Ringwood Manor

A few gravestones are lined up along the trail.
Currently, there are two hikes featured in this section. The first hike will get you familiar with the immediate area surrounding the manor house, while the second hike is longer and more challenging, leading you to all major attractions in the Ringwood State Park.

The Ringwood Manor Loop
The Ringwood Manor Circular Trails is one of the easiest hikes you are likely to take in New Jersey. Only 1.5 miles long with gentle elevation changes, the trail offers a nice relaxing walk for the whole family. Considering the fact that Ringwood Manor offers the perfect afternoon picnic spot in the northwest, this hike is a nice addition to a relaxing weekend afternoon.

Getting there
Take Exit 55 off I-287 and turn to Rt. 511 North. After the road takes a huge left turn around the northern end of a lake (Wanaque Reservoir), turn left onto the Sloatsburg Road. The exit is very well marked. Drive on this road until you see the entrance of the manor right in front of you, while the road turns right. It does not look like the right spot to enter (a double-full line in your direction), but it is the only way to get in. Remember, if you see the "Welcome to New York" signs, you have gone too far.

Park the car in the main parking lot, and walk to the manor. Behind the house, there is a large grassy area. Cross if to large iron gates, which seemingly grow out of nowhere. Behind those gates, follow the lakeshore onto a gravel road, where you can see the blue markers of this trail.

The first part of this hike is on a flat gravel road, next to a lake. On a sunny day, this part will set the mood for the hike - a relaxing walk in an open and sunny area. At one point you will come across a series of up to 200-years old gravestones of people, whose families (Morris, Paterson, etc.) were crucial in forming the New Jersey history. After five to ten minutes, the trail turns sharply right and starts to climb a little. Ignore the red trail, which leaves to the left and follow the blue markers.

These bushes indicate the beginning of the end of this hike.
The trail slowly winds up the side of a hill, but it remains wide and quite pleasant. After you reach the top, watch out for a sharp right turn onto a much narrower trail. Turn right and enter the forest. The trail now gains altitude a little faster, but remains easy to hike. The forest around you is relatively open with little undergrowth, only at one point you will run across an impressive area filled with young trees.

After about 30 minutes, the trail crosses a pipeline. This point may be a little tricky; simply look for the blue markers on the other side of the pipeline and enter the forest there. The trail then starts to descend into a low-lying area, which may be a little wet at times. The trail looks quite forgotten here - at times, you will have to climb over or under fallen trees. As you go on, you will come across a small stream, and the trail takes a right turn to follow it downhill. This is a nice place to sit down for a while; the large boulders offer enough "chairs". When you decide to continue, go downstream for a few minutes, until the trail crosses the stream.

The next part may be a little tricky. The trail disappears in a large open area, and the markers are very sparse. Pay good attention to them, so that you won't get lost. As you follow the trail, you will come to another stream, which you cross and turn right. This is the last part of the hike, which should last about ten more minutes, but by far the loveliest part. First, you will cross under a few pink bushes, which keep their coloring throughout the whole autumn and into winter. After that, the trail changes into a large gravel road, with bushes on both sides creating a natural tunnel for you to walk under. Once you emerge on the other side, you will find yourself back at the manor.

Other activities

The loveliest part of the hike.
The Ringwood Manor offers other activities as well. Maybe the most prominent one is guided historic tours in the manor house. In addition, the New Jersey Historic Society tends to organize lectures and conferences here; check the Ringwood Manor official home page for details. Outside the manor house, you can relax on benches at the lakeshore or have a picnic on the lawn. A large and well-kept garden is often used for taking wedding pictures.

Difficulty: 3 out of 10. Very few elevation changes, only one potentially difficult stream crossing.
Orientation: 6 out of 10. Trail largely well defined, but the markers may be sometimes confusing.
Beauty: 7 out of 10. The trail itself is nothing spectacular, but with combination with other activities, the trip is worthwhile.

The Shepherd Lake Loop
Ringwood Manor is usually associated with nice afternoon walks in a well-maintained garden. As such, it may come as a surprise that the area offers one of the wildest hikes of Northern New Jersey. In fact, when I first hiked the Shepherd Lake loop, I was shocked at how difficult the hike was, how wild the surrounding nature looked and how few people I met. The next time, I was able to conserve my strength much better, but the rugged nature surrounding the trail is still awing me. The following hike will lead you from the manor house to Shepherd Lake, and through a small backwoods loop to the Skylands Manor and New Jersey Botanical Gardens before returning back to where you began.

You start out of the parking lot A, following the blue dot trail. Alternatively, you can drive past lot B to a small parking lot next to a few vending machines and enter the trail there. This will save you about a mile and pretty much all the hiking on the western side of the Sloatsburg Road. For the purpose of this hike, however, I'll start at the beginning.

Walk towards the manor house, and then cross to the other side of the wall dividing the yard and the back section of the garden complex. Before you do so, you may want to go to the manor house and pick up a hiking map. I must warn you, though: I've never seen such an inaccurate map before. The trail is sometimes way off, and pretty much all the proportions are wrong. For example, the first half of the hike will get you only to the Shepherd Lake, even though on the map it looks like the lake is a third into your hike.

The Shepherd Lake in all its glory on a sunny afternoon.
Once you cross to the other side of the wall, turn left on the woods road. You will notice the blue trail markings almost immediately. Within a few minutes, the trail veers to the right and starts a gentle climb. Five minutes into the hike, the trail forks. The blue-blazed trail turns left, and following it would put you on the small loop described above (in reverse direction). Go straight on the white-blazed trail. You will climb some more on what appears to be a woods road, until on another fork the trail leaves the road and becomes much more narrow. The trail is partially overgrown, and it is very curvy, with lots of shallow ups and downs. Soon, it rejoins the woods road again.

Walking up the road, pay very close attention to the markings and runoff trails to your right; the next turn is very easy to miss. The markings indicating a sharp right turn will be towards your left, partially obscured by leaves. If you come to a fallen tree across the trail, you've gone too far. The turn is hardly noticeable, as the white trail is very narrow and partially overgrown again. Once you locate it and start the sharp descent you'll realize why I sent you in this direction instead of letting you drive farther. You will first cross a small but lovely meadow, only to descend some more into a very scenic gully. There are huge boulders lining the edges of the gully, the forest is relatively open, and the air is almost always still here. Sometimes, I meet artists here, trying to capture the calm mood of this gully on their canvases. It is definitely worth climbing up the boulders, sit down and enjoy the area for a while.

When you decide to go on, you'll descend some more, pass through a small pine tree hemlock and emerge on the edge of the picnic area. This is where you'd park if you decided to forfeit the first section. Cross the road and head slightly to the right, to the red-blazed trailhead. After crossing two wooden bridges in the middle of a noisy picnic area, head steeply up the hill, passing a warning sign for the cyclists. On the top of the climb, you'll come to the Sloatsburg Road. Cross it and reenter the trail. It divides almost immediately, with the white trail leaving towards the right. Go left instead, keeping to the red trail.

The next five to ten minutes will be the hardest part of the hike for the out-of-shape hiker. You will climb 300 feet on a narrow and steep trail. What I missed here were large rocks that would serve as steps. Instead, the trail is mostly dirt and loose rock, making you work all the way to the top. Fortunately, the ascent is relatively short, and there's the perfect rock to sit on when you reach the top. You'll know you are up when the yellow trail meets you from the right. Just sit down here and relax for a while. If you are lucky, you will be able to spot some wild turkeys across the yellow trail.

The only good view of the surrounding hills that you get.
Once you decide to go on, continue on the red rail. It starts a sharp descent, and soon the yellow trail will leave to your left. After a minute, you'll come across a small shelter with a fireplace in front of it. The trail sharply descends at the front right of the shelter. This section features many loose rocks, so watch your step. When you reach the bottom, the trail turns a little muddy, and soon you'll be forced to cross a couple of streams. The crossings can be quite adventurous, as they have no bridges and you'll rely on partially rotten tree trunks or slick rocks. In this area, the trail crosses a few woods roads, so always watch for the signs.

An hour to an hour and a half into the hike, you'll emerge at the Shepherd Lake. The lake is a major tourist attraction in this area. It features a small beach, vending machines, fishing and boat rental. On a nice day, its large lawns are full of people, and even when the weather is not so nice, chances are you find an unusual number of people here. Cross the grassy area towards the lake and once on the shore, turn right. You will walk on a gravel road that runs around the lake. Towards your left, you'll see plenty of small cul-de-sacs where you can get a little privacy if you want to sit on the shore and enjoy the day for a while.

When you decide to go on, walk for a while on the gravel road until you see the red trail leaving to your right. The next fifteen to twenty minutes will see you climbing up again, albeit on a much less steep slope. This is the area where you start hearing gunshots from your right, sometimes startlingly close. There is a trap and skeet shooting area you'll be circling around, which provides quite a distraction. After the short climb, you'll come to a very small ridge, offering you the only scenic view of the hike. The hills are particularly nice in autumn with low-lying sun.

A few minutes later, you'll descend and cross a pipeline. Then you'll climb again, only to descend more steeply, circling around a very impressive rock formation (I'm still surprised that I never met any climbers here). The trail levels off, and soon merges with the green trail. If you are patient and really quiet, there's a chance you'll spot an eastern coyote in this area. If you decide to go on, turn right onto the green trail.

Contrary to what the map tells you, the green trail is not straight. In fact, it is very curvy, slowly traversing down a hillside. Overall, this section of the hike is a very pleasant one: it always goes down, and the surface is largely dirt or fine gravel. It will take you less than ten minutes to get down the hill and rejoin the white trail on a gravel road. Turn right here and follow the rod until you come to the Skylands Manor House.

The Skylands Manor and the New Jersey Botanical Gardens offer not only a series of additional hikes, but also some impressive gardens and facilities. The manor house often serves as a wedding place, and the stroll along the main garden is a very pleasant one, at any time of the year. If you are in no hurry and feel like walking around for a while, feel free to do so. The hike back to the Ringwood Manor is a very easy one, and will not cost you much additional energy.

Once you decide to go on, follow the entry asphalt road. As you pass the two eagles and cross the road, head to the small grassy area to your left. The white-blazed trail reenters the forest here. The trail is very narrow and the forest very thick, which prevents a quick evaporation of moisture, and despite the fact that the trail slopes down steeply, it tends to be wet and muddy long after rain. In a few minutes, the trail levels off and veers to the right. You'll pass some swampy area to your left, and soon emerge at the pipeline again. I was never able to follow the trail from here (one of the factors is that the pipeline is perfectly positioned to have the sun shine into your eyes in the late afternoon), which is why the following part of the hike is not covered by the map.

One of the two eagles guarding the entrance to the Skylands Manor.
Walk along the pipeline, between head-high grasses and wildflowers. Soon, you'll cross a wide stream and start a short climb. When you start descending again, look for the crossing with the yellow trail. It will be easier to spot it to your left, as the trail enters the woods in a favorable angle. Once you locate this crossing, turn sharply right and follow the yellow trail. (Going the opposite direction would get you on the Governor Mountain hike, as described in 50 Hikes in New Jersey.) The trail surface is dirt most of the time, and the area you'll be crossing is relatively bland. Still, you'll be walking across small patches of pine tree growth, and on early mornings after a wet night these areas tend to be full of mushrooms.

When you cross an asphalt road (Morris Avenue), look for another fork in the trail. The yellow-blazed trail will run right, while a wide but unmarked trail goes left. Go left here, and in a couple of yards the unmarked trail gets shiny white blazes. Less than ten minutes later you'll come to a crossing with the red trail. Turn left here, cross the road and in a few short minutes you'll be back at the picnic area. If you feel like it, you can go back the way you came, climbing steeply up the white trail. At this point, I'm usually ready to take a stroll around Sally's Pond in front of the manor house and take some pictures, which is why I turn left and simply cross the picnic area…

Six miles and 3-4 hours after you started, you'll be able to surprise your friends by telling them about the rugged nature and relatively challenging hike between three very pleasant locations that don't evoke the idea of serious hiking.

Difficulty: 6 out of 10. 600 ft elevation change, 6 miles of hiking and several adventurous stream crossings.
Orientation: 4 out of 10. The trail often leaves the most obvious way; a very defficient map.
Beauty: 8 out of 10. Rugged nature, lots of wildlife and three spectacular destinations.

Time table
Net time Total time Notes
30 - 45 min 30 - 45 min If you don't get lots, this is how long it will take you to complete the western portion of the hike, cross the Sloatsburg Road and climb up 300 feet.
30 - 45 min 60 - 90 min After a sharp descent, the trail levels off. You'll cross a couple of streams, walk through a relatively dense forest and emerge at the Shepherd Lake.
30 - 45 min 90 - 135 min After following the trail along the lake, you'll start another ascent, which levels off at the only spot with some scenic view, and later descends to the green trail.
10 - 15 min 100 - 150 min The green trail is much shorter than the map shows, and after a pleasant descent you'll come to the Skylands Manor.
20 - 30 min 120 - 180 min The last portion of the trail is largely downhill, and afer a surprisingly short time you'l cross the Sloatsburg Road again and emerge at the Ringwood Manor picnic area.
Methodology: The lower number is how long it took me to finish each part. While I'm in mid 20s and in a relatively good shape, I tend to stop often to take pictures or simply enjoy the view. It is very likely that your time will be close to mine. The upper limit is my time adjusted to the difficulty of the trail and various distractions. I assumed a family with children in my calculation. I believe that the upper limit is rather extreme. I have not taken into account the time spent for an extended break.

Additional resources
Official park site
Another hike description with pictures

© Jozef Purdes, 2001-2003

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