December 22, 2018 – Sloatsburg, NY
Difficulty: Moderate – strenuous
Length: approximately 5.4 miles
Max elevation: 1,043 ft.– total elevation gain 971 ft.
Route type: Circuit
Trailhead parking: 199-31 Johnsontown Rd, Sloatsburg, NY 10974
Please note: Hikers should use caution in the vicinity of the mines, as their deep, water filled pits and unstable overhanging rocks can be dangerous.
The Ramapo Mountains in lower New York are rich in iron ore deposits. These deposits were extensively mined in the 1700’s and 1800’s for iron ore, as evidenced by the dozens of old iron mines in the region. The hills and valleys of Harriman State Park contain many abandoned iron mines and exploratory pits. These sites, once scenes of literally earth-shattering activity, are now quiet, with the shafts often filled with water and rock debris. The open holes and piles of iron ore tailings bear mute testimony to this once-active industry, and await rediscovery by curious hikers.
The area above and below the boundary of Orange and western Rockland counties in New York, was a major site of industrial development in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. There were three natural contributing factors: Rich Iron ore deposits in the area, timber from the heavily wooded hills as fuel for furnaces, and the Ramapo river to provide water power to run mills and other forms of manufacturing. A fourth factor added in the early 1800’s was the Orange Turnpike and the Nyack Turnpike that permitted transporting goods to the Hudson river for shipment to markets in New York City.
Around 1800, Abraham Dater built a system for powering the first of six iron forges in an area first known as “Dater’s Works.” The Iron forges and subsequent grist mill and saw mill of the Dater family and the community of workers they created, became the hamlet of “Pleasant Valley” in the 1800’s and, by the early 1900’s, annexed to become part of the village of Sloatsburg.
High atop Dater Mountain at an elevation of 920 feet above sea level is a large open pit known as the Dater Mine. The mine is located in Harriman State Park, just north of Dater Mountain Nature County Park. I searched for this mine the previous week, but a Black Bear in the area I was searching, cut my exploration short. The following week I hooked up with some seasoned hikers that are familiar with the area and let them show me the way. As a bonus, we bushwacked north from Dater Mine along an old mining road and visited the Augusta Mine as well. We also hit some other better known spots in the area as well.
This 5.4 loop hike consists of 3 miles of bushwacking and/or unmarked trails. Those who are not confident of their route-finding ability might wish to choose another hike.
From the parking circle, we walked back on Johnsontown Road for about 100 feet, crossing a bridge over a stream.
Just west of the bridge, there are three blue-on-white blazes on a tree, which mark the start of the Blue Disc Trail. We turned right and followed this trail up a paved road, passing a huge boulder on the left and crossing the route of a gas pipeline.
In a short distance, the trail reaches a pumping station for the pipeline. Here, the Blue Disc Trail bears left onto a footpath and begins to climb parallel to the pipeline.
Soon, it turns left onto a woods road. Then, in another 0.3 mile, the Blue Disc Trail bears right at a fork and continues along a narrower woods road.
The white-blazed Kakiat Trail joins for a short distance, but we continued to follow the blue-on-white blazes.
The Blue Disc Trail now begins a steep climb along the woods road.
About halfway up, it turns right, crosses a stream, and climbs even more steeply over rocks.
After 0.9 mile from the start, the trail reaches the top of Almost Perpendicular, a dramatic viewpoint from the top of a cliff. You can see Seven Lakes Drive directly below, with the Ramapo Mountains in the background.
Almost Perpendicular is a name given to a cliff on Dater Mountain by the Fresh Air Club in in 1936.
After taking in the view, we left the Blue Disc Trail just behind the highest point of the cliff and started down a faint footpath, which soon ends.
We then began bushwacking in a westerly direction.
We had to veer slightly north to avoid a wet area, but then continued west.
We bushwacked for about 0.4 mile through the relatively open woods until we reached the mine.
The Dater Mine is a large open cut, fifty feet in length by thirty-five feet in width. At the northern end of this cut, the mine extends into the mountainside for an additional fifteen feet and appears to slant downward. This section is filled with water and is dangerous.
A pillar of rock in the middle of the mine entrance supports the roof of the mine. Unfortunately, little is known about the history of the Dater Mine. It was probably associated with Abraham Dater, who operated two iron forges on the Ramapo River and one on Stony Brook in the first half of the nineteenth century. Dater also owned 2,600 acres of land in the area between the Ramapo River and Stony Brook.
At the south end of the open cut is a flat terrace constructed of mine tailings that have been dumped along the edge of the mountain. This terrace affords a scenic vista of the surrounding area (in the summer, the view may be obscured by the foliage).
We then took an abandoned mine road which descends from the mine and summit along the westerly side of the mountain and heads in a northerly direction.
There are some massive rock formations to the right that just beg to be explored.
Some sections of the old mine road are easy to follow and other times it just disappears.
Looking back at the large rock formation we just explored.
At times the sides of the road are lined with stones, large cobbles, which delineate its route. The road then reaches a small plateau and becomes more obscure and difficult to follow.
I ended up a little further down the hill at a cascading stream with a steep ascent of Pine Hill on the other side of the steam crossing. I looked back to see my hike mates much farther up the hillside so I bushwacked up alongside the stream to rejoin them.
This was a slightly challenging crossing, but I took out my hiking poles and was able to manage the rock hop without getting wet.
After crossing the stream, the road reappears and becomes easier to follow.
The road runs near the base of Pine Hill. The old mine road continues north, but we turned left at the small cairn and bushwacked up towards the Pine Hill summit.
I didn’t notice the cairn, but an alert hiker pointed it out.
We bushwacked west to the ridge of Pine Hill.
Once at the ridge, we turned right and headed north.
Soon, another old mining road appears as we neared the Augusta Mine Complex.
A recently “discovered” iron mine (within the last 20 years or so) not to be confused with the Augusta Mine in nearby Sterling Forest. It is surmised that ore from this mine was used at the Augusta Furnace, a short distance north of the Tuxedo train station.
The mines themselves were of three general types: open pit, with the ore near the surface and easily accessible; the slope, a slanting tunnel which would follow a vein of ore as far as practical; and the pit type which was a perpendicular shaft to various depths with tunnels following the vein away from the shaft.
Unlike New Jersey where nearly every mine has been documented big and small, there are a handful of mines in southern New York that have never been formally documented, some of which are only mentioned in modern trail books.
The workings include open cuts and a short adit.
The road continues north past the first set of mine openings.
In a short distance the road comes to the most impressive mine shaft at the northern end of the complex.
The shaft is not very deep, but the road leads all the way to the adit so it must have been of some importance.
We then climbed above the mine and continued bushwacking, now in a northeasterly direction, just skirting the summit of Pine Hill.
The bushwack in this area was relatively easy, but probably more difficult when the area is lush with green foliage.
We made our way to the Tuxedo-Mt. Ivy Trail and turned right, now heading east.
In a short distance, the trail reaches Claudius Smith Rock. Claudius Smith Rock is a large rock formation that provides spectacular views from the top.
The base of the rock formation has caves that were the former hideout of the gang of marauders, known as the Cowboys of the Ramapos, led by Claudius Smith. They operated during the Revolutionary War era.
On January 22, 1779, Claudius Smith was hanged in Goshen, NY.
The Tuxedo-Mt. Ivy Trail climbs along the right side of Claudius Smith Rock.
On the way we could see one of the upper chambers where they slept, it’s about 8-10 feet high, 30 feet long, and 10 feet deep.
We climbed to the top of Claudius Smith Rock to take in the view.
The view from the top of Claudius Smith Rock extends west to the village of Tuxedo and beyond.
We then jumped back on the Tuxedo-Mt. Ivy Trail and came to a junction with the start of the White Cross Trail. Directly to the right (southeast) is an unmarked footpath.
This is the start of the Spring Brook Trail.
In a short distance, the trail widens to a woods road.
The Spring Brook Trail heads southeast and descends gradually. At a fork with another woods road (which leads to Almost Perpendicular), we veered left and continued to descend.
At the base of the descent, the road crosses Spring Brook. This was a very challenging stream crossing, which we were able to negotiate carefully.
The Spring Brook Trail climbs slightly as it passes alongside some old stone walls.
A short distance later, the Spring Brook Trail ends at a T-intersection with the white-blazed White Bar Trail. Here we turned right.
The White Bar Trail turns right onto the abandoned section of Johnsontown Road and crosses the also white-blazed Kakiat Trail.
The blazes in this area have a “WB” on them to alleviate any confusion.
Here a stone wall begins to run along the side of the road. This is where the Matthew Waldron family once had their home and blacksmith shop.
We followed the White Bar Trail to its terminus at the parking circle on Johnsontown Road, where the hike began.
A truly enjoyable hike with many points of interest. The bushwack was not difficult, but I am sure it would be during the warmer months when the area is overgrown. We saw scattered groups of hikers along the marked trails and at Almost Perpendicular and Claudius Smith Rock. Other than that it felt like we had the woods to ourselves. A couple of the stream crossings were a bit challenging, but that made the hike interesting. Since this hike covers areas that don’t see much foot traffic, it is advisable to hike with a partner.
Pros: Abandoned mines, scenic views, historical features, secluded area during bushwack and on unmarked trail.
Cons: Almost Perpendicular and Claudius Smith Rock can get crowded in warmer weather.
Take a hike!
- New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
- Lenik, Edward J.. Iron Mine Trails (Kindle Locations 1645-1651). New York – New Jersey Trail Conference. Kindle Edition.
- The Legend of Claudius Smith