Tuscarora Trail to Eagle Rock (George Washington National Forest, VA/WV)


Eagle Rock, August 2018

The 252-mile Tuscarora Trail—the shorter cousin to the much-vaunted, nearby Appalachian Trail—weaves through tree-studded mountain ranges and rolling farmlands spanning four different Mid-Atlantic states: Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. While completing the full length of the trail takes several weeks, day hikers can cover short sections along the trail. There are few better jaunts along the Tuscarora than the 3.6-mile out-and-back to Eagle Rock, where scintillating views of the Great North Mountain range and Shenandoah Valley make the moderately strenuous up-and-down of the access route worthwhile.

Tuscarora Trail to Eagle Rock hike information

Eagle Rock hike trail map

Map of Tuscarora Trail to Eagle Rock, George Washington National Forest; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

The two most common ways to access Eagle Rock are from the west, following the Tuscarora Trail as it straddles the Virginia-West Virginia border. The shortest option is to park at Dry Gap, along Capon Springs Road (Virginia SR 209; West Virginia CR 16), and climb 500 feet in a little over a mile to reach the viewpoint. The second, and longer, option—and the subject of this hike—begins further south and west at the point where US Route 48 crests Great North Mountain—also the state boundary. As you approach the ridgeline, look for a gravel road, blocked to traffic, off to the south; there is also a small brown “Tuscarora Trail” sign. Park along the shoulder here on the south side.

After parking, cross to the north side of the road (carefully—traffic here is going fast), where you will find a well-trodden path. This is the northbound Tuscarora Trail. Leaving the highway behind, the trail climbs rapidly before gradually easing, approaching a junction with an old road heading left at around    150 yards. Stay right amid the rocky terrain. Peeking over the ridgeline, a small spur heads off to the right at about ¼ mile, offering a window view to the south toward Paddy Gap and Paddy Mountain (3,013’), part of the broader Great North Mountain range.


View of Paddy Gap from the Tuscarora Trail

The Tuscarora Trail continues northeast from here, flattening out considerably as the ridge narrows. A few minutes later, hikers can spot a gravel road off to the left—this is Forest Road 539 on the West Virginia side. Merging with an old roadbed from the left, the trail passes an established campsite at about 6/10 mile and then a communications relay tower at around 8/10 mile. Just beyond the tower, the path passes under a set of power lines, offering a brief glimpse of the Cold Springs Gap area below. An uphill at about 1.3 mile brings hikers to the base of a second, larger tower. From here, the trail begins a gradual but steady decline, shedding about 300 feet in the next 1.2 miles.


Tuscarora Trail

At 1.8 miles, stay right at the trail fork—the orange-blazed trail bearing left leads to the Hawk recreation area. (Note: This junction is less visible than it used to be because the Tuscarora Trail has been rerouted toward Eagle Rock rather than down to Hawk.) At about 2.3 miles, the footpath drops relatively steeply, ending the descent at a small parking area along the Capon Springs Road at Dry Gap. (Note: This is the start of the shorter version of the hike.)

Crossing to the other side of Capon Springs Road, the trail is much wider and well-defined. A small sign indicates that one is heading for Eagle Rock. Having lost 300 feet in elevation, the trail makes up for it again with a steady climb, wrapping around the north-facing side of Great North Mountain. The incline picks up around mile 3, and hikers reach a trail fork at 3.15 miles. Stay right, leading into a sharp uphill that marks the final approach. By 3.4 miles, the incline levels out again, and hikers can sense that the overlook is near. Finally, at about 3.6 miles, gaps in the trees begin to offer unobstructed views, and a set of rocky ledges—Eagle Rock—invite visitors to peer over the edge.


Eagle Rock looking east

The vista at Eagle Rock, while not a 360 degree panorama, is one of the finest in the area. The best view is to the southwest, where two ridgelines—Paddy Mountain/Little Sluice Mountain and Great North Mountain—run parallel to one another for as far as the eye can see, while individual mountaintops dot the ridges, giving the terrain greater a scenic texture. The small bulge with a house on top of it in the foreground is, aptly named, Short Mountain (2,164’). Behind it is the higher Johnnies Knob (2,639’), while the stream in the gully below (seen in the distance) is Paddy Run, which leads into Vance’s Cove.


Southward view from Eagle Rock

Over to the east, the green mountains give way to a broad valley bookended by Little North Mountain—beyond is the much broader Shenandoah Valley. On clear days, Massanutten Mountain and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park are visible on the horizon.


Eagle Rock, with the Shenandoah Valley obscured by haze

The viewpoint offers a single stone bench that makes for a great lunch spot. (Note: Eagle Rock’s relative obscurity means the summit has far less crowds than many others in the area.) The Tuscarora Trail continues northward from here, but day hikers will want to return the way they came, traversing the 3.6 miles back to the start.

Allot 3-5 hours, depending on pace, for the moderately strenuous round trip.


The author at Eagle Rock

Posted in George Washington National Forest, Moderate Hikes, Virginia, West Virginia | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Minisink Battleground Loop (Minisink Battleground Park, NY)


Battleground Trail, Minisink Battleground Park, July 2018

– Revolutionary War Series –

In July 1799, the Revolutionary War came to the Upper Delaware River Valley as a British-aligned militia led by famous Mohawk chief Joseph Brant raided the area to strike a blow at the morale of the revolutionaries. Incensed by the raid, a rapidly-formed counterforce under the command of Colonel John Halthorn tracked down Brant’s Volunteers and staged a botched ambush that resulted in a lopsided loss for the rebels. The site of the Battle of Minisink on July 22, 1779 is now preserved as part of Minisink Battleground Park, itself a subset of the broader Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, which spans the border of New York and Pennsylvania. A loop trail offers hikers a brief tour of the battlegrounds.

Minisink Battleground loop hike information

The hike

Situated in the hills opposite Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, Minisink Battleground Park is reached by way of a narrow but paved road on the New York side of the Delaware River. At the parking area is a small Interpretive Center with maps and information on the park and area. The loop hike begins just behind the center to the right.

Start on the wide and grassy Woodland Trail as it bears north and quickly intersects the Battleground Trail after around 50 yards. Bear right. Within a minute, a very brief spur trail bears left for a slightly better view of an underwhelming wetland before quickly merges again with the main path. At 1/10 mile, the footpath spills out onto Zane Grey Way Road, which is paved but blocked to vehicle traffic.

Bear left on the road and follow it uphill to a grassy field with a set of monuments. One is a stone marker constructed in 1929 to commemorate the fallen revolutionaries at the Battle of Minisink, while a new monument—a large rock with a plaque—was dedicated in 2017.

From here, continue north on the continuation of the partly graveled Battleground Trail, which is quickly immersed again in the dense woods. It is a short walk from here to Sentinel Rock, a chunky boulder where retreating forces under the command of Colonel Halthorn briefly took up position after encountering Brant’s soldiers down by the river. Here the rebels would be effectively encircled, outnumbered and outgunned by the opposing force of Indians and Tories.


Sentinel Rock at Minisink Battleground

Hanging a sharp right, the trail bounds southeast amid a mix of pines, oaks, beech, and maples and approaches a trail fork at about ¼ mile. Stay right, following the Battleground Trail as it passes another unmarked junction steps later. Stay left this time, then bear left again at a third fork just beyond. Heading back toward the stout ledges near the top of the hillside, the trail reaches Hospital Rock at 3/10 mile. This was the last stand for much of the rebel contingent: 18 militiamen, including Lt. Col. Benjamin Tusten, were killed at or around this rock by the encroaching British soldiers.


Hospital Rock

Beyond Hospital Rock, the Battleground Trail bears south and then begins a sharp descent. Stay right at the junction with the Woodland Trail at 4/10 mile. Around a minute later, hikers will approach another fork at Indian Rock, which was allegedly set by the Indians and Tories to honor their dead in the battle.


Indian Rock

Hikers can bear right here on the Battleground Trail to head back to the parking area. But those looking for a little extra can continue straight on the Old Quarry Trail, which, as the name suggests, explores a modest quarry to the south. Small cliffs are terrifically exposed in this area as the trail snakes between minor ditches on the left and right. An unmarked trail comes in from the left at 6/10 mile, and there is a single bench to rest your legs. Staying right, the path passes a vertical rock face with a golden hue: this was presumably the heart of the rock quarry.


Old Quarry Trail


Cliff face along the Old Quarry Trail

From here it a short walk to the Interpretive Center and parking area. After crossing the road, the incline briefly picks up during the final stretch back to the start. The trail ends at the backside of the center.

Allot 30-45 minutes for this loop hike, or venture off to some of the spur trails to make for a longer walk of up to 2 hours.


Upper Delaware River from a viewpoint southeast of Minisink Battleground Park

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Mount Marshall Loop (Shenandoah National Park, VA)


South Marshall, Mount Marshall Loop, June 2018

Mount Marshall—named for John Marshall, the famous 19th century Chief Justice of the Supreme Court—actually comprises two distinct peaks in the North District of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. North and South Marshall, as they are known, sport some of the best panoramic views in the park and, as an added bonus, are relatively easy to access from Skyline Drive. While many cover the two peaks in a much shorter out-and-back, ambitious hikers can turn the trip into a relatively easy but lengthy 13.5-mile circuit. This option follows the Appalachian Trail south, then swings around and traverses the entire length of the Bluff Trail on the return to the start.

Mount Marshall Loop Bluff Trail hike information Shenandoah

Mount Marshall Loop Bluff Trail Shenandoah map

Map of Mount Marshall Loop, Shenandoah National Park, created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

If coming from the North Entrance, begin your hike at Jenkins Gap, situated roughly 12 miles down Skyline Drive. The parking area is situated on the west side of the road, just before a clearing in the woods and Jenkins Gap Overlook (where there is a separate parking area). The trailhead at Jenkins Gap provides access to two paths, including the north-south Appalachian Trail (AT) and east-west Jenkins Gap Trail. The former will be your route up and down Mount Marshall.

From the parking lot, follow the AT’s iconic white blazes, and bear left at the first turn, encountered after about 50 yards. Climbing from a starting elevation at around 2,400 feet, the AT bears south and begins to ascend a modest incline. Not yet putting Skyline Drive out of earshot, the trail levels off at around 1/3 mile and hugs the east side of the mountain. After cutting right and bearing southwest, hikers encounter pockets of sun at around the ¾-mile mark. The climb eases again in the next quarter mile and then starts to decline to Hogwallow Flat, where the Blue Ridge briefly widens amid a sea of trees.

Dropping again, the AT proceeds to cross Skyline Drive at 1.7 miles. There is no sign marking the trail continuation, but the clearing through the woods is apparent. From here hikers begin the gradual ascent to North Marshall (3,368’). Interrupted by only a brief level section, the climb continues for nearly 1 ½ miles. At 3.25 miles, hikers reach the summit and high point of the hike, although views remain obscured. Amid rock outcrops to the right and left, the AT descends after spending what seems like a long time at roughly the same elevation. Rest assured, the magnificent viewpoint on the west flank of North Marshall finally arrives at about 3.5 miles.


North Marshall

Perched on a rocky ledge, the overlook offers splendid vistas across the Blue Ridge to the west and south, with the Browntown area and Page Valley to the north. The shorter hill straight ahead, just across a visible stretch of Skyline Drive, is South Marshall (3,212’), with the higher Hogback Mountain (3,474’) beyond.


View north across Browntown Valley

In the distance to the southwest lies Stony Man Mountain (4,011’) and the peaks and ridges of the Central District. Across Page Valley to the north is Massanutten Mountain, which culminates in an abrupt end at Signal Knob (2,106’).


View northwest across the Shenandoah Valley from North Marshall

Leaving the viewpoint behind, the Appalachian Trail proceeds down a set of switchbacks, passing a short social trail leading to the base of a towering crag at 3.6 miles. From here it is a short and relatively steep descent to small parking area along Skyline Drive. Stay left and traverse the road at around 3.9 miles.

The climb to South Marshall begins shortly thereafter, again rather gradual. Levelling off after just a quarter mile, the first views come into play on the right. At 4.6 miles, follow a short spur to the main overlook on South Marshall, where visitors can enjoy another terrific panorama.


Hogback Mountain view from South Marshall

Hogback Mountain appears considerably closer from this vantage point, and one can make out Skyline Drive snaking its way west toward Hogback and the Mathews Arm Campground. The frame is bounded to the north by Dickey Ridge, with the faint outline of Great North Mountain across the vast valley beyond. The stony perches at the viewpoint make for a fine place to stop for lunch, as you will likely by now be around 2-3 hours into the hike.


Northerly view from the overlook at South Marshall

The loop is only around one-third finished, however. Onward hikers will drop down the western slopes of South Marshall to Gravel Springs Gap (2,666’), where trekkers will leave the AT behind. Cross Skyline Drive again and traverse the small parking area (the start for hikes to Big Devils Stairs) to a gravel service road.

After a few dozen yards down the road, the path becomes overgrown and descends the south slopes of the mountain. As the double-track bears sharply right toward Gravel Springs Hut, look for a footpath heading off into the woods to the left. This is the start of the Bluff Trail. Follow the narrow path to another junction at about 5.8 miles. Stay left at the fork, then do so again at a third junction minutes later.

Beyond the web of interlocking trails at Gravel Springs Gap, the Bluff Trail continues uninterrupted for roughly 7 miles. The path generally charts a course along the shady eastern slopes of Mount Marshall. At 6.1 miles, the trail begins a short up-and-down before settling on a gradual upward incline. After leveling out again, hikers will cross the creek that carved Big Devils Stairs downstream at 7.2 miles. Minutes later, the trail forks, with the path to the “stairs” bearing right while the Bluff Trail continues left.


Large rocks along Bluff Trail

The next two miles are relatively uneventful, as dense tree cover obstructs any consistent views. After weaving between large stone outcrops at about the 9-mile mark, the trail begins a noticeable descent. At 9.6 miles, stay left at the fork. (Note: The route to Thoroughfare Gap, The Peak, and the Jordan River Trail bears right.)


Stream along Bluff Trail

At 9.75 miles, the Bluff Trail traverses a lovely stream, followed immediately by a smaller meander. The descent continues and follows the contours of the old Mount Marshall Road as the path bears north. At about 10.6 miles, the trail ascends through mountain laurel and then clears a ravine carved by the Sprucepine Branch of Bearwallow Creek. After a short climb, a very pleasant flat section follows.

Rounding another, larger gully, the Bluff Trail crosses the Waterfall Branch of Bearwallow Creek at 11.75 miles. From here the trail must gain 300 feet to return to the trailhead but again does so gradually. The footpath finally emerges back at Skyline Drive at 13.1 miles, marking the end of the Bluff Trail, a welcome sign for those with weary legs. To return to the trailhead, cross to the other side of the road and carefully follow the northbound drive as it winds back to Jenkins Gap at 13.5 miles.

The Mount Marshall-Bluff Trail loop is not a particularly arduous day hike, considered only to be strenuous because of its considerable length. Hikers should plan to spend most of a day hiking, so bring plenty of water.

Posted in Moderate Hikes, Shenandoah National Park, Strenuous Hikes, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mount Tammany Loop (Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, NJ)


Mount Tammany, Red Dot Trail, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, May 2018

At the Delaware Water Gap, part of a broader National Recreation Area bearing its name, the Delaware River slices through a weakness in the mountains, forming a picturesque valley on the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Two peaks, part of the broader Kittatinny Mountain, tower above the Gap: Mount Minsi (1,463’) on the Pennsylvania side and Mount Tammany (1,526’) in New Jersey. Both are accessed by strenuous but relatively short hikes, though Mount Tammany boasts the better views. The Red Dot-Blue Dot Trail circuit forms a fine half-day loop to and from the summit, likely one of the best hikes in New Jersey.

Mount Tammany Loop Red Dot Blue Dot Trail hike information

Mount Tammany Loop Red Dot Blue Dot Trail map

Map of Mount Tammany Loop, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

The hike to Mount Tammany begins at the parking lot in Dunnfield Creek Natural Area, which is kind of a park inside a park (Worthington State Forest) inside a park (Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area). Dunnfield Creek Natural Area is a less than half mile drive from the Kittatinny Point Visitor Center in the southern reaches of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, just off busy Interstate 80 on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. (Note: There is also a Red Dot Trailhead further east.) The parking area is large but likely to be nearly full on weekends and sunny days in the summer.

Two trails take off from here: the Red Dot Trail and the famed Appalachian Trail (AT). While most visitors to Mount Tammany climb the Red Dot Trail, starting with the AT section and working your way clockwise around the loop offers a slightly easier climb. Following the AT, the hike begins in a cool, shady valley graced by pleasant Dunnfield Creek. In about 100 yards, the trail traverses a bridge over the creek and then parallels the stream as it bears northeast. Beautiful chutes and minor cascades accentuate the flowing waters, a far cry from the noisy and uninspiring highway just beyond the trailhead.


Appalachian Trail along Dunnfield Creek

Bear right at the trail fork at around 4/10 mile. Here the Dunnfield Creek Trail breaks off from the AT as the latter continues its long and lonely meander through New Jersey to New York and beyond. Follow the green and blue blazes as the Dunnfield Creek Trail drops to the banks of the stream at about 0.55 miles, crossing a wooden bridge in a picturesque hollow laced with ferns. Just upstream from the bridge is a small waterfall, no higher than eight feet but a lovely place to stop for a snack before the difficult climb that lies ahead.


Small falls along Dunnfield Creek

Back on the right bank of the creek, follow the trail as it ascends sharply to a perch overlooking the falls. Continue for about 50 yards until you reach another trail junction. This time bear right on the Blue Dot Trail, which climbs nearly 1,000 feet in the next 1.2 miles.

The sharp incline begins almost right away, ascending in and out of patches of sun. After briefly leveling off, the climb picks up again around the hike’s 2/3-mile mark. At about 9/10 mile, the trail narrows slightly and rounds a right-hand bend. The incline gradually lessens thereafter, and hikers can gain some obscured views through the trees to the left. At 1.2 miles, the sharp climb returns but enters a shady thicket that provides some solace on a hot day. After rounding another right-hand bend, the trail ascends with fits and starts, with one mammoth climb at 1.5 miles. The final burst comes shortly thereafter, and the elevation gain ceases at around 1.8 miles, roughly the high point (1,520’) for the hike.


Ascent on Blue Dot Trail

The actual summit of Mount Tammany lies just to the west (while Kittatinny Mountain continues to higher elevations further east) as the Blue Dot Trail crosses over the ridgeline and hangs a sharp right. Partial views open up through the trees to the left, while the trail continues southeast toward the main overlook. At 2.1 miles, bear left across rocky terrain, leaving the trail to drop down to the best viewpoint. (Note: The strip of rock that affords views of the Gap is jagged and can be difficult to ascend and descend. Tread with caution.)


View of Delaware Water Gap and Mount Minsi from Mount Tammany

From here, visitors get an excellent bird’s eye view of Delaware Water Gap, with Mount Minsi (1,463’) dominating the opposite slope. Kittatinny Mountain continues west into Pennsylvania, while Godfrey Ridge can be seen to the northwest. This is one of the best mountain views in New Jersey.


Delaware River as it snakes between New Jersey and Pennsylvania

The viewpoint is roughly the two-thirds point of the hike, with the Red Dot Trail covering the remaining 1.3 miles back to then parking area. Because it offers the shortest climb to the viewpoint, the Red Dot Trail is considerably more crowded than the Blue Dot—but it is also noticeably steeper. Now following the red blazes, head north as the trail weaves through shrubs and passes a second, largely obscured viewpoint at the hike’s 2.2 mile mark.


Partly obscured viewpoint

Soon after, the descent begins in earnest, effectively following a boulder field down the mountain. At 2.6 miles, the Red Dot Trail switchbacks down a particularly steep section and then flattens out briefly as it passes through a shady ravine. Continue left as the path passes a grassy knoll at about 2.9 miles and emerge out onto a sunny ridgeline with good views of the Gap. From here hikers can see the slopes of Mount Tammany on the left, as well as Arrow Island and the Delaware River as it bears south between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.


View from lower viewpoint along Red Dot Trail

Just beyond this overlook, the Red Dot Trail hangs a sharp right and rounds a plump, stony knob. From here it is a steady downhill; hikers can now hear the sounds of Dunnfield Creek ahead. At 3.25 miles, stay right at the trail fork, then stay right again at a second junction around 100 yards later. The final approach involves a set of wooden steps, after which the trail ends at the Dunnfield Creek parking area. This completes the roughly 3.4-mile circuit.

Because of the strenuous climb—either on the Blue Dot or Red Dot Trail—hikers are recommended to allot more than the usual 1.5 hours for a 3-mile hike. Most are likely to complete the circuit in 2.5-4 hours in all, including some time at the overlooks.

Posted in Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, New Jersey, Strenuous Hikes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Crater Lake Trail (Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, NJ)


Crater Lake Trail, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, May 2018

The Crater Lake Trail (no, not that Crater Lake) is a pleasant—although not particularly inspiring—loop hike in a remote section of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area on the New Jersey side. Access to Crater Lake requires a lengthy drive on unpaved roads, which helps thin out the crowds in an otherwise crowded park, although its location just off the Appalachian Trail (AT) offers the possibility that you will run into some AT through-hikers in the summertime. The circuit hike offers access to the AT, some limited views of the surrounding mountains, and, of course, Crater Lake. (Note: The Crater Lake Trail is sometimes combined with hikes to nearby Buttermilk Falls and Hemlock Pond.)

Crater Lake Trail Delaware Water Gap hike information

The hike

The Crater Lake picnic area is situated at the end of 2-mile Skyline Drive, which is a rough, unpaved road but passable to standard, 2-wheel drive cars. Skyline Drive is itself accessed from the more improved Blue Mountain Lakes Road, deep in the heart of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Crater Lake sits in a depression along Kittatinny Mountain, a lengthy ridgeline that is closely followed by the Appalachian Trail (AT) as it runs through New Jersey.

From the parking area at the Crater Lake picnic area, it is a handful of steps to the edge of Crater Lake, a still, blue pool surrounded by shrub-lined shores. The lake is a remnant of an ancient glacier that receded roughly 22,000 years ago, leaving behind a basin hemmed in on nearly all sides by high ground. A handful of picnic benches offer a place to eat lunch by the lake.


Crater Lake

Begin the Crater Lake Trail by backtracking from the lakeshore and heading south on a wide, orange-blazed path through the woods. While Crater Lake is not visible, the grassy path passes swampy Lake Success on the left about 150 yards down the trail. In the early 20th century, the shores of Crater Lake and Lake Success played host to a popular summer cottage community that was eventually torn down in the 1970s.


Lake Success

Just beyond the first views of Lake Success, a narrow social trail on the right offers access to Crater Lake. At about 250 yards, the Crater Lake Trail begins to climb a minor hill amid a grove of beech trees. The gradual uphill is mild and eventually flattens out as more social trails head off to the left and right. Although hikers still cannot see Crater Lake from the trail, they can spot a rock wall, which towers over the lake, on the right in the distance at about 4/10 mile.


Pond along Crater Lake Trail

At the ½-mile mark, the trail reaches a four-way junction, with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail cutting across the main path. Stay straight on the orange-blazed Crater Lake Trail, which quickly passes a small rock-hewn pond on the right. After about 2/3 miles of hiking, the trail rounds a right-hand bend and begins a modest climb that surmounts a low ridgeline. The path, now an old road bed, follows the ridge before joining again with the AT, which comes in from the right and combines with the Crater Lake Trail for a short distance.

Directly opposite the merger is a spur path leading to one of the only real viewpoints on the hike. Here hikers can get partly obscured views to the west and north, overlooking the Blue Mountain area in the direction of the Delaware River.


View northeast from an obscured vista off the Crater Lake Trail

The trail climbs to its highest point shortly thereafter and splits at 1.15 miles, with an unmarked spur trail heading right. Stay left, then bear right at the next junction 1.2 miles, where the AT bears off to the left. (Note: This is also the access trail for Hemlock Pond.) From here the Crater Lake Trail begins to shed elevation, and the same unmarked spur trail comes in from the right. Crater Lake returns to view, and a narrow social trail at about 1.3 miles offers access to the sunbaked shores.


Crater Lake

From here the main trail leaves the lakeside again and empties out onto a gravel road below a set of power lines. Bear right on the road and follow it to its end as it bobs and weaves up and over a series of minor slopes. The road—and hike—ends at around 1.5 miles, back at the parking area.

Allot around 45 minutes to an hour for this easy loop hike with some minor elevation change.

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Raymondskill Falls Trail (Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, PA)


Raymondskill Falls, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, May 2018

The 150-foot Raymondskill Falls, when at full strength, is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the Mid-Atlantic and the tallest in the state of Pennsylvania. Nestled in a shaded valley in Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the three-tiered falls are reached by way of a short but steep trail. While Raymondskill is just one of several waterfalls in the area, it lacks both the crowds and atrocious entrance fee of nearby Bushkill Falls, and as of summer 2018, was one of the few waterfalls in Delaware Water Gap NRA that was open to visitors following storm damage earlier in the year that closed many of the trails.

Raymondskill Falls Trail hike information


Map of Raymondskill Falls Trail

The hike

The loop trail begins at a parking area off Raymondskill Road in the northern section of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, about four miles south of Milford, Pennsylvania. (Note: There are actually two parking lots that provide access to the trail; the marked lot that is farthest to the west, however, is the best starting point.) There is a restroom and trail kiosk at the trailhead, and the main path takes off to the right.

The Raymondskill Falls Trail begins with a gradual descent, eventually growing steeper as it drops to a wooden platform with two benches after about 50 yards. From here the path drops further as the roar of the falls drowns out the wind and sound of chirping birds. At about 100 yards, follow the spur trail to the right, which leads to a wooden platform overlooking the falls. While upper falls is little more than a 2-foot drop, you can also peer over the precipice of the much taller middle falls.


Upper falls


Looking over the top of middle falls

Work your way back up the spur path to the main trail and bear right as the path hugs the edge of a stony bluff with a small cave on the left. The trail descends a set of steep, slippery steps before reaching a second spur at about 0.15 miles.


Steep descent along the Raymondskill Falls Trail

Take a right here, following the path to the second viewing platform, this one situated perfectly at the base of middle falls. The view of the roaring falls, especially in spring, is spectacular. Here Raymondskill Creek drops over a two-tiered terrace, slicing through beds of sandstone and interbedded shale and siltstone.


Middle falls

The observation platform also sits at the top of lower falls, which tumbles around 25-30 feet and is met by a perhaps seasonal fall—known as Bridal Veil Falls—which drops out of a sea of vegetation along the wall opposite the platform. The moist canyon walls are coated with green lichen, giving the falls an additional, colorful flair.


Lower falls and Bridal Veil Falls

From the viewing platform, head back up the wooden stairs to the main trail, then continue to follow it right as it wraps around to the east and briefly levels off. At about 2/10 mile, the path ascends an uphill, gravel path and reaches a fork with the Raymondskill Creek Trail, a dead-end path to provides access to the stream well downstream of the falls. Continue left as the path bears north toward the parking area. Just as the road is within sight ahead, bear a hard left at the next trail junction—the parking lot straight ahead is different from the one where you started.

From here, follow the wide path as it traces west back to the original parking area and trailhead. The entire hike, with some breaks to admire the awe-inspiring falls, should take around 30-45 minutes.

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Billy Goat Trail – Section C (Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, MD)


Billy Goat Trail – Section C, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, August 2018

The Billy Goat Trail is well-known to DC-area hikers, but most hike only one of the trail’s three sections. While Section A is swamped with visitors on any given weekend, Sections B and C are usually quiet and serene. Section C, the closest to DC, covers relatively level terrain above the north banks of the Potomac River. Though easier than Sections A and B, hiking boots are still recommended, as no trail in the Potomac Gorge can escape a handful of rocky traverses. Like the other two sections, combine with the flat and easy Towpath Trail to form a loop back to the trailhead. (Note: See here and here for descriptions of Section A and Section B.)

Billy Goat Trail Section C hike information

Billy Goat Trail Section C map

Map of Billy Goat Trail – Section C; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

Section C of the Billy Goat Trail forms a circuit around Carderock Recreation Area, itself inside Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park and just off Clara Barton Parkway. Carderock, a popular rock climbing destination, has multiple parking areas; the Billy Goat Trail is most easily accessed from the southernmost and northernmost parking lots. For the purposes of this description, start the hike at the Carderock north parking area.

From the parking area, head for the far end of the loop drive and catch an unmarked but well-trodden path that bears north. (Note: There is another spur trail that takes off from the restrooms and heads west to meet the Billy Goat.) For much of the year, there is a muddy bog off to the right. In about 125 yards, the access path merges with the Billy Goat Trail; bear left, immediately dropping down a sloped hillside dotted with the area’s characteristically jagged metagraywacke, a form of metamorphic rock. At the base of the descent, the trail crosses a short footbridge, skirts a large rock outcrop on the right, and climbs again to make up much of the elevation loss.


 Near the beginning of the Billy Goat Trail

From here, the trail follows a long depression between two rocky ridges, then approaches a four-way junction at around 2/10 mile. Off to the right is the primary rock climbing area; to the left is a path leading back to the parking area and restrooms. Stay straight, continuing to parallel the stony ridgelines.

As the Billy Goat Trail continues south, curious hikers can scramble up the rocks on the right for views of the Potomac River. Here the river appears still and narrow—but this is deceptive, as the Potomac here is split into three channels, only one of which is visible for this vantage point. Across the water is Vaso Island, a good-sized wooden islet that conceals the rest of the waterway.


View of Potomac River and Vaso Island

At around ¼ mile, the trail briefly bears left, away from the river, before returning to the edge of the ridgeline. Bearing away from the river again, the trail drops down at the 1/3-mile mark to cross a muddy ravine. A little past ½ mile, hikers can see the full river as Vaso Island recedes from view. Around a minute later, the trail begins a sharp downhill that ends at the banks of the river, allowing hikers to get their toes wet if they choose.


Banks of the Potomac River


Minor rapids on the Potomac

At around 8/10 mile, hikers can look across the Potomac to the Virginia side and spot Scott’s Run Falls, a 12-foot drop and centerpiece of Scott’s Run Nature Preserve. A protrusion of metagraywacke in this area offers a nice place to sit by the water and enjoy a snack while waving to kayakers as they pass.


Scott’s Run Falls from across the river

Continuing down the Billy Goat Trail, the path cuts abruptly left and reaches a junction at about the 1-mile mark. A spur trail heading left leads to the southernmost parking area at Carderock, while the Billy Goat continues right. Cross the bridge over a tributary creek, then gaze out over a set of Class III rapids on the Potomac: this is Stubblefield Falls.


Stubblefield Falls

At about 1.25 miles, the trail drops to cross a tributary stream, which features a minor waterfall on the left. At about 1.4 miles, the sound of the rapids begins to fade, and the trail passes a quiet cove that, at lower water levels, is cut off from the rest of the river. At 1.5 miles, pay attention as the actual trail abruptly cuts left, even as a social trail continues straight for several dozen yards. Look for blue blazes as the trail bears north, leaving the Potomac behind.


Minor falls along the Billy Goat Trail – Section C

At 1.6 miles, the Billy Goat Trail ends, spilling into the Towpath Trail heading east-west. Bear left and follow this wide, gravel path for a little more than a mile as it parallels the C&O Canal. At 2.2 miles, the canal becomes an aqueduct as it passes over the entry road to Carderock, and frequent spur trails head off into the woods on the left.


Towpath Trail

At 2.6 miles, a prominent path bears left to return to the original parking area; hikers can turn here to head back to their cars. Those determined to complete the entire loop, however, should continue another 1/10 mile to the western terminus of the Billy Goat Section C. Take a left here, followed quickly by another left, which leads back to the parking area.

Allot 1-2 hours for this easy-to-moderate hike.

Extra credit

Check out Billy Goat Section A (3.8 mi. loop) and Section B (2.6 mi. loop), or cross to the other side of the river to explore Scott’s Run Falls.

Posted in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Easy Hikes, Maryland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Chesterfield Gorge Trail (Chesterfield Gorge Natural Area, NH)


Chesterfield Gorge, Chesterfield Gorge Natural Area, May 2018

Chesterfield Gorge Natural Area in southwest New Hampshire—not to be confused with another Chesterfield Gorge in Massachusetts—features a short, 0.7-mile walking trail that follows Wilde Brook as it tumbles over a series of cascades. While the park is a mere 13 acres, the Chesterfield Gorge Trail makes for a pleasant quick stop along the road between Keene, New Hampshire and Brattleboro, Vermont.

Chesterfield Gorge trail information


Map of Chesterfield Gorge Natio

Map of Chesterfield Gorge Trail

The hike

Chesterfield Gorge Natural Area is located on the north side of New Hampshire Route 9, a.k.a. Franklin Pierce Highway, between Keene and the Vermont border. The small parking area, situated parallel to the road, is marked by a wooden sign reading “Chesterfield Gorge State Wayside.” From the parking lot, pop into the visitor center for information and a map, then follow the sign for “Gorge Trail.”

The wide path immediately begins a modest descent to the northeast, quickly reaching a junction in less than 100 yards. Bear left as the trail switchbacks to the west and enters a small valley ringed with hemlocks. Wilde Brook comes into view on the right, and the easy trail traverses a small tributary before approaching the start of the loop section of the hike. Bear right first, crossing a wooden bridge over Wilde Brook, then bear left, hugging the north bank.


Wilde Brook

From here, the creek begins to cut into a shallow gorge, forming pleasant and photogenic cascades. Views are partly obscured as the trail remains high above the gorge, but the trail quickly drops at about the 1/3-mile mark to cross a bridge at the base of the canyon.


Wilde Brook below the first bridge

The views are much better as you ascend the south side, reaching a fine but fenced off viewpoint at 4/10 mile. Here the creek squeezes through a narrow channel with jagged walls on both sides.


Waterfall in Chesterfield Gorge

Chesterfield Gorge was formed during the latest Ice Age, as melting ice formed a stream that cut through the existing bedrock and reached the igneous granodiorite, where it carved a channel through the path of least resistance. The rocks today are covered in green lichen, providing color to the gray rock.


Cascades at the top of the gorge

Continuing around the loop, the trail leaves the gorge behind and weaves back to the initial bridge. Stay right, following the uphill path leading back to the parking area. The total distance comes out to around 7/10 mile, a trip that should take between 30-45 minutes.

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Mount Monadnock via White Dot Trail (Monadnock State Park, NH)


Mount Monadnock, Monadnock State Park, May 2018

Derived from an Abenaki word, “monadnock” is used by geologists to describe a mountain that stands alone, rising abruptly from a plain and separate from a broader mountain range. Mount Monadnock (3,165’) in southern New Hampshire aptly fits the description: a rocky and prominent peak that towers over the small city of Keene and features 360-degree views that, on a clear day, extend as far as Boston, Massachusetts. Situated in Monadnock State Park, there are numerous trails that lead to the summit, but the shortest and most popular is the White Dot Trail, a 1.8-mile journey through pine forests and past granite faces, culminating in excellent vistas.

Mount Monadnock hike information

Mount Monadnock White Dot Trail map

Map of Mount Monadnock via White Dot Trail, Monadnock State Park; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

Start your hike at the parking area off Poole Road in the southeast section of Monadnock State Park, near the Park Headquarters. Following a well-trodden path through thick woods, the trail cuts across an upper parking area (closed for most visitors) in around 150 yards. A large sign marks the way to the White Dot Trail, which quickly passes a small Visitor Center on the right.


Start of White Dot Trail

From here, hikers leave the buildings and parking lots beind, entering a hardwood forest and traversing a path chock full of rocks and tree roots. The incline at first is gradual, but it begins to pick up in earnest after an initial trail fork at 6/10 mile with the White Cross Trail. (Note: stay right on the White Dot Trail.) Just beyond a second junction (with the Cascade Link at 0.75 miles), the wide path becomes a rock scramble as hikers are required to traverse the cracks of an otherwise smooth granite slope.


Rocky trail


Rocky climb

In the course of the next ¼ mile, hikers must mount a series of ledges—a climb that may require use of hands for balance but is not technical. Just past the 1-mile mark, the route briefly levels off and passes a sign marking the halfway point (although it is technically mile 1.0 of 1.8). Before long, hikers will climb a rocky staircase to the edge of a rock outcrop with outstanding views to the south and east. A smattering of blue ponds is visible in the flat below, and the mountains in the distance are part of the Wapack Range.


Emergence above the trees


View northeast

As the trail continues, the trees are increasingly sparse, allowing for more expansive views. Hikers will have to negotiate several more granite climbs before the path briefly plateaus atop a stony ridgeline at about 1.3 miles. From here, the summit is visible—still a ½ mile away with several hundred feet in elevation gain.


View toward the summit of Mount Monadnock

Weaving in and out of spruce forests, the trail makes its way in the direction of the summit, passing the junction with the White Cross Trail (an alternative route up and down the mountain) at 1.6 miles. Shortly after, the White Dot Trail drops into a pleasant wooded ravine known as Paradise Valley, then resumes the climb, traversing a granite slope with interesting striations cutting across the rock.


Interesting rock along the White Dot Trail

As the trail wraps around to the south side of the mountain, the wind is likely to pick up considerably. The final stretch to the summit is largely free of vegetation, leaving little to protect hikers from the wind and full sun. Following the cairns to the top, the trail ends at the summit, the culmination of 1.8 miles and nearly 1,800 feet in elevation.


Near the summit


Approaching the summit

Panoramic views from Mount Monadnock include a look toward the White Mountains to the north and as far as the skyline of Boston to the southeast. The Green Mountains of Vermont dominate the horizon to the west. In the foreground, the mountain drops down a wooded ridgeline to the south known as Bald Rock, with views of Massachusetts beyond.


Summit views


South to Bald Rock

Mount Monadnock was once the stomping grounds of transcendentalist authors Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and one can understand why: the serenity and beauty of the mountain inspires deep reflection. Much has changed since the 19th century, however: Mount Monadnock is now thought to be the third-most climbed mountain in the world, behind China’s Tai Shan and Japan’s Mount Fuji, and you will be very lucky to have the summit to yourself.


Views from Mount Monadnock

From the summit, trails descend in all directions. After taking in the views, be sure to return the way you came, following the White Dot Trail back down to Paradise Valley and beyond. Hikers looking for a change can follow the White Cross Trail, which largely parallels the White Dot before merging again, but the White Dot Trail remains the quickest route back to the trailhead.

Allot at least 3-5 hours for this short but strenuous hike.

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Eleanor’s Walk Trail (Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, NY)


Eleanor’s Walk Trail, Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, May 2018

Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States and the first US delegate to the United Nations, lived part of her life at Val-Kill, a quiet, wooded estate in Hyde Park, New York, just east of her husband Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s home at Springwood. Val-Kill is today protected as part of Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site and serves as the jumping-off point for a pair of hikes: the Top Cottage Trail and the Eleanor’s Walk Trail. While the former was the subject of a previous post, this post covers Eleanor’s Walk, a short and easy circuit through part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s wooded estate. (Note: There is an accompanying podcast for the trail!)

Eleanors Walk Trail hike information

The hike

Start your journey at Val-Kill in Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, situated in eastern Hyde Park. Visitors are required to park off to the left before approaching Val-Kill Cottage, then cross over a bridge to reach the cottage and Visitor Center. Behind the main buildings, which were constructed in 1924-26, follow the road to the stable/garage. Here a spur road heads off to the right; the end of the dead-end drive serves as the trailhead for Eleanor’s Walk and the Top Cottage Trail.



Follow the wide path for around 100 yards, when you will reach a trail junction. Bear right on Eleanor’s Walk, leaving the Top Cottage Trail for later. The red-blazed Eleanor’s Walk bears southeast, crossing a minor stream named Fall Kill. Eleanor frequently walked these woods with her dogs, giving her time and space to think, drawing up plans as she served as US delegate to the United Nations and a prominent advocate for international human rights.


Power lines

At 1/10 mile, the trail forks again, marking the start of the loop section of Eleanor’s Walk. Heading left first, the path quickly emerges into a sunny clearing, passing under a set of power lines. Returning to the woods, the trail climbs up an old track, cresting a modest hill at 2/10 mile. The landscape around here is a wooded swamp, typified by a boggy pond at 3/10 mile. During Eleanor Roosevelt’s time, she would encounter herons, ducks, beavers, and other marsh-loving fauna during her daily walks.


Pond along the Eleanor’s Walk Trail

At 4/10 mile, hikers will encounter a second pond before dropping through a minor, rock-lined ravine. Passing back under the power lines at 6/10 mile, the trail bears north, the final stretch back to the start of the loop. On the left, a subtle spur trail leads to a beaver dam and large pond, with residential houses beyond. At 9/10 mile, the path returns to the start of the loop; bear left, then bear left again at the merger with the Top Cottage Trail. Within 100 yards, you will return to Val-Kill.


Eleanor’s Walk Trail

Extra credit

After stretching your legs on the Eleanor’s Walk Trail, climb the moderately-difficult path to Top Cottage, or visit the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Springwood, where FDR and Eleanor are buried, or nearby Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.

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