Ramapo Mountain State Forest

Ramapo - Van Slyke CastleThis route takes in Ramapo Lake, Van Slyke Castle* ruins, plus views of the surrounding area and of NYC.

Ramapo Mountain State Forest, located in Bergen and Passaic Counties, contains a popular, extensive network of trails. It’s easy to create loops of any length and there is a lot to see, even on a short loop.

This is a very, very popular area, especially going to and around the lake. But the further you hike away from the lake/castle area, the less crowded this park becomes.

Updated 11/21/13 – Updated description and GPS file, added new photos taken in the fall. For spring photos, check our post Ramapo Mountain State Forest – Van Slyke Castle from 2009.

*The The New Jersey Walk Book calls it “Foxcroft Mansion” (p.93), and online sources refer to it as Van Slyke Castle. This site has a photo of how the castle once looked, and some history.

10 miles, moderate trail surface, many moderate elevation changes. Some of this route is overgrown and grassy. The route described below is long, but there are indications in the description for shorter hikes, including these 2 popular routes:

  • BLUE (MacEvoy) to Ramapo Lake. You can also go around the lake on an easy woods road or pick up many other trails from the area.(About 1.2 miles roundtrip to the lake, more if you wander around the lake)
  • BLUE (MacEvoy) to WHITE (Castle) up a bit of steep climb to the ruins of the Van Slyke Castle and water tower. From the water tower, there is a view of NYC. (About 3.2 miles roundtrip)

Our two cents: If you do the short hikes listed, they are easy to moderate. The long loop is only for experienced hikers in decent shape, and there are a lot of trail intersections to navigate. Busy Skyline Drive must be crossed twice. While not quite as bad as Frogger, it can be tricky nonetheless. Parts of the route do suffer from road noise.

Map: North Jersey Trails is best, or use this online B&W Ramapo Valley County Reservation trail map.

Books: A shorter variation and map that includes the castle is in Take a Hike New York City, a longer route and map diagram can be found in 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: New York City, and trail descriptions can be found in The New Jersey Walk Book.

Parking: N41 01.948 W74 15.131

Rt 287 to Exit 57, north on Skyline Drive briefly – the “lower” parking lot is on the left, there is a large wooden sign but it comes up kind of suddenly. The entrance is pretty rutted, so take it easy if you have a low-clearance vehicle. This popular trail head lot fills up quickly.

There is another parking area further north on Skyline drive – the “upper” lot. The trails from that will lead to the lake area via Hoeferlin (YELLOW) or Cannonball, plus you can pick up Schuber (ORANGE) or Todd (WHITE) to head north.

Restrooms: Porta-John in the lower parking lot. The upper lot does not have one; but we have not been to it in awhile so not 100% sure on that.

Hike Directions: At the far end of the parking lot, walk toward the trail and stone wall ruins to pick up the BLUE (MacEvoy) trail.

The trail is immediately very pretty – the shady trail wanders near a stream and gently heads uphill towards the lake. The trail is very rocky, with a minor half-scramble and then an easy rock hop over a small stream. [Streams may be seasonal; flowing in spring 2009 but not in fall 2013]

0.4 – Pass the start of the Todd trail (WHITE) on your right.

0.6 – YELLOW (Hoeferlin Memorial) comes in on the right and the trail is briefly BLUE/YELLOW co-aligned as you approach the lake. Watch for the markers to indicate a LEFT turn with the lake visible. In a few steps turn LEFT again onto a dirt road and then make a quick RIGHT. Continue following BLUE (MacEvoy) on an easy dirt road as it hugs the north side of Ramapo Lake.

There are many spots to sit and/or view the lake. [Shorter option: Turn around here for an easy 1.2 mile roundtrip hike, or go around the lake all or part-way for a short loop]

1.1 – Near the end of the lake, BLUE (MacEvoy) turns RIGHT away from the lake and heads uphill through 2 stone posts. [A woods road continues straight and goes around the lake.]

Just ahead look for blazes on a tree, indicating the start of Castle Point (WHITE) and that MacEvoy (BLUE) leaves to the LEFT. Start following Castle Point (WHITE) as it bears RIGHT and heads uphill on a woods road.

Shortly, turn LEFT at the trail sign, continuing on Castle Point (WHITE) as it leaves the woods road and is back on a trail. [The woods road continues uphill. You may also spot Cannonball (RED circle with a WHITE C) blazes, which is also co-aligned here].

Head uphill, steeply and scramble over a low stone wall. On a clear day the NYC skyline may be visible behind you.

1.4 – Arrive at the overgrown remains of the Van Slyke Castle – basically stone walls and some pipes. [The last time we hiked this in 2009 the area was filled with poison ivy which was now gone].

Follow the Castle Point (WHITE) markers around the edge of the ruins. Once past the ruins, bear LEFT and continue following Castle Point (WHITE). (There are two unmarked paths as well, coming from the other side of the ruin).

Continue on Castle Point (WHITE) with a viewpoint on the left, overlooking a lake in the distance. Also pass the ruins of a swimming pool for the mansion.

1.6 – Arrive at a large stone tower that used to hold a water cistern for the mansion. There are views of NYC on a clear day to the east. You may need to walk on the rock outcrop a bit and peek through the trees. [Shorter option: Turnaround and retrace your steps, for a 3.2 mile roundtrip hike]

Continue on Castle Point (WHITE), passing various viewpoints on the left.

1.8 – Watch the Castle Point (WHITE) blazes here, it is very clearly marked but after a LEFT there is a very quick RIGHT that is easy to miss because the path continues straight as well.

Continue on Castle Point (WHITE) as it turns RIGHT onto a pipeline clearing for a bit, before turning back into the woods. Climb rather steeply to a rock outcrop and start to hear road noise.

2.2 – Castle Point (WHITE) ends at a paved path. Turn LEFT and start following the Cannonball(RED circle with a WHITE C). Immediately cross Skyline Drive.

2.3 – Continue following Cannonball (RED circle with a WHITE C) as Hoeferlin trail (YELLOW) comes in from the right and is co-joined now. The trail is an easy woods road but is parallel to Skyline Drive so there is a lot of road noise.

2.9 – Open area for a pipe line. The blazes are not immediately obvious, look for some large cement blocks straight ahead on the other side of the clearing and there will be blazes there. Continue following Hoeferlin trail (YELLOW)/Cannonball (RED circle with a WHITE C).

3.3 – Continue straight on Hoeferlin trail (YELLOW)/Cannonball (RED circle with a WHITE C) as Matapan Rock (RED) crosses left and right. The trail now veers away from the road so the road noise lessens.

3.9 – Trail splits in a Y. Bear RIGHT on Cannonball (RED circle with a WHITE C). [Hoeferlin (Yellow) goes to the left.]

4.7 – Intersection with Old Guard (GREEN LEAF on WHITE). Turn RIGHT following the very briefly co-joined Old Guard and Cannonball.

Arrive at a T and turn RIGHT and start following Old Guard (GREEN LEAF on WHITE). [Cannonball (RED circle with a WHITE C) goes the left]. You almost half-way in this route; now turning south back towards the parking lot.

Cross the pipeline cut.

4.9 – Watch for the blazes indicating a RIGHT turn for Old Guard (GREEN LEAF on WHITE) where a woods road goes straight.

5.3 – Continue following Old Guard (GREEN LEAF on WHITE) which is now also Schuber (ORANGE). There may be a stream you can take a break by in this area… it was nice in spring 2009, but dry in fall 2013. [Schuber (ORANGE) also goes to the left.]

5.5 miles – Camp Glen Grey buildings are in this area. Continue following Old Guard (GREEN LEAF on WHITE) as Schuber (ORANGE) turns right and crosses the water on a bridge.

Continue straight on Old Guard (GREEN LEAF on WHITE), following Fox Brook in a pleasant area. The trail may be hard to spot as it weaves through the trees. There are some picnic tables in the camp.

5.9 – Lake Vreeland comes into view. Continue to follow Old Guard (GREEN LEAF on WHITE) which is on the camp road.

Pass a dam and another camp building before arriving at a gravel parking lot. Bathroom buildings here were locked. Walk through the lot and past the buildings and look for Millstone (WHITE) on the left.

6.2 – Turn LEFT and start following Millstone (WHITE), crossing the stream on a bridge and heading away from the Camp and through some shady, pleasant forest.

6.4 – Turn RIGHT and follow YELLOW (Diamond)/Millstone (WHITE). [YELLOW (Diamond) also goes left]

Cross Fox Brook on two bridges, then cross Midvale Mountain Road. Head uphill.

6.9 – Old millstones are laying on the ground, and this makes a nice rest spot. At this point, Millstone (WHITE), and YELLOW (Diamond) split; start following only YELLOW (Diamond) now.

The trail becomes quite narrow and overgrown with tall grass. There are some views of the surrounding hills in the area as well as NYC in the distance, though mostly obscured by trees. The trail starts to head downhill.

7.5 – Rock-hop the first of two stream crossings (or, they may be dry), then start heading steeply uphill. At the top of the hill, a blue water tower is visible in the distance. Continue following YELLOW (Diamond).

8.1 – Arrive at Todd Lake which is covered in lily pads.

8.2 – Arrive at a T where YELLOW ends and TODD (WHITE) goes left and right on a woods road. Turn LEFT onto the woods road to start following TODD (WHITE). Markers may not be immediately visible.

Walk a short ways and turn RIGHT, still following the TODD (WHITE). Walk uphill to views of the east and a lake before heading down steeply.

9.1 – Cross Skyline Drive. Traffic can be heavy and the other side has little shoulder to stand in while hopping over a guard rail. Continue following TODD (WHITE).

9.6 – Meet up with MacEvoy (Blue), where you where earlier. [TODD (WHITE) ends] Turn LEFT and retrace MacEvoy (Blue), back to the lot.

Hiked: 10/25/13
Hiked: 7/12/09. Trail Blog: “Ramapo Mountain State Forest – Van Slyke Castle