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Highlands Trail/Pine Swamp Trail/Ogden Mine Railbed Loop
This loop hike climbs to the Headley Overlook, goes over the highest point in Morris County, passes the unusual Pine Swamp and follows the railbed of the historic Ogden Mine Railroad.
Allowed on leash
Views, Historic feature
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Trail Conference volunteers maintain trails in this park.
Take I-80 to Exit 34B. Proceed north for 5.0 miles on N.J. Route 15, and get off at the exit for Weldon Road and Milton. After about 1.3 miles on Weldon Road, you will pass a sign marking the entrance to the Saffin-Rock Rill area of Mahlon Dickerson Reservation. Continue for another 1.5 miles (2.8 miles from Route 15) and turn right into the Saffin Pond parking area.
On the southeast side of the parking area, you will notice a triple black-diamond-on-teal blaze, marking the start of a connector trail to the Highlands Trail. Follow the black-diamond-on-teal blazes, which head east along Saffin Pond. Several side trails on the right lead to viewpoints over the pond.
At the southeast corner of the pond, turn right and proceed along the dam until you reach the bridge over its outlet. Do not cross the bridge; rather, bear sharply left onto a gravel path – the route of the teal-blazed Highlands Trail. Contnue to follow the Highlands Trail as it ascends gradually along a woods road. At the top of the climb (marked by a bench), bear right at a T-intersection and continue to follow the teal diamond blazes as they descend along an eroded woods road. At the base of the descent, bear left and continue along a relatively level stretch of the Highlands Trail, with Weldon Brook – the outlet of Saffin Pond – to your right.
After bearing left, away from the brook, the trail crosses a stream on a wide wooden footbridge. It bears left again but soon bears right and begins to climb. At the crest of the rise - just beyond a large boulder topped with ferns to the left of the trail - you’ll reach a T-intersection. The white-blazed Beaver Brook Trail begins on the right, but you should turn left to continue on the teal-diamond-blazed Highlands Trail. The trail descends to cross a tributary stream, climbs over a knoll, then descends to cross the main stream on rocks. The trail now climbs through a rocky area – with interesting rock formations on the left – and descends to again cross the main stream on rocks.
The Highlands Trail now begins to climb. Several steep ascents are interspersed with level sections, some of which cross open rock ledges. After crossing a yellow-blazed woods road in a large clearing, the trail resumes its climb on a moderate grade. Soon, you’ll reach a broad overlook to the southeast from a rock ledge to the right of the trail. Except for a few power line towers, no civilization is visible from here; you see only forested hillsides, with Lake Hopatcong visible in the distance to the right. After a slight dip, the trail climbs through a canopy of mountain laurel to reach another viewpoint. This viewpoint, marked by a bench and designated on the map as the Headley Overlook, is more popular because it is nearer the road, but the first overlook provides a less obstructed view.
Continue ahead on the Highlands Trail, which now descends on a woods road through more mountain laurel, and bear right at the next T-intersection. As the trail approaches Weldon Road, it bears right at a fork, then crosses the paved road and soon emerges onto a parking area.
Follow the teal diamond blazes of the Highlands Trail as they continue along a paved service road from the end of the parking area, passing a sign that marks the start of the white-blazed Pine Swamp Trail. The road heads through a picnic area. When the paving ends, proceed ahead on a gravel road, continuing to follow both white and teal blazes.
Soon, you’ll reach a T-intersection, which marks the start of the loop of the Pine Swamp Trail. Turn left, leaving the Highlands Trail, and follow the white blazes along a woods road. At a Y-intersection a short distance ahead, bear left, leaving the white-blazed trail, and follow a blue-blazed trail ahead to a camping area.
When you reach an open field, bear left and follow along the left side of the field, then bear right onto a park road, passing a restroom building. Immediately bear left at the next fork, and follow the road for about 100 feet. Opposite Campsite #4, you’ll notice a sign pointing to the Pine Swamp Trail. Turn right here and follow the blue-blazed trail into the woods.
In about a third of a mile, bear right at a fork, joining a yellow-blazed bike trail. Just ahead, bear left, continuing to follow the blue markers, but in 50 feet turn right, now following white blazes. You are back on the Pine Swamp Trail, which follows a winding woods road up to the highest point in Morris County (1,395 feet), marked by a bench to the left of the trail and (just beyond) a sign to its right.
The trail now descends to reach a junction in a hemlock forest. Bear sharply left here, leaving the white-blazed trail, and follow an orange-blazed woods road. To your right is the unusual Pine Swamp, with its tall spruce, hemlock, rhododendron and mountain laurel.
In another two-thirds of a mile – after a steady descent – you’ll reach a junction with the railbed of the Ogden Mine Railroad. Built in 1855 to transport the ore from local mines, it was abandoned in 1930. Turn left and follow this nearly-level railbed through rock cuts and over embankments. In about a third a mile, you’ll pass the start of the blue-blazed trail on the left and (just beyond) a large wetland on the right. Then, in another 750 feet, you’ll pass a large wetland on the left. The hill visible (on the left) beyond the wetland is the one you climbed earlier in the hike to reach the highest point in Morris County. Continuing ahead, the railbed begins to parallel Weldon Brook on the left. After passing another large wetland (Toomey’s Pond) on the left, you’ll reach Weldon Road. The parking area where you began the hike is across the road to the left.