish Hawk Cliffs and Indian Head loop trail 0.4 9.4
Junction with Bypass Trail (shown, but not numbered on ADK map; McMartin #83) 0.2 9.6
Lake Road 0.5 10.1
The Gate 2.5 12.6
Round Trip from DEC parking on Rte 73 1.8 14.4
Dial and Nipple Top offer excellent views of the Great Range, Pyramid, and Sawteeth. Views of the Dix Range and Colvin Range are good. As much as we enjoyed the views from the summits, the trip up and down also provided a variety of regular, excellent views.
This is a long hike on a hot day. There is no easily accessible water along this route until the ponds at Elk Pass and a small brook you cross while on Gill Brook Trail, just before the junction with the Indian Head Trail. A 100 oz. hydration unit is recommended for each hiker, or bring a water filter to use at the pond at Elk Pass.