October 9, 2021 – Oakland, New Jersey
Length: Approximately 4 miles
Max elevation: 590 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 317 ft.
Route type: Lollipop Loop
Free Map: Ramapo Mountain State Forest Map 2021
Trailhead parking: Ramapo Lake Trailhead – 67 Skyline Drive, Oakland, NJ 07436
No entrance or parking fees – parking lot often fills up early on weekends
Ramapo Mountain State Forest located in Bergen and Passaic Counties in New Jersey, is a rugged 4,269-acre area, with elevations ranging from about 200 to 1,100 feet, offering hikers nearly 30 miles of trails for their enjoyment. From meandering old roads, to historic trails, to more challenging rock scrambles, the area offers something for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels.
The central feature of the area is the scenic 120-acre Ramapo Lake, which has spectacular views from numerous rock outcroppings and ledges, and offers excellent opportunities for fishermen. The ponds, streams and marshes found within the forest provide the perfect habitat for birds and other wildlife species.
The Ramapo Mountain State Forest, which includes wild lands in the municipalities of Oakland (Bergen County), Pompton Lakes, Ringwood and Wanaque, borders Ringwood State Park and the Ramapo Valley County Reservation, a part of the Bergen County Park System. The park is operated and maintained by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry.
The Ramapo Lake Loop Trail (2.6 miles), which encircles the man-made lake, is a popular hike, accessed from the lower parking lot on Skyline Drive via the Ramapo Lake Spur (0.6 mile). The trail around the lake is a mostly level woods road with a few minor ups and downs. Ramapo Lake is the hub of the trail system in the 1,400-acre Ramapo Lake Natural Area within the forest.
The Ramapo Lake Spur Trail is an uphill walk from the parking lot on an eroded and rocky woods road, gaining about 190 feet of elevation in about 0.6 mile.
Dealing with some health issues, I was looking for a relaxing walk where I could just soak in some nature on a mild October day. This hike was perfect and it really fit the bill. Knowing that the parking lot fills up early on weekends, we arrived shortly before 9am on a Saturday morning. The lot was already nearly full, but we managed to find a spot to park. We did the loop clockwise stopping often to take photographs and take in the scenery.
Besides the initial uphill, the rest of the hike was an easy stroll around the lake. The elevation graph below illustrates the gentle ups and downs for most of the hike.
At the southern end of the parking area, a triple black-square-on-blue blaze marks the start of the Ramapo Lake Spur. Follow the trail into the woods, passing stone ruins. After going up a steep pitch, the trail continues to climb on a wide, rocky path, paralleling a cascading brook (particularly attractive after heavy rains).
As you approach the crest of the rise, you’ll cross a stream on rocks. A short distance beyond, the white-blazed Castle Loop joins from the right. Just ahead, the trails bear left at a fork and descend to a trail junction at Ramapo Lake, where the Ramapo Lake Spur ends (there are street signs at the junction for South Shore Drive, North Shore Drive and Rye Cliff Road). Here, you should turn left, crossing the dam of Ramapo Lake.
On the other side of the dam, a triple blue-on-white blaze marks the start of the Ramapo Lake Loop. You will be following this trail in a clockwise direction around the lake. Just ahead, the red-on-white-blazed LeGrande Hill Loop begins on the left, and for the next 500 feet, the route is co-blazed with red-on-white markers. Continue to follow the blue-on-white blazes along the wide gravel road, which runs close to the lakeshore, with views across the lake. To the north, atop a hill with several pines, you can see the ruins of Foxcroft, a mansion built in 1910 which fell into disrepair in the 1950’s. (The Castle Loop, which leads to the ruins of this mansion, is another great hike in this area.)
The road proceeds through dense vegetation, crosses a causeway over an arm of the lake, and passes a swamp on the left and several interesting rock outcrops. It then moves away from the lakeshore but continues to parallel it, with views over the lake through the trees.
Just past the southern end of the lake, about a mile from the dam, the road reaches a T-intersection. Here, the red/blue LeGrande-Lake Connector begins on the left, but you should turn right to continue on the Ramapo Lake Loop. Then, in another 300 feet, bear right at a Y-intersection where the Cannonball Trail, marked by white-“C”-on-red blazes, joins from the left.
You’re now heading north through dense vegetation, paralleling the western shore of Ramapo Lake. At first, the road runs some distance from the water, but after a while, the lake can be seen through the trees. In half a mile, you’ll pass a building on the hillside to the left (formerly used as a ranger station) and, a short distance beyond, a rock ledge to the right of the trail offers a pleasant view of the lake.
Soon, another gravel road joins from the left. Follow the road ahead, crossing a stone causeway that isolates a quiet pond on the left from the main body of the lake. Next, you’ll reach another Y-intersection. Here, the Cannonball Trail turns left onto an intersecting gravel road, but you should bear right and continue to follow the blue-on-white blazes. A short distance ahead, you’ll notice a triple-blue blaze on the right. Follow this blue-blazed side trail for 500 feet to a rock outcrop overlooking the lake. After taking in the view, return to the Ramapo Lake Loop and turn right.
After passing a small, abandoned stone building on the right, there are open views of Ramapo Lake from the shoreline.
A short distance later, you’ll come to another intersection. Here, you should bear right, once more joining the white-blazed Castle Loop. Follow the white and blue-on-white-blazed gravel road that runs close to the shore along the northern end of the lake, passing a viewpoint over the lake from a rock ledge on the right.
Soon, you’ll pass a private residence on a ledge to the left. At the end of the lake, a triple blue-on-white blaze marks the end of the Ramapo Lake Loop. Continue ahead to a T-intersection with street signs, proceed through a gap in the guardrail at a sign for the Castle Loop Trail and the Ramapo Lake Spur Trail, and continue along the black-square-on-blue-blazed Ramapo Lake Spur, retracing your steps back to the parking area where the hike began.
A beautiful area to spend a few hours. More like a stroll than a hike, but worth a visit nonetheless. Especially scenic in Autumn when the leaves change. Although there was quite a few people here on a Saturday, it didn’t feel crowded. Many viewpoints over the lake to relax and enjoy a snack.
Extremely scenic landscape, well marked trails.
Can get crowded on weekends, no overflow parking.
Take a hike!
- New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
- Ramapo Mountain State Forest – New Jersey State Park Service
- Trails of Ramapo Mountain State Forest
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