The leaves are starting to show hints of color in northern New Jersey and in about two weeks they will be at their resplendent peak. Many local residents make the trek to the Adirondacks or New England to view the fall foliage, but New Jersey has plenty of scenic areas where fall’s beauty is waiting to be discovered.
For New Jersey hikers there are many excellent hikes of varying difficulty and length that will bring them to outstanding viewpoints where they can see the fall colors. For cyclists and motorists there are a number of scenic rides that rival many places in New England for scenery. I’ll explore the latter in a coming article.
For those who prefer to view the landscape by foot here are a few scenic hikes.
Wyanokie High Point – Situated in Norvin Green State Forest, Wyanokie High Point offers a 360 degree view from its nearly treeless summit. The hike is moderately strenuous, but anybody in decent shape should have no problem completing it. The hike starts at Weis Ecology Center on Snake Den Road in Ringwood. At the western end of the parking lot look for the light green blazes. Follow this trail past the Highlands Pool and it eventually reaches an old, dirt road. Here look for the blue blazed Hewitt-Butler Trail and take it uphill. You’ll pass some overlooks along the way with limited views, but continue uphill until the blue blazed trail meets the red on white blazed Wyanokie Circular Trail. Turn left and follow this trail to the summit of Wyanokie High Point where you will see Wanaque Reservoir below you, the NYC skyline to the east, the Shawangunk Ridge to the north and the Ramapo Mountains to the east and northeast. You can retrace your steps to return to your vehicle or pick up a trail map at the Weis center and explore the network of trails.
Bearfort Mountain – Bearfort Mountain is actually a 7 mile long ridge that has many great views along its length. The hike described here is at the northernmost end. It is a short, but strenuous climb to a gorgeous, rocky viewpoint. Take Lakeside Drive in Hewitt to the Greenwood Lake Marina just south of the NY/NJ state line. Turn into the lot on the opposite (west) side of the marina and proceed to the hiker parking near the upper level of the lot (lower is used for boat storage). From parking take the blue blazed State Line Trail uphill. It’s a steep climb, but even if you take your time you’ll reach the junction with the yellow blazed Walter Trail in 45 minutes or less. Look carefully for the yellow blazes because they are easy to miss. Turn left on the yellow blazed trail and follow to an expansive rock outcrop that overlooks Greenwood Lake with the Wyanokie and Ramapo Mountains in the background . From here you can continue to scenic Surprise Lake, or follow your tracks back to your vehicle.
Pinwheel Vista – This outstanding overlook situated along the Appalachain Trail is a strenuous, short, but quite rewarding hike starting from Route 94 in Vernon, or it can be a longer (3 mile), moderate hike from the east starting on Barrett Rd. Also known as The Stairway to Heaven, this outstanding westerly view of farmland and mountains is not to be missed and fall is the perfect time to visit this spot. Take route 94 to the Appalachian Trail parking (about ¾ mile north of junction with Maple Grange Rd). Follow the white blazed Appalachian Trail up a steep, rocky slope with numerous switchbacks and manmade steps. When you reach the top look for blue blazed spur trail that is marked by a stone cairn (blazes are somewhat faded so pay close attention). Turn left (north) onto this trail and follow it to Pinwheel Vista.
Mount Tammany – With its breathtaking view of the Delaware Water Gap, this might be the most photographed viewpoint in New Jersey – for good reason. Because of its popularity be prepared to share the view with dozens of other people. It’s a short (about a mile), strenuous hike to the overlook. The hike starts at the Dunnfield parking area just off I-80. If you are traveling west it is shortly before the toll bridge over the Delaware River. From parking take the Red Dot Trail uphill to the rocky overlook. You’ll know you reached it when you hear yourself say “wow”. Return by retracing your steps, or for a slightly longer hike continue on the Red Dot Trail to the Blue Dot Trail, turn left and follow that back to the parking area.
Castle Point – This excellent viewpoint is also accompanied by some interesting ruins as the shell of a former mansion remains standing nearby. While the previous hikes were strenuous, this hike is a moderate one. From the upper parking lot on Skyline Drive in Ringwood take the white/red blazed Skyline Trail west to where it ends at the Cannonball Trail (red blaze with white C). Turn right and follow this to the paved road. Turn right onto the road and roughly 100 feet on the left you’ll see the white blazed Castle Point Trail. Turn left here and follow the trail as it turns west, then south. Along the way it will pass a nice overlook with a good westerly view. Continue past the stone water tower, and you’ll soon pass the ruins of what is commonly known as Van Slyke Castle. The nearby stone wall makes for a great place to sit and enjoy the view. You can retrace your steps to return to your vehicle.
These are just a few of many scenic hikes in northern New Jersey. Some others include the Wildcat Ridge Hawk Watch and Pyramid/Turkey Mountains in Morris County, Mills Reservation in Essex County, High Mountain and Garrett Mountain Reservations in Passaic County and Washington Rock State Park in Somerset County.
Most of the hikes mentioned here have fairly rugged terrain so proper footwear is essential and you should be in good hiking shape, but most importantly, be sure to bring your camera.