Split Rock Loop/Four Birds Trail Short Loop

Overview

This loop hike winds through rugged terrain south of the Split Rock Reservoir, passing several viewpoints and crossing the cascading Split Rock Brook.

Details
Time:
3 hours
Difficulty:
Moderate
Length:
4 miles
Route Type:
Circuit
Dogs:
Allowed on leash
Features:
Views, Historic feature
Location
Park:
Region:
County:
Morris
State:
NJ
Maps/Books
Publication
First Published:
12/02/2005

Updated/Verified:
12/03/2015
Submitter:
Daniel Chazin

Photo

Parking


View Split Rock Reservoir in a larger map

Trail Conference volunteers maintain trails in this park.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates
40.970226,-74.465482
Driving Directions

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 Club). In 1.0 mile, turn left onto Split Rock Road and follow it for 1.0 mile to a traffic light that regulates traffic over the one-lane road ahead. Cross the narrow roadway over the dam of the Split Rock Reservoir, then turn left into a large dirt parking area on the left side of the road. Please note that parking along Split Rock Road is permitted only in this one parking area; cars parked elsewhere along the road will be ticketed.

Description

From the parking area, proceed ahead (east) along Split Rock Road for 0.3 mile. When you reach the second power line crossing, turn right and follow a dirt road uphill, under the power line. This is the route of the blue-blazed Split Rock Loop Trail, which you will follow for most of the hike. 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. Here, the green-blazed Righter Mine Trail crosses.

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, the trail bears right and descends on a winding footpath, with some views through the trees. It then bears left and heads south over undulating terrain. 

After again crossing the green-blazed Righter Mine Trail, you'll reach Cedar Point, marked by a single cedar tree. To the southwest, a cable television tower is visible on top of the ridge ahead. Just south of this tower is the site of a Hawk Watch (worth a visit on another occasion). 

The trail turns right, soon reaching a rock outcrop, where it turns sharply left and descends on switchbacks. Just before a sharp right turn, the trail goes over a moss-covered mound of rocks -- a remnant of mining activity in the area. Turn left here, leaving the trail, and head uphill for about 100 feet to the mine opening of the Righter Mine. Note the drill marks in the rock walls around the mine shaft and the pile of tailings just below. Use caution, and do not step into the leaf-covered mine shaft.

After viewing this interesting feature, return to the trail, which turns sharply right and heads downhill through a rocky area to reach a wide woods road. Turn right onto this road, now following both blue and green blazes, and continue for 750 feet until the blue blazes turn left and cross the stream on a wooden footbridge.

On the west side of the brook, the trail proceeds through a rocky area and bears left to parallel the brook. It briefly joins an old woods road, then turns right, continuing to head south along the brook. In another 500 feet, it turns right and begins to climb, first rather steeply, then more gradually. Soon, you'll cross an old woods road and reach The Maze, where the trail has been routed through 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 – after passing a huge slanted boulder- turns left and climbs to the top of the ridge.

As you approach the ridge, you can see the Split Rock Reservoir directly ahead through the trees. 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 on the left. At the base of the descent, the trail crosses a woods road – the route of the yellow-blazed Wildcat Ridge Trail, then crosses a stream on rocks. Ahead, there is a steep rise, but the trail bears right and ascends more gradually. Upon reaching the crest of the rise, the trail bears left, but soon turns right and reaches the power lines, It briefly turns left and runs along the power line service road, then turns right and crosses under the power lines. The trail turns left again to parallel the power lines, then heads away from the power lines and parallels Split Rock Road, below on the right. After passing two interesting glacial erratics, the trail descends to Split Rock Road.

Turn right, leaving the trail, follow Split Rock Road downhill to the reservoir dam, and follow the road across the concrete dam. Just beyond 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.

Comment: Please be relevant, civil, non-commercial.

Be careful!

Trails are poorly marked. Paint has faded and painted bark has fallen off trees. Easy to get lost. A shame since the trails along the reservoir and south of it are fantastic. This whole area needs to be updated desperately.

Trails are in good condition

I just hiked this loop last Thursday, and I'm afraid I must disagree with the above assessment of the condition of the trails.  Here's what I wrote to the volunteers in charge of these trails following my hike (and before the above comment was posted): "For the most part, this trail [the Split Rock Loop Trail south of the reservoir] was in very good condition.  The blazes were sharp, clear and easy to see.  In the section west of the stream crossing, there were a few places where the next blaze was not immediately evident, although it could be found if you looked carefully.  It would be useful to add a few more blazes in several locations along this section."  So, yes, there is some room for improvement, but in my opinion, any experienced hiker should be able to follow this trail without undue difficulty.

I'm an experienced hiker and

I'm an experienced hiker and I disagree. It's clear by the faded paint (painting bark is never a good idea) that these trails have not been maintained. Glad I had my GPS with me. Additionally not everyone is an "experienced hiker".  

Trails around Split Rock Reservoir

As Trails Chair for the region I am concerned about your comments.  Would you be specific as to what trails you are talking about?   North or south of Split Rock Rd?  What color trails were you on?  We have active maintainers and an active Trail Supervisor so are always concerned with negative comments.   Please respond directly to my email at   [email protected]  Thank you

It appears the trail got re-routed

11/24/15 - Following the Blue Trail down from Cedar Point and past the abandoned mine opening, rather than crossing the woods road, the trail turns right and follows the woods road about 1 or 2 tenths of a mile.  It then turns left and crosses the Split Rock Brook on a wooden bridge.  Then the Blue Trail turns left and backtracks on the other side of the stream before heading uphill and rejoining the trail as described above.

Trail has been rerouted to cross new footbridge

I did this hike yesterday and updated the description.  Yes, the trail has indeed been rerouted as you describe.  The new bridge is about 0.15 mile north of the location of the previous stream crossing, so the trail is now about 0.3 mile longer.  The original hike description pointed out that the former stream crossing on rocks could be very difficult, and this new footbridge makes it possible to cross the stream without any concerns under all water conditions.  Thank you so much for pointing out this important relocation!

Split Rock Road and Dam are open for traffic.

The repairs are complete and the road over the dam is now open.  They have added a traffic light at each end of the dam, makes it a lot easier to cross now.  

Split Rock Reservoir Parking

I would like to reiterate the warning expressed by other posters... PLEASE PARK IN DESIGNATED PARKING AREAS ONLY!!! It has been brought to our attention by our volunteers that parking tickets are being distributed regularly to folks who are not parking in designated lots.  Before you head out on the trail we ask that you take a look at a Trail Conference map to see where parking is allowed.  I have heard of people being ticketed upwards of $250 for parking illegally.

Split Rock Reservoir Parking

To emphasize Jon's message, there is absolutely NO Parking along the entire Split Rock Rd. There are signs indicating this.  The only parking is in the Fishing Access lot.   To access Four Birds from other locations, there is parking at Upper Hibernia off Green Pond Rd, also at the Hawk Watch parking area, on Timberbrook Rd outside of Camp Winnebago (do not park in the camp) and a couple of pull-ofs on Green Pond Rd east of Cragmeur. and parking on Bigelow Rd /Green Pond Rd at the ballfield for the northern trail head. With good weather coming, the PD will be more zealous in patrolling and ticketing. 

I question the designation as "moderate"

First of all, I would like to extend thanks to the initial reviewer. The description of the trail and its landmarks (especially the pointer to the old hematite mine) is excellent. We had no trouble finding the landmarks and following the (recently) painted trail blaze marks.

I would not characterize this hike as "moderate," however. I would classify it as "difficult" or "very difficult." The reason for this assessment is that this trail involves walking on and through endless numbers of boulders, ranging in size from the size of your shoe to the size of your car. Our family was constantly negotiating, stepping on, or hopping from rock to rock to rock.

Add to this the fact that this trail goes up, down, then up, then down, then up, then down, and up and down over and over again, all the while doing it while stepping from rock to rock. See, the heart of this trail is to get from one ridge to another by walking through the boulder-strewn valley and stream between them. They are significant climbs, both up and down.

The reviewer mentions some stream crossings that may have high water. I would add that if it's been raining lately, these stream crossings might well be impossible to navigate safely. On a hot July day, they were easily passable. I would not want to be there after a heavy rain.

In summary, I would say that this trail is more of an "obstacle course" than a "hiking trail." It's a beautiful obstacle course, with great views and beautiful natural scenes. But, an obstacle course nonetheless. Be prepared for this obstacle course with plenty of water, food rations, and most importantly excellent boots. Try it, just try it knowing what you're getting into.

ADDITIONAL WARNING ABOUT PARKING: It would seem that the town of Rockaway is mostly funded by issuing parking tickets along the Split Rock Road. We saw dozens of cars with parking tickets awaiting their owners. The small parking lot just past the one-lane dam road fills quickly. Get there early, and if you can't park in that lot, DO NOT PARK ON THE ROAD. It'll cost you $115.

This hike would be better in

This hike would be better in the Spring or Fall when there aren't leaves on the trees blocking all the views.