May 15, 2021 – Southfields, NY
Length: Approximately 4 miles
Max elevation: 1,047 ft.– total elevation gain 621 ft.
Route type: Circuit
Buy Map: Sterling Forest Trails Map 2020 #100
Free Map: Sterling Forest State Park Trail Map
Trailhead parking: Furnace Loop Trailhead – Southfields, NY 10975
Large dirt parking area at the end of an unmaintained dirt road – portable toilet on site
Please note: Hunting is permitted in the park during hunting seasons. Hikers should wear bright clothing.
Located within the towns of Tuxedo, Warwick, and Greenwood Lake in Orange County, NY, Sterling Forest State Park comprises nearly 22,000 acres of nearly pristine natural refuge amidst one of the nation’s most densely populated areas. It includes numerous lakes, streams and miles of hiking trails. The Park is also the home of significant historic sites relating to the mining of iron ore and production of iron products from colonial days up through the early years of the 20th century.
Sterling Forest State Park contains significant natural resources. 95% of the park is designated as a Park Preserve Area and as a Bird Conservation Area. The Park also contains many rare animals. In addition to the Timber Rattlesnake, the Park contains a wide variety of amphibians and reptiles. The North American Beaver are a common species which are also widespread in Sterling Forest State Park, inhabiting many of the Park’s major drainages and wetland systems.
Indian Hill is strategically located between Bear Mountain-Harriman State Parks and Sterling Forest. At 1,047 feet above sea level, the summit of Indian Hill offers views of the surrounding lands of the Ramapo River Valley, Sterling Forest and Harriman State Park.
The property is made up of wooded, rolling hills and former farm fields, with hardwood forest and exposed bedrock, characteristics of the Highlands Region. It contains a pond, several wooded wetlands, steep bedrock slopes and picturesque streams.
The property is also home to Southfields Furnace, a site listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places as one of the most intact iron furnaces in the Highlands Region.
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail traverses Harriman State Park, then enters into Sterling Forest directly adjacent to the northern flank of Indian Hill. There is a 0.5-mile connector trail that links the two.
A NYS DEC hunting license and a Sterling Forest State Park hunting permit are required to hunt in the park, which is only permitted during deer and turkey season. Some areas are closed to hunting.
In the Town of Tuxedo, off Orange Turnpike, just north of Bramerton Road, is Indian Hill, a section of Sterling Forest State Park. It was an old farm going all the way back to 1697. The property was sold several times, but in 1804 it ended up with the Townsend family, who also owned the Sterling Furnace further south. They built another iron furnace up here at Southfields. It was quite a large farm, employing more than 400 people. Indian Hill got its name from a golf course that was planned for the land back in the 1940’s.
In the deep woods of Indian Hill are tall, wide and meticulously-constructed stone walls that are much too wide to be property markers. Some folks have hypothesized that those walls were sacred, constructed by Native Americans and used to mark the summer solstice. Others have written that the walls are “mysterious.”
Donald “Doc” Bayne, president of the Friends of Sterling Forest and a former park ranger and environmental historian who retired in 2011, has said: “What we believe is that the farmer would let his cows graze in the pasture in the morning, take them down to the stream for water, and then bring them back up to relax under those big shade trees in the afternoon. Those walls were to contain the herds and keep the cattle away from the crops and for that, they needed to be both tall and wide.”
“We call the road between the big walls ‘Broadway’ because it’s wide enough for three wagons,” Doc says. “There are signs of bridge abutments down by the stream, with the remnants of five small houses which we believe housed the farmhands.”
Sterling Forest State Park was established in 1998 after New York State paid $55 million for 15,280 acres of land using a combination of public and private funds.
The 490-acre Indian Hill tract was acquired independently by Scenic Hudson Land Trust, Inc. for $2.25 million in 1994 from a developer who wanted to build a golf course and luxury housing on the property. Scenic Hudson transferred the property to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission a few years later. In 2002, Indian Hill was added to Sterling Forest State Park.
Indian Hill connects Harriman State Park with Sterling Forest State Park. The NY-NJ Trail Conference built and maintains the 3.8-mile Indian Hill Loop Trail and a 0.5-mile trail that connects to the Appalachian Trail.
The trailhead is located off of Orange Turnpike (County Route 19), marked by a sign for “Indian Hill.” There is a large dirt parking area at the end of an unmaintained dirt road. The parking area has a portable toilet.
It’s a 0.2-mile drive down this dirt road to the parking area. Low lying vehicles are not recommended for this road as it is rutted in places and there are potholes as well.
Although hard to tell in this photograph, there is a short steep incline from the road to the parking area. Low lying vehicles may bottom out here. The parking area itself has space for about 14 vehicles.
The white-stripe-on-yellow-blazed Indian Hill Loop Trail is a closed loop trail that is approximately 3.8 miles long of moderate difficulty. There are several seasonal viewpoints along the trail. The trail parallels and cuts through an extensive system of rock walls, both natural and man-made. From this trail, connection can be made to both the Appalachian Trail to the north and the Furnace Loop trail to the south. This trail is maintained by the NY-NJ Trail Conference.
This moderate four-mile hike is perfect for both beginner and intermediate hikers looking for a more challenging hike. Indian Hill is not as well-known as the more popular trails, and the area provides nice views of the surrounding hills in a more serene setting. It also boasts some of the largest and oldest oak trees which can be found in the park. For those that are navigationally challenged, this hike follows just one trail (optional short detour) for the entire hike, making getting lost very difficult.
With a widespread gasoline shortage along the U.S. East Coast, we decided to keep the travel to a minimum. With only a 30 minute drive from the Tappan Zee Bridge, this hike was perfect. I have had this hike on my list since 2017, but had forgotten about it. Trying to find hikes that are lightly trafficked has become increasingly difficult these days, but this one checked all the boxes. No crowds, plenty of parking, nice views and well marked trails.
There are several short steep climbs and numerous ups and downs on this hike, but the elevation gain at about 621-ft. is at the lower spectrum of a moderate hike.
This hike follows the white-stripe-on-yellow-blazed Indian Hill Loop Trail, described here in a counter-clockwise direction. From the information kiosk in the parking area, the trail proceeds through a hemlock grove, bears right and climbs to the crest of a rise. After descending a little, it climbs to reach an open granite ledge, with west-facing views over the hills of Sterling Forest.
A short distance beyond, the red-blazed Furnace Loop Trail joins from the right. Continue ahead, now following both yellow and red blazes, as the joint trails climb to the ridgetop and descend into a valley, crossing several stone walls. After climbing to another rock ledge, with partial views to the south and east, they descend to a junction with a woods road. The trails turn right onto the road, but you may wish to detour to the left on this road, the route of the Warbler Trail, which leads in 200 feet to a dam and a picturesque pond.
Retrace your steps back to the junction and continue to follow the joint Indian Hill/Furnace Loop trails. Soon, the red-blazed Furnace Loop Trail leaves to the right. For the remainder of the hike, you’ll be following only the white-stripe-on-yellow blazes of the Indian Hill Loop Trail. The trail now crosses a stream on rocks and climbs to a panoramic south-facing viewpoint from a rock ledge. It then ascends to the ridgetop, which it follows north.
After a relatively level stretch, the trail climbs to the highest point on the ridge (1,047 feet). Just beyond, rock ledges to the right of the trail offer unobstructed views across the Ramapo Valley to Harriman State Park. Green Pond Mountain dominates the view, with the grassy Elk Pen in the foreground and the New York State Thruway below in the valley.
From the ridge, the trail descends gradually on switchbacks. Near the bottom, it briefly follows a stone wall, then turns right onto a woods road. At the base of the descent, it turns left onto a woods road between unusually wide stone walls. Soon, the trail turns right, goes through a gap in a massive stone wall, and continues on a footpath, passing a huge oak tree.
After crossing a stone wall, the Indian Hill Loop Trail reaches a junction with a blue-blazed trail that begins on the right and heads north to connect, in 0.4 mile, with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. Here, the Indian Hill Loop Trail turns left and begins to parallel the stone wall. It soon crosses two more stone walls, as well as a woods road lined on both sides with wide stone walls.
After passing through a wide gap in yet another stone wall, the trail turns left onto a grassy woods road. At a T-intersection, it turns right onto another woods road, which it follows for about a quarter mile to the barrier gate just beyond the parking area. Turn left and climb to the parking area, where the hike began.
A thoroughly enjoyable hike through a lightly trafficked area of Sterling Forest. We only encountered several hikers along the trail and that was near the trailhead. The views although nowhere near spectacular, were frequent enough to make for stop points along the hike and take a short break. Some of the viewpoints were more like keyhole views, but during leaf-off season, they are probably more wide ranging. The abundance of markers makes this trail easy to follow and the place was litter free. Worth a visit to escape the crowds at some of the more popular hiking spots. With the exception of the rock outcrops, there is plenty of shade along the trail from the dense canopy of trees, making this a great choice on those hot sunny days.
Well marked trails, litter free, scenic landscape, numerous scenic viewpoints, lightly trafficked area.
Some thruway noise can be heard along the eastern side of Indian Hill.
Take a hike!
- NY-NJ Trail Conference
- Sterling Forest State Park
- New York Acquires Sterling Forest – New York Times – Feb. 11, 1998
- Indian Hill’s mysterious stone walls