Bearfort Ridge – Surprise Lake

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Rugged trail to Surprise Lake with plenty of views, mountain laurel, a rhododendron tunnel, and some scrambling.

5.9 miles. While this trail is not long, it is challenging due to the rapid up and down of the ridge trail and some rock scramble sections throughout. The return is easier on a woods road.

Our two cents:

This route is consistently awesome. While even some of the nicest trails can have sections that are a little bit of drudge or are kinda ‘meh’ – there just isn’t a dull or sub-par section of this route.

Beautiful hemlock forest, interesting trail, a bit of scrambling, views, and a pretty destination to work towards – all packed into less than 6 miles. The downside is the popularity of Surprise Lake.

Updated: 8/2020 – Description adjusted to reflect recent trail changes, but was not re-hiked. Thanks to Nicole T. for letting us know the directions remain the same, just the name/colors are changed.

7/2020 – Page refreshed, not re-hiked. 8/2017: Updated main photo; minor tweaks. 6/2014 – Re-hiked, description updated, new photos and GPX.

Map:

Note 8/2020: The description below has been updated to reflect major changes to trail names and blazes – but we have not hiked it since the changes. See Trail Improvements at Abram S. Hewitt for info and maps.

North Jersey Trails is best once it’s updated and there is a basic one on the park site that is now outdated. The route remains the same, just the colors have changed:

Changes: GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop) was WHITE (Bearfort Ridge). ORANGE (Quail) is gone and now part of GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop). Bearfort Ridge Spur (BLACK on GREEN) was WHITE (Bearfort Ridge). Bearfort Ridge Connector (BLUE on GREEN) was BLUE.

Books:

This hike appears in Hiking New Jersey, Hiking the Jersey Highlands and Hike of the Week.

Longer variations can be found in 50 Hikes in New Jersey and 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: New York City. Individual trail descriptions are found in The New Jersey Walk Book.

Parking: N41.15572° W74.36273°

Rt 287 N to exit 55, follow 511 North through Wanaque. Bear left at the Y-intersection with Skyline Drive.

Keep straight past the intersection with Lakeside Road, following Rt 513. Stay straight at the fork, becoming Warwick Turnpike.

Look for a pullout on the right side, just after the trail head and a concrete bridge/guardrail – but before White Road. Easy to miss, with space for a handful of cars.

Walk back down the road over the concrete bridge to the trail head – be very careful as there isn’t much shoulder. There is trail sign for the “Jeremy Glick” trail and “Bearfort Ridge Trail”.

N41.15647° W74.36358° – Another pullout on the right, just up the road from the 1st.

N41.15486° W74.36042° – On the left before these two is a dirt pullout that seems to get used as parking, though it is not marked as such on the trail map.

N41.15757° W74.36742°Pullout for Terrace North Trail further down, on the right. From this, take the Bearfort Ridge Connector (BLUE GREEN) from the pullout which will meet up with this description as noted below.

Restrooms:

None. Best bet are gas stations along 511, there is one nearest the trail head at the intersection of Lakeside Rd.

Also: Porta-john at the Monksville reservoir on Rt 511. Look for the “Long Pond Ironworks” park sign on the left and follow the driveway down.

Restrooms are at the visitor center for Long Pond Ironworks but usually open very limited hours (Usually 1-4).

Hike Directions:

Overview: GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop)

Note: Photos show the old trail blazes of WHITE and ORANGE.

Bearfort Ridge trail

0.0 – Start following GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop).

The trail is immediately very pretty, but there is some road noise for a little bit (the downside of being in Jersey – never that far from a road).

0.1 – Soon, follow GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop) as it turns left, and then left again where it meets the return route of GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop).

The trail starts to climb up to the ridge.

0.7 – Continue following GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop), heading uphill.

[Bearfort Ridge Connector (BLUE on GREEN) comes in from the left but we didn’t even notice it this time (if you parked at the 2nd pullout, this is where you join this route)]

Scramble up a large rock for this view

0.9 – Scramble up a large rock on the left, to a viewpoint looking to the west and south.

Clamber back down and continue on GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop) – watch for the blazes as the trail turns and heads up a small scramble across from the rock.

1.7 – Follow GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop) is it makes a sharp right downhill, noted by a cairn (pile-o-rocks). right and down a steep scramble.

Rock hop over a wet area on the Bearfort Ridge trail

2.0 – Arrive at a huge rock cleft – a large slab of rock has vertically sheered away from the larger rock face. It overlooks an overgrown swampy area.

Rock cleft

2.8 – An open area with views to the east.

View along the Bearfort Ridge trail

2.9 – Another viewpoint. Turn RIGHT. Continue on GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop) which is now co-joined with YELLOW (Ernest Walker).

[YELLOW (Ernest Walker) also goes left, which can be used to make a longer hike.]

Ernest Walker trail
Wet area to cross on Ernest Walker trail

GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop) drops steeply down a little rock scramble, then goes through a wet area crossed by rock-hopping.

On the approach to Surprise Lake, the trail goes through a long “tunnel” of rhododendron which is really nice.

Rhododendron Tunnel on the Ernest Walker trail

3.3 – Almost to the lake, GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop) meets up with the return leg of the loop.

Follow YELLOW (Ernest Walker) to the left and arrive at…

3.3 – Surprise Lake. There are some rocks to sit on in a few areas. This is a popular spot, so there’s a good chance that people will be here.

Surprise Lake

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Optional .6 mile add-on to a terrific view: With your back to the lake, turn LEFT and continue on YELLOW (Ernest Walker).

Soon, arrive at a rocky outcrop with a view… but wait! keep going – it gets better… keep following YELLOW (Ernest Walker) for an expansive view over Greenwood Lake and into NY.

View over Greenwood Lake from the Ernest Walker trail
View over Greenwood Lake and looking into NY from the Ernest Walker trail

Retrace back to the lake.
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From the lake, head back how you came on the YELLOW (Ernest Walker) trail. Veer LEFT and now follow GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop).

Quail trail

/// Variation: Instead of taking GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop) to the left, veer right onto GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop) to return via the same route you came in on. It’s a little longer plus it’s more challenging. ///

This section of GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop) is a wide woods road but is eroded and can be quite wet, requiring some rock hopping.

The trail this way is easier and just as pretty, although it is lower so there aren’t any views.

Rock hop on the Quail trail

The trail starts a gradual descent.

5.1 – Pass a small water cascade on the right.

Water Cascade along the Quail trail

Follow GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop) as it turns RIGHT when an unmarked woods road is to the left.

5.8 – GREEN (Bearfort Ridge Loop) ends.

Follow Bearfort Ridge Spur (BLACK on GREEN) straight and then as it veers to the RIGHT, downhill to the trail head.

Turn right on the road and walk to the car pullout.


Hiked: 6/14/14.Trail Blog: “Bearfort Ridge to Surprise Lake – Hemlock Forest and Ridge Views
Hiked: 6/28/09. Trail Blog: “Bearfort Ridge to Surprise Lake in Summer
Hiked: 10/3/04.