During my initial hike in Ramapo State Park on Mother’s Day 2017, some of the other hikers we met on the trail mentioned to us that there were some old castle ruins off the trail further up the mountain. Although I was thoroughly enjoying the splendor of the trees, the rocks, and the fresh air, the prospect of exploring ruins of any structure (let alone a castle) was extremely fascinating.
As soon as I got home I began researching the location and history of this mysterious castle and was enthralled by what I found. The ruins atop Fox Mountain are that of the Van Slyke Castle (also known as Foxcroft) which was built in 1909 as a summer home by William Porter, a wealthy New York stockbroker. After the death of the owners, the castle was left uninhabited for a long time, and was broken into and torched by vandals in 1959.
Nature is reclaiming the remaining stone walls of the structure and it is a hauntingly beautiful sight to behold in the middle of a lush forest. My friend Seany and I went back into Ramapo State Park the week after our initial hike to make our way to this site and were delighted when we finally arrived.
Aside from the castle, there is also an impressive stone water tower nearby as well as the remains of an old pool, both which are related to the castle. Slightly beyond the castle, the ghostly outline of the New York City skyline, nearly 40 miles away, was visible on the horizon.
It had never crossed my mind that such a thing could be hiding out in the forest or that NYC would be visible from such a far distance. After further research, I was excited to find that there are many, many interesting things aside from routine hiking trails that you can find out in the woods.
I have since gone on to search for rock formations (both natural and manmade), expansive scenic vistas, other NYC views, abandoned buildings, mines, old military bunkers, and even cemeteries out on the trails. I have found that it is helpful to stake out a particular goal for each hike before venturing out.
Other than providing simple motivation to get out onto the trail, reaching the location of something exceptional after hiking for many miles adds another level of satisfaction and brain stimulation to any hike. I found that when I finally spotted the tip of one of the stone walls from the castle peeking through the trees ahead, my mind stirred and I experienced a noticeable boost in energy and excitement.
While hiking Bearfort Mountain, through a few miles of very, very lush forest that almost completely blocked out the sun, I eventually exited through the trees to find myself at the aptly named Surprise Lake. The Stairway to Heaven Trail in Wawayanda State Park leads the hiker through miles of shifting landscapes before reaching Pinwheel Vista, an impressive scenic overlook with expansive views of the farmlands and forests below. Wildcat Ridge features the abandoned St. Patrick’s Cemetery a short distance off the trail.
I have been setting “trail goals” for myself as I strike out on unique hikes each week and have been continuously impressed with what I have found when I finally arrive at the location of something amazing. I look forward to experiencing more and more of this. I would implore anybody looking to take up hiking as a regular activity to set "trails goals" for yourself to keep it interesting and to experience increased levels of satisfaction with your hikes.
Van Slyke Castle ruins in Ramapo Mountain State Park.
St. Patrick's Cemetery, established in 1865, was abandoned by Irish and Eastern European immigrants in 1910 after their church burned down. The community that buried their dead was based around the Hibernia iron mines and I can imagine that many likely died working in these mines. In my search for the cemetery with a shoddy map, I was given specific directions by what I believe was a ghost (that is a story for another time). There is also a mine nearby which is a protective site for bats.
My only experience hiking in South Jersey brought me to Hartshorne Woods. The main feature here were the abandoned military bunkers which were used during World War II. They are currently gated off, but looking in with a flashlight reveals creepy tagging on the cavernous walls. This hike would have otherwise been quite routine and almost boring if not for the prospect of coming across these bunkers.
The daunting Stonetown Circular loop featured a number of peaks and scenic views. The New York City skyline made repeated appearances from behind distant mountain ranges. These skyscrapers have surprised me on a number of hikes now and it still amazes me that they are visible from so many far spread peaks.