One of the high peaks that it makes the most sense to hike in a series of other peaks, Nippletop has a long level approach before climbing on steeper trails, giving it a more significant mileage number despite the fact that the climb is not terribly long. However, if you are to make the hike a loop and include Dial and Bear Den (which makes sense given the long approach and the opportunity to snag another 46er with Dial), keep in mind that it requires a significant amount of climbing and descending. Given its relatively remote location and views of the vast wilderness, some have said that Nippletop has one of the top three views of any of the high peaks.
Distance: 8.8 round-trip for only Nippletop, or 10.3 to include Dial and Bear’s Den
Elevation: 4,620 ft
There are two trails up Nippletop, both beginning at the Lake Road of the Ausable Club. If you are not a member or visitor of a member of the club, you must sign in at the Watchman’s Hut at the entrance of the Lake Road and take the trail that follows along the road to the trailheads of the various peaks. We recommend (and will detail here) doing a loop that includes both Nippletop and Dial. If ascending via Dial first, you will follow the trail for .7 miles until you reach the trailhead for Nippletop and Dial. If you plan to ascend Nippletop first, you will continue along the Lake Road trail for another .2 miles for a total of .9 miles from the Watchman’s Hut. We’ll discuss starting with the trail up Dial first. The trail will begin at .7 miles from the Watchman’s Hut, turning left off the Lake Road Trail and climbing moderately for .9 miles. It will continue on for another .2 miles, at which point the trail will open up to a view of Noonmark Mountain. Continue on for .5 miles to the west summit of Noonmark. The trail will swing sharply left here and descend to the col between Noonmark and Bear Den. The trail then climbs out of the col for .5 miles to the top of Bear Den Mountain. Enjoy the summit of Bear Den before following the trail downhill another .5 mile to the col between Bear Den and Dial (if you hadn’t yet noticed, this hike has a fair bit of up and down, with 3 solid summits in it!). The trail then begins a nearly mile long climb to the summit of Dial at 3.8 miles. (woohoo, another 46er summited!) After you’ve taken a break to enjoy the view from Dial, your hike will begin downhill for .2 miles into yet another col, then climbing uphill again for .3 miles to the summit of a lower mountain (often referred to as South Dial) at 4.3 miles. From here you will descend briefly into a col before ascending easily and steadily for a mile, where it reaches a small summit. Continue on for .2 miles at a fairly level grade to the intersection with the Elk Pass Trail. Continue straight ahead and to the left at this intersection until you reach the summit of Nippletop at 5.9 miles. Enjoy the wild view from Nippletop before continuing onward and heading back down to the intersection with the Elk Pass Trail. The trail will head down somewhat steeply at first, passing some ponds until you reach the turnoff for the Colvin Trail. Stay right and continue right past another two turn-offs to stay on the Gill Brook Trail. This trail will carry you all the way back to the Lake Road Trail, which you will follow for .9 miles back to the Watchman’s Hut.
To get to the Ausable Club, you will drive down route 73 from Keene Valley, taking a right on Ausable Club Road ~3 miles from downtown Keene Valley. Follow this road a short ways to a parking lot on your right. You will then have to walk ¾ of a mile along the road up to the watchman’s gate at the Ausable Club.