This hike in Abram S. Hewitt State Forest has a bit of everything for the northern NJ hiker. There are lakes, great views (including NYC skyline), minor rock scrambles, pitched pines, hemlock trees, and a few sections of steep incline to keep the heart pumping.
The hike begins on the the white-blazed Bearfort Ridge Trail
, just off of Warwick Turnpike. After a few minutes of hiking, it quickly turns uphill, with over 600 feet of elevation gain in about a mile. The first hill encountered is nominal, but the second you have to work for with an extended period of 15% grade or so. There is also a minor rock scramble at the top to add to the enjoyment.
The next 2.0 miles have minimal elevation gains and some obstructed views of the surrounding hillsides. Around the 2.6-mile mark, there is an interesting rock ledge/chasm to traverse. Soon after, there are good views of the distant rolling hills and eventually, just before the trail ends, you can see a portion of the NYC skyline on a clear day.
A few feet after the 3.0-mile mark, turn left (northwest) onto the yellow-blazed Ernest Walter Trail
. This is a fabulous trail with lots of variety. First up is a quick detour taking the West Pond Overlook Spur
to its namesake. Enjoy a great view from a rocky ledge just south of the pond.
Head back to the main trail and head northwest again, tackling a minor but tricky rock scramble and then turn northeast at approximately the 3.5-mile mark. Ernest Walter Trail
continues for 0.7 miles across mostly flat terrain. Despite the mellow grade, it's still an interesting traversing sections of exposed bedrock that passes many odd-looking scrub pines.
Ernest Walter Trail
ends (for now) when intersecting with the Appalachian Trail. Here, turn right (headed northbound) on the AT for about a half a mile, then turn right (south) onto State Line Trail
, a rugged, rocky singletrack that goes straight downhill. At the overall 5.25-mile mark, start to look for the yellow-blazed Ernest Walter Trail
again. This can be tricky to find, and more than one hiker has continued down State Line Trail
too far, only to have to head back up this steep hill.
Back on Ernest Walter Trail
, it's a quick uphill climb that eventually reaches a superb viewpoint after ascending an open rock face. The view is of the central and southern portions of Greenwood Lake and Fox Island. This is particularly beautiful in the autumn. On clear days, you can spy the tops of the tallest skyscrapers in Manhattan.
After a gradual descent of about 0.5 miles, arrive at Surprise Lake. Swimming is prohibited here, but many people seem to ignore the restriction. Don't be one of them!
The orange-blazed Quail Trail
bears left just after leaving Surprise Lake and it gradually descends from the northern ridges of the State Forest. It's a wide singletrack without views and fanfare, but still a very nice hike in the woods. It's a little wet all-year round and very wet in the rainy seasons. It is also a welcome respite after completing other challenging trails in the park.
continues for 2.5 miles, almost directly to the parking area. It's easy to miss, but be sure to find the white-blazed Bearfort Ridge Trail
off to the right at about the 8.15 overall mile mark. If you start to descend to Warwick Turnpike and you're not back on the white blazes, you missed it.
Nestled in an isolated forest with no vehicle access, this hike has many hemlock trees, scrub pines, and countless oak. Vultures, black bear, and many deer can be spotted.