Hike from the old Cooper Mill through the Black River Gorge and a pine forest, with a side trip to the ruins of Kay’s Cottage.
7.2 miles, or variations below. Roots, minor rocks, and some moderately steep sections.
Sections of muddy crossings on rocks/branches very early on when we last hiked here, but we’d had a lot of rain. Bamboo Brook Trail requires about 5-10 min. of walking along Pottersville Road (little traffic).
- 7.2 miles – The route we took, described below.
- 6.4 miles – This route, without the side trip to Kay’s Cottage (indicated below).
- 3.8 miles – Black River Trail to Kay Environmental Center, and back.
- Easy/Short – The beginning section of Black River Trail from Cooper Mill is easy and makes for a nice short stroll along the river – just go as far as you like then retrace your steps. To the spillway is about 0.8 miles one way.
- Longer: Combine with Hacklebarney or Schooley’s Mountain, either is roughly 15 min away.
- REALLY long – Check our trail blog for a challenging 14.8 loop from Cooper Mill to Willowbrook Arboretum and back. (note: our write-up is brief and potentially outdated, as we hiked it in 2008.)
Our two cents: Along the river is especially stunning in fall. The loop can be done in either direction, but this way puts the most scenic – and harder – sections in the beginning when you’re fresher.
Updates: 11/2018 – Re-hiked the first section to the spillway only. Added fall photos. 11/3/17 – Updated map/park link. 7/11/14 – Re-hiked, route adjusted, GPX added.
Trail Map: Print ahead. The kiosk might have trail maps too.
NOTE: there are two BLUE trails on the map. Black River Trail (Cooper Mill to Kay’s Environmental Center) and Bamboo Brook Trail (Kay’s Environmental Center to Bamboo Brook Center)Books: Hiking the Jersey Highlands, Hike of the Week, and 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: New York City have this route in the other direction, and without the side trip to Kay’s ruins.
50 Hikes in New Jersey has a different route; a shuttle option (or a 13.2 mile out-n-back) to Bamboo Brook.
After returning from the cottage, the map shows the trail as “Green Blaze Trail”, but after that, you are actually on the Red Conifer Pass Trail, which the book’s map does not show. It also does not denote the end of Conifer and the start of Bamboo Brook Trail.
Parking: N40 46.698 W74 43.217
Directions found on the Cooper Mill site. Parking is also available at Kay’s Environmental Center, which meets up with the trails here.
Restrooms: Porta-johns in the parking lot. The bathroom building always seems to be roped off.
Overview: BLUE (Black River Trail) – Unmarked – GREEN – RED (Conifer Pass) – BLUE (Bamboo Brook) – BLUE (Black River Trail)
From the parking lot, walk towards the Mill.
0.0 – Walk down some steps. Cross a small footbridge and follow BLUE (Black River Trail).
The trail follows the river, passes Kay’s pond, and a fenced-in area of the old Hacklebarney mine.
1.2 – The trail splits. Bear right onto an unmarked path.
(the BLUE trail markers indicate a left turn here, which would lead to Kay’s Environmental Center instead) GPS: BlackRiverTr/Unmarked
1.4 – Turn RIGHT onto an unmarked trail (There are one or two unmarked trails before this, this one is a rather wide path.)
Note this junction, as you’ll return here after the side trip. GPS: ToKaysCottage
[Option: Skipping this side trip to Kay’s Cottage removes about .8 mile from the total. Don’t turn right here, keep straight.]
Immediately pass GREEN on the left (GPS: GrnToDam; unmarked on right).
Before the footbridge, pass another unmarked trail on the left.
Cross the Black River on the wooden bridge and continue following the unmarked trail as it heads uphill.
The river will come into view, keep an eye out on the left for stone steps leading down.
Take the steps downhill to the ruins of Kay’s Cottage next to a dam GPS: KaysCottage (or continue to the path’s end a little bit further down).
When ready, retrace your steps.
2.2 – Back to the same spot as 1.4 above. GPS: ToKaysCottage
Turn RIGHT and follow the trail uphill – at some point, this unmarked trail becomes GREEN on the map.
2.3 – Trail splits. The markings are not obvious in this direction but are on the other side of the tree.
Take the RIGHT fork and now follow RED (Conifer Pass Trail). GPS: ConiferPass/GRN
The RED (Conifer Pass Trail) follows along the other side of the river. Kay’s Cottage ruins can be glimpsed from this side, seasonally.
The trail heads steeply up when it starts to veer away from the river and goes up and down a few times.
Ignore several casual trails coming in from the right. Marvel at the bathtub plopped right next to the trail (a remnant from when farms used to reuse items for troughs, etc).
Continue through a section of pine forest, and cross a small stream.
3.9 – Cross Pottersville Road.
4.2 – Large directional signs. RED (Conifer Pass) ends; now turn LEFT to start following BLUE (Bamboo Brook). GPS: ConiferPass/BambooBrook
[BLUE also goes to the right, which leads to Bamboo Brook Educational Center]
4.8 – Again arrive at Pottersville Road. Turn RIGHT and walk along the shoulder of the road until the driveway for Kay’s Environmental Center.
4.9 – Turn LEFT onto the driveway for Kay’s Environmental Center. Walk down the paved park road.
5.2 – Watch for BLUE markers indicating to veer LEFT off of the pavement. GPS: BlueMarkers.
Make a quick RIGHT down a grassy woods road (marker with a #3).
Follow BLUE (Bamboo Brook) to Kay’s Environmental Center and through the parking lot.
5.4 – At the end of the lot, turn LEFT and follow a short connector trail w/ RED and BLUE blazes. GPS: KayCenter.
Shortly, turn RIGHT.
5.6 – Large directional sign states 1.6 miles back to Cooper Mill. Turn RIGHT, following BLUE (Black River Trail) back to the lot. GPS: ConiferPass/BlackRiver
Hiked 11/4/18. Just to the spillway and back, 1.6 m RT.
Hiked 7/6/14. Trail Blog: “Black River County Park – Kay’s Cottage, Conifer Pass, Bamboo Brook – from Chubb Park“
Hiked: 10/31/10. Trail Blog: “Black River and Cooper Mill on Halloween”
Hiked: 9/7/08. Trail Blog: “Black River County Park“; 14.8 miles
Hiked: 2/26/06. Trail Blog: “Black River and Cooper Mill in Winter”