Fantastic views of Greenwood Lake and the surrounding area, Surprise Lake, multiple scrambles.
7.3 or 4.1 miles. Surface is rugged and rocky, with multiple challenging scrambling areas. The initial part of the trail is steep. Dogs might have issues negotiating many of the scrambles.
- This Route: 7.3 miles – The main Surprise Lake loop plus a jaunt north into NY for great views from the AT on Bellvale Mtn.
- Shorter: 4.1 miles – Skip the AT extension to Bellvale Mtn. Marked in the description below.
- Even Shorter: 2.5 miles – Go to Surprise Lake, bust our your lunch/snacks, and then retrace.
- Short-n-Sweet: 2.0 miles – State Line trail steeply to the ridge on Ernest Walker. Enjoy the view, then retrace.
- Similar Route: 7.6 miles – The main loop plus a romp south down the AT. [Bearfort Mountain – State Line, Surprise Lake, Ernest Walter, AT South]
- Option: To Surprise Lake via the Bearfort Ridge trail from a different parking area.
Our two cents:
Lots of views, a lake, a pond, scrambling, and probably our favorite rhododendron tunnel in the state.
Even though it’s not a long hike, the rock scrambles make it more challenging (or fun, depending on your tastes…) than the average ~7 mile hike.
The shorter 4.1 loop is a solid hike on it’s own. Some low-flying small airplane noise. While you may see people swimming in Surprise Lake, it is prohibited.
Updated: 6/2020 – Page refreshed, not re-hiked. 7/2017 – re-hiked, tweaked description, added side trail to West Pond, added GPX.
North Jersey Trails is best, you can get by with the basic park map but it doesn’t contain the NY section of the AT.
Not aware of a book that includes the out-and-back section of the AT for extra viewpoints like this route. An excellent variation is in 50 Hikes in New Jersey and 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: New York City. The shorter 4.1 loop can be found in Hike of the Week, Take a Hike New York City, Best Day Hikes Near New York City, and Hiking the Jersey Highlands.
Parking: N41.18577° W74.33197°
287N to exit 55, take Rt 511 towards Wanaque. Follow 511 as it makes a right (Lakeside Rd) and hugs the west side of Greenwood Lake. Take it all the way to just before the NY border (if you hit the border, you went too far).
The parking is tough to spot: just past a white guardrail on the left, across from Greenwood lake Marina, turn left into a lot and go straight back, past the first parking areas for the marina.
Heed the signs denoting where it’s OK to park for hikers: at the back by the kiosk and along the left side – do not park in the marina lot. Parking is very limited, like 10 – 15 cars or so, and is often filled.
Porta-john in the lot as of 7/16.17. Gas station at the corner of Lakeside Rd., and before that on 511.
Overview: State Line (BLUE on WHITE) to Ernest Walker (YELLOW) to Appalachian Trail (WHITE) to State Line (BLUE on WHITE).
0.0 – Follow State Line Trail (BLUE on WHITE) starts out along a stream and then heads steeply uphill. There are a few unmarked side trails to ignore.
0.7 – Turn left onto Ernest Walker (YELLOW). Trail continues steeply uphill.
0.8 – Awesome views overlooking Greenwood Lake. Enjoy the views as the trail follows the ridge for a bit before ducking back into the woods.
[Shorter Variation: Turn around for a short-n-sweet but steep 2 mile round trip].
1.0 – Ernest Walker (YELLOW) turns RIGHT, heading away from the ridge and into the woods.
1.2 – Surprise Lake. The lake just kind of appears without warning… assuming this is how it was named. There are a few rocky areas to sit by the lake, connected by a casual path.
/// Shorter Variation: Turn around for a 2.5 mile round trip. ///
Find the tree with orange and yellow markers (with your back to the lake, it’s off towards the right). Keep following Ernest Walker (YELLOW) as it veers off to the RIGHT when Quail (ORANGE) continues ahead.
Pass through a long rhododendron tunnel and a bit of a scramble down. Then it’s on to some big rocks and a wet area to rock hop across. Head steeply up, with a scramble up a rock face.
1.7 – Viewpoint. The NYC skyline might be spotted faintly in the distance.
Continue on Ernest Walker (YELLOW). [This can be easy to miss and instead turn onto the start of Bearfort Ridge (WHITE) that heads away to the left].
Multiple rock scrambles up and down, in varying degrees of difficulty along this whole section.
1.8 – Turn RIGHT to out-and-back an unmarked side trail to a nice view over West Pond.
2.1 – Follow Ernest Walker (YELLOW) as it turns sharp right.
2.7 – Ernest Walker (YELLOW) ends at the junction with the Appalachian Trail (WHITE). The AT goes RIGHT (North) or LEFT (South).
Turn RIGHT, now heading north on the Appalachian Trail (WHITE). Follow the AT for a bit with some scrambling.
VARIATION: turn LEFT instead to head south on the AT. [note: that section of the AT is just OK, and we felt in paled in comparison to the quality of the rest of this hike. Also, this section of the park gets close to neighborhoods and was noisier.
In fact, we had planned to go further on the AT and decided not to because of this.] If you turn around at Longhouse Drive, this hike will be 7.6 miles total. [see post Bearfort Ridge – State Line Trail/Ernest Walter/AT]
3.0 – Continue following Appalachian Trail (WHITE). [State Line (BLUE on WHITE) starts on the right.]
///Shorter Variation: For the 4.1 mile loop, turn RIGHT to start following State Line (BLUE on WHITE) and take that back to the parking lot. ///
The NJ/NY state line is painted in white on the ground near an Appalachian Trail geologic marker
and a trail book. You can pause here to get your photo taken with one foot in each state. Go ahead, we know you need to.
3.4 – Appalachian Trail (WHITE) follows along the ridge with nice views, to a viewpoint marked as “Prospect Rock” on the map. Shortly after this, pass a BLUE trail on the LEFT (though we did not notice this the last time we hiked this).
3.5 – Go straight out to a rock outcrop for a wide view over New York before following the Appalachian Trail (WHITE) as it heads down to the RIGHT.
(We usually blow right by the turn for the AT anyway and end up at the viewpoint and not even notice the sharp right for the trail).
/// Shorter Variation: This is a good turn around point if you want to skip some scrambles and a long section of forested trail. ///
Scramble across a slanted rock face, using a ridge in the rock as a handhold. The Appalachian Trail (WHITE) is now off the ridge and back in the forest. The trail is shady, but very rocky, and potentially pretty wet after heavy rain.
4.3 – Rock-hop a stream.
Approaching the viewpoint are some large rocks, then skinny iron rungs to assist going up a rock face (used to be a wooden ladder when we last hiked in 2011).
The rungs go up about a 6 feet section and the final one on the left is a handhold. After the rungs is another scramble up.
Like most scrambles, going up is easier than down. [Dogs would likely have issue getting up the rungs and probably the scramble].
4.6 – Viewpoint looking back at Greenwood Lake, and NY. Retrace the route on the Appalachian Trail (WHITE) back to Jersey.
6.2 – Turn LEFT to follow State Line (BLUE on WHITE) to the parking lot.
Hiked: 7/16/17 (AT north). Trail Blog: “Bearfort Mountain – State Line to Surprise Lake in Summer“
Hiked: 10/23/11 (AT north). Trail Blog: “Bearfort Mountain – State Line to Surprise Lake in October“
Hiked: 4/3/2010 (AT south). Trail Blog: “Bearfort Mountain – State Line, Surprise Lake, Ernest Walter, AT South“