Terrace Pond North-The Other Way Up

I promised that I would get up to this area to check out the changes being made to the trail system at Waywayanda State Park-so I am keeping that promise.  I also headed up this way to make a hike that I had always wondered about. Terrace Pond is one of the most popular hiking destinations in New Jersey. It is a beautiful place that is also reasonably accessible. Most visitors make the trip up to the pond from Clinton Road. There is a large parking area and you have your choice of a couple of different routes up the hillside to this hidden gem. The climb up is modest and the reward is great. That’s not the hike I’m describing here. For the easy way up, check out the very first hike featured on Yo Hike This here. It’s a great hike but I think this one is better.

I decided to see the proposed changes in the Terrace Pond North Trail and find out what this section was really like. I’m glad I did. This hike is on land that is managed as part of Waywayanda State Park. A trail map is available here. This map does not show the new changes to the trails I discussed, but it will suffice for now to allow you to navigate this route. The Terrace Pond North Trail was always a bit of a mystery. You would pass the tag end  of the trail on the north side of Warwick Turnpike when heading up to Bearfort Ridge and Surprise Lake. You would use the far south end of the trail, which seemed to come in from “parts unknown”, as the route down from Terrace Pond to the Clinton Road parking lot. In between….who knew?

The “back way” up to Terrace Pond is a terrific hike. It’s a much more difficult climb. You won’t be passing would be bathers in flip flops with towels over their shoulders on this route. More than anything, it was a fun hike. Whoever laid out this trail didn’t miss many opportunities to climb rock piles or scale sheer rock faces. You have to pay attention to what you’re doing, but the rock scrambles and maneuvering along the ledges was very enjoyable. I didn’t even mention the views yet. A lot of long views to the east. At a couple of spots you will see Greenwood Lake not too far in the distance and the skyscrapers of Manhattan are off to the southeast, although on the hazy hot August day I did this hike it was a little tough to make the skyline out.

This hike also has a lot of ups and downs. While this isn’t a long hike, clocking in at about 6 miles, it seems like you are doubling your distance climbing and descending. (You’re not!) You won’t make great time-it will take you at least three hours out and back. There’s a climb of about 750 vertical feet at the beginning of the hike but that was just getting started. When all was said and done my tracker recorded around 1,800 of vertical gain and I tend to think it wasn’t far off. After the first mile there aren’t any big climbs, just a lot of 50-100 foot roller coaster sections. It’s also a very rocky trail so wear appropriate shoes.

One other note, because this route doesn’t get much traffic, chances are you will get to see a lot of wildlife. Bears and snakes are pretty common. Rattlesnakes love the rocky pipeline cut you will traverse. We even came across a large porcupine while making this hike. Steer clear of all of the local fauna. Get a picture if you’re lucky enough to encounter some of the more interesting animals. By the time I finished telling my wife how cool it was to see a porcupine and it dawned on me to get out my phone, it had waddled away into the forest. Mostly, consider yourself fortunate if you get the chance to encounter some of New Jersey’s rarer animals.

Directions

This hike begins on Warwick Turnpike in West Milford. The trail head is on the south side of the road. There is a pull off with parking for three or four cars on the north side. The trail head is 1,200 feet west of the intersection of Warwick Turnpike and White Road.  Be VERY CAREFUL crossing the road here. Cars tend to travel fast on Warwick Turnpike and there is a hill and curve just to the west that can obscure the sight distance for drivers.  The trail head is very inconspicuous. A small sign on the north side at the pull off indicates the Terrace Pond North trail where it heads off  to the north to intersect with the trail up to Bearfort Ridge and Surprise Lake. There is also a small sign across the road on the south side where the trail you will be using begins at a narrow opening in the forest.  The trail has been recently remarked with teal squares with a black square in the center as part of the re-working of the trails in this area mentioned in an earlier post.

To reach this trail, if you’re coming from the south take Route 287 to exit 55 for Route 511-Wanaque. Turn right at the end of the exit onto Ringwood Avenue north.  If you’re coming from the north, take Route 287 to exit 57 for Skyline Drive. Make a right at the end of the exit and follow Skyline Drive until it ends at an intersection with Route 511 and turn right. Coming from the south you will stay on 511 north for about 13.5 miles from the 287 exit through the Borough of Wanaque. Those coming from the north will travel on 511 for about 8 miles from the intersection with Skyline Drive. From either direction you will go past Wanaque & Monksville Reservoirs, past the south end of Greenwood Lake, to the intersection with Warwick Turnpike and Union Valley Road in the Hewitt section of West Milford. Continue straight at this intersection (follow the arrow towards Warwick, NY instead of bearing left towards Route 23) and follow Warwick Turnpike about 3/4 of a mile to the pull off described earlier. Google maps refers to this spot as the “Quail Trail Head”.

The Hike

The hike begins at the trail head on Warwick Turnpike marked by a sign indicating that this is the Terrace Pond North Trail headed south. You will be following teal with black blazes, teal blazes and the white blazes of the Terrace Pond Circular Trail.  Bear in mind that the trail system here is under revision and by the time you do this hike the full extent of the changes may have been implemented. Fear not, because this description will allow you to navigate the coming changes as well as the current configuration of trails. The old dark blue blazes of the Terrace Pond North Trail have been replaced with the freshly painted teal/black blazes of what will be the Terrace Pond North Spur. For now, it’s still the Terrace Pond North Trail.  The trail heads through an opening in a thick growth of rhododendrons.  Head right in and you’re on your way.

The trail begins by climbing, sometimes steeply, away from Warwick Turnpike.  You will be passing through very healthy woodlands with a thick undergrowth of mountain laurel, rhododendron and sweet pepperbush. The trail gains elevation quickly in the first 3/4 of a mile before it briefly levels off.  It will get your heart going right out of the box.  After a short respite from climbing the trail turns sharply right and begins to climb again. This second climb will bring you to the ridge top level. The trail will turn sharply left and you will begin to get some very nice views off to the east.

When you reach the ridgeline, you will notice a change in the vegetation. The mixed hardwood forest of the lower elevations is replaced by the hemlock and pitch pines that are typical of the elevated Highlands ridges. Your route will be covered by pine needles through this section and it is a very pleasant. As nice as it seems, the terrain is extremely rocky and you will need to use caution as the trail crosses a number of spots where you will need to navigate from boulder to boulder. The trail continues to follow the ridgeline south and all along this section you will have long east looking vistas and eventually the southern end of Greenwood Lake will come into view to the northeast.

The teal/black trail will turn sharply right at a rock cairn and begin to descend slightly. Shortly you will reach a spot where one of the trail changes will come into play. The teal/black blazes end. There is a sign with a map of the proposed changes on a tree. Straight ahead you may be able to make out the trace of a trail and see ribbons on trees that will mark the route of the Terrace Pond North Loop. To your right, the teal/black blazes are replaced by teal rectangles.  When completed, the trail that will be  straight ahead will be your return route and also marked by teal blazes. For now, just the western leg of the trail, which is the existing Terrace Pond North Trail, is your only option.  Turn right here.

The teal blazes take you through some very attractive forest at this point and the terrain, which has been rough up until this point, becomes very rugged. After passing through a wet area the trail follows a very steep cliff face as you begin to climb again. You will climb to a higher ridgeline and have even more eastward views. Take your pick of where you want to grab some photographs. They’re all pretty nice. From these overlooks you will be able to see (depending upon the visibility of the day) the Manhattan skyline off some 25 miles to the southeast.

After several up and downs and rock scrambles the trail will reach a pipeline right of way. The trail turns sharply right here to follow the cut through the forest. You will follow the right of way for about 1/4 of a mile before the trail turns sharply left to re-enter the forest.  At this point look ahead and to your right to see a very impressive rock face, which thankfully you  will not have to ascend. There are still a couple of old darker blue blazes of the Terrace Pond North Trail visible on rocks here and there along the pipeline, but mostly you will find the new teal blazes. In about 1/2 mile you will reach an intersection with the white Terrace Pond Circular Trail (which is now marked as the “Wyanokie Circular Trail”) and the teal blazes will end (for now).  The white trail goes both straight ahead and to your right.

Eventually, the teal blazes will continue straight at this point as a co-alignment with the white trail. Now, just continue straight ahead on the white trail.  You will pass an elevated overlook of Terrace Pond where there will usually be “casual” visitors who have come up from Clinton Road to enjoy a day at the pond. You’ll want to take a couple of pictures here. Continue on the white trail and you will come to an intersection with the Yellow Dot trail heading off to your left. The yellow and white blazes will eventually be replaced with the teal blazes of the Terrace Pond North Loop and be your return route when completed. Now, it doesn’t do you any good and you need to continue to follow the white blazes as the trail turns right to loop around the pond.

The newly blazed yellow Terrace Pond West Loop joins the white trail as you continue around the west side of the pond. The co-aligned yellow and white trail will come to another overlook of the pond. Directly across you will see a cliff face where you just were. This is a good spot to sit and have a drink. You earned it. This is also another good spot for photos.  When you’re done, continue on. The yellow trail will leave to your left. Stay on the white trail as it turns right and will cross the outlet of the pond on a newly installed pontoon bridge. Cross the bridge, which gives you a water level view of the pond, and you will reach a spot where you will climb a cliff face on a wooden ladder. Scramble your way up and continue straight ahead. You will shortly come to the intersection with the teal trail you passed before. Turn left here and follow the teal blazes back towards the teal/black trail (in about 1 1/2 miles) and the place where you started this hike.

Even though you will do a considerable amount of backtracking on the same trail, the views look different headed in this direction. You will be crossing the same rough terrain a second time, and it’s just as much fun. Eventually you will not need to backtrack and will be able to follow the teal trail as it loops around back to the intersection with the teal/black trail via a different route. For now you’ll just have to double back. When you get back the entire hike will be just under six miles, but it will feel like more because of the numerous climbs and descents. Even though none are real heart-attack climbs, you’ll feel them all when you’re done. This is a much less traveled and much more enjoyable route up to Terrace Pond and is well worth the effort you will put in.

Terrace Pond/Bearfort Ridge/Ramapo Mtn. Update****

Changes are in the Works

Three hikes previously covered here at Yo Hike This! have been impacted by trail improvements undertaken by the NY-NJ Trails Conference. These changes will significantly enhance the hiking opportunities at these spots which are among the best destinations in the state.  The trail systems at Terrace Pond in Waywayanda State Park, Bearfort Ridge in Abraham Hewitt State Forest and around Ramapo Lake at Ramapo State Forest will all see substantial alterations in the existing networks. You can read more about these projects here.

Most of these changes will be accomplished solely through re-blazing existing trails, blazing connecting sections of currently unmarked woods roads and re-naming the existing trails. There will be two new trails added-one at Terrace Pond and one at Bearfort Ridge.  The idea is that these changes will create easier to define loop hikes and be more intuitive for visitors, which should cut down on lost hikers. I will have to return to all three of these spots to hopefully describe some variations on the original recommended routes.  You should consider supporting the Trails Conference in their great work. You can donate to them here.  If you’re a hiker in this area, you’ve been benefiting from their efforts for a long time. If you aren’t in a position to donate financially, consider volunteering your time as a trail maintainer. It’s a rewarding way to give back to the community.

Trail Changes Terrace Pond

The very first hike featured on Yo Hike This! was the trip up to Terrace Pond. You can check it out here.  Terrace Pond is one of the most popular hiking spots in northern New Jersey. This is for a good reason. It is a beautiful place to hike and is fairly accessible to most hikers. The New York-New Jersey Trails Conference is in the process of making some changes and additions to the trail network in this area. You can read more about them here.

I’ll need to go back and chart out another hike up here that features the trail changes. There will be some blazing changes and the addition of a new trail that will open up some interesting loop opportunities. These changes will also make what will now be the former “Terrace Pond North” trail far more useful as you will be able to make a trip to Terrace Pond from the parking area on Warwick Turnpike and back without having to just re-trace your steps. There will be an entirely new trail blazed blue to be incorporated into the new Terrace Pond North Loop trail that will run along the ridge line to the east of the Pinecliff Reservoir. This new trail will allow for a “lollipop loop” that will take you to the pond and back among other new combinations. The stem of the former Terrace Pond North trail leading to Warwick Turnpike (and over to Bearfort Ridge) will be blazed as a blue/black connector.

The hike I described in that first post will still be possible, but the blaze colors will change.  The trip up on the yellow trail will still be the same. However, the “Yellow Dot Trail” will be re-blazed blue as part of the new “Terrace Pond North Loop” trail.  A short section of this trail will be blazed as a yellow/blue connector.  The section of the blue Terrace Pond North trail that was used to take you downhill back to the parking area on Clinton Road will be re-blazed yellow as part of the “Terrace Pond West Loop” trail.  So you will make the same hike but follow a new set of blazes.

The former route of the Terrace Pond South Trail will still be blazed yellow. It will be re-routed from the intersection with the Terrace Pond Red Trail to take over the section of what will now be the former red trail from this intersection to the pond. It will be co-aligned for a short section along the west shore of Terrace Pond with the white Terrace Pond Circular Trail and then take over the route of the former blue blazed Terrace Pond North Trail down the hill and back to the Clinton Road parking area. The entire route will be blazed yellow as the new Terrace Pond West Loop Trail. A short section of the former Terrace Pond South Trail that went from the intersection with the Terrace Pond Red Trail to Terrace Pond will be abandoned, but still exist as an unmarked trail.  The Terrace Pond Red Trail up to the intersection with the yellow trail will remain the same.

This will be a great change for this area. The possibilities for new or longer hikes will be exciting to explore-mainly due to that new trail section that will make up a portion of the Terrace Pond North Loop. Keep an eye out as I will need to get out on the trail here to update my recommendations. Until then, just be aware of these changes if you venture out on a trip up to the pond. As I said, the original hike is still possible, only the colors of the blazes have changed.

Trail Changes Bearfort Ridge

There are some equally exciting changes in the works for the Bearfort Ridge/Surprise Lake area. The hike I described as possibly my favorite hike in New Jersey here will be affected, but in a positive way. The changes include combining two existing trails into a long loop that will travel to the ridge line, over to Surprise Lake and back to Warwick Turnpike. It will also include the creation of a new trail on the previously inaccessible ridge line immediately to the west of Bearfort Ridge. You can read more here.

The white Bearfort Ridge Trail and the Orange Quail Trail will be re-blazed as the new green-blazed Bearfort Ridge Loop. A section of the yellow Ernest Walter Trail will be blazed yellow and green as a co-aligned portion of this loop. A new pink “West Ridge Trail” will parallel  a section of the Bearfort Ridge Loop Trail and provide a new connection-and new loop opportunity- between the top of the first climb up to the ridge line and the Ernest Walter Trail. I’m really looking forward to hiking the ridge line west of Bearfort Ridge on this new trail.

The short portion of the Terrace Pond North trail that was on the north side of Warwick Turnpike will be re-blazed as a blue & green connector trail and the beginning portion of the white Bearfort Ridge Trail from the parking area on Warwick Turnpike will be re-blazed as a green & black connector trail. Again, the hike I described in my earlier post will still be possible,  only some of the colors of the blazes will have changed.  I will need to get back out here soon and incorporate these new opportunities into a post that describes the trail additions.

Trail Changes Ramapo Mtn. State Forest

As in the other two areas, there are improvements afoot here as well. The hike described in my post here can still be made, but the color of the blazes will change. There are some more substantial changes here than at Hewitt or Waywayanda. The McEvoy Trail will no longer exist. It’s former route will be subsumed into several other trails that will be either extended or incorporated into new loop trails. The Hoeferlin Memorial Trail will no longer exist on the south side of Skyline Drive. As with the McEvoy Trail, its former route in this portion of the State Forest will be re-blazed and incorporated into other trails. It will remain unaffected north of Skyline Drive. A description of the changes can be found here.

For starters, the portion of the now former blue McEvoy Trail that leaves from the lower parking lot on Skyline Drive will be re-blazed and re-named. It will now be blazed as a blue & black connector trail leading up the hill to Ramapo Lake and will be called the Ramapo Lake Spur.  The section of the old McEvoy Trail, now marked blue & black, at the top of the climb from the parking lot will be co-aligned with white blazes from the current intersection with the white Castle Point Trail to the lake.

The old white blazed Castle Point trail will be extended to create the white-blazed Castle Loop Trail. It will use the route of the old McEvoy Trail along the north shore of Ramapo Lake to complete the loop. That same section of the old McEvoy Trail will be combined with the route of the Cannonball Trail along the west shore of the lake, a short section of formerly unmarked road at the south end of the lake where it intersects the Indian Rock Trail and the formerly unmarked gravel road that runs along the east shore of the lake to create the blue-blazed Ramapo Lake Loop Trail circling the entire lake.

The formerly unmarked road at the south end of Ramapo Lake, from the point where the blue Ramapo Lake Loop Trail turns north along the east shore will become a red & blue marked connector trail. It will use the unmarked road and a section of the former yellow Hoeferlin Memorial Trail to create the Legrande-Lake Connector. It will run to the intersection with the former Lookout Trail, which will remain red-blazed, but now be called the LeGrande Hill Loop. There will no longer be co-alignment with the former yellow Hoeferlin Memorial Trail. The southernmost section of the Hoeferlin Memorial Trail will remain blazed yellow to the terminus on Pool Hollow Road but now will be called the Pool Hollow Trail.

That’s a lot of changes, but we’re not done yet. The Cannonball Trail will now have its southern terminus at the south end of Ramapo Lake at the intersection with the Indian Rock Trail.  The section of the Cannonball Trail between this point and the intersection with the yellow Pool Hollow (formerly Hoeferlin Memorial) Trail will be abandoned. The section of the Cannonball Trail south of the Route 287 crossing will be re-blazed white and incorporated into the existing South Ridge Trail. Only a short section of the Cannonball Trail will be abandoned-but it will still exist as an unmarked path.

The orange blazed Wanaque  Ridge Trail that now begins at an intersection with the old McEvoy Trail will be extended and replace the McEvoy Trail between the pipeline right-of-way and the shore of Ramapo Lake, where it will end at an intersection with the new blue-blazed Ramapo Lake Loop Trail. The section of the old McEvoy Trail that headed north to its terminus at a parking area on Wolfe Drive, will be re-blazed as an orange & black connector called the Wanaque Ridge Spur.

Finally, over on the other side of Skyline Drive, beginning at the upper parking lot, a portion of the Orange Schuber Trail, a currently unmarked woods road that goes along the shore of Lake Tamarack, a portion of the Yellow Trail, and nearly the entirety of the white Todd Trail will be re-blazed purple to create the new Tamarack Loop. This trail will have several overlooks of Lake Tamarack.  The last portion of the white Todd Trail heading out to an overlook and a short unmarked woods road will be re-blazed green to create the Todd Loop Trail. The remaining northern section of the Schuber Trail heading off to Ramapo Valley Reservation will remain unchanged.

 

Milford Knob/DWGNRA

Here’s a terrific hike just across the Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. While it’s not a Jersey hike, you’ll be looking at views out over the New Jersey countryside nearly the entire time. This hike covers just under 8 miles and has about 1,000 feet of vertical climb-much of it packed into the first 1.4 miles of the trip.  Plan on taking around 3 1/2 hours to complete this hike.  That estimate has some time built in for taking in the many views and enjoying a brief respite along the way. While the climb and distance are a bit of a challenge, this hike is suitable for kids over 10-they’ve got the energy to make the climb up to the ridge anyway.

This hike is in the Raymondskill Falls/Cliff Park section of the DWGNRA. This can be a VERY popular spot on Summer weekends. Two beautiful waterfalls here, Raymondskill and Hackers, are attractions for visitors from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania who come to picnic and wade into the waters of Raymondskill Creek on hot summer days. This hike begins at the opposite end of the park, but you will eventually make your way to the day use areas where it isn’t uncommon to see hundreds of people enjoying themselves here during the peak of the season. You’ll just be passing through that part of the the area, but for a short portion of the hike you may be joined by folks, coming or going, making the short trip to their cars attired in bathing suits. When you get to the falls, you will understand why.

Directions

This hike begins at the Milford Knob Trail parking area. It is located on U.S. Route 209 just a short distance south of the intersection with U.S. Route 206 at the Milford-Montague Bridge over the Delaware River. Coming from New Jersey just take Route 206 north until it ends. The Milford-Montague Bridge is just about 32 miles north of the intersection of Route 206 and Interstate Route 80, almost to the very northwest corner of the state. Cross the Milford-Montague bridge and make a left onto Route 209.  You’ll see a toll house for the recreation area and the parking lot will be on the right hand side, just before it.  You can download a map of the trails here.  Scroll down to page 10 and you’ll find the map of the Raymondskill area trails. I’ve prepared a map in this post that details the route I describe.

The Hike

The hike begins at the south end of the parking lot where you will find the trail head and an information kiosk. You will be following the green-blazed Milford Knob Trail, the white-blazed Cliff Trail, the yellow and white-blazed Logger Path, the yellow-blazed Hacker Trail, the orange-blazed Buchanan Trail, the blue-blazed Pond Loop, a short unnamed red trail, back to the Cliff Trail to the green and white blazed Quarry Trail, back to the Milford Knob trail to the place where you started.   It’s basically just under 4 miles out to the Tri-state Overlook and just over 4 miles back. The detour to the falls and to the pond adds a couple of points of interest and keep this from just being an out and back hike. As it is, you will be re-tracing about 1 mile on the Cliff Trail and about 1 mile on the Milford Knob trail.

Start out following the green blazes of the Milford Knob trail as it leaves the parking area and enters the woods. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow. You will be climbing about 400 feet in the next 1.4 miles. The trail is going up almost its entire length. The grade is gentle to moderate at first, but you will notice that you are definitely gaining elevation. At the one mile mark, you will reach an intersection, marked by a 4 x 4 post, with the green and white blazed Quarry Trail. You will be returning to this point on your way back. Stay on the Milford Knob trail. Shortly after this intersection, you will begin to climb in earnest. This short but steep section of trail will bring you to the crest of the ridge where the Milford Knob trail ends at an intersection with the white-blazed Cliff Trail.

Turn right here and follow the Cliff Trail about 150 yards to an overlook of the Borough of Milford.  There are some seats made out of old garbage cans where you can catch your breath from the climb as you look out over a long view of the Delaware River northward. Look slightly to your right and you will see the High Point Monument to your northeast.  A little to your left and you will see Grey Towers, the home of Gifford Pinchot. He is considered the father of the U.S. Forest Service and, along with Henry Graves, the founder of the Yale School of Forestry. If you have time, you may want to work in a visit here after your hike (or on the other hand, lunch or dinner at  a restaurant in the very cute town of Milford-as long as you’re not too smelly or dirty). If you’re in my Environmental Policy class, a trip to Grey Towers will earn you extra credit!

When you’ve had enough of this view (and there are plenty more to take in on this hike) turn around and re-trace your steps to the intersection with the Milford Knob trail, but continue straight ahead on the white blazes of the Cliff trail. The trail will turn right and climb a bit before leveling off. This stretch is quite pleasant as you will be following a wide grassy trail lined by pine and mixed hardwoods. In just under 1 mile you will come to an intersection with the other end of the Quarry Trail. Continue straight here. If you’re feeling adventurous, there is an unmarked trail that bears slightly left and uphill here. This trail parallels the Cliff Trail for about 1/2 mile to the Riverview Overlook where it rejoins the white trail.

This unmarked trail follows the edge of the cliffs overlooking the Delaware much more closely than the blazed white trail (much more closely!) and offers a couple of extra views-just be careful.  Whichever way you choose to proceed, in about a 1/2 mile you will reach the Riverview Overlook, which I found to be the best viewpoint on the hike.  It’s actually on a very short side trail from the white trail and right on the unmarked trail. It has a wooden bench and post-and-rail fence to prevent the careless from making the 400 foot descent back to Route 209 in one easy, but painful, step. Looking down and to your left you will see the Milford-Montague Bridge. You’ll also get a good look at the High Point Monument. To your right looking south, you’ll see the Delaware River stretching into the distance and the Delaware Water Gap, almost 30 miles away.

After taking in the view, return to the white trail and continue south. In about 1 mile you will reach another overlook on a short side trail. This is the Minisink Overlook. Another very pretty place that also features a wooden bench and post and rail fence. At this viewpoint you can look to your left and get a feel for the sheer cliffs you have been following the entire way just a short distance away from the trail. Return to the white trail and continue south. In a short distance you will reach an intersection marked by a post with the unnamed red trail. You will come back to this spot on your return trip. In about 1/2 mile you will reach the Tri-state Overlook and an intersection with the yellow and white blazed Logger Path. Take the short detour to your left on the Cliff Trail to take in this view as well.  When you’ve had enough of the view, come back to this intersection and follow the yellow and white blazes as you begin to descend from the ridgeline.

In about 1/4 of a mile, the Logger Path will end at an intersection with an unmarked woods road. There is a post here directing you to turn left. You will immediately come to an intersection with the yellow blazed Hacker Trail. Turn right here and follow the yellow blazes. (This is the section where you’ll encounter the day-trippers) The trail is level at first but then turns right and begins to descend a little more sharply. You will begin to hear the sound of rushing water (provided there’s been enough recent rainfall) ahead through the trees. Soon, Hackers Falls will come into view and on the weekends, the Hemlock glen near the falls will be full of picnickers enjoying a day with nature.

The yellow trail passes the glen and then begins to climb. You will reach an informational sign telling you what you can’t do here. (Probably six out of the eight prohibitions listed on the sign are taking place a short distance behind you-I don’t think I saw anyone diving or starting fires) When we passed this area, everyone seemed to just be having a good time. Isn’t that what our parks are for?

Continue on the yellow trail as it climbs away from the falls. In a short distance you will reach a “T” intersection with the orange Buchanan Trail. You can cut the trip  past the pond out of this hike by turning right here. If you do, just skip ahead to follow from the intersection of the orange and red trails (only make a right to return to the Cliff Trail). This will shorten the hike by about a mile. If you want to go to the pond, make a left and follow the Orange Trail about 1/2 mile to the intersection with the blue blazed Pond Loop. There is another trailhead here with public restrooms (although when you’re hiking-the world is your restroom-just kidding!)  You can then follow the blue blazes along either shore of the pond. Just take the blue trail, regardless of which side of the pond you follow, back to the orange trail. The pond is also a great spot to take a rest and have a drink and a snack.

When you rejoin the the orange trail, continue for about 1/2 mile to the intersection with the unnamed red trail.  Again, those who cut the pond out of the trip will make a right here, while coming from the pond, you will go straight ahead (actually slightly left) onto the red trail. You will follow the red trail a short distance back to the white Cliff Trail, where you will turn left and head back towards your car.  Feel free to stop off at any of the view points you passed on your way out as you make your way back. This part of the hike will take on a bit of a “death march” feel as you will likely be getting a little tired and you’re just making distance here.

In about 1 1/2 miles you will reach the intersection with the Quarry Trail you passed earlier in this hike. It is marked by a 4 x 4 post and is blazed green and white. Turn right onto the Quarry Trail and follow it as it begins to descend steeply. After 1/2 mile on the express elevator down, you will reach the intersection with the Milford Knob trail you passed much earlier on your way up. Turn right here and continue down-albeit not as steeply. It’s about a mile from this point back out to the trailhead and your car.

This is a pretty rewarding hike. You get a good workout. You get some fantastic views. You’ll pass a beautiful waterfall and you’ll cover a  pretty good distance to go along with all you’ve seen. When you’re done, you can head into Milford for a bite to eat or the beverage of your choice-which you have certainly earned. Try the Dimmick Inn, the Apple Valley Restaurant or the Waterwheel Cafe, or if you just want a beer, the Log Tavern Brewing Company.  Return back across the bridge onto Route 206 and you’re headed home.

view 

Baldpate Mountain/Ted Stiles Preserve

This isn’t the most spectacular hike that I’ll take you on here but it is, above all, a pleasant journey. The Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain is a modest place in both size (although at 1,500 acres this isn’t a tiny parcel of public land) and terrain. The hike I describe for you clocks in at just about 8 miles and has over 1,000 feet in cumulative vertical climb. Not bad for a place where the highest elevation is right around 500 feet above sea level. The route described is almost entirely through dense forest (which was welcome on the 93 degree day I did this hike), has some sharp ups and downs and ends with a lovely view over the Delaware River looking south with the skyline of Philadelphia visible in the distance.

On the day I made this hike, the forest was alive with the sounds of the woodland thrushes that favor the type of mature canopy and thick underbrush that characterize this preserve. If you visit in the spring or summer, listen for the calls of the Wood Thrush, which you will recognize immediately. You’ll also hear other birds of the deep woods including Oven Birds, Veery and Hermit Thrush singing as you make your way along the trails. Take a few moments when you are deep into the forest on this hike to stop, close your eyes and take in the sounds. I guarantee it will take your blood pressure down a notch or two.

Before I get to the hike, just a note or two on the name of the place. Most of the time the names pinned to public spaces (like who the heck was Norvin Green?) are just some rich people who are lost to history. At some point their  families donated the property when it became of little economic use. Wharton State Forest, Worthington Forest and Abraham Hewitt Forest are some examples. That’s not true here. Ted Stiles was someone who had a connection to this place.

He was a noted environmentalist and a teacher, friend and mentor to many in New Jersey’s environmental community. Those who knew him best still tell stories of trips into the wilds of the Garden State with him, highlighted by his ability to mimic the calls of the birds in the surrounding forests and to have the birds respond to him. His “spare time” work with the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space led to the preservation of the land you’ll be hiking here and thousands more acres in the region. Keep in mind that good things don’t just happen, there’s usually a good person (or good people) that make them reality.

Directions

This hike begins on Route 29 in Hopewell Township, about 2 1/2 miles north of the Washington’s Crossing-TItusville Bridge. (Coming from the north, it’s almost exactly 4 miles south of Lambertville). The parking area is on the east side of Route 29. It is marked by an inconspicuous sign for the Canal House and the Baldpate Switchback Trail. It’s right at milepost 14.5 on Route 29. Nectar’s Home & Garden Center is right next to (just north of) the parking area.

Pull in the driveway and go to the parking area at the rear of the tan stucco Canal House. You will see a trail kiosk with information on the Preserve and the trail begins on a mowed path through a wildflower meadow heading north away from the parking lot. If you can’t follow directions (I don’t’ want to comment on what might await you as you head into the woods if you can’t) just put 1586 River Road, Hopewell Township, NJ in your GPS. You can download a pretty good map of the trails here, although it doesn’t show the “Unmarked Trail” you will be using.

The Hike

The preserve’s trails are not what I would consider to be “well marked”. They are adequately marked (a generous assessment) but the trails are pretty well-maintained and easy to follow. You’ll have to pay careful attention to where you are along this route and it will test your navigational skills a bit. Just keep track of where you are and you should have no problems. You’ll be following the yellow Switchback Trail, the red Northwest Loop, the white (or is it blue?) Pleasant Valley Trail, an unmarked trail, the white Ridge Trail, the green Kuser Trail, the green Kuser Connector, and the orange Copper Hill Trail. You’ll return on the white trail to the yellow to get back to the parking area.

The hike begins at the kiosk near the parking area. The trail heads north on a mowed path a short distance before turning right and entering the woods.  This hike has just over 1,000 in vertical climb and you’re about to do right around 400 feet of it in the first half-mile or so. The yellow Switchback Trail is sparsely marked with plastic squares but you can’t get lost. After entering the woods, the trail immediately climbs steeply on a series of switchbacks (Gee, I wonder how they came up with the name?) and the sounds of traffic begin to fade as you gain elevation.

At the top of the climb you will reach a “T” intersection. Note this spot, you will be coming back here on your return trip. You’ll see a marker with an arrow indicating the white trail goes right and the red trail goes left. You will be making a left to follow the red trail. The trail is a well-defined path with intermittent red plastic blazes.  You will see far more “no trespassing” signs along the left side of the trail warning you to stay off of the old Trap Rock Quarry property (probably a good idea) than trail blazes. In a little over a mile you will reach an intersection with the Pleasant Valley Trail. I wasn’t joking about it being white or blue before. It’s mostly blazed white (with Pleasant Valley Trail written on the markers in Sharpie) although you will encounter some blue blazes. The map says it’s blazed turquoise-it really isn’t.  Make a left at the intersection of the Northwest Loop and Pleasant Valley Trails.

You will head deeper into the woods here. Keep an eye out for an unmarked trail that leaves to your left. Use this as a navigation check point. About 1/2 mile past this spot you will reach an intersection with another unmarked trail. There will be two blue blazes here indicating that the Pleasant Valley Trail turns left. There will also be a blaze at the intersection that helpfully informs you that this is the “unmarked trail to the Ridge Trail”, also written in Sharpie on the plastic blaze. You will also notice a power line right-of-way just ahead through the trees here. Just an aside about this point in the hike. When we reached this intersection my wife commented that it is arguable they are all unmarked trails. It was intended as a joke but she had a valid point. Nevertheless, continue onward. You’re not going to get lost.

Turn right on the unmarked trail as it climbs somewhat steeply on a series of switchbacks. You’re going to gain about 200 feet in elevation here. You will pass another unmarked trail that has a marker with an “x” on it that heads towards the power line just before you crest the hill at the high point of this hike. Unfortunately you are deep in the woods and there isn’t a view at this spot. The trail then descends to an intersection with the white Ridge Trail. Turn left here.

The white trail (also sparsely blazed) is another well-worn footpath that is easy to follow. In about 1/2 mile you will pass an intersection with the orange Copper Hill Trail. You will come back to this spot in a bit. Keep going straight. You will emerge at a parking area with an information kiosk. Across the parking area on a wooden guard rail you will see a green blaze for the Kuser Trail which leaves the parking lot to follow the power line right of way. There are no blazes beneath the power lines but the trail is easy to follow. In about 1/4 mile the trail will bear right before turning sharply right to enter the woods.

There are a few more green blazes along this stretch than you will find on the other trails. The trail descends away from the power line, eventually reaching an intersection with the green blazed Kuser Connector (helpfully noted in writing on the blazes). The Kuser Trail itself goes to your left and downhill. The connector trail goes right and uphill. Turn right and begin to climb. In a short distance this trail will end at an intersection with the orange blazed Copper Hill Trail. Turn left here. You will pass an intersection with the blue blazed Creek Spur Trail that heads to your left. Continue straight. The Copper Hill Trail climbs somewhat steeply from this point. In a short distance you will pass the remains of an old home site where only the foundation and the chimney and fireplace remain. The orange trail will crest the hill and descend slightly before ending at an intersection with the white Ridge Trail at a spot you have passed once before.

Turn left and follow the white trail retracing some of your steps. You will come to the intersection with the unmarked trail you traveled before. Stay straight on the white trail.  You will be just covering distance here through some dense woods. In a little over a mile, you will reach the remains of an old farmstead. The white trail begins to follow a gravel road with a fence to your right.  You will pass an intersection with the red Northwest Loop Trail here before re-entering the woods for a short distance before emerging into a large meadow with picnic tables.  A blue blazed trail leaves to your left heading downhill away from the meadow here. Continue straight ahead on a mowed path. At the far end of the meadow you will find some more tables and a pair of binoculars to help you take in the view to your left of the Delaware River and beyond. You will be able to see the skyline of Philadelphia off in the distance on a clear day. This is a good place to stop for a rest, a drink and to take in the scenery.

The white trail follows the mowed path north from the meadow, re-entering the woods. You’re going to come to an intersection where the main white trail turns sharply left and heads downhill (Do Not Turn Here-keep going straight). You’ll see blazes on a tree indicating that the red and yellow trails are straight ahead. Continue straight for about 100 feet and you will come to the intersection with the yellow trail you used at the beginning of the hike. Turn left here and head downhill. You will really notice how steep the climb up was on your descent. You will notice the sounds of traffic growing louder as the yellow trail descends, eventually emerging into the wildflower meadow where this hike began.

This was a deceptively challenging hike. Other than the initial climb (which was not deceptive at all) the elevation gain is all in a series of ups and downs along the trail that make you re-climb the same 200 feet or so multiple times to reach that 1,046 feet of ascent . The distance is what it is-eight miles is eight miles any way you slice it. For the distance and elevation, it is a very accessible hike that is suitable for kids and you get a pretty good view in for your effort. You can bail out and shorten the hike at any number of points as long as you are adept at interpreting a map. As I said at the beginning, more than anything else, this is a pleasant trip through some very pretty forest that will give you the feeling that you have hiked deep into the woods.  I think you will really enjoy your visit to this beautiful spot.

 

Rockaway River WMA/Mahlon Dickerson

As I’ve said before in another post, hiking the state’s wildlife management areas isn’t for everyone. They are usually pretty wild places without many, or even any, marked hiking trails. This hike will do nothing to change that notion.  I’ve been spending a lot of time walking this area lately for a trails planning project that I’m working on and it took a while to get a good handle on this huge swath of public land that is criss-crossed by a maze of old woods roads. There are no real good maps that cover the entire route.

The area where this hike takes place crosses between two USGS quadrangle maps (Dover & Franklin). The best is the NYNJ Trails Conference’s Central North Jersey Highlands map. This map covers the area of the hike and has limited (but very useful) information on the many woods roads in the WMA. It is a little tough to use because of it’s scale. (downloading this map on Avenza would work-subject to the limits of phone apps for navigation)   The Mahlon Dickerson Reservation map covers much of this hike as well, but also has limited (as in no) information on the woods roads.  (note-if you can get your hands on one of the older copies of the Morris County Park Commission map of Mahlon Dickerson, many of the woods roads and the Beaver Brook Trail are mapped on these versions)

This hike will take you through land owned by Jefferson Township, Morris County’s Mahlon Dickerson Reservation and the State of New Jersey’s Rockaway River Wildlife Management Area. It is a loop of just over 6 miles and will take about 3 hours to complete. There are no really steep climbs, but there is significant elevation change. The biggest challenge will be navigating the route. You will be following a combination of marked trails and unmarked woods roads. There are many intersections with unmarked roads and paths that can be confusing. I’ve prepared a map of the hike that should (will) get you through this interesting trek into the wilderness.  Despite the fact that you will be in the middle of a huge swath of public land that stretches from Route 15 in Jefferson to Sparta Mountain (over 10,000 acres in total) you will never be too far from a road-in case you get lost (you won’t).

Directions

This hike begins at an alternate entrance to Mahlon Dickerson. The GPS address for the park is 955 Weldon Road, Jefferson, NJ 07849, but you’re not starting there. If you are coming from Route 15, get off at the Weldon Road exit and head north. In 1.3 miles, just after passing a sign welcoming you to Mahlon Dickerson Reservation, a gravel entrance road marked by a Morris County Park Commission sign identifying the “Saffin-Rock Rill” area leads into the park. Follow this gravel road, staying to the right when it forks, across the dam of a small pond to an unpaved parking area near a Jefferson Township MUA pumping station. On the south side of the parking area you will see an informational kiosk that marks the start of the unmarked PSE & G trail that follows a woods road.  Take note that directly across the parking area from the start of this trail, the blazed yellow trail emerges from the woods. That is going to be your return route to your car.  If you are coming from the north on Weldon Road, this entrance will be on your left 1.5 miles past the “Saffin Pond” parking area.

The Hike

This hike begins on the unmarked PSE & G trail. At the beginning of the trail is an information sign that tells about the ecology of the region. Head south from the parking area on this trail. The beginning of the trail can be quite wet. There is a bypass around this short section that hikers have worn through the undergrowth to your right. You are leaving Mahlon Dickerson Reservation at this point. The trail parallels the outlet stream of the pond you passed on the way in on the right and you will soon see the remains of mining excavations on your left. Very quickly, you will reach a fork in the trail with two more informational signs. One trail heads left and uphill alongside a mine excavation while the PSE & G trail continues straight-stay on it. Numerous excavations are found here, several of which are fenced off, all of which have signs warning of the dangers of the site.

At about a 1/4 mile in you will reach the right-of-way for the Roseland-Susquehanna power line. The upgrade of this transmission line was quite controversial over concerns on it’s impact to the environmentally sensitive areas it crosses. All of the towers were eventually replaced with larger and higher stanchions to carry higher capacity wires. Listen carefully as you walk under, you will probably be able to hear the lines crackling. The trail you are walking on, the signage you passed and the restoration of the habitat beneath the transmission lines were all part of the compensation required of the power company to mitigate for the impacts of construction. They’ve actually done a fairly good job of remediation of the construction impacts  but one thing you will notice is that with the taller towers, there will be few places on this hike where they are not visible.

Continue south from the power line.  You’ll soon reach a complex intersection of woods roads. Navigate this intersection by continuing straight ahead and bearing slightly left as the roads diverge. You will enter dense woods typical of the Highlands region here. After some minor ups and downs the the trail will tend downhill before ending at a “T with another woods road. To the right, in about 1/4 mile this road emerges in the Lake Shawnee neighborhood of Jefferson. You will be going left.  The road quickly turns to the right and emerges into an open wetland area and crosses Beaver Brook on a sketchy looking log bridge. Try to cross by stepping in the center of the bridge where your weight will be over the center beam. Pause in the center and look to your left and to your right. This is a stunning place as you look out over the expanse of open landscape with the brook coursing through.

Once on the other side of the brook, the road you are on ends at at a “T”. Turn left at the intersection and follow this road which is identified on some maps (like the USGS Quad) as “Waldon Road”. This road can be very wet. After passing a shallow pond on your left the road will begin to climb. An unmarked road will come in on the right as you climb and you will eventually come to an open area and an old fashioned outhouse, complete with a half moon, in the woods on your left. Keep going.  Near the top of the rise another unmarked road will leave to your left and shortly thereafter you will come to an intersection with a more substantial woods road. This is “Compton-Gobel Road” and appears on most maps. There is an inconspicuous blue blaze marking this road. Turn sharply left here and follow this road. This route is very rocky and also can be very wet.   As you walk along Compton-Gobel Road keep a sharp eye out for the crossing of the white-blazed Beaver Brook Trail. This crossing is about 1/2 mile from where you turned onto Compton-Gobel Road but it is easy to miss.

When you reach the intersection with the Beaver Brook Trail, turn left. You have successfully navigated the “expedition” portion of the hike.  From here on you will be following traditional marked hiking trails. The trail will descend slightly through the woods before crossing an unmarked woods road. You will emerge back onto the right-of-way of the Roseland-Susquehanna power line at a low point. Beaver Brook will be crossing the right-of-way here as well. The trail parallels the brook, then crosses on stepping stones before re-entering the woods on the other side of the right-of-way. This can be difficult to navigate as the trail is not conspicuous where it crosses this open area.

You will find the white blazes on the other side of the power line. The trail follows Beaver Brook, now on your right, to its source at “Lost Lake”.  The trail will turn left and begin to climb through the woods with the lake to your right. You will pass several view points looking out over this remote pond. You may want to stop at one of these points for a drink and to take in the scenery.  The trail will continue to climb, crossing yet another unmarked woods road as you leave the pond behind. You will go over a couple of ups and downs, but the trend is definitely uphill through this part of the route. In about 1/2 mile you will reach an informational kiosk that marks your entry back into Mahlon Dickerson Reservation and an intersection with the Yellow Trail.

If you are short on time or if you are tired, you can cut this hike short by turning left on the Yellow Trail. This will take you back to the starting point of this hike in about 1 1/2 miles.  Turning right will take you on a longer route the includes the “Hadley Overlook”.  I’m taking you right here. You will skirt a wetland area and cross a small brook on a bridge before the trail climbs steeply on a series of switchbacks.  Keep an eye on the blazes as the Yellow Trail has been re-routed. If you are on the old route, don’t worry, you will come back to trail at the top of the climb. The Yellow Trail will come to an intersection with the teal blazes of the Highlands Trail. The Yellow Trail will turn left (co-aligned with the southbound Highlands Trail) and the northbound Highlands Trail will leave to your right. Go right and follow the teal blazes as the trail continues to climb, shortly reaching the Hadley Overlook with beautiful east and south looking views that includes Lake Hopatcong in the distance.

After leaving the overlook, the Highlands Trail will reach an intersection with an unpaved service driveway. The Highlands Trail heads straight to a crossing of Weldon Road. You will turn left on the service drive and follow it for about 1/4 of a mile back to the Yellow Trail and southbound Highlands Trail near the reservation’s camping area. Continue on the Yellow & Teal trails. You will cross a small brook on a bridge. The Yellow Trail and the Highlands Trail will diverge. Follow the teal blazes of the Highlands Trail to your left.  The trail will descend to the shore of Saffin Pond. There is a black and teal blazed spur of the Highlands Trail that leaves to the right here.  Continue straight and cross over the dam and outlet for the pond where you will rejoin the Yellow Trail. Follow the co-aligned Highlands and Yellow Trails.  Soon the Highlands Trail will leave to your right, continue straight on the Yellow Trail.

As you continue south on the Yellow Trail, Weldon Road will be close by on your right. The trail will climb over a a fairly steep rise before descending on the other side to an information kiosk. The trail turns left here and descends to the shore of the pond you passed as you entered the park. The trail turns right and you will follow the shore of the pond on an old road to the south end of the pond where the trail then turns left to cross the pond’s dam on the gravel road you drove in on and back to your car where this hike began. This is a very nice hike through some remote areas. The navigation challenges make completing this hike rewarding. There is a challenge from both distance and elevation gain, but nothing too strenuous. This hike is a worthwhile and enjoyable change of pace that allows you to take in some of the wilder parts of Morris County.

pith helmetview

Wildcat Ridge WMA/Hawkwatch

New Jersey’s Fish & Wildlife Areas generally don’t have a lot of marked hiking trails. These properties are managed primarily for hunting and fishing. They are located all over the state and comprise over 356,000 acres of publicly accessible preserved land. You can find one near you from this list.  If you’re comfortable navigating with a USGS topographic map, you can explore these sites and take some more adventurous forays into the wilds, although I would suggest limiting visits to days outside of hunting season.

One exception is the Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area in Rockaway Township. This is a great hiking spot that provides the opportunity for a modestly challenging trip into the woods where you’ll pass an abandoned mine, an old graveyard, get some stunning long views towards the Manhattan skyline and visit the “hawkwatch”, a monitoring station for migrating hawks and other raptors that pass this spot every spring and fall. Wildcat Ridge covers over 6,300 acres of rugged landscape and is adjacent to other public holdings, like Farny State Park just to the north, that combine to provide miles of contiguous preserved forests, wetlands, streams and lakes.

There are a lot of different combinations you can make of the trails and roads that range from an easy stroll around the historic ruins to long strenuous loops that will take you over to Split Rock Reservoir and back. The hike that is described here is a moderate route that is just long enough and has just enough elevation change to make you feel like you put some effort in. It will take just about two hours to complete. I’ve described a route that is pretty easy to follow-out on the white trail and back on the orange.  Keep an eye out to follow the blazes as you will cross numerous unmarked roads and trails. Save exploring these connections for another day.

Good maps of this area are hard to come by as even the USGS Quads don’t show all of the old roads here. The NY-NJ Trails Conference has an excellent map that includes this area that you can purchase here.  There is a map at the kiosk where this hike begins. There’s another at the kiosk at the trail head you will reach about halfway into this hike and a third at the Hawkwatch information sign. JORBA, the Jersey Off Road Bike Association has maps of the trails and woods roads that are workable for hiking.   I’ve included a map that I prepared from the USGS Boonton Quad that will work for this hike-as long as you stick to the route I’ve laid out.

Directions

The easy way is to just put 19 Lower Hibernia Road, Hibernia, NJ into your GPS and let technology take you to this spot. But you’re a hiker and can actually follow directions. For most visitors, unless you’re coming from the north, you will take county route 513 north through Rockaway Borough (or take Exit 37 from Route 80).  From the intersection of Route 80 and 513, continue north on 513 (Green Pond Road) for 2.7 miles to Lower Hibernia Road. Turn right here and you will see the brown wooden sign for Wildcat Ridge WMA and the parking area just past the sign. Park here and the hike begins just past the concrete barriers at the end of the parking lot. From the north, take 513 south from the intersection with Route 23 just over 8 1/2 miles to Lower Hibernia Road where you will turn left and continue to the entrance.

The Hike

I’ve laid out a pretty simple out and back route that uses two trails. You’ll head out on the white-blazed Four Birds Trail and come back on the orange-blazed Hibernia Brook Trail. You can make short detours to see the bat hibernaculum near the start of this hike and over to the old St. Patrick’s Cemetery on the way back. This present day wilderness was once a thriving community with an industrial past related to the mining activity that occurred here. There are still remnants of those days scattered throughout the wildlife management area in the form of building foundations, old roads and mine openings.

The hike begins at the parking area where the entrance is blocked by concrete barriers to prevent vehicles from using the old road. (Apparently, you should not ask “TK” for directions) The white and orange trails are co-aligned for a short distance. Within a tenth of a mile the trails split with the white trail turning right and the orange trail staying straight to follow Hibernia Brook, which is off to your left.  Turn right here. You will pass some old foundations as you wind through the woods before passing a side trail on your right to the old mine opening that is now a place where thousands of bats, including the endangered Indiana Bat hibernate for the winter.

Continue on the white trail which will begin to climb steeply to the first of two crossings of the orange trail.  The trail will level off some. You will be able to see the remains of the old cemetery just after you pass the remains of an old road that is still lined with telephone poles (and even a couple of old street lights). The trail will turn right and continue uphill. The trail will again turn to the right and begin to climb a little more steeply to a second crossing of the orange trail.  Continue straight and continue to head uphill. You will be entering some more remote forest here. Along the way, you’ll be crossing some unmarked woods roads that sometimes have ATV users. This section has a very “highlands” feel as you will be traversing oak forest with an understory of Blueberry and Mountain Laurel as well as the rock outcroppings that are typical of the region.

You’ll do some ups and downs here before climbing a rise that takes to you an elevation of over 1000 feet (no you’re not climbing 1,000 ft.) where you can catch a glimpse of a view to the east through the trees. The trail will descend here to a junction with the red-blazed Meriden Trail before climbing again. This time at the top of the climb you will reach yet another junction with the orange trail. This time you will turn right on the orange trail and follow it about 100 yards to the overlook at the Hawkwatch.  This is the payoff of the trip. When the weather is clear you can see the Manhattan skyline 30 miles off to the east.

This is an official monitoring station along the Atlantic Flyway to conduct surveys of the hawks and other raptors that pass this spot. The information kiosk contains a description of the site and some instructions on how to identify the different hawks you might see based upon their profiles in flight. You may also find a volunteer observer here recording their sightings during peak migration season. Take pictures here and try not to fall off the cliff while getting a selfie with the vista in the background. This is also a good place to take a break to just take in the beauty of the spot before heading back.

When you’ve had enough of this spot, turn back on the orange trail and retrace your steps back to the intersection with the white Four Birds Trail.  To your right, you’ll see a communications tower with a service road for access. From this spot the white trail continues on to Split Rock Reservoir and Farny State Park. Save that for another day.  Continue straight on the orange trail. You will be walking through some more typical Highlands forests. You may see the tower access road and the utility poles through the trees to your right. Keep an eye out for an old car back in the woods to your left.  Eventually you will come to that access road at a yellow gate. The yellow-blazed Wildcat Ridge Trail heads off to your right. An information kiosk with a map and a trailhead parking area will be in front of you. To your left you will see another metal gate and the continuing blazes of the orange trail. Turn left here, go around the gate and follow the orange blazes.

The orange trail heads steadily downhill following an old road bed. This isn’t the most pleasant part of the hike, but it isn’t bad either, its just not like the hike out that traversed some very pretty forest.  You will come to a crossing of the white trail that you passed on the way out. Soon after this crossing you will see a side trail headed off to your right with a sign directing you to the old cemetery. It’s a short detour that is worth the extra 10 minutes. The old mining community of Hibernia has disappeared with only these graves to mark the memory that people once lived here. You can read about some the history of the old town here.

See more pictures from this hike at the Photographs page.

Retrace your steps back to the orange trail and turn right to continue downhill along the old road. You will reach a junction with a woods road where you will see a sign for the Hbernia Brook Trail and the three blazes that usually mark the end of a trail. Just keep going straight following the orange blazes on the other side of the junction as the trail turns right and heads more steeply downhill. You’ll pass another crossing of the white trail as you wind your way down the hillside. In a short distance you will reach the bottom of the hillside where the trail will turn left to follow Hibernia Brook back to the parking area where this hike began.

This will give you a good feel for the layout of the area. You can return to explore the side trails or to do longer hikes that will bring you to Split Rock or start at other trailheads to vary your trips or reduce or increase the difficulty of your hike. This is an interesting place that warrants a return visit for the opportunity to explore the more remote parts of Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area.

Coppermine Trail/AT

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

This is a great hike-actually two hikes. There’s the long version (10.8 miles) – a back way up to Sunfish Pond-and the not-so-long version (6 miles)-a climb up to the Kittatinny Ridge and back. Whether you go the full distance or not, either route would be a great way to enjoy some of the best scenery in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. You will climb over 1,000 feet, see some spectacular waterfalls and get some classic long views from the ridge line both to the east and to the west.

The hike begins right along the Delaware River and takes you straight up the side of Kittatinny Mountain. You will follow a beautiful stream that cascades down from the ridge top that will make the climb up seem like an afterthought (mostly).  At the top, you will follow the ridge line and be treated to some of the best views you can find in New Jersey. There’s a good chance you will see a bear or two along the way and even the long version of the hike can be completed in about 4 hours since the real effort is front-loaded into the first mile or so.

Directions

The trailhead is located on the west side of Old Mine Road, just over 7 miles north of Route 80. To get here, get off of Route 80 at exit 1, just before the bridge over the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. At the bottom of the exit the road will split. Left will take you under the highway to the Visitor’s Center. Right will take you to Old Mine Road.  As soon as you turn right from the exit, you will see a traffic light. This light controls traffic on a narrow one-lane section of Old Mine Road and meters flow from each direction. It may take several minutes to get the green light to proceed. DO NOT get impatient and go through the red light!

Enjoy the drive on Old Mine Road. You will be traveling through Worthington State Forest for the first 5 miles and you will pass several recreation areas and other trail heads as you head north. Old Mine Road is one of the oldest continually used roads in America and traces its origins back to the Dutch Settlers who came to New Jersey in the late 17th Century.  You may come to the conclusion that the last road maintenance occurred around that time as well. You’ll have to dodge a fair number of pot holes as you make your way.  A dam proposed at Tocks Island in the 1960’s would have dammed the Delaware River here and created a nearly 40 mile long lake. This road would have been under about 140 feet of water.

Just over a mile after leaving Worthington State Forest (marked by a sign welcoming you to the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area),  you will come to the Copper Mines Parking Area on the left, also marked by a sign. Pull in here. The trail begins on the opposite side of the road directly across from the entrance to the lot.  Take a moment to appreciate a great view of the river from the parking area. There is a kiosk with a map of the trails and an explanation of the mining history of the site here as well.  This was the location of the Pahaquarry Copper Mine.

The Hike

This hike begins opposite from the Copper Mine parking area on the east side of Old Mine Road. The trailhead is marked by a wooden sign. You will be following the red-blazed Coppermine Trail, the white-blazed Appalachian Trail and the blue-blazed Kaiser Trail. If you choose the extended version of the hike, you will do a short out-and-back on the turquoise-blazed Turquoise Trail (now called the “Buckwood Trail”) to a view over Sunfish Pond. You can download a copy of the National Park Service’s trail map here. The trails are all well-marked and well-maintained. There are no really confusing intersections or navigational challenges. You can just head out on the trail and use the map to gauge your progress.

As you enter the woods, you will immediately come to the ruins of the mining operations at this site that gives the trail its name. There are stone foundations and other remnants just off of the trail that you can explore. You will also see several mine openings that have been blocked off as you walk. The trail at this point goes in one direction-up, just follow the red blazes.  About 1/4 mile in you will pass a trail that leaves to your right marked by a wooden sign that reads “Kaiser Trail Spur 0.4 miles”. You will be returning on this trail in a little while.

You are going to climb steeply away from Old Mine Road.  To your left and below you will see a creek lined with hemlocks cascading down a series of waterfalls. This creek will parallel the trail for the next mile or so and will make your steep climb much more palatable.  In about 1/2 mile, the trail will turn left to cross this creek on a wooden foot bridge. When the flow is high, this is a great place to take a couple of pictures.

After crossing the bridge the trail turns right on the north side of the creek and continues to climb steeply. This entire stretch of trail features a series of waterfalls, although the creek is well below you to your right.  Take note of the opposite side of the creek. The sheer hillside covered in rhododendrons and mountain laurel is striking.  At about the 1 mile mark, you will come to a hemlock grove where the stream splits at another series of falls. Here you can access the creek and this is another terrific place to take some pictures and to enjoy the sound of the water and the beauty of the spot.

See more pictures from this hike on the Photographs Page

Leaving the hemlock grove, the trail will climb some more for about a 1/4 mile before leveling off. You have done most of the hard work for this hike. That’s not to say you’re done climbing-you’re not-it’s just that you won’t have anything like what you just accomplished ahead of you. As the trail levels off, the woods change. You go from the hemlock lined gorge into more of a typical hardwood forest of oak, maple and beech. For the next mile the trail “trends” uphill, rather than climbs. Near the end of the Coppermine Trail you will crest a small ridge before heading slightly downhill to the intersection with the Appalachian Trail marked by the well-known white rectangles. To your left is a parking area and trailhead on Camp Road where a lot of hikers enter this section without the need for the climb you just made. (I’m not judging anyone here!) Turn right onto the Appalachian Trail here and continue to head uphill on the spine of the ridge top.

You will be walking along the ridge top for the next two miles. You will be teased by glimpses of long views on both sides of the trail but without any real open spots. You will pass two unmarked side trails that head to your left and lead to some very nice views eastward.  They are worth the small detours. However, at about 1 1/2 miles from the spot where you turned off of the Coppermine Trail, you will come to an open east looking view that is just spectacular. Below you will see Yards Creek Reservoir and to your right the nose of Mount Tammany.  This is a place to take a seat and have a drink and a snack before continuing on.

In another 1/2 mile you will come to the intersection with the blue blazes of the Kaiser Trail. It heads off to your right. It’s about 2 miles and 40 minutes of walking downhill back to the parking area from this spot. Turning right here will give you a six mile loop with over 1,200 feet of vertical climbing. (That’s a perfectly acceptable day in the woods!)  Continuing on to Sunfish Pond adds 4.8 miles (2.4 miles out and 2.4 miles back) and about another 1 1/2 hours of hiking. There are a couple of small climbs of around 50 feet in elevation along the trail so use this to guide your decision. If you’re heading back from here, skip the next three paragraphs. 

Optional Extension

Should you decide to continue on, you will  be following the AT along the ridge line. In about 1/2 mile you will come to a sign indicating you are leaving the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area and entering Worthington State Forest. This is just past a spot where the AT has been re-routed and turns right and climbs higher on the ridge.   About 1/4 mile past the sign you will come to a beautiful west looking view from a bare section of  the ridge. You can see a long stretch of the Delaware River laid out 1,000 feet below you. I don’t need to tell you this is another spot for some photographs.  This is also the high spot on the hike at about 1,530 feet.

In about another mile the trail will leave the ridge line and enter into some deeper woods. Keep an eye out for the intersection with the Turquoise Trail-it can be easy to miss. When you come to the Turquoise Trail, turn left and follow the trail about 1/4 mile to an elevated overlook of Sunfish Pond from the north end. This is one of my favorite spots in New Jersey. Another place to rest, take some pictures and have a drink or snack. When you’ve had enough of this place re-trace your steps on the Turquoise Trail and turn right on the Appalachian Trail to head back. It’s almost 2 1/2 miles of backtracking to the intersection with the Kaiser Trail.

Now I’m not encouraging this type of behavior, but if you’re really feeling it, you can add another 1 1/2 miles to this hike (that would be 12.3 in total!) by looping around Sunfish Pond.  There’s never a bad day to walk around the pond, but this will turn the hike into a “Death March”. It will take a little over 1/2 hour to circle the pond-so make sure you’ve got the extra time. To do this, continue on the Turquoise Trail away from the AT.  A short climb will bring you to the Sunfish Pond Fire Road that follows the east shore of the pond.  Turn right and take the fire road to the end.  Turn right again and follow the Dunnfield Creek trail for about 150 feet back to the AT at the south end of Sunfish Pond.  Turn right and follow the AT along the west shore of the pond and then all the way back to the Kaiser Trail from here.

Back to the Return Hike

So, short version or long version, you will be taking the Kaiser Trail downhill from here. The blazes are intermittent but this is an easy trail to follow. In about 1 mile you will come to a spur trail marked by a wooden sign that heads off to your right. This will take you to the Coppermine Trail at the hemlock grove. That’s an alternate way back but requires backtracking 1 mile of the red trail. Stay on the Kaiser Trail here and continue downhill. You will get some seasonal views down on the Delaware River here through the trees but nothing spectacular. After descending another 1/2 mile you will come to a second spur trail heading to your right (Also marked by a wooden sign).  Take this one. It’s just under 1/2 mile downhill back to the red blazes of the Coppermine Trail, just above the ruins.  Turn left here and head back to the trail head and the parking area.

Pocono Environmental Education Center

Let me take you on a very nice day trip to eastern Pennsylvania. This is a hike just outside of New Jersey. In fact, at one point you will get a very nice view of the Kittatinny Ridge, just on the other side of the Delaware River back in the Garden State. The Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingman’s Ferry, PA offers 12 miles of hiking trails that are fairly challenging and that provide the ability to combine trails into loops of varying length to suit your taste. While there are no mountain top views to wow you, the scenery is gorgeous with thick forest, streams, ponds and waterfalls to make this a hike worth taking.

I took this hike on a Memorial Day weekend when my wife and I were intending on hiking the Delaware Water Gap trails, only to find the parking areas full and overflowing. We just continued on Route 80 into Pennsylvania since we had already considered the PEEC as a backup destination. It turned out to be a great alternative-although it was a busy day at the environmental center as well. We were lucky to find a spot to park in the overflow lot in a field across from the main buildings.

The hike described here is a loop of a little over 6 miles and will take you from one end of the center’s land to the other. It took us about 3 1/2 hours to complete this journey. That included a bit of an extended stop at a spectacular waterfall and a little wandering through the center’s grounds. There are no real heart-attack climbs, but there is sufficient elevation change, particularly on the Tumbling Waters Trail, to give you a good workout. (plus, 6 1/2 miles is 6 1/2 miles no matter how you slice it!) Even so, this is a good hike for children, and if they are restless, you can bail out at the halfway mark.  The visitor’s center has some displays about the ecology of the area, a book shop and restrooms.

Directions

I tend to be a little old school in giving directions, but for those who don’t follow turn-by-turn routes, if you put 538 Emery Road, Dingmans Ferry, PA 18328 into your GPS device of choice, it will take you there. Otherwise, if you’re coming from New Jersey, take U.S. Route 206 north-way north-past Culver Lake and Stokes State Forest. Make a left onto County Route 560, Tuttle’s Corner-Dingman’s Road. This will take you to the Dingman’s Ferry Bridge, which is almost worth the trip in and of itself. This is the last privately-owned bridge on the Delaware River and has a history that dates back to the ferry crossing at this location that was established in 1735. Drive across the wooden planked bridge and pay a toll of $1.00 on the Pennsylvania side-usually collected by a person standing in the road with a carpenter’s apron full of change and dollar bills. (Bring a dollar-no make it two because you pay both ways-there’s no E-Z Pass!)

Once on the other side of the bridge, you will be on PA Route 739 and will quickly come to a traffic light at the intersection with U.S. Route 209. Make a left onto 209 south. In 1/2 mile you will make a right onto Wilson Hill Road. Follow this road for 5 miles. It will change names to Chestnut Ridge Road and then to Emery Road-but you’re basically staying on the same road until you reach the environmental education center on your left. If you can’t find parking in the center lot, go past the driveway and you will see a grass parking area across the road from the center. Cross over the road and to the right of the visitor’s center you will find the trail head for the orange Tumbling Waters Trail and blue Fossil Trail, where this hike begins.

The Hike

You can download a copy of the center’s trails map here. For this hike you will be following the Orange Tumbling Water Trail, the Red Scenic Gorge Trail and the Yellow Ridgeline Trail. The trails are well-marked. The only confusing areas are around the visitor’s center where you’re walking through the center’s facilties. You will start out on the co-aligned Tumbling Waters Trail and Fossil Trail. The trails will soon split and you will bear slightly to the right following the the orange blazes when the blue Fossil Trail turns sharply left.

You will go over some ups and downs before coming to a road crossing. The orange trail continues on the other side of the road following a stream for a short distance before heading slightly uphill on a wide path. In about 1/2 mile, you will reach the ruins of an old building to the right of the trail. At this point, the trail follows the side of a ridge line and you will be able to get the only real long views on this hike. Off to your left you will look out across the tilled fields along the Delaware River and the see the Kittatinny Ridge on the other side of the river in New Jersey.

In about a 1/4 mile from this spot, the trail will turn left and descend steeply on a set of constructed steps into a very pretty hemlock gorge. At the bottom of this descent you will reach the real highlight of the hike, a beautiful waterfall surrounded by hemlocks.  This seemed to be the main destination for hikers on the day of our visit as the area around the falls was a popular place for people to take pictures and splash around in the stream.  Take a few minutes to linger here and grab a few photographs.

See more pictures from this hike on the Photographs Page

Continuing on, the trail will climb steeply out of this gorge and pass through a section of forest with a significant amount of downed trees. In about 1/2 mile you will come to an intersection with the white blazed Two Ponds Trail that will leave to your right to follow the eastern shore of a pond that is just through the woods in that direction. You will soon come to the western shore of that same pond. When you reach the far northern end of the pond you may see canoes or kayaks on the shore.

The trail continues through some dense forest for another 1/4 mile before reaching a road crossing. The orange trail picks up on the other side of the road and goes through some more forest that shows signs of storm damage. Another pond will be just off to your right.  In about 1/4 mile you will come to a second road crossing and the visitor’s center will be directly in front of you on the other side of Emery Road.

One interesting feature of this section of trail is an educational display on a very short detour to your left. A “grave yard”  marked by tombstones for different types of litter and trash, including tires and plastic bottles-two things I always enjoy finding in the woods. The grave makers tell you how long it takes for discarded items to decompose if left in the environment. (Glass Bottles & Styrofoam never die!) A good reminder to carry your own trash out with you and dispose of it properly.

You can bail out here.  You just walked three miles and saw a spectacular waterfall, so if you’ve had enough, walk around the visitor’s center or head home. If not, the next part of the hike will take you around the northern end of the center’s property and will be another 3 1/2 miles and about an hour to an hour and a half of walking.  To your left you will see a sign for and the yellow blazes of the Ridgeline Trail. Follow this trail back into the woods near some of the educational center’s buildings (and their wastewater treatment system) before you head into some deeper forest.

Along this stretch, the woods were filled with the songs of spring birds like wood thrush and veerys.  Their calls echoed through the trees and added to the enjoyment of the hike. About 1 mile from the visitor’s center, the Ridgeline Trail and the red-blazed Scenic Gorge Trail will split. The Ridgeline Trail continues straight while the Scenic Gorge Trail turns right. This is another location where you can cut the hike short. Turning onto the Scenic Gorge Trail here will take about 1 1/2 miles and 45 minutes off of the hike. Otherwise, continue on the yellow trail as you head into some deeper woods that will give you a more remote feeling than anything you’ve encountered this far.

Just about 1 mile after the intersection with the Scenic Gorge Trail the Ridgeline Trail will turn right to loop back towards where you came from. The trail will pass along the shore of a small remote pond. In a short distance, the trail will begin to follow a very nice stream back to an intersection with the red blazes of the Scenic Gorge Trail that is not far from where the two trails had split earlier. You’ll follow the red trail from here as it crosses the stream you have been following just above a small waterfall on a couple of wooden planks.

The red trail will follow this stream for a short distance before veering to the right and away from the water.  You’re in the home stretch here as the trail climbs slightly through the woods before leveling off, then heading slightly downhill before emerging onto the education center’s grounds near some dormitory buildings. Follow the driveways back towards the visitor’s center and the main parking area where this hike ends.

The Pocono Environmental Education Center is on the grounds of the former “Honeymoon Haven” resort, that dates back to the days when the Pocono Mountains were a popular destination for newlyweds. Today it offers a variety of educational programs centered on sustainable practices. You may want to return to take advantage of their programming or to visit the old quarry on the property where you can see 400 million year old fossils.  Some of the programs involve overnight stays. A visit here can be a lot more than just a great hike.

 

 

 

 

Schooley’s Mountain Park

Here’s a modest hike that gives you a little bit of everything. Beautiful scenery, a little bit of a climb, a great view, waterfalls and a great destination for a day trip in one package. Schooley’s Mountain Park in Long Valley is a terrific place to hike. This is a kid-friendly hike that has interesting things to see and a destination where you can relax and enjoy a picnic lunch if you want to make a day of it. It is, above all else, a very pleasant hike.

The route you will follow here takes advantage of all of the available trails at this location to give you some distance, some points of interest and to provide a bit of a challenge, but not too much. You’ll pass through farm fields, cross the South Branch of the Raritan River, walk a short distance on the Columbia Trail, follow a beautiful mountain stream, reach a small lake and pass through some very nice forest. In total, the hike is about 3 1/2 miles with 400 feet of vertical climbing. If you dont’ stop (but you should) you can make this loop in just under 2 hours.

Directions

The park itself, with the boathouse, the playing fields and other park facilities is located on East Springtown Road. It’s just off of Schooley’s Mountain Road (Route 517/Old Route 24) about 1/2 way up Schooley’s Mountain heading towards Hackettstown out of the center of Long Valley. But that’s the destination, not where this hike will begin and end.  This hike starts at the trailhead/parking area on Route 513, about 3 miles south of the center of Chester and about a mile north of the center of Long Valley. To get here, take Route 513 south from Chester, or if you’re coming from the south, take 513 north from the intersection with Route 31 in High Bridge. As I mentioned before, the trailhead is between the center of Chester and the center of Long Valley at the intersection of 513 and Washington Valley Road. There’s parking for about a dozen cars and an information kiosk on the edge of an agricultural field. Park here and the trail will follow a mowed path straight ahead towards the tree line in the distance.

See more pictures from this hike on the Photographs page.

The Hike

This is a fairly easy hike to navigate. The trails are well-maintained and well-marked. There is only one confusing spot where you can make a wrong turn, but you’ll know right away if you do and can get back on the route easily.  You can download a map of the park’s trails here. The start of this hike can be located in the map’s inset.

You’ll be following the blue blazes of Patriot’s Path co-aligned with the teal blazes of the Highlands Trail, the Columbia Trail, the white blazes of Patriot’s Path, also co-aligned with the Highlands Trail, the blue-blazed Falling Waters Trail, back to Patriot’s Path to the orange-blazed Upland Meadow Trail,  to the yellow Grand Loop Trail, to the yellow Bee-Line Trail, back to Patriot’s Path where you will re-trace your steps back to the parking area.

Starting from the parking area on Route 513 you will see a mowed path leading along the edge of a farm field heading away from the road. Follow this path. There is a Patriot’s Path trail marker on a post marking the way. When you reach the edge of the field, the trail will enter a wooded area, but the path will still be wide and easy to follow.  You will quickly come to a bridge over the South Branch of the Raritan River. Cross the bridge and you will reach the Columbia Trail which follows the old right-of-way of the Central Railroad of New Jersey’s High Bridge Branch. Turn right here.

Follow the old rail bed about 1/4 mile until you see the white blazes of Patriot’s Path head off to your left (also blazed as the Highlands Trail). Make that left and follow the trail to a parking area on Fairview Road. The trail will cross the road and re-enter the woods. You will come to a junction where the yellow Bee Line Trail  is to your right and Patriot’s Path/Highlands Trail head uphill to your left. Bear left here and start climbing.  It’s a modest climb and you’ll gain about 300 feet in elevation over the next mile.

You will reach a view point looking out at the farm fields of the “long valley” that gives the area its name. It’s a good place to pause and take in the vista. Leaving the view point, the white trail will almost immediately come to a junction with a pink trail and the blue blazed Falling Waters Trail.  The white trail will head uphill to your right while the blue trail will go left. Follow the blue blazes and you will begin to descend towards Electric Brook. The trail will reach and begin to follow this brook uphill. You will pass a series of waterfalls along this stretch as you climb towards Lake George, a small pond that is the centerpiece of the park.

The blue trail will end at the dam for the pond where Electric Brook begins its tumble down the hillside. This is where it can get confusing because you will need to navigate your way through the day use area. Follow the path that leads around the edge of the pond to the boathouse at the far end. There is a parking area here, a playground, playing fields and picnic benches. This is a good place to explore and stop for lunch if you are hiking with children.

When you’re done here, cross the parking area and the playing fields and walk to the edge of the parking lot for the field area and picnic shelter. You will find the orange blazes of the Upland Meadow Trail heading towards an open grassland. Don’t take the yellow Grand Loop Trail that will branch off to your right. Follow the orange blazes on posts that will take you on a mowed path through a beautiful wildflower meadow.  The trail will enter the woods at the far end of this field and turn right where the orange trail will end at a junction with the Grand Loop Trail and its yellow blazes. Head straight on the yellow trail. You will  reach a junction with the red-blazed Highlands Cut. You can extend your hike by taking this trail to the right which will take you the Grand Loop Trail in about 3/4 mile where you would turn left to the junction with the Bee Line Trail. If you don’t want to add this distance to your walk, continue straight on the Grand Loop Trail as it begins to descend.

You will come to a trail junction where the Grand Loop Trail turns right and the Bee Line Trail continues downhill. Continue straight downhill on the Bee Line Trail.  NOTE: If you added the Red Trail to Yellow Trail extension to your hike you will come to this same junction but turn right onto the Bee Line Trail.  Follow the Bee Line Trail to the bottom of the hill where you will return to the white blazes of Patriot’s Path just before crossing back over Fariview Avenue.

From this point, pass through the parking lot and re-trace your steps on the Columbia Trail to the blue blazes of the Patriot’s Path, back over the river and across the farm field, back to your car. Having finished this hike you can add to your day by visiting one of the areas farms. Ort’s Farm is walking distance from the parking area. Alstede’s Farm and Stony Hill Farm are a short distance north on Route 513 in Chester. They all offer on-farm experiences like pick-your-own fruits and vegetables, farm markets, hay rides and other activities. If visiting one of the local farms isn’t your speed, 1/4 mile south on route 513 will bring you to the Chilton Mill Brewery and you will find a number of great restaurants in the center of Long Valley. Any of these would be a great way to top off a very pleasant day walking in the woods.

viewfield trip

Ramapo Mountain State Forest

I had been resisting going back to Ramapo Mountain State Forest. The last time I hiked here, Route 287 was still under construction and the Cannonball Trail and Hoferlin Memorial Trail had recently been re-routed onto a bridge crossing the new highway. Travelers on 287 will see the bridge with the sign “Cannonball Trail” as they pass near exit 57 for Skyline Drive. The proximity of the highway and the fact that the parking areas were always crowded led me to bypass this park and head to the nearby Wyanokie trails that offered a little more seclusion and little more  in the way of climbing and views. I should have broken down and re-visited this beautiful park sooner.

There have been changes to the trail system at this park. Read about them here

An early January visit was magical. A foggy day with drizzle and temperatures in the upper 50’s turned out to be a great day for a hike. Although you won’t be able to tell from the pictures taken on this particular hike, views of the Manhattan skyline to the east and of the Wyanokies and beyond to the west abound.  The hike I’ll describe here was just challenging enough in both distance and elevation to provide experienced hikers with a workout but also accessible for those not looking for an expedition into the wilderness.    

This hike clocks in at just over eight miles and will involve around 1,000 feet in elevation gain. Although none of the climbing is particularly steep, you’ll be going up and down a lot as you cover the route. There will also be a number of “escape” points where you can choose to cut the hike short if you’re tired, the kids are complaining, daylight is getting short, you hear thunder approaching or you’re just done with hiking for the day. Along the way you’ll pass beautiful Ramapo Lake, dozens of waterfalls and visit the ruins of Van Slyke Castle, an old mansion that is now just an old stone shell of a building after being burned by vandals in 1959. This is a popular place so you will likely encounter other hikers and the sound of traffic on 287 or Skyline Drive never quite fades away. However, you’ll still get that feeling of being deep in the woods and sighting a bear or two is not out of the question.  What you’ll probably remember more will be the sounds of the many waterfalls and the songs of the birds you encounter as you walk these woods. 

Directions

This isn’t a hard place to find. Your biggest difficulty may be finding a parking spot, particularly on autumn weekends. This hike starts at the “Lower Lot” on Skyline Drive. If this lot is full, you may find parking at the upper parking areas about a mile west and uphill on Skyline Drive. You can adjust the hike as necessary if you start from this alternate location. (I’ll note it in the hike description). To get here take Route 287 to exit 57 for Skyline Drive in Oakland, NJ.  If you’re coming from the north (southbound 287), bear to the right at the end of the exit. This will put you directly onto Skyline Drive and the entrance to the parking are will be on your left in about 500 feet.  If you’re coming from the south (287 North) the exit will take you to a traffic light at W. Oakland Avenue. Make a left at the light, bear left at the next traffic light and go back under 287. The parking are will be on your left in about 1,000 feet.

The Hike

This hike begins at the lower parking lot on Skyline Drive. At the far left side of the parking lot you will find a trail kiosk where the blue-blazed MacEvoy Trail heads off into the woods. You will be following the blue MacEvoy Trail, the red (with a “C”) Cannonball Trail,  the white Castle Point Trail, back to the MacEvoy Trail to the orange Wanaque Ridge Trail, to the red (with a “triangle”) Indian Rock Trail, back to the Cannonball Trail to an unmarked woods road to the yellow-blazed Hoferlin Memorial Trail, back to the blue MacEvoy Trail to return to the parking lot. It will take every bit of four hours to complete. As I said above, you can bail out at several points on this hike and cut it short to return sooner if you wish. You can download a trail map from the NJ Department of Parks & Forestry here, or from the NY-NJ Trails Conference here. I’ve always been partial to the Trails Conference maps. You can purchase the “North Jersey Trails” set of maps that includes this hike from the Trails Conference. Pay attention to the trail markings as there are numerous unmarked woods roads and trails that will intersect the marked trails.

See More Pictures From This Hike On The Photographs Page

Head out following the blue blazes of the MacEvoy Trail as you will travel up a moderate incline that follows a beautiful creek that tumbles down the hillside in a series of waterfalls. In about 1/4 mile the trail will bear right to cross a stream and the white blazes of the Castle Point Trail will leave to your right. Stay on the Blue and continue uphill as you scramble over several rock outcrops. About 1/2 mile in from the parking area the yellow blazes of the Hoferlin Memorial Trail leave to your right (also marked by a sign). Again stay on the blue trail (co-aligned with the yellow) straight ahead and you will quickly reach Ramapo Lake.   

At the lake you will emerge onto an unpaved road. The blue trail turns right onto this road and then quickly left onto unpaved “North Shore Road” to follow the north shore of the lake (go figure!). The trail hugs the lake’s shoreline passing several homes before reaching a junction with the white Castle Point Trail and the red “C” Cannonball Trail. Turn right at this junction. The white trail will head left and uphill while the Cannonball Trail heads further right and uphill following an unpaved road.  Take the Cannonball Trail at this point and head uphill. For the next mile the Cannonball Trail will follow this road or parallel it just a short distance into the woods.  You’ll be gaining elevation through this stretch, but nothing too taxing.  The trail makes a number of switchbacks through here which can be maddening. You will see where other hikers have headed straight uphill bypassing these twists in the trail. Just keep an eye on the blazes.  

Eventually, the red and white blazes of the co-aligned red “Skyline Connector” trail and the white Castle Point Trail will join the Cannonball Trail from your right. If you go right, this short trail leads to the upper parking areas on Skyline Drive (remember I said I would note where you could join this hike if you have to park here) in less than 1/4 mile. Head left at this junction and follow the co-aligned Cannonball and Castle Point Trail along the unpaved road you have been tracking for the past mile. The Cannonball Trail will head straight and the white blazes will turn left to leave the road and enter the woods. Follow the white blazes. The white trail will come to a rock outcrop that has view (but on the day I did this just a view off into the white void of clouds) before descending steeply.   

Keep an eye out for the white blazes through this section. The trail will cross (and briefly follow) a pipeline right-of-way where you can miss the turns. There are also several stream crossings here.  After leaving the pipeline right-of-way the trail will start to climb and you will soon see the remains of a stone water tower ahead of you. The trail reaches the crest of the hill and passes the water tower before heading to the ruins of Van Slyke Castle. You can read a bit about the history of this place here. Take some time to explore the site, just be careful. The white trail will head away from the ruins before descending sharply and you will quickly reach the junction with the blue trail and the Cannonball Trail you had previously passed. Turn right here and follow the co-aligned MacEvoy and Cannonball Trails for a short distance before they diverge where the blue blazes head right and the red “C” blazes head left. Turn right here and continue on the blue trail.  

The blue trail heads into some deeper woods here. In about 1/4 mile the trail will reach a pipeline right-of-way where it will turn right to follow the right-of-way for a short distance before turning left.  Just past this turn-off the blue trail will turn right  and straight ahead will be the orange-blazed Wanaque Ridge Trail (also marked by a sign). Head straight onto the orange trail. In a short distance, the orange trail will begin a substantial descent before turning sharply left.  You will pass through some deeper woods here before the trail begins a modest climb up to a ridgeline switching back several times before turning sharply left to follow the ridge. (a rougue “blue trail” joins here-just ignore it and follow the orange blazes).   There are several nice view points along this stretch, but again, on my hike I was just staring off into the fog.

You will descend from the ridge before climbing modestly (again), emerging back onto a pipeline right-of-way (turn right) before climbing some more on a set of rock steps (turn left). In about a 1/4 mile you will reach the end of the orange trail at a junction with the Indian Rock Trail marked by a red triangle. Head slightly left here (really straight ahead) following the triangles for a very short distance before you again intersect the Cannonball Trail. Turn left and follow the “C” once more.

In 1/4 mile the Cannonball Trail will turn sharply left while an unmarked woods road continues straight.  Stay on the unmarked road. In 250 feet, another unmarked road will head left. You can turn here to follow this road along the shore of Ramapo Lake back to the Blue Trail or you can continue straight ahead. If you continue straight (which I recommend) head through the woods for about 1/2 mile before reaching the yellow-blazed Hoferlin Memorial Trail which joins this road from your right. Head straight on the yellow trail (the unmarked road will turn off) and follow the yellow blazes to a view point overlooking Route 287. Continue following the yellow blazes. You will pass several more views as you head along a ridge. The red Lookout Trail will join in about 1/2 mile. Follow the yellow/red trails straight ahead. Eventually, the trail will reach the outlet of Ramapo Lake. Follow the road over the lake’s outflow and you will return to the blue MacEvoy Trail. Turn right and follow the blue blazes downhill back to the parking area.

I’m going to have to go back and take this hike again when you can actually enjoy the views. Nevertheless, it was a really nice hike even in the fog and drizzle. For all of the ups and downs, it wasn’t too difficult. No real heart-attack climbs and no really tough terrain to navigate. The exertion in this hike comes from the distance. The trails are well-maintained and well-marked and you don’t have to follow the complete route I described here (unless you want to). Just always keep in mind that this is a VERY popular hiking spot and can get crowded. Even during the week you will find cars in the lot. However, this is a very pleasant hike that is well worth the effort you will put in.

Mt. Tammany/Sunfish Pond/Kittatinny Fire Road

This hike will test your stamina but will reward you with spectacular views and a trip through some of the state’s wildest terrain. The hike up to Sunfish Pond has been called the best hike in New Jersey. I’m going to go one better and send you on one of my favorite hikes. You’ll get that highly rated trip to Sunfish Pond in, but with a few extra bonus features. This route follows beautiful Dunfield Creek, takes you around Sunfish Pond, along the crest of the Kittatinny Ridge and finally to a spectacular overlook with an iconic view of the Delaware Water Gap. It is about a 10 1/2 mile loop that will challenge you both in distance and with elevation gain (over 1,500 feet). If you’re hiking in the warmer months you’re likely to encounter bears and rattlesnakes along the route. This hike features some steep climbs and rocky terrain so make sure you’re wearing appropriate footware. Take plenty of water, check the weather and prepare for a great hike that will take you around 4 -5 hours to complete, dependent upon how long you linger at each beautiful spot you will pass. 

Directions

This is an easy place to find. Take Route 80 west to the Dunfield Creek/Appalachian Trail exit, right past mile marker 1. When you exit the highway, there will be a parking area immediately to the right. On peak hiking days, the main parking lot may be full and you will need to return here if you cannot find a spot in the A.T. area. (If that’s the case, you’ll need to get back on 80, get off at the last exit in NJ, go under the highway and come back on 80 east to the U-Turn at the weigh station exit and back onto 80 west in order to come back around again) Otherwise, bear left at the exit and take it to the parking area for the Appalachian Trail.

See more pictures from this hike on the Photographs page

The Hike

I noticed on my last visit that some of these trails now have been renamed. The Red Dot Trail is now the Mt. Tammany Trail. The Blue Dot Trail is now the Pahaquarry Trail (A little homage to the now defunct Pahaquarry Township). The Turquoise Trail is now called the Buckwood Trail. You can find descriptions here. It doesn’t change anything. They’re still blazed the same and go to the same places-they just have new names. I’m going to still refer to them by their old names.

You will be following the white blazed Appalachian Trail to the green blazed Dunnfield Creek Trail, back to the Appalachian Trail, to the turquoise blazed Turquoise Trail (go figure!) to the unmarked Mount Tammany Fire Road to the blue blazed Blue Dot Trail to the red blazed Red Dot Trail back to the parking area. Note, you will also need to follow a short unmarked connector trail that goes between the main Dunnfield Creek/Appalachian Trail parking area and the overflow lot just to the east. If you park in the overflow lot you will use this at the beginning of the hike. If you park in the main lot, this will take you back to your car at the end of this trip.

 

Mt.Tammany

This hike is almost entirely within Worthington State Forest with the final section taking you to Mount Tammany being in the Delaware Water Gap National Recretation Area.  You can dowload a copy of the trail map which covers the entire hike here. If you parked in the main lot you will find the AT near a couple of port-a-potties at the back corner of the parking lot. If you parked in the overflow lot, you will find the unmarked connector at the far end of that lot for the short trip over to where the hike begins. It uses a set of stairs to go first uphill and then downhill on another set of stairs to the main lot. Wherever you parked, this hike begins by following the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail where the trail enters the woods at the far end of the main parking lot.

The Appalachian Trail enters the woods and crosses Dunnfield Creek immediately on a foot bridge. The trail then follows the creek uphill to your right. You will climb steadily with views of the creek below you. In approximately 1/2 mile, the Appalachian Trail will come to an intersection with the Dunnfield Creek Trail. The AT splits uphill to your left while the the green blazed Dunnfield Creek Trail and blue blazed Blue Dot trail follow the creek to your right. Follow the blue & green blazes.   Turn right to cross back over Dunnfield Creek on a bridge and continue to follow the green blazes. The Blue Dot Trail (which you will see later-much later) will leave uphill to the right while the green blazed Dunnfield Creek Trail will go left to continue to follow the creek uphill.

For the next 3 miles just follow the green blazes as the trail follows the creek steadily uphill towards its source. This is one of the prettiest stretches of trail in New Jersey.  Along the way (about a 1/2 mile from the start of the green trail), you’ll pass an intersection with the red blazed Holly Springs Trail that connects to the Appalachian Trail. The AT is parallelling your route about 1/2 mile to your left and is nowhere near as interesting as what you’re experiencing here. 

The trail will cross Dunnfield Creek several times. This can be a challenge when the creek is running high. There is a high water bypass that is marked that you can use if this is the case. It will eliminate two crossings of the creek.  As you continue to climb, the creek will become narrower. Finally, as the trail levels off (about 2 miles in), you will cross to the west side of the creek for the last time and begin to leave the immediate streamside area. You will see a large swamp to your right as the trail crosses first an area that can be pretty wet and then turns left and heads steeply uphill.  You will crest the ridge and head slightly downhill where you will come to two intersections in short order. First, you’ll come to the unmarked Sunfish Pond Fire Road, which will head to your right. Then, in about 100 feet, the Dunnfield Creek Trail will end at the intersection with the Appalachian Trail at the far southern end of Sunfish Pond. Take in the view here for a few minutes.

After taking time to appreciate the view in front of you, turn right onto the Appalachian Trail and follow it along the west shore of the pond. Again, this is some of the nicest hiking in the state, despite the fact that you won’t set foot on level ground. When you reach the north end of the pond keep an eye out for the intersection with the Turquoise Trail, it can be difficult to spot. Turn right on the Turquoise Trail and follow it to an elevated overlook of Sunfish Pond from the north end. This is another spot you may want to stay for a few minutes. When you’ve had enough of this view, continue on the Turquoise Trail. It will head slightly uphill though some dense woods and emerge onto the Sunfish Pond Fire Road (which you passed before near the end of the Dunnfield Creek Trail. It followed the eastern shore of Sunfish Pond to get to this point.). Turn left here. There are sparse blazes (but there are some) in this section and you will need to look carefully for the next turn, which will be to your right, in about 1/4 mile. The turquoise blazes at the point where the trail turns will be on a rock.

Turn right and follow the Turquoise Trail as it heads downhill through a thick field of low bush blueberries. In the summer, stay aware that this is an area frequented by timber rattlesnakes. The thick undergrowth obscures the trail surface in this section and you’ll likely only hear them moving through the dense vegetation. If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you (isn’t that a typically Jersey thing?). The trail will head downhill to yet another crossing of Dunnfield Creek. This time you are very near the source of the creek and it is only a trickle at this point. On the other side of the creek you will head uphill, again through a thick growth of blueberry bushes before the trail levels off and ends at an intersection with the unmarked Mount Tammany Fire Road.     

Turn right and head back towards the river. This section of trail is most notable for its isolation. You’re a long way from civilization and high up on the Kittatinny Ridge. This is the “death march” part of the hike. Your covering a lot of ground without much in the way of landmarks or features. You may catch some glimpses of a view off to your left but mostly the forest is too thick to offer a good look. That will change soon. You will follow the fire road for just about 3 miles. About half way along this stretch,  you will pass a Forest Fire Service helicopter landing site. There is a large boulder along the fire road that offers a place to sit and take break and appreciate how quiet this area really is. Continue along the road until it comes to an intersection with the Blue Dot Trail where the Fire Road ends.

Head straight onto the blue blazed Blue Dot Trail.  Now you will begin to get views off to the left, first of the valley below and the NJ Highlands beyond and then of the Delaware River flowing off to the south. Now the money shot! We saved the best for last on this hike, and that’s a high bar because you’ve seen some pretty nice scenery up until now. The Blue Dot trail turns to the right and ends at the Mount Tammany overlook of the Delaware Water Gap.  Climb down to one of the rock overlooks. Depending upon when you’re here, this spot will have plenty of other people taking in this same view. Stay as long as you like. When you’ve had enough, head back uphill to find the Red Dot Trail that begins where the Blue Dot Trail ends.

Turn left and follow the red blazes. The trail will first go through some ups and downs but eventually will head steeply downhill.  You’ll notice a change in the “feel” of the air (especially in the summertime) as you lose elevation and the sounds of the highway will grow. Pay careful attention to the blazes as the trail will takes some twists and turns on its route back down towards the highway. What may seem like the route of the trail may not be and at this point of the hike, you don’t want to backtrack uphill to rejoin the correct path.

The hike down can be tough because you won’t take a step on level ground. It will seem like an endless series of stepping from rock to rock.  It’s 1.5 miles down from the top and going down a trail like this can be surprisingly taxing. The Red Dot Trail will eventually split at a “y” near the bottom of the mountain. If you parked in the main lot, turn right, if you parked in the overflow lot, turn left and head back to your car. In either direction a series of steps on the unmarked connector I mentioned at the beginning will take you to the parking lot.

This is a great hike. You need to be up to it and prepared, but it is rewarding. The terrain, the views, the isolation, the wildlife is all there for you to experience. This is why you head into the woods. If there is any drawback to this hike, it’s that this can be a VERY popular spot in good weather.  You can’t blame people for wanting to be here. Parking can be an issue, there will be a lot of people at the beginning of the hike along Dunnfield Creek (many swimming in the creek) and Sunfish Pond can even have a lot of people picnicking along the shores. However, once you turn onto the Turquoise Trail, you likely won’t see another person until you reach the Mount Tammany overlook. It’s hard to argue with anyone who calls this the best hike in the state. It’s at the top of my list and you should add it to your New Jersey hiking “bucket list”.  

Norwottuck Rail Trail

Old Rail Bridge Connecticut River

We’ll leave New Jersey for an interesting hike in western Massachusetts. I like challenging hikes. This isn’t one of them. However, I do highly recommend this stroll along an old rail bed in the beautiful Connecticut River Valley. While taking a tour of the small colleges of New England with my wife and my youngest son we found ourselves parked for a couple of days in Amherst, Massachusetts.  After 3 straight days of driving hundreds of miles, mind-numbing information sessions and bad hotel beds we finally spent two nights in the same place. Desperate to get some exercise, we asked the clerk at the front desk for an idea of where we could go for  a hike.  He directed us to the Norwottuck Rail Trail that ran behind the shopping malls just across Route 9 from where we were staying. A hike behind some shopping malls didn’t sound very appealing but hey, we’re from New Jersey. I have to say, we were pleasantly surprised.

A map of the trail is available online at this link and shows all of the access points, including the one behind the “store that shall not be named” in the Mountain Farms Mall in Hadley. This trail follows the route of the former Norwottuck Branch of the Massachusetts Central Railroad. The abandoned right-of-way was converted to a multi-use trail by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation. The trail begins at Warren Wright Road in Belchertown, just southeast of Amherst where the Norwttuck Branch diverged from the still active rail line of the New England Central Railroad.   It runs into the Town of Amherst where the trail turns west to pass through Hadley, across the Connecticut River and into the Town of Northampton, where it ends at the point where it connected to the still active Connecticut River line. The full route is just under 11 miles.

The entire length of the trail has been paved and is marked for two-way traffic to accomodate bikers. There are benches, historical markers and mileage signs along the way. The former railroad infrastructure has been incorporated into the trail as bridges and underpasses have been converted for trail use and there are very few at-grade crossings of roads. The trail skirts the campus of Amherst College, passes through some very lovely farmland and offers some nice views of the peaks of the Seven Sisters off to your south. The trail also features a spectacular crossing of the Connecticut River on the old railroad bridge into Northampton. The route is flat, you can’t get lost and because it is easy walking, you can cover a lot of territory. Your walking pace will probably be just under 4 miles per hour.

Directions

There are a number of parking areas where you can access the rail trail. The walk described here began at the parking lot behind the Mountain Farms Mall on Route 9 in Hadley. There is a trailhead and plenty of parking there. Park behind Wal-Mart and you can then choose which direction you’d prefer to hike-east towards Amherst or west towards Northampton. Either town makes a great destination.   Amherst is home to Amherst College and the University of Massachusetts. Northampton is home to Smith College. Both towns have great downtowns featuring restaurants, brew pubs and shopping. We had a very nice meal and a couple of local beers at the Toasted Owl in Northampton, but there are plenty of other great places to choose from.  I don’t know if the walk back was easier or harder after the pit stop, but we really enjoyed the experience.

See More Pictures From This Hike On The Photographs Page

The Hike

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Hadley across the highway from the regional headquarters of the National Fish & Wildlife Service.  Starting from this location (the parking area behind Mountain Farms Mall) this is an out-and-back walk. I’m going to describe the walk to Northampton. You don’t have to limit yourself. You can comfortably go in either direction from Hadley. If you head west, it’s 4.3 miles one-way to the end of the trail in Northampton (and another mile along a paved hiking/biking trail to the center of town). Headed east, its 3.5 miles to the Fort River parking area outside of Amherst (it’s just under three miles to Amherst College), 4.9 miles to Lawrence Station and 6.4 miles to the end of the trail in Belchertown.  Biking the entire route in both directions could easily be completed in an afternoon-if walking is not your preference. This trail was designed for both uses.

Headed west from Hadley, the trail is never far from busy Route 9, although the hike is quite peaceful.  Looking off to the south, the peaks of Bare Mountain, Mount Norwottuck (where we would hike the next day) and Mount Hitchcock are clearly visible. The trail passes underneath the highway as it crosses from the south side of the road headed towards Northampton. As you get close to the Connecticut River the trail is surrounded by large agricultural fields that take advantage of the prime river valley soils. Finally the trail crosses over  the Connecticut River on an open truss steel bridge. It offers great views up and down the river and the surface has been planked over so it shouldn’t bother even the most acrophobic amongst us.

After crossing the river, the trail passes under Interstate Route 91 and ends at a junction with a bike trail that leads into downtown Northampton. The trail reaches this intersection by passing under the active Amtrak Connecticut River line through a newly constructed pedestrian/bike tunnel under the tracks. You can turn around and head back from this point or add another mile to your walk by turning left on the paved multi-use trail when you come out of the tunnel and head into the center of Northampton. I’d highly recommend going the extra mile. There’s a great downtown with lots of good restaurants. It’s the perfect pit stop to grab a sandwich and a beer and peruse some of the shops before re-tracing your steps back to where you started.   The out-and-back without stopping (except to take in some of the views) would take just over two hours. So, if you’ve got the time, it’s worth extending the trip.

This is a beautiful area of Massachusetts. Amherst, UMass, Smith College, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire College are all within minutes of Hadley. (No, these schools ARE NOT represented by the five characters in the Scooby Doo cartoons!) So if you’re visiting any of these fine academic institutions, ditch the campus tour and head out onto the Norwottuck Trail for some exercise. I had been to Hadley before to visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife headquarters for business and really didn’t get much of a chance to look around, save for a quick sidetrip to Mount Sugarloaf State Park in nearby Deerfield (some amazing views). However, it wasn’t until we were making the rounds of possible college destinations for our youngest son that we had the chance to stay and enjoy what the region had to offer. So, while he was overnighting it at Amherst, Jacki and I took to the outdoors. If the college search brings you to the area, I recommend you do the same. You’re not the one going to school, you’re just paying the bill. Besides, a room at the Holiday Inn Express and some free entertainment are probably the best you will be able to manage for the next four years, you might as well get used to it.

parasol   view

Old Coal Road/Lake Waywayanda

As much as I love the hike up to Terrace Pond, you’ve got to have some variety to keep things interesting. So, here’s a hike that starts from the same place as the Terrace Pond hike but heads in the opposite direction. The day I made this hike the parking area was full and cars lined Clinton Road. That’s about what you would expect on a beautiful mid-July Sunday. However, by heading west from the parking area while everyone else was headed east up to the pond, we didn’t see another person for the entire hike. Well, that’s not quite true. We did see some folks in boats on Lake Waywayanda fishing, but no other hikers. We did also come across several bears but they don’t count.

This hike will take you into some of the most remote parts of Waywayanda State Park far from the day-use area that attracts swimmers and picnickers during the summer. There is a fair amount of elevation gain over the course of the hike but no steep or strenuous climbs. You will follow a combination of old woods roads and traditional hiking trails. The trails are (for the most part) well maintained. A lot of this hike is on old roads and navigation shouldn’t be an issue. Even though you will reach some higher terrain on this hike, there really aren’t the long spectacular views that many other hikes in this region feature. In the summertime, I can almost guarentee that you will see one or more bears along the route.

waywanda-west-1You will be following the red-blazed Old Coal Road, the green-blazed Turkey Ridge Trail, the green blazed Pines Trail, the purple blazed Tombstone Trail, back to the Turkey Ridge Trail, to the Cabin Trail, to the orange blazed Pump House Trail, to the orange blazed South End Trail, to the barely blazed Sitting Bear Trail to the Laurel Pond Trail to the black and white blazed Cherry Ridge Trail, back to Old Coal Road.  You can download a copy of the Waywayanda trail map here. While the trails are easy to follow, they are not consistently blazed. The Tombstone Trail does not appear on some maps (but trust me, it’s there). Some of the trails are not blazed at all. Just keep your bearings and carry a map and you won’t have any issues.

Directions

To get to this hike, you will be headed to the same starting point as the Terrace Pond hike.  On prime hiking days this area will be very crowded and you may need to park along Clinton Road instead of in the designated lot. The trail head is located on Clinton Road in West Milford. Take NJ Route 23 North, through Newfoundland and exit right onto Clinton Road. Go north approximately 6 1/2 miles. Parking will be on the left. A large green sign that says “Wildcat Mountain Wilderness Site-Project U.S.E.” is adjacent to the parking area. Alternatively, you can take NJ County Route 511 North (Greenwood Lake Tpk.) to Greenwood Lake. At the traffic light where 511 turns right onto Lakeside Road continue straight ahead onto Warwick Tpk. Follow Warwick Tpk. approximately 2.5 miles to the intersection with Clinton Road. (Lake Wakover will be on your left) Turn left onto Clinton Road and travel south approximately 1.7 miles. The parking area will be on your right.

See More Pictures From This Hike On The Photographs Page

The Hike

Once you find a place to park, be it in the lot or along Clinton Road, look for the sign on the west side of the road that says “Project U.S.E.” and a metal gate across a gravel road. Head around the gate (watch out for the Poison Ivy) and follow the road as it heads between two ponds. This is the Old Coal Road, and it is intermittently marked with red blazes.  After crossing between the ponds, you will enter the woods and begin climbing slightly. You will pass the Wildcat Mountain Wilderness Center on your right. The trail winds its way deeper into the woods and gradually gains elevation.  After about a mile, you will encounter several mountain bike trails that cross the road you are following.  The Old Coal Road crests a hill at this point and you will come to a junction with the green-blazed Turkey Ridge Trail.

Turn Left on the Turkey Ridge Trail as it heads into a remote area of the park. This is more of a traditional hiking trail than the old woods road you have been following to this point. You will glimpse some views through the trees along this stretch, but nothing that you would consider an overlook or scenic point.  The trail will begin to descend gradually. You will come to an intersection at an angle with the Pines Trail. Markings are scarce here. The Turkey Ridge Trail heads to your right at a sharp angle.  The Pines Trail seems like a continuation of the trail you’ve been on as it heads slightly left. Follow the Pines Trail that is intermittently marked with green blazes.  The path is unremarkable except for its feeling of isolation as you walk through dense woods. The trail will begin to climb before emerging onto a pipeline right of way with some nice views in either direction.

On the other side of the pipeline, the trail is blazed purple. You are now on the Tombstone Trail (it’s the same trail you were on). The Tombstone Trail is also marked intermittently. You will wind your way through the woods before descending to rejoin the Turkey Ridge Trail. Turn left here. In a short distance, the Turkey Ridge Trail will end at an unpaved road.  This road is designated as the Cabin Trail. Turn right and follow this road to an intersection with another unpaved road which is designated as the Cherry Ridge Trail. Eventually you will be on this trail, but not yet.  Straight ahead you’ll see the orange blazes of the Pump House Trail. Follow this trail. In about 1/2 mile you will come to an intersection with the South End Trail-also blazed orange. Turn right onto the South End Trail.  True to its name, it will take you to the south end of Lake Waywayanda.  Along the way you will pass over several outflows from the lake and walk through some dense rhododendon groves. This is a very pretty stretch of trail.

The South End Trail will take you to several points along the lake’s shore before turning right and climbing away from the water. The South End Trail will end at an intersection with the Sitting Bear Trail. Turn right at the intersection with this trail and continue to head modestly uphill.  Again, blazes are intermittent at best. In a short distance this trail will end at an intersection with the Laurel Pond Trail which follows an old woods road. Turn right at this intersection and head downhill. In a very short distance you will come to an intersection with the Cherry Ridge Trail that you passed earlier in the hike.

Turn left and follow the old woods road that is designated as the Cherry Ridge Trail. It is very easy to follow. There are only very intermittent blazes to remind you that you are on the trail. It will descend first to a stream crossing and then begin to climb. You will pass the end of the Two Bridges Trail which will be on your left. The Cherry Ridge Trail will continue to climb and turn to your right before reaching an intersection with another woods road. Straight in front of you is the Old Coal Trail you began the hike on. The Cherry Ridge Trail heads off to the left.   Go straight ahead onto the Old Coal Trail. You will follow this trail nearly three miles back to the parking area where this hike began.  This can be a tough stretch as you will probably be a little tired and there’s not much to see, other than enjoying a walk through some deep woods.

This is an off-the-beaten-path hike that will bring you to some very pretty spots. You will really get a sense of being deep in the woods as well. It’s a long hike-around 7 miles-but there aren’t any really challenging climbs along the way. There’s a lot of up-and-down on these trails so don’t get the impression that you’re going to be on a level hike. The nicest views are of the lake, along the pipeline right-of-way and in the rhododendron groves.  It is a challenge, but primarily due to the length. However, it is well worth the effort.

 

 

Hartshorne Woods-A Hike With An Ocean View!

 

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All This And An Ocean View Too!

Monmouth County has a terrific park system and one its real jewels is Hartshorne Woods Park in Highlands. This 794 acre park features miles of trails, dense forests, the historic Battery Lewis, and stunning views of the Navesink River and the Atlantic Ocean. There are more than 14 miles of trails here that are well-maintained and well-marked. They offer the opportunity to take a short easy walk or a more challenging longer hike with a fair amount of elevation change. The park is well-used and you will encounter hikers, mountain bikers, runners and parents pushing strollers on your outing.

The hike that I am going to describe here will take you on a tour of the everything the park has to offer. You’ll climb some hills, venture into the heavily forested center of the park and take in some incredible views. The hike is just around 8 miles and should take you about 3 1/2 hours to complete. That accounts for walking at a reasonable steady pace and taking the time to appreciate the setting. Even though you’re never far from the houses or roads that surround the park, you will get the sense that you are in the woods. While this hike is not overly strenuous, it will take a fair amount of work as you will climb and descend nearly every hill in the park. It’s not a bad hike for kids. There’s a lot to see and you have the ability to cut this hike short if distance or time becomes a problem.

Directions

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Directions to Rocky Point Entrance

The starting point for this hike is at the Rocky Point parking area. There are several other entrance points to the park and you will pass them along this route. The Rocky Point section features a large parking lot, a park office with bathrooms and is where the Battery Lewis historic site is located. Use 1402 Portland Road, Highlands, NJ 07732 for GPS directions. For traditionalists, take exit 117 from the Garden State Parkway to Route 36 East. Follow Route 36 for 10 miles and make a right onto Portland Road just before you go over the Highlands Bridge that leads to Sandy Hook, Sea Bright and Monmouth Beach. Follow Portland Road to where it ends at the Park Entrance.

The Hike

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Hartshorne Trails Map

This hike begins at the kiosk in the parking area where you will find information on the park, a large map, and park brochures the include a pretty good map of the hiking trails. You can download a PDF version that map here. The trails are not blazed in a traditional manner. Instead, they are marked with a black diamond for the more difficult trails, a blue square for trails rated as moderate, and a green circle for the easier trails. Following the route will be a little different than in most hiking locations, but carry the map, keep a sense of where you are and it will be fairly easy to navigate.

The trails are all named. You will find composite 4 x 4 posts marking each trail intersection with the trail names on the posts. You will be following the Cuesta Ridge Trail (Blue Squares), the Laurel Ridge Trail (Blue Squares) the Grand Tour (Black Diamonds), the Connector Trail (Black Diamonds) and the Rocky Point Trail (Black Diamonds). There are marked side trails from the Laurel Ridge and Rocky Point Trails that will take you out and back to some interesting view points. At the conclusion of the hike you can tour the Battery Lewis historic site and take a short detour to an ocean overlook by taking the paved Battery Loop.

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Cuesta Ridge Trail

You’ll begin on this adventure across the park entrance road from the informational kiosk. You will see the trail enter the woods and a trail post that indicates that this is the route to the Buttermilk Valley parking area. Follow this paved section of trail a short distance to the point where the natural surfaced Cuesta Ridge Trail leaves to the right at a marked intersection. A post at this location also indicates that this is the route to the Buttermilk Valley parking area. Follow the Cuesta Ridge trail for slightly more than 1 mile. The trail is periodically marked with blue square blazes. The markings are intermittent, however, the trail is wide and clear and extremely easy to navigate. You will pass marked intersections with first the Grand Tour trail and then the Laurel Ridge trail before you reach the Buttermilk Valley parking area.

At the Buttermilk Valley parking area you will find an information kiosk, you will pass trails marked with a green circle (Kings Hollow & Candlestick Trails) leaving to your left and the Laurel Ridge Trail (also marked with blue squares) heading straight and away from the parking lot. Follow the Laurel Ridge trail as it climbs fairly steeply from the parking area. In a short distance you will pass a marked side trail leading to the Claypit Creek entrance. Stay on the Laurel Ridge trail. This trail will eventually turn sharply left and begin a rather steep climb on a switchback to the top of a ridge.

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View Of The Navesink River

The trail will follow the top of the ridge for a short distance. You will pass a marked side trail that leaves to the right with a post indicating it leads to an overlook. Take this detour. In approximately 1/4 mile you will come to a view through the trees of the Navesink River in the distance below you. There isn’t a clear view of the river at this point and it may be obscured during the Summer when the trees are fully leafed-out. Turn around and re-trace your steps back to the Laurel Ridge Trail where you will turn right to continue on.

The Laurel Ridge trail will descend from the ridge top. To your right you can catch similar views of the Navesink to the views at the overlook as you head downhill. Shortly after reaching the bottom of the hill you will come to an intersection with the Grand Tour trail. This is an “escape” point if you wish. Continuing straight on the Laurel Ridge trail will take you back to the Cuesta Ridge trail, where you can return to your car. For those continuing on, turn right on the Grand Tour trail and head further downhill. Shortly you will pass a marked intersection with a road leading to a maintenance area that has portable toilets available. The Grand Tour trail turns left here and passes a cabin on your right.

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Intersections Are Marked With Posts

Eventually you will reach a T intersection with the Grand Tour trail splitting in both directions. Turn right here as you pass through an old clearing where Oriental Bittersweet and other invasive vines climb nearly every tree. Markings become sparse here, but the trail is easy enough to follow. In a short distance the trail will turn left and start to head uphill. You will come to an intersection marked with a post indicating the “Connector” Trail (also marked with black diamonds) that heads uphill and to your right. Follow the Connector Trail which will lead to a paved road. If you’ve had enough, you can turn left on the paved road and follow it back to your car. Otherwise, continue on. Shortly you will come to another paved road (where you can also turn left and return to your car) and the Rocky Point Trail (also marked with black diamonds) heads downhill and into the woods.

The trail descends rather steeply headed for the Navesink River. You will pass several side trails that leave to your right; first to a view of the confluence of the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers and then to fishing pier that is available to the public. The trail then rounds Rocky Point before heading back uphill.( What goes down must go up!) After a fairly steep climb you will come to the end of the Rocky Point Trail at the kiosk and parking area where you began this hike. You can now choose to extend you visit if you wish. Heading towards the park offices you will see the paved trails that take you around the now abandoned gun placements of Battery Lewis. There are informational signs that explain what the site was used for and the functions of the installations. A gravel path also leads to a lookout over the Shrewsbury River, Sandy Hook and the Atlantic Ocean. This view is worth a few extra steps.

Take A Few Extra Steps For The Views

Hartshorne Woods doesn’t really offer the wilderness feel that other hikes bring, but it does provide for a variety of scenery and a fairly challenging route that features both distance and elevation change. The woods are pleasant and the trails are easy to both walk and follow. There are interesting historic features and spectacular views of the ocean. I don’t know of any other place in New Jersey that can offer a hiker those options.

…Somewhere in the Swamps of Jersey

IMG_0293No discussion of hiking in New Jersey could possibly be complete without a trip to the swamps of Jersey, could it? The great Jean Shepherd once said, “New Jersey–the most American of all states. It has everything from the wilderness to the Mafia. All the great things and all the worst, for example, Route 22.” You’ll get a real taste of  what he was referring to on this hike. You’ll see a little of everything, all in the shadow of New York City.  So take a walk with me through Jimmy Hoffa’s living room.

Richard DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst is a really interesting place. I could give a long explanation of the history of the marshes and meadows that sit hard by the New Jersey Turnpike, but I’ll leave that for another day. This hike will take you along the dikes and pipeline right’s-of-way that surround a number of different creeks and tidal impoundments that lead out to the Hackensack River. Just for good measure, you will climb a small hill that is really an old garbage dump-just as a reminder of where you really are. It’s a great place to bring kids. The terrain is flat, the walking surface is clear and if you walk every inch of trail (which I am suggesting that you do) this stroll comes in at right around 3 miles.  You’ll have stunning views and more wildlife to see-in the air, on the ground and in the water-than you would ever think possible.

IMG_0296Most people passing by on the Turnpike truly believe that this is a toxic wasteland that is best avoided. The reality is far different. The waters teem with fish and beckon kayakers to explore the many channels through the tall reeds.  The marshes you will pass through are home to an incredible array of birds year-round but explode with a variety of migrating water fowl and raptors during the spring and fall. The decades-long effort to clean-up the Meadowlands has finally begun to show results.  The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, now taken over by the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, has overseen the reclamation of this region. More importantly, the Hackensack Riverkeeper has fought to insure that this public trust resource is being protected for generations to come.   If you travel here to hike this park you should consider combining your walk with an Eco-Cruise with the Riverkeeper, led by either Captain Bill Sheehan or his erstwhile first-mate, Captain Hugh Carola. It’s an experience you will never forget.

Directions

DeKorte ParkThe hardest part of this hike is finding your way here. For GPS directions use the address-2 De Korte Park Plaza, Lyndhurst, NJ 07071. This is one trip where I will tell you to trust Waze or Google Maps. It will seem like you’re on the way to a filming location for The Sopranos (it just might be) but press on. The entrance to the park is literally down a road, into the swamp, past some radio towers, across some active railroad tracks next to the entrance to an old garbage dump.  The easiest way to get here is to take N.J. Route 3 to the Route 17 South-Lyndhurst exit. Follow Route 17 south approximately 1/2 mile to Valley Brook Road.  Turn left on Valley Brook Road and keep going. Valley Brook turns into Disposal Road (I’m not making that up) passing through what can only be described as a wasteland of vacant former industrial properties and tall marsh grass. At the end of this road you will come to the park entrance.

See More Pictures From This Hike On The Photographs Page

The Hike

DeKorteYou will be walking the entire network of trails in the park. You can download a trail guide for DeKorte Park here.  It’s a good idea to have the trail guide with you. The trails are not marked, but are obvious. Pull into the parking lot and head for the visitors’ center. Walk out the elevated walkway to the Marshview Pavillion where you will be able to get a good perspective of the vast wetland complex and the amount of wildlife that you will see. Look up to your east and on a clear day, the skyline of New York City looks close enough to touch. Head back and follow the Shorewalk Trail through the complex of buildings and gardens that the NJSEA calls home.

The first trail you will come to is the Transco Trail, which follows the right-of-way of the Transco Pipeline. It is shown as yellow on the trail guide. Turn right and follow the trail along the shore of the “Teal Pool”.  The tidal pool is ringed by marsh plants and wildflowers and the water will likely be inhabited by any number of different species of ducks, depending upon the time of year you are visiting.  In a short distance you will reach the end of the Transco Trail at a dike that forms the opposite shore of the pool and divides it from the waters of Saw Mill Creek.  Turn right and follow the path that leads along this dike which is the Saw Mill Creek Trail marked on the trail guide in red.    Continue straight, past a turn off back towards the visitors’ center and walk along the dike further into the open flats along a power line right-of-way.

You will pass over several pipes through the dike between the tidal impoundments on either side of you.  Depending upon the tidal stage, water will be flowing either into the marsh from the Hackensack River or emptying back into the river. This is a great place to see Cormorants that take advantage of the turbulent waters that carry small fish from one pool to the other. Predatory fish like striped bass and bluefish also lurk in these places waiting for an easy meal.  Continue on the Saw Mill Creek Trail to the end. You’ll know you’re there because a break in the dike allows water to rush through. The service road for the power line used to cross this break and allowed you to walk another mile or so-all the way to the New Jersey Turnpike. The storm surge from Hurricane Sandy inundated this spot with a nearly 15-foot flood that washed the bridge at this location completely away.  Some remnants of the footings are all that remain. Take a look across the expanse of open water to your left. The view is stunning.

IMG_0290Retrace your steps back along the dike to the pathway heading back towards the visitors’ center. Turn right onto what is marked as a branch of the Saw Mill Creek Trail on your trail guide. This will become the Lyndhurst Nature Reserve Trail.  You will pass over several more pipes that allow water to pass with the changing tides and come to a loop in this trail to your left. Follow it through a small wooded area that has been re-planted with native plants and trees.  It will quickly bring you back to the dike you were walking on. Turn left and continue back to the Transco Trail (marked yellow on your trail guide) at the point you first turned off.  Turn right here and walk out into the heart of the marsh along the pipeline right of way. This trail is a favorite of nature photographers. Walk all the way to the end of the dike between tidal impoundments and turn left at the end where the pipeline emerges above ground with a tidal sluice way carrying the waters of Saw Mill Creek under the N.J. Turnpike beneath it. Continue along with the Turnpike to your right and a marsh to your left that will usually be filled with a variety of birds.  When you get to the end, turn around and re-trace your steps back along the pipeline right-of way.

In about 1/2 mile you  will come to the Marsh Discovery Trail headed to your right. Turn right here to follow that trail that will utilize a series of floating walkways to take you through the center of the tidal marsh. Killifish and Atlantic Silversides will be darting through the water as you pass by.   There are several observation blinds along this trail where you can get a closer look at the birds that call this place home as well as those that are just passing through on their way to their winter or summer breeding grounds. Herons, Egrets, Red-winged Blackbirds, Goldfinches and Sandpipers are all sure bets for birds that you will spot along this stretch.  Ospreys and several species of Hawk are also likely finds. Follow this trail back to the entrance road. Directly opposite where you will emerge you will see a sign for the Kingsland Overlook.

Cross over and follow the trail that takes you up onto an old garbage landfill that is now covered in vegetation. It’s a short walk but you will get a great view over the entire marsh complex.  The trail will bring you down into the center of the building/visitor’s center complex. You can go into the center to see some interpretive displays of the ecosystems you have just experienced first-hand. When you’re done, head back to the parking area.

43336564_2303370849893306_8205656798510710784_nThis is a different kind of hike, but then again, New Jersey is a different kind of place.  You may want to come back and kayak the waters you’ve just walked through. I can attest that fishing in the nearby Hackensack River is excellent. Whatever your interest, even if it’s just a fascination with the unusual,  you can find something that will make the trek to the “swamps of Jersey” worth the effort. With all due respect to Bruce Springsteen, even if your machine’s a dud, you won’t get stuck in the mud and the Lord won’t have mercy, but you will say, ‘wow, this place is beautiful’. The best part is, you don’t need a lot of time or effort to take in the incredible “wilderness” of New Jersey’s Meadowlands. Just don’t tell anybody how nice this place is. As long as people believe it’s just a wasteland of garbage dumps, toxic waste and stinking swampland, the reputation will keep the riff-raff away.

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