Shepherd Lake/Mount Defiance/Skylands Manor Loop from Ringwood Manor


This loop hike runs along Shepherd Lake, climbs to several viewpoints on Mount Defiance and traverses the historic Skylands Manor area.

3.5 hours
5.5 miles
Route Type:
Allowed on leash
Views, Swimming, Fees, Historic feature, Cliffs
First Published:

Daniel Chazin
See also
Trail Conference volunteers maintain trails in this park.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates
Driving Directions

Take Skyline Drive to its northwestern end at Greenwood Lake Turnpike (County Route 511). Turn right and proceed north on Greenwood Lake Turnpike for 1.5 miles to Sloatsburg Road. Turn right onto Sloatsburg Road and continue for 2.4 miles to the entrance to Ringwood Manor, on the left side of the road. Follow the park entrance road, passing the manor house to the left, and continue past two large parking areas. After the second large parking area, turn left and continue to a small parking area on the right (opposite a refreshment stand on the left), where signs indicate the trailheads of three trails.  NOTE: The bridge over the Ringwood River at the start of the hike has been closed by the Park, as it is structurally unsound. Until a replacement bridge is built, the hike cannot be accessed from the parking area at Ringwood Manor. One can continue north on Sloatsburg Road to the state line, where limited roadside parking is available, and then proceed south on the yellow-blazed Cooper Union Trail to intersect the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail near the shelter on Cupsaw Mountain. Alternatively, the hike can be accessed from the parking areas at Shepherd Lake or Skylands Manor, or from the roadside parking along Morris Avenue at the bridge where the Crossover Trail crosses.


From the trailhead, follow the red-on-white-blazed Ringwood-Ramapo Trail, which proceeds east, crossing two wooden bridges over the Ringwood River and then crossing the heavily-traveled Sloatsburg Road. About 100 feet beyond Sloatsburg Road, the white-blazed Crossover Trail leaves to the right. This will be your return route, but you should continue ahead on the red-on-white blazed Ringwood-Ramapo Trail, which ascends Cupsaw Mountain. As the trail nears the crest of the ridge, the climb steepens.

At the ridgetop, the yellow-blazed Cooper Union Trail joins from the right, and both trails run jointly for 200 feet, descending to a woods road. Here, the Cooper Union Trail leaves to the left, but you should continue to follow the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail, which turns right, soon reaching a shelter built by "The Hiking, Eating, Arguing and Puzzle-Solving Club of the Cooper Union" (this land, now part of Ringwood State Park, was once owned by Cooper Union). The trail now descends into a rocky valley where it turns left onto a woods road, joining the blue-blazed Cupsaw Brook Trail.

Follow the joint trails, which cross a stream on rocks, then turn left, leaving the woods road. (In this area, the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail is marked by both red-on-white blazes and brown wands with solid red blazes.) After traversing a wet area, the blue-blazed Cupsaw Brook Trail leaves to the left. Continue ahead on the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail, which turns right and crosses Cupsaw Brook on a wooden bridge. After passing a cascade to the left, the trail bears right, away from the brook, and begins a steady ascent. At the top of the climb, the trail turns left onto a woods road and soon reaches a paved road at a traffic circle near Shepherd Lake.

The trail turns right on the paved road, then immediately left, following the sign in the middle of the traffic circle for the boat launch. It proceeds straight ahead on a gravel road which runs along the south shore of the lake, soon passing the boathouse and a kiosk, where an orange-blazed trail begins. Continue along the road, now following both red-on-white and orange blazes. In about a third of a mile, both trails turn right, leaving the road. Continue to follow the blazed trails, which head uphill on a footpath. At an intersection with a woods road, the orange-blazed trail turns left, but you should continue ahead, now following only the red-and-white blazes of the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail.

The trail climbs to the top of a rise, then descends to cross a mountain bike trail. Continue ahead on the red-on-white-blazed trail, which passes an old stone foundation to the left. After crossing a gas pipeline, the trail begins to climb the northern shoulder of Mount Defiance, first gradually, then more steeply. Before reaching the 1,040-foot summit, there is a view to the west over Ringwood Manor and the Cupsaw Lake area.

The trail descends steeply from the summit and continues along the ridge, paralleling impressive cliffs on the right. At the end of the cliffs, the green-and-white-blazed Halifax Trail comes in from the right and briefly joins the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail. You will soon head down the mountain on the Halifax Trail, but for now, continue ahead for another 350 feet along the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail until you see a large rock outcrop to the right of the trail.

Climb this outcrop, which is studded with cedar trees, to reach a panoramic view from the top. The New Jersey State Botanical Gardens at Skylands Manor may be seen in the foreground, with the Wyanokies in the distance. The Wanaque Reservoir is visible to the left. This is a good place for a break.

When you're ready to continue, retrace your steps on the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail back to the junction with the Halifax Trail. Turn left (west), following the green-on-white blazes, which climb over a small rise and then level off. Just before the trail begins a steady descent, you'll reach a fork. The trail heads left here, but you may wish to follow an unmarked path to the right which leads up to a rock outcrop with a view over the gardens of Skylands Manor.

Continue down the mountain on the green-on-white-blazed trail, which follows a series of gradual switchbacks - the remnants of an old carriage road. At the base of the descent, where the green-on-white trail ends, turn right onto the white-blazed Crossover Trail, which follows a gravel road along the base of the mountain. When you reach a paved road, turn right and follow the road through the grounds of Skylands Manor, passing an English Tudor guest house with a sundial clock on its chimney to the right.

Just beyond a greenhouse, you'll reach a road junction at the entrance to Parking Area A. The double blaze seems to indicate a right turn into the parking area, but you should instead bear left and then immediately turn right and follow the park access road downhill, passing between two stone eagles that once adorned New York City's Pennsylvania Station. After crossing an intersecting road, follow the white blazes as the trail bears left, reenters the woods, and descends steadily, passing through some wet areas. At the base of the descent, the trail turns right and follows the route of a buried gas pipeline to paved Morris Road.

Turn left on the paved road, cross a stone-walled bridge over Cupsaw Brook, then follow the white blazes as they turn right and reenter the woods, passing a stone foundation to the right. The white-blazed Crossover Trail climbs gradually to reach a T-intersection with a woods road - the route of the yellow-blazed Cooper Union Trail. Turn left, briefly following the joint route of the two trails, then turn right at the next T-intersection and follow the white blazes along a relatively level woods road for about half a mile. The white trail ends at a junction with the red-on-white blazed Ringwood-Ramapo Trail just east of Sloatsburg Road. Turn left and follow the red-on-white trail across the road and the stream, back to the parking area where the hike began.and the stream, back to the parking area where the hike began.

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

Good Hike

This was a pretty good hike, nice and long and passes through interesting areas. It took us a while to find the trail heads, which are literally those first two bridges visible from the parking area. The second bridge is still out (seriously? it's been 6 years!!) but can be easily gotten around by crossing a small creek, there are plenty of rocks to step on, or you can take your shoes off and cross, it is only 3 feet deep.   The trail seemed like it hadn't been hiked by anybody in along time, lots of spider webs across the pathways and in parts was almost overgrown. It was still well marked. The views were really nice. Like another commenter said, you can definitely hear the skeet shooting through most of it, at least on a satruday afternoon. I would recommend this hike, but bring lots of bug spray and watch out for the muddy swampy areas. I may have fallen on my butt once or twice :)   Also wanted to add that the coordinates above took us to a random house 15 minutes away from Ringwood Manor. I would just use "Ringwood Manor" in your GPS and then follow signs to Parking Lot B where the trailheads are.


By any chance do you know if the bridge has been replaced now?

hike update

We did this hike yesterday, even though the trail is officially closed due to the pipeline construction.  Once the trail is open again, I suspect it will get some TLC from the volunteers, though the trail markings were pretty good.  The second wooden bridge at the trailhead is blocked, but can be used by a determined hiker.  I also want to note, the trail blazes once you reach Skylands Manor/Park, are correct.  You should bear right and past the Welcome Booth in order to see the concrete eagles, and pick up the trail back to RIngwood.  We had to ask a Park police officer, and at the Welcome Booth, as we could not find the eagles and were wandering around for 30-45 mins.

Great hike but

A great workout with a chance to stop and tour the spectacular NJ Botanical gardens as well.   The detailed trail directions are perfect too.  However,  I would find a way to avoid the area around Shepherd Lake on days when the skeet shooting range is open.  The range emits irritatingly high levels of noise pollution lasting for approximately 1 hour on approach to the lake and 1 hour on departure.  Check with the park people in advance to see if the skeet facility is operating to make sure the noise doesn't ruin your day.  As an aside, I was surprised that there was a skeet shooting range in a state park.  Given New Jersey's budget concerns and the resources necessary to maintain a facilty for what must be a  small number of  skeet shooters,  I'm amazed it's still operating with state funds.  

Amazing workout and wonderful panoramas

The views that we enjoyed on this hike in Ringwood State Park was a day well spent. We started late (around 2 PM), and with the number of breaks that we took (quite a lot of them), it took us a good 5 hrs to finish this hike. We spent alteast 45 minutes in Shepherd Lake which was one of the most refreshing sites during the hike. The hike to Mount Defiance was definitely worth it as well. Kudos to the original author on the precise directions.