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Split Rock Loop/Four Birds Trail Short Loop
This loop hike winds through rugged terrain south of the Split Rock Reservoir, passing several viewpoints and crossing the cascading Split Rock Brook.
Allowed on leash
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Take I-80 West to Exit 37 (Hibernia/Rockaway). At the bottom of the ramp, turn left onto Green Pond Road (County 513). Follow Green Pond Road north for 6.4 miles and turn right onto Upper Hibernia Road (opposite the Marcella Community Center). In 1.0 mile, turn left onto Split Rock Road and follow it for 1.2 miles to a large dirt parking area on the left side of the road, just after crossing the dam of the Split Rock Reservoir. Parking is not permitted along Split Rock Road; tickets may be issued. (Note: The one-lane road over the dam is in poor condition, and caution should be exercised.)
From the parking area, proceed ahead (east) along Split Rock Road for 0.3 mile. When you reach the second power line crossing, look for a blue-blazed trail to the right, towards the far end of the clearing. This is the Split Rock Loop Trail, which you will follow for the first part of the hike. Turn right and follow the trail uphill, under the power lines. Before reaching the crest of the hill, the trail bears right and enters the woods. After a short, gentle climb, the trail descends into a hollow, then bears right and climbs another rocky ridge.
Soon, you’ll notice a huge glacial erratic to the left of the trail. This boulder, aptly named “The Rock,” marks the highest point on the hike (elevation 980 feet). Just beyond, there is a west-facing view over the valley of the Split Rock Brook.
The trail now bears right and descends on a winding footpath, with some views through the trees. Near the base of the descent, you’ll reach another west-facing viewpoint from a rock ledge. The trail now heads south over undulating terrain.
About a mile from the start, you’ll reach Cedar Point, marked by a single cedar tree. To the southwest, a cable television tower is visible. Just south of this tower is the site of a Hawk Watch viewing platform (worth a visit on another occasion).
The trail turns right, soon reaching a rock outcrop, where it turns sharply left and begins a short, steep descent. It then bears left and descends more gradually through a mountain laurel thicket. Just beyond, the trail goes over a moss-covered mound of rocks. This mound is a remnant of mining activity in the area. When you reach this point, turn left, leaving the trail, and head uphill for about 100 feet to an old mine opening. Note the drill marks in the rock walls around the mine shaft. Use caution, and do not step into the leaf-covered mine shaft!
After viewing this interesting feature, return to the trail, which makes a sharp right turn and heads more steeply downhill. You’ll notice old stone foundations – remnants of former mining structures – on both sides of the trail. Just beyond, the trail crosses a wide woods road and reaches the cascading Split Rock Brook.
The wide brook is crossed on boulders, some of which are covered with moss and can be slippery. The crossing can be a little tricky – especially if the water is high – and care should be exercised. A walking stick may be helpful. If you have difficulty crossing the brook at the trail crossing, you might want to head upstream to find an easier route across the brook.
On the west side of the brook, the trail climbs rather steeply, then bears right and continues to climb more gradually. Soon, you’ll cross an old woods road and reach The Maze, where the trail has been cleverly routed through several narrow passages between large rocks. After crossing another boulder field, with several small seasonal streams, you’ll notice a high ridge looming ahead. The trail bears right to skirt the base of the ridge, then turns left and climbs the spine of the ridge.
At the top of the ridge, you can see the Split Rock Reservoir directly ahead. To the right, a mountain is visible across the valley. You were there about an hour and a half ago! “The Rock” is situated at the top of this mountain, and you’ve hiked a U-shaped route to reach the spot where you are now.
The Split Rock Loop Trail now bears left, making another U-turn, and climbs to a rock outcrop at the crest of the ridge. It then comes out on an open rock ledge and heads west through the woods to end at the white-blazed Four Birds Trail.
Turn right and follow the Four Birds Trail as it descends, passing a huge glacial erratic to the right. At the base of the descent, the trail crosses an old woods road and a stream. Ahead, there is a steep rise, but the trail has been skillfully designed to bear right and loop around the base of the rise, with a very gradual ascent. Upon reaching the crest of the rise, the trail bears left, but soon turns right, crosses under power lines, then turns left again to parallel the power lines. After turning right, away from the power lines, the trail descends to cross Split Rock Road.
Turn right, leaving the trail, follow Split Rock Road downhill to the reservoir dam, and walk across the concrete dam. As you cross the dam, you will see, below to the right, the 32-foot-high charcoal-fired Split Rock Furnace, built of stone in 1862 to smelt magnetite ore into the iron needed for the Civil War. The furnace operated for only about ten years, and was abandoned in the 1870s. The parking area where the hike began is on the left side of the road, just beyond the dam.