The Flume trails have a special place in my heart because, as a native “Wilmingtoner”, it was my dad who cut the first trails there – Flume Knob and Bear Den Mountain. The story of him bushwhacking in that area and getting chased down a small waterfall he named Waterspout Falls by an angry momma bear is family lore, and where the Bear Den trail gets its name. The current trail circumvents the waterfall, and I’ll recommend here that you choose to stay on the trail, as it is easy to get lost off-trail (for both those familiar and unfamiliar with the area :). The trail system has been developed significantly since my dad cut the first trails there over 30 years ago, and I’ve loved coming back and seeing how frequently the trails are used, both by hikers and mountain bikers, as well as the occasional snowshoers and cross-country skiers in the winter.
The mountain bike trails are rolling and pleasant – a great place to introduce adventurous kids to the sport. Most of the trails are open to bikers, with the Flume Knob and Bear Den trails being the only exceptions, which are open only to hikers. All of the trails are relatively short, with Marble Mountain being the longest segment, and also one of the more challenging (ie: steeper) trails. The nice thing about this trail system is that the trails criss-cross with each other and the main trail from the parking lot, allowing many opportunities for tired ones to turn back. The “connector loop” is a gradual, wider trail, less rooty and hilly than the connecting side trails. They’re fun bike trails with dips and turns, and many chances to loop back around and try again, given their shorter mileages. And as far as Adirondack biking goes, these trails are less muddy than most, with cleared rolling trails that tend to dry out quite fast after a storm.
The bike trails are also great for jogging, but if you’re looking to hike and not bike, you’re better off heading up one of the smaller mountains in the trail system. Marble Mountain is the longest trail (1.5 miles) that is also a bike trail, and if you hike Flume Knob or Bear Den Mountain, you won’t see any bikers on the trails (not only is biking not allowed, but these trails are too steep to make for enjoyable biking). Both Bear Den and Flume Knob have beautiful views from the top and are quick and enjoyable hikes that provide sustained uphill hiking, but nothing too technical or challenging, making them a great pick for families introducing their kids to hiking, or those out for a quick morning or afternoon hike in between other activities in Placid. While both trails have lookouts that face only in one direction, they each face out in near-opposite directions, giving a unique view from each. The view from the top of Bear Den is quite striking, giving you a close-up of Whiteface and the slides on its southeastern face. This peak is also part of the Lake Placid 9er Hiking Challenge if that's anything you're inspired to do.
If you choose to hike Bear Den, the beginning of this trail is less well-marked than that of Flume Knob. At the intersection with the Whiteface upper connector, the trail is marked merely by a “no bicycles allowed” marker on a tree. However, once you begin to head up the trail, it is clearly marked by yellow Whiteface Trails markers all the way to the top. Shortly before the top there will be a red wooden sign with “Bear Den Mtn” engraved on it, pointing towards the top of the peak. This sign and the square red markers on a couple of trees nearby are the only remnants of the original trail, as the current trail up Bear Den takes a different route than the original trail. One final note on Bear Den Mountain is that it is less frequently hiked than Flume Knob and while it is well-marked, the trail can get covered with leaves, so you will want to make sure you are keeping an eye out for the yellow markers in these places. That said, don’t let this dissuade you – if you follow the markers, you’re sure to be rewarded with a beautiful view at the top!
One thing to keep in mind is that the mileage distances for these hikes are marked as one-way on the map and begin at the trail intersections, rather than from the trailhead like most hiking trails. Today, there are a number of different trail options to get to the beginning of the Flume Knob and Bear Den trails, but for the most direct routes, the total hike will end up being approximately 4 or 4.5 miles round trip for each hike. Since you have to hike through the biking trails to get to the two hiking-only trails at the Flume Trail System, you’ll want to take a picture of the map at the trailhead or download/print this map, as the signs at the intersections can get confusing. It’s one thing to accidentally loop back onto the same trail when moving fast on a bike, but it’s a little less fun when you’re hiking on foot with a mountaintop destination in mind!
The main trailhead to The Flume Trail System is on Route 86. When you’re driving from Lake Placid towards Wilmington, you will pass the Hungry Trout Resort and Restaurant on your left one mile after the entrance to Whiteface Mountain. Just after the Hungry Trout, you will go over a bridge and the trailhead is immediately on your left. There is a secondary trailhead to the Flume trails that begins at Kid’s Kampus at Whiteface (accessible by driving up to Whiteface and following signs that turn you right after reaching the base of the mountain). The secondary trailhead is a little harder to find, and we recommend you start from the primary trailhead and choose to find the secondary one from the trails first, so you know where to pull up if you drive there next time.