Van Slyke Castle Loop

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Ruins of a stone water tower on a rocky area in a forest

Explore the ruins of Van Slyke Castle on a rugged hike with multiple viewpoints.

3.1 miles round trip. Varies between rugged trail flat woods roads. Steep uphill to the ruins.

Our two cents:

Scenic lake, interesting stone ruins, and multiple viewpoints packed into just over 3 rugged miles.

Fun Facts: Van Slyke Castle, originally known as Foxcroft, is stone ruins of a mansion, water tower, and pool built in 1910 by William Porter. Ramapo Lake was formerly called Lake LeGrande.


Map:

The physical trails are the same but many names/colors of the trails across Ramapo Mountain have changed; this hike guide uses the new names/colors. Use the map on the park’s site linked above.

North Jersey Trails is recommended to navigate the network of trails in this park but the most recent version (2017) is out of date due these changes.


Books:

Appears in Hike of the Week. Other routes in this park found in: 50 Hikes in New Jersey, Best Day Hikes in New Jersey.


Parking: N41.04738° W74.25127°

Ramapo Mountain State Forest (Upper Lot). 265 Skyline Dr, Oakland, NJ 07436.

From points south: Rt 287N to Exit 57 to Skyline Drive. Pass the Lower lot on the left and continue on Skyline Drive to the Upper lot, also on the left. Medium sized dirt lot.

Alert! Cars have been broken into at this lot – take all valuables with you.


Restrooms: 

None at this or the nearby Lower lot on Skyline Drive (9/2021), and nothing passed on Skyline. Various stores in Oakland, Wayne etc.


Hike Directions:

Overview: Castle Loop (WHITE)

0.0 – From the trail sign in the lot, start following Castle Loop (WHITE). Depending on what sign you’ve started at in the lot, it’s STRAIGHT or LEFT.

[Castle Loop (WHITE) also goes right and is the return route]

Castle Loop sign at trailhead

Soon pass a trail kiosk as the trail briefly parallels a gravel road. Continue heading downhill on a rocky, eroded path.

White blaze on a tree near a trail

1.1 – Continue on Castle Loop (WHITE) as it turns RIGHT. The trail is also blazed with Ramapo Lake Spur (BLUE-BLACK) for a short bit.

Continue ahead on Castle Loop (WHITE) when Ramapo Lake Spur (BLUE-BLACK) leaves to the left.

Blue and white blazes on a tree

Continue on Castle Loop (WHITE) as it hugs Ramapo Lake with several spots to view the lake. The trail is also blazed with Ramapo Lake Loop (BLUE).

Ramapo Lake

1.6 – Veer RIGHT at a wide intersection with signs for the castle and lake. [Ramapo Lake Loop (BLUE) continues ahead].

Wide gravel paths at an intersection
Signs for Ramapo Lake Loop and Castle Loop

Pass two cement posts that flank the driveway of the old mansion.

Cement pillars flanking a gravel driveway

Cannonball (White C on Red Circle) briefly joins in from the left as Castle Loop (WHITE) curves to the RIGHT. Follow Castle Loop (WHITE) to the LEFT. [Cannonball (White C on Red Circle) continues ahead but was unclear.]

Castle Loop (WHITE) becomes very rocky and heads steeply uphill.

Hiker going uphill on a rocky trail

1.9 – A viewpoint off to the left is the reward for that steep push uphill. Ramapo Lake is seen below.

Ramapo Lake seen in the distance from the Castle Loop trail

Continue on Castle Loop (WHITE) and climb a short wooden stile over a stone wall.

Wooden stile placed as a ladder over a stone wall

Another viewpoint – similar to the previous, but from higher up. On a clear day the NYC skyline may be visible. It was too hazy to see anything the last time we hiked, this is from 2013:

View of NYC from the tower ruins

Soon the ruins of Van Slyke Castle come into view.

Remains of the outside stone wall of Van Slyke Castle.
Curved turret on one end of the remains

Van Slyke Castle was first known as Foxcroft (named for Fox Mountain) but after William Porter died his widow Ruth remarried Warren Van Slyke and they changed the name.

After the Van Slykes died, the castle was sold a few times, abandoned, and later burned in 1959. [Source: Trail Conference guidebooks and summarized from various website sources.]

Path along the outside wall of the ruins

The trail runs along the outside wall of the building but you can (carefully) explore all through the inside of the ruins.

Inside the castle ruins

There are lots of interesting angles, textures, and colors so it’s a fun place to photograph. It was hard narrowing down which shots to show.

Stone wall and arches
Stone walls of Van Slyke Castle

Vegetation is overtaking the stones and trees have sprouted up in the middle of the mansion.

Vegetation covering the stone walls of the castle
Vegetation hanging over the top of the castle walls

Of note, the graffiti on the castle and water tower ruins is now very excessive compared to years past.

Trees growing in the castle interior

The path splits after walking around the side of the ruins.

Corner of stone castle with white trail marker

Head to the right where stone pillars and wall flank the path. Behind a small stone building is another viewpoint.

Van Slyke Castle stone fence and gate

The back of the mansion has steps and a large section of intact wall.

Large intact stone wall with arched doorway and steps

Head back to the split and continue on Castle Loop (WHITE).

2.0 – Soon come to the remains of the cement pool for Van Slyke Castle. There were two large frogs chillin’ in it.

Remains of a large cement pool with mucky water inside

In just a bit is another fine view on the left. This looks west, past Wanaque Reservoir towards Norvin Green State Forest.

View of low mountains with green trees in the foreground
Zoom into mountains in the distance

2.2 – Approach a large stone tower that once held a cistern that supplied water to Van Slyke Castle. A pipe is along the trail.

Van Slyke water tower
Looking up at a stone water tower

The front of the stone water tower has an entrance.

Front entrance of a stone water tower

The stone foundation that held the cistern can be seen inside the tower.

Interior of a stone tower that once held a water cistern

Just past the water tower ruins is yet another view of Wanaque Reservoir.

View of Wanaque Reservoir.

Continue on Castle Loop (WHITE) as the route makes several turns. The trail briefly turns right onto a wide sandy road for a pipeline. Cross a stream.

Stream crossing with two large round boulders

2.6 – One last short push uphill on a rock slab. Come to an intersection with Cannonball (White C on Red Circle) near Skyline Drive.

Uphill over a large rock slab

Continue on Castle Loop (WHITE) by turning RIGHT then soon turn LEFT. Follow Castle Loop (WHITE) back to the parking lot.


Hiked: 8/30/21. As part of the longer Grand Castle Loop version.