Bloomingdale, NJ - I have more experience hiking in Norvin Green State Forest than anywhere else. Yet I've never tried a route I've been thinking about for years -- one that hits all of the major hills in this awesome State Forest. Recently I put the actual route together, tentatively calling it the "Norvin Green Tour".
I wanted a route that was efficient, did not cross itself, and saved the best for last. What made the most sense was a clockwise loop starting and ending at the Chikahoki parking lot on Glenwild Avenue. The route is fairly straightforward: Osio Rock, Tourne Mountain, Buck Mountain, Assiniwikam Mountain, Wyanokie High Point, and Carris Hill. A few thoughts about this route:
- I would have to bushwhack the beginning portion in order to connect to the Hewitt Butler Trail on the southwestern side of Osio. - The only road crossing is between Tourne and Otter Hole. - The unmarked and unpaved portion of Snake Den Rd connects red dot to white trail between Assiniwikam and Wyanokie High Point. - After Chikahoki Falls, the route follows Chikahoki Fire Road for a smooth finish. - Notably, the route skips the northeast corner of Norvin Green. This includes Wyanokie Falls, Ball Mountain, Roomy Mine, and Blue Mine. The sights in this area don't live up to the rest of the park.
- It also skips Saddle Mountain, which is trailless and near quarry property. - Some areas north of West Brook Road are technically a part of Norvin Green State Forest: West Brook, Manticut Point, and Overlook Rock. Since the closure of the Camp Wyanokie Trail (yellow), this area is completely disconnected from the main body of Norvin Green.
With my ankle healed and a rain-free Monday in the forecast, it was time. I parked at Chikahoki Fire Road just before noon. It was unexpectedly overcast, which was slightly disappointing. At least the heat wouldn't have a chance to slow me down. I walked across the road to find poison ivy guarding the entrance to the forest. I had to sidestep a few impressive specimens to get to a small tributary of Post Brook. A few rock hops got me across.
After passing near the bottom of a large boulder field, an unmaintained path forms to lead up the first hill. At the top it fades into the forest for a short stretch then reappears to climb a second small hill. At this point I usually lose the path and bushwhack straight upwards through vegetation. Instead I followed the shoulder of Osio. This led to several exposures of rock with solid views of Bloomingdale.
With each exposure the views improved. Soon I came to the widest view of them all. I'm familiar with this view -- I knew the Hewitt Butler Trail was just ahead. That blue trail blaze was an instant morale boost. After 33 minutes of bushwhacking, I ran to the top to make up time.
There were two hikers on top of Osio Rock itself. I let them enjoy the scenery and stayed out of their way. Before leaving, I snapped a quick picture of the view to the northeast. From here I can see the last peak on the Tour: Carris Hill. It's Osio Rock's next-door neighbor but it's so far down the route.
To the left is Osio's other neighbor, Tourne Mountain. That's our next destination. Heading in that direction, I passed four more people. I was surprised to see as many in Norvin on a gloomy Monday. The company wasn't necessarily unwelcome.
Coming down into Tourne Pass, the tree canopy blots out the light. It's one of the more interesting spots in Norvin Green. But I wanted to keep my momentum, because the trail climbs immediately after the path reaches its low point.
There's a choice to be made in this section of the trail: the relocated blue trail or the blue/black, original trail. It's a more direct path and that scramble is too fun to pass up. I took a short break at the top of the scramble, at my favorite view on Tourne.
Five minutes and I was at Stone Living Room -- a circle of stone chairs surrounding a firepit. This is one of the first places I've ever visited in Norvin. I've been here in the heat, in pouring rain, in the dead of winter climbing 3 foot snow drifts. I've cooked here, drank beers here. I've watched sunsets from here. After my Uncle Fran died, I came up here for peace. Other areas in NJ and NY have been getting my attention lately, but this spot is still important to me. Weird NJ says this place was built by a "mysterious race of stone masons" -- whatever that means.
After resting for a few minutes, it was time to tackle the knee busting downhill section of Tourne's north face. A quick pace led me to the Otterhole Road crossing just 9 minutes after I left Stone Living Room. At a somewhat dangerous road crossing, no cars were in sight.
Otter Hole had a decent flow for this time of year. I was considering taking a time out to get a long exposure shot of the falls. But I wanted to keep my momentum. Too long of a break might have me considering returning to my car. I would blow this off as a scouting run.
I left the Hewitt Butler Trail to turn onto the Highlands Trail (teal diamond) for the first time. This was a rolling section of trail that gave me trouble back when I used to smoke cigarettes. Two years away from cigarettes and one year removed from vaping, it wasn't hard to trailrun the entire section. At this point it dawned on me that I might be able to pull this whole route off on the first try. But I knew nothing was certain until I tackled Buck Mountain.
I turned left onto the Wyanokie Crest Trail (yellow) and made the brutal climb up Buck Mountain's slabs. This section always wears me out no matter what kind of shape I'm in. It's the hardest climb in Norvin Green and is the first time all day my pace slowed to a crawl. My heart desperately needed a break, which lied at the top of a scramble.
Soaked with sweat and conditioned for hot summer days, I was catching a serious chill under the overcast. I moved onto Buck Mountain's second view just down the trail. The granite exposure shows Osio Rock, Tourne Mountain, and Bloomingdale. Seeing what I had already accomplished gave me motivation to commit to the rest of the Wyanokie Crest trail.
I tried trailrunning at first but the initial climb up Buck Mountain really took my legs out from under me. I kept a decent pace. But it's been years since I've been in this area. It's a rugged, rolling trail that traverses some of the most remote areas of the park. A baby bear catches sight of me and runs off; the mother is nowhere to be found. Cautiously hustling forward, the trail junction always feels just around the corner. But 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes later it's not there. I'm really starting to get worn out.
Finally the junction with the Will Monroe Loop (pink) comes up after nearly an hour climbing up and along Buck Mountain. Straight is the return route on the pink trail; I needed to make a left on red and pick up the Will Monroe Loop on its other terminus to keep the non-crossing route entact. This trail is named in honor of Will S. Monroe (1863-1939), a historian and psychology professor from NJ State Normal School at Montclair -- now Montclair State University. In the 1920s, he laid out many of the trails in what is now Norvin Green State Forest.
Walking up Assiniwikam Mountain was a unusual experience. I had walked so far to get to a place I normally access within 20 minutes. After spending so long on the remote yellow trail, the familiarity of the Will Monroe Loop felt out of place. The break at the main viewpoint was an even stranger experience. I spent 15 minutes staring at Wyanokie High Point, my next destination. Things like that are never are far as they look. But this looked FAR.
I tried my best to run down Assiniwikam, but my legs were really starting to feel fatigued at this point. At the low point of the Wyanokie Circular Trail (red dot), it intersects with the unpaved Snake Den Road. A huge buck welcomes me to the Otter Hole Trail (green) and runs off. Only a few yards down green and I come upon the trailhead to the Macopin Trail (white). This swampy trail leads to the crest of Wyanokie High Point. The trail starts off level at first, but becomes deceptively steep. The pace slows again.
Wyanokie High Point
A steep uphill leads to another meeting of the Hewitt Butler Trail (blue). This boosted the morale significantly. It was enough to break into a run towards Wyanokie High Point. I huffed and puffed my way to the top, tapped the nail at the highest point, and dropped down for a big fat break.
The view from the top never gets old. The dome is composed of Byram granite, which is one of the oldest granites in all of the Highlands. This rock's resistance to erosion is responsible for the 360° look at the surrounding towns of Bloomingdale, West Milford, Ringwood, Wanaque, Oakland, Riverdale, and more. There was an eerie silence that accompanied the overcast skies. Manhattan was cloaked in haze, barely recognizable. Looking at the 287 bridge over the Wanaque River, traffic seems to be moving well. Windbeam Mountain sits there not far to the northeast, patiently waiting for visitors.
A couple breaks the silence while making their way up the opposite side of High Point. This was my cue. After recharging for 15 minutes, I had enough energy to get to Yoo Hoo Point in 5 minutes flat. Looking back at Wyanokie High Point, I can see the couple enjoying the view.
After Yoo Hoo Point, the Highlands Trail meanders over a ridge on the way to Carris Hill. The path is more than manageable to run on especially compared to some of the ascents I had just finished. The only thing to stop my momentum was a large deer family temporarily blocking the trail. Deer are well-established in this area of the forest, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the same family I keep making contact with between High Point and Carris. After they scattered to the woods I finished the run to Carris Hill, which ended in a short, steep climb.
From the top of Carris, I could see Wyanokie High Point in the distance, which was only 15 minutes ago. I could taste the end. I turned onto the Carris Trail (yellow) through overgrowth. The path opens up to a stand of trees and a potato-like glacial erratic. Another erratic is "Old Man Rock" -- an upright, face-like rock with Wanaque Reservoir in the background. Carris’s big view of the Wanaque Reservoir came quickly.
A ten minute break and I was ready for Chikahoki Falls. Here, I typically eschew this part of trail in favor of a scramble down the rocky ridge from the viewpoint. Yellow waits at the bottom. After descending down the scramble and traveling on yellow for a few hundred yards, I decided to cheat. I had no desire to go through the intersection of Yellow and White trails. I cut through the forest using one of my well-established bushwhacking shortcuts. It puts me on the Post Brook Trail (white) not far from the falls.
Chikahoki Falls had a decent flow for this time of year. In the spring wet season, this 30-foot cascade can be quite spectacular. From here the Chikahoki Fire Road leads to the parking lot. It’s not at all difficult, but my friends and I have come to call this the “Walk of Shame”. If you have to use this fire road to get back to your car, it’s usually at the end of a hike, where energy is low and desire to hustle is nonexistent. Still, it was a relaxing walk -- spirits were high, the trip was over in my mind. Getting close to the finish line, the sound of cars on the road was more than welcome.
I arrived at the gate shortly before 5:00. I couldn’t believe I pulled the whole trip off without aborting at several convenient escape points. But here I was. Next time I hope I can go with a group, and a nice sunny day wouldn’t hurt.
Time 4 hours, 42 minutes
Distance 9.09 miles
Elevation gain/loss 2,070 feet
12:34 Osio Rock
12:52 Stone Living Room
01:20 Buck Mountain scramble
02:18 Assiniwikam View (midpoint)
03:06 Wyanokie High Point
03:27 Yoo Hoo Point
03:40 Carris Hill
04:19 Chikahoki Falls