Black River/Bamboo Brook Trail Loop


This lollipop-loop hike runs along the scenic Black River, following an abandoned railroad grade for part of the way and passing through a spectacular rocky gorge.

4 hours
6.4 miles
Route Type:
Allowed on leash
Waterfall, Historic feature
First Published:

Daniel Chazin



View Black River County Park in a larger map

See also
Trailhead GPS Coordinates
Driving Directions

Take I-80 West to Exit 27A and continue south on U.S. Route 206 for 8.0 miles. Turn right onto County Route 513 and follow it for 1.2 miles to the entrance to Cooper Mill Park, on the left side of the road.


Cooper Mill. Photo by Daniel Chazin.

From the northwest corner of the parking area, proceed west to the stone Cooper Mill. The mill, built in 1826, is open for tours in the summer and on weekends in the spring and fall. Descend the stairs alongside the mill and continue south on the blue-blazed Black River Trail, part of the Patriots’ Path system (also blazed with the path-and-tree logo), which crosses several tributary streams on wooden bridges. About a third of a mile from the start, the trail turns left onto an abandoned railroad grade – the former route of the Hacklebarney Branch of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, built in 1873 to carry iron ore from mines along the river and abandoned in 1900. The trail follows this railroad grade for the next mile.

Kay Pond Dam. Photo by Daniel Chazin.

Half a mile from the start, you’ll pass Kay Pond (formerly known as Hacklebarney Pond) on the right. Here, the railroad had to be blasted through a rock cut, and the drill marks from the blasting may still be seen in the rock. The small building at the south end of Kay Pond was once used to store ice cut from the pond in the winter.

After passing the stone dam at the end of the pond, the trail goes by a fenced-in area to the left. This is the site of the former Hacklebarney Mine, where a considerable amount of iron ore was mined in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Just beyond, the trail reaches a bridge over the river and turns left, continuing to follow along the river. Soon, the railroad grade ends and the trail continues on a slightly rougher footpath parallel to the river.

About 1.2 miles from the start, after crossing two wooden footbridges over tributary streams, the trail reaches abandoned concrete abutments in the river – the remnants of a former bridge. Here, the trail bears left and begins to head uphill. It bears left at the next fork and soon begins to parallel Chubb Brook.  The trail now curves right and continues to climb more steeply.

At the top of the climb, the trail reaches a junction in a clearing, marked by a signpost. Here, the red-blazed Conifer Pass Trail comes in from the right. Turn left, now following both blue and red blazes, then turn left again at the next intersection. You'll pass open fields on the right and come to a parking area, with the Kay Environmental Center on the right.

Pass just to the left of the Environmental Center (note a Patriots' Path blaze on a tree to the left of a fence) and continue on the blue-blazed Bamboo Brook Trail. The trail follows a wide grassy path between fields and continues on a grassy woods road. It turns left at a T-intersection, then bears right to join the paved entrance road. It continues along the road for a quarter mile, then turns right onto Pottersville Road. After following Pottersville Road for 750 feet, the trail turns left (opposite a private home) and reenters the woods on a footpath.

In another quarter mile, the trail begins to climb the hillside on a rocky path. After reaching the top of the hill, the trail descends to a junction with the red-blazed Conifer Pass Trail (marked by a signpost). Turn right and follow the red-blazed trail as it descends to recross Pottersville Road.

On the other side of the road, the trail enters a beautiful pine forest and descends past old stone walls to cross Cedar Brook on rocks. It ascends on switchbacks through a grove of fir trees, continues through a deciduous forest to the crest of the rise, and descends once again to the Black River, passing two mine pits on the right along the way.

The red-blazed trail now heads north through the rocky gorge of the Black River, running directly along the river for part of the way. This wild and spectacular section of the river is an interesting contrast to the relatively placid section that you followed at the start of the hike. After about a quarter of a mile, the trail begins to climb out of the gorge. At the top of the climb, it turns right at a T-intersection, bears sharply left in 100 feet, then bears left again at a Y-intersection.

Hiker at Black River Gorge. Photo by Daniel Chazin.

The trail continues high above the river, with views of the river below through the trees. In another 0.4 mile, you’ll reach a T-intersection with a wide dirt road. The red blazes turn right, but you should turn left and follow a green-blazed trail that heads downhill along the woods road. In another 750 feet, you’ll reach a Y-intersection. Here, the green blazes bear left, but you should bear right and continue ahead on the woods road, now unmarked, which heads north, parallel to the river. Continue along the road for another 600 feet to its end at the blue-blazed Black River Trail. Turn left and follow the Black River Trail north along the Black River for 1.2 miles, retracing your steps to the Cooper Mill parking area where the hike began.

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

Hiked this today

Printed out the directions and parked next to the Grist Mill (very cool by the way). Start off was easy but I felt the trail marking could have been better/more frequent. Directions were spot on but I admit I got a bit lost at this part " Pass just to the left of the Environmental Center (note a Patriots' Path blaze on a tree to the left of a fence) and continue on the blue-blazed Bamboo Brook Trail. The trail follows a wide grassy path between fields and continues on a grassy woods road. It turns left at a T-intersection, then bears right to join the paved entrance road. It continues along the road for a quarter mile, then turns right onto Pottersville Road. " Eventually I was spit out on someones farm on Pottersvill road and decided to walk down a bit to see if I could pick up the trail. Was able to find it and was fine. I will say that part of the trail, as well as the first 3rd or so of the red trail were poorly maintained and very narrow (and few markers). I can see in the fall losing the trail will be quite easy especially with the switchbacks. It's about 12 - 18 inches wide at points. Covered with leaves you won't see it. Anyway, great trail overall, nice and easy. Did it in about 2 hours (the 6.4 mile one). Only negative besides some of the trail conditions and markings is that the first part (1.3 miles or so) you hear a lot of road traffic so the purist in me wasn't crazy about it. Beautiful overall tho. I would hike this again. 

Black River/Bamboo Brook Loop: Caution

Hiked this trail March3, 2013  The Blue Blazed Black River Trail is still blocked by large trees, but with some effort these can be climbed over. The hike route is then fine all the way past the Kay Center and onto Pottersville Rd. After turning left off of Pottersville Rd and entering the woods you will encounter annoying blow-downs, but these still can be circumvented. However, after crossing back over Pottersville Rd and following the Conifer Pass Trail past Cedar Brook, your troubles begin. The once beautiful grove of trees is now a tangle of blow-downs which cover the trail. This part of the trail may have to be re-routed, as the trees are huge and lying everywhere. We lost the trail and only found it again after much bush-wacking. After that the trail leads to the river.  If you get this far, you are rewarded with a beautiful hike the rest of the way along the river.

Update - September 2013

Hiked this trail today - all trees are cleared except for one very small spot. This is a wonderful hike!

Black River/Bamboo Brook Loop update

Hiked a 3.7mi loop from Kay Center 6.16.13.  Started out from Kay on the blue-blazed Bamboo Brook Trail to its intersection with red-blazed Conifer Pass Trail.  There were a couple of instances of trees across the trail, easily navigable but for the most part the trail is now usable without having to detour.  Good hike.

Many huge trees block this trail after Hurricane Sandy

I hiked this trail on Nov. 12, 2012.  The blue-blaxed  trail had several large  trees blocking it not far after the pond and dam.  Ditto with the red-blazed Conifer Pass trail.  Many pine trees were covering the trail.

Great Hike

Wonderful hike, but the last turn was a bit confusing and we ended up making the mistake of going down the hill to the bridge.  When you see the green trail veer left after 75 feet (see above) you want to take the trail to the right, immediately opposite of the green trail.  Enjoy!!

Hike description has been corrected

I have rehiked the trails and edited the description.  The confusion that Kitcat282 encountered was due to a misleading comment in the description, which has been corrected.  The revised directions should lead you back to the start without making the detour to the bridge.

Fantastic hike along the Black River...not too many ascents

We took two rambunctious kids (ages 6 & 7) on this hike on November 7, 2010. It was a very pleasant walk along the Black River, which has its share of dams, stone ruins, railroadiana and natural roaring rapids. There were also a few unmarked trails that followed the Black River and we climbed over several fallen trees with ease. There was only one steep and rocky section of this hike along the red-blazed Conifer Pass Trail, but we were rewarded with a peaceful stroll through a sizeable pine tree forest on our descent. Please note that permits are no longer required from Morris County to hike these trails. It was a wonderful day out in an area surrounded by so much suburban development just past the park!