This route starts at NJ’s highest waterfall, Buttermilk Falls. Hike steeply uphill to the Appalachian Trail to Crater Lake and Hemlock Pond.
7.5 miles – Moderate trail surface; steep in the beginning (so again at the end), some rocky sections but also a lot of really easy woods roads.
- Super short: Just climb up the stairs around the falls and enjoy. You can continue on the BLUE trail at top, but be aware it is quite steep right from the start and more than a stroll in the woods. Consider stopping at Tillman Ravine on the way to the Falls and doing a couple mile hike around there, and then stopping at Buttermilk for a look.
- Medium: Buttermilk Falls trail to an unmarked woods road to Hemlock Pond and return; roughly 5 miles.
- Alternate Medium: Good 6.4 loop to Rattlesnake Mtn, w/o Crater or Hemlock, is in Hiking New Jersey.
- Optional add-on: Silver Spray Falls (Hidden Falls) trailhead is about .5 mile from Buttermilk Falls (walk north along Mountain road, trailhead is unmarked, there is a pull off area with room for 1, maybe 2 cars). Then it’s about .25 miles from the trailhead to the falls. Cross the stream or you’ll miss it. Trying to locate these falls is part of the fun, and people often don’t find them on the first attempt.
Our two cents: Buttermilk Falls is mere steps away from a parking lot and requires no hiking to see it, so this means the area can get crowded. A set of elaborate stairs can be climbed to get other views of the waterfall. The route below is to continue up past the falls to Crater Lake and Hemlock Pond for an awesome day out.
Update 1/2018 – Added winter parking note. 4/2016 – Minor description changes; only hiked to falls for photos. 6/2013 – Trail description and GPS coordinates revised, more photos and a video of the falls added.
Map: Map# 121 of the Kittatinny Trails map set. The portion of this route that loops around Crater Lake can be confusing; we strongly recommend to have the map set with you, and if possible, our GPS coordinates loaded in a GPS/smartphone.
Parking: N41 08.221 W74 53.350
The lot is a medium-sized dirt lot, reached by a dirt road that has bumps and potholes – many are rather deep. Mountain Road is fine with a regular car if you take it slow – but if you tool around in a really sweet ride you may want to have someone else drive :) or park at either end and walk down the road to the falls.
Rt. 206 N, past Culver’s Lake. Left onto Struble Road. This becomes Dimon Road. Pass two parking areas on the left for Tillman Ravine. At the intersection near Walpack Cemetery, turn left onto Mountain Road. Keep going on Mountain Road until you see a large dirt lot on the right with Buttermilk Falls on the left, right next to the road and can’t be missed.
Alternate: Parking can be approached from the other direction: North on Rt 602 through Millbrook, R onto park road 615 Walpack Flatbrook Road, R on Haney’s Mill, and cross a bridge on to Mountain Road, the falls parking is on the left about a mile in – although we feel the 206 way is easier.
Winter: Many roads in the area are gated in January or at first significant snowfall so you’ll need to walk down Mountain Road to access the falls. For roughly a mile road walk, use the alternate directions above, park at the gate, and walk from there. You can also park on the other end at Walpack Cemetery but from there it’s almost a 2 mile walk down Mountain Road.
Buttermilk Falls after recent rainfall:
Restrooms: None at the Falls parking. If you approach from Rt. 206, there are outhouses at the two Tillman Ravine parking lots on Mountain Rd. If you approach from the other direction, there may be portas at Millbrook, and restrooms when it’s open. During the hike there are very nice composting toilets in the parking lot at Crater Lake.
Books: A shorter alternate loop (6.4 miles) from Buttermilk Falls can be found in Hiking New Jersey. A long backpack on the Appalachian Trail that skirts near Crater Lake can be found in 50 Hikes in New Jersey. An excellent guide to all of the trails in the region is Kittatinny Trails.
Hike Directions: Overview: BLUE (Buttermilk Falls) – Appalachian Trail (WHITE) – ORANGE (Crater Lake) – Blue Mtn Lakes Trail – Woods Road – BLUE (Buttermilk Falls)
Climb the stairs to the top of the falls and cross a wooden footbridge. Follow the BLUE (Buttermilk Falls Trail) markers. Immediately the trail is quite steep.
The trail levels off some onto a rocky footpath, then arrives at a bit of a ridge with limited views.
1.1 – Woods Road crosses the trail to the left and right. Continue straight on BLUE. [Variation: turn right here and follow the woods road to Hemlock Pond]
Trail continues to head steeply up, over some rock slabs.
1.6 – BLUE ends at the AT. Turn RIGHT, now following the WHITE blazes of the AT.
Not far after, the AT will veer right away from and old woods road that continues straight. The AT will turn left again in just a bit.
2.5 – Junction with ORANGE (Crater Lake) trail. Follow the AT (WHITE) as it curves to the LEFT, then shortly turns RIGHT.
[ORANGE (Crater Lake) is a woods road that circles Crater Lake, as well as going from this point to Hemlock Pond. The blazing can be confusing in spots.
2.8 – Follow the AT (WHITE) blazes as the trail bears to the right, away from ORANGE (Crater Lake), over some rock slabs, to a little bit of a view.
2.9 – The AT (WHITE) curves around and ends up back at the ORANGE (Crater Lake).
Turn RIGHT onto ORANGE (Crater Lake). There are 3 faint blazes on a tree. [Continuing straight on AT (WHITE) is an alternate route. It is a short steep scramble down and will meet up with this route at the bottom]
Keep following ORANGE (Crater Lake), an easy woods road. It will loop around and gently go downhill.
3.2 – The AT (WHITE) crosses ORANGE (Crater Lake). Continue straight on ORANGE (Crater Lake).
3.7 – Crater Lake Parking lot. At the edge of the lake are some rocky outcrops to sit on. Toilets are in the lot.
Continue following the ORANGE (Crater Lake) trail. There is an informal path near the lake that is not the trail. Look in the parking lot where there are metal barricades – the woods road there is the trail. Continue on this woods road, which may be intermittantly blazed ORANGE.
4.0 – At the end of the lake, bear LEFT and continue on . [A woods road goes to the right and leads to “Mount Paradise” area marked on the map.]
4.1 – Follow ORANGE (Crater Lake) as the woods road veers to the RIGHT. [There may be no visible blazes. A woods road continues straight as well.]
Follow the woods road as it turns LEFT in just a bit.
4.2 – Meet up with the AT again and turn RIGHT. Arrive shortly back at the sign for Hemlock Pond. Continue straight on ORANGE (Crater Lake) towards Hemlock Pond.
Trail descends on a rocky footpath.
4.6 – Continue following ORANGE (Crater Lake) blazes as the trail jogs to the RIGHT and then a quick LEFT [an unmarked trail goes to the LEFT]
At another junction with a woods road – Hemlock Pond will be visible straight ahead. Continue straight on ORANGE (Crater Lake) as it leads down to the waters edge, where there is a spot to sit and get a view of the pond.
Backtrack to the woods road junction and turn RIGHT onto the woods road, no longer following ORANGE (Crater Lake). [On the Kittatinny Trails map set, the trail could be considered part of Blue Mtn Lakes trail or just an unmarked woods road.]
Follow the unmarked easy woods road as it parallels Hemlock Pond, which is visible through the trees on your right.
Pass a woods road on your left [this goes to Blue Mountain Lake.]
5.1 – At the end of the Pond turn RIGHT. [A woods road goes left that leads to Blue Mountain Lake.]
Walk along the edge of the pond for a nice view, as well as a large rock outcrop to take a break.
5.2 – Continue along the pond edge, looking for a faint unmarked trail veering to the LEFT, before arriving at the tree line. This leads back to the woods road.
5.3 – Continue straight on Woods Road – this is actually called “Woods Road” on the map as opposed to the other unnamed ones. [Another woods road crosses here, to the right will continuing its circle around the pond.]
5.5 – Swampy area with beaver activity on your right with a stream crossing just after it. If the water is too high, look to the left for a fallen tree to cross and then bushwhack through the brush a bit.
6.5 – Turn LEFT back onto BLUE (Buttermilk Falls Trail). You were here earlier in the day, and will retrace the route downhill now. (quite steep in spots – trekking poles are handy if you have them)
Hiked: 4/10/16. Silver Spray Falls and Buttermilk Falls only, for photos.
Hiked: 6/15/13. Trail Blog: “Buttermilk Falls, Crater Lake and Hemlock Pond Loop“
Hiked: 10/4/09. Trail Blog: “Buttermilk Falls, Crater Lake, Hemlock Pond… and a bear hiking the AT”
Hiked: 4/10/06. Trail Blog: “Buttermilk Falls to AT to Crater Lake and Hemlock Pond“