The Ringwood Manor Loop
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.
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.
The Shepherd Lake Loop
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.
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.
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.
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.
© Jozef Purdes, 2001-2003