Leave the park visitor center, using the front entrance, and turn right on a dirt path, following the blue blazes of the Sterling Lake Loop. The trail briefly joins the paved entrance road, then bears right and goes across a grassy field, passing the stone foundations of a former church on the right. It enters the woods on a footpath and soon reaches a junction with the yellow-blazed Lakeville Ironworks Trail.
Turn left onto this trail, which passes the remains of the Sterling Furnace, built in 1770 and abandoned in 1804. The structure you see was rebuilt in the 1950s by the City Investing Company. After going across paved Old Forge Road, you'll pass an old house, a remnant of the Lakeville mining community, and cross a stream on a footbridge. The trail then crosses another paved road and climbs through a pine forest to an opening of the Sterling Mine, carved into the hillside. Iron ore was discovered in the area as early as 1736, and mining operations continued until 1923. The trail passes concrete-and-brick ruins of several buildings from the mining era and the opening of the Lake Mine (whose deep shaft extended under Sterling Lake), then descends to paved West Sterling Lake Road.
Turn left onto the road, once again following the blue blazes of the Sterling Lake Loop. The road now runs alongside Sterling Lake, affording views across the lake.
Soon, the road curves to the right. In another 200 feet, a sign marks the start of the Bare Rock and Fire Tower Connector Trails. Turn left, leaving the blue-blazed trail, then immediately turn right and continue along the orange-blazed Bare Rock Trail, which crosses a stream on a footbridge and climbs on an old woods road. The trail generally follows this road up the Sterling Ridge, but it has been routed off the road in several places to avoid wet and badly eroded sections. Follow the orange blazes for about three-quarters of a mile, climbing steadily, until you reach the crest of the ridge at a junction (marked by a sign) with the blue-on-white-blazed Sterling Ridge Trail and teal-diamond-blazed Highlands Trail.
Continue ahead on the Bare Rock Trail, which levels off, then narrows to a footpath and descends to cross a stream and reach the green-blazed West Valley Trail, a woods road. Bear left and continue to follow the orange blazes along this road. In a quarter mile, follow the orange blazes as they turn right and head west, descending on an old woods road. Soon, the trail turns left and briefly parallels a stream. After again turning left and crossing the stream on rocks, the trail climbs to the top of the ridge. Here, it reaches a junction marked by a sign “Bare Rock Vista.”
Turn right and descend rather steeply on a side trail, marked with binocular-logo-on-orange blazes. You’ll emerge onto Bare Rock – a spectacular viewpoint over Greenwood Lake. From this vantage point, you can see the entire six-mile-long lake, with Bellvale Mountain - the route of the Appalachian Trail - in the background. You'll want to take a break here to enjoy the panoramic view.
When you're ready to continue, climb back to the main trail and turn right. The Bare Rock Trail heads south along the ridge, with views of the lake through the trees. It bears left and descends into a valley, then climbs on switchbacks and continues to head south along a slightly higher ridge.
In a third of mile, the Bare Rock Trail bears left and crosses the ridge to reach an east-facing viewpoint, with the Sterling Forest Fire Tower visible directly ahead. You’ll soon be climbing this tower! From the viewpoint, the trail bears right and continues to descend. After crossing an intermittent stream in a hollow, the trail climbs to a large open rock ledge and passes some interesting boulders. It crosses another intermittent stream, descends through a hemlock grove, and ends at a at a woods road – the route of the white-stripe-on-red-blazed Fire Tower Trail and the green-blazed West Valley Trail.
Turn left onto the woods road, following the white-stripe-on-red and green blazes. In a quarter of a mile, where the two trails diverge, bear right to follow the white-stripe-on-red-blazed Fire Tower Trail. The former route of this trail (a woods road) has been flooded by a beaver dam (visible just ahead), and the trail has been rerouted to a footpath south of the flooded area. Soon, the trail bears left, crosses a stream on rocks, skirts the flooded area, and rejoins the woods road.
Follow the road for half a mile to a junction with the blue-on-white-blazed Sterling Ridge Trail and the teal-diamond-blazed Highlands Trail. Turn left, now following three trails – the Fire Tower Trail, the Sterling Ridge Trail and the Highlands Trail.
After a short level stretch, the trail turns sharply right and climbs very steeply over rock ledges to reach a south-facing viewpoint from open rocks amid pitch pines. This is another good place to stop and take a break. The trail now descends to cross an intermittent stream on rocks, then climbs again – with two steep climbs interrupted by a short level stretch. At the top of the second climb, it reaches another, more limited south-facing viewpoint. The trail then levels off and soon reaches the Sterling Forest Fire Tower.
Built in 1922, the fire tower affords an impressive 360° view of Sterling Forest and the surrounding area. Sterling Lake is in the foreground to the northeast, Cedar Pond may be seen to the south, and a portion of Greenwood Lake is visible to the west. On a clear day, North and South Beacon mountains of the East Hudson Highlands may be seen in the distance to the northeast, and Schunemunk Mountain is visible to the north, with the Catskills on the horizon.
When you're ready to continue, proceed east on the white-stripe-on-red-blazed Fire Tower Trail, which descends steadily from the ridge on a woods road (used by vehicles to access the fire tower). After about a mile, where the road levels off, you'll come to a junction. The Fire Tower Trail turns off to the right on a branch road, but you should continue ahead on the main road, now marked with red-triangle-on-white blazes as the Fire Tower Connector Trail. The road continues to descend, and after passing a private residence and going around a locked gate, it ends at a junction with the blue-blazed Sterling Lake Loop, near the shore of Sterling Lake. Turn right and follow the blue blazes back to the visitor center, where the hike began (note the left turn off the paved road in about a third of a mile).
Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazinon 08/19/2010updated/verified on 04/26/2015
This loop hike passes ruins of former mining activity and climbs to Bare Rock, with panoramic views over Greenwood Lake.
Whether you are going for a day hike or backpacking overnight, it is good practice to carry what we call The Hiking Essentials. These essentials will help you enjoy your outing more and will provide basic safety gear if needed. There may also be more essentials, depending on the season and your needs.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
Water - Two quarts per person is recommended in every season. Keep in mind that fluid loss is heightened in winter as well as summer. Don't put yourself in the position of having to end your hike early because you have run out of water.
Map - Know where you are and where you are going. Many of our hiking areas feature interconnecting network of trails. Use a waterproof/tear-resistant Tyvek Trail Conference map if available or enclose your map in a Ziplock plastic bag. If you have a mobile device, download Avenza’s free PDF Maps app and grab some GPS-enhanced Trail Conference maps (a backup Tyvek or paper version of the map is good to have just in case your batteries die or you don't have service). Check out some map-reading basics here.
Food - Snacks/lunch will keep you going as you burn energy walking or climbing. Nuts, seeds, and chocolate are favorites on the trail.
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Rain Gear and Extra Clothing - Rain happens. So does cold. Be prepared for changing weather. Avoid cotton--it traps water against your skin and is slow to dry. If you are wearing wet cotton and must return to your starting point, you risk getting chills that may lead to a dangerous hypothermia. Choose synthetic shirts, sweaters and/or vests and dress in layers for easy on and off.
Compass - A simple compass is all you need to orient you and your map to magnetic north.
Light - A flashlight or small, lightweight headlamp will be welcome gear if you find yourself still on the trail when darkness falls. Check the batteries before you start out and have extras in your pack.
First Aid Kit - Keep it simple, compact, and weatherproof. Know how to use the basic components.
Firestarter and Matches - In an emergency, you may need to keep yourself or someone else warm until help arrives. A firestarter (this could be as simple as leftover birthday candles that are kept inside a waterproof container) and matches (again, make sure to keep them in a waterproof container) could save a life.
Knife or Multi-tool - You may need to cut a piece of moleskin to put over a blister, repair a piece of broken equipment, or solve some other unexpected problem.
Emergency Numbers - Know the emergency numbers for the area you're going to and realize that in many locations--especially mountainous ones, your phone will not get reception.
Common Sense - Pay attention to your environment, your energy, and the condition of your companions. Has the weather turned rainy? Is daylight fading? Did you drink all your water? Did your companion fail to bring rain gear? Are you getting tired? Keep in mind that until you turn around you are (typically) only half-way to completing your hike--you must still get back to where you started from! (Exceptions are loop hikes.)
Check the weather forecast before you head out. Know the rules and regulations of the area.
Take the New York Thruway to Exit 15A. Turn left at the bottom of the ramp onto Route 17 and head north for 1.4 miles to the exit for Sterling Forest. Follow Sterling Mine Road (County Route 72) west for 3.0 miles, then turn right onto Long Meadow Road (County Route 84). Proceed north on Long Meadow Road for 3.5 miles, then turn left onto Old Forge Road and continue for 0.5 mile until you reach the Sterling Forest State Park Visitor Center. Park in the parking lot on the right side of the road, then cross the road to the visitor center, where there are informative exhibits.
The hike starts out on a paved road, goes through some historic sites, and then gradually gains some elevation with some rolling hills in some lovely glades and forest clearings. I like this hike because near the end is the nice steep hill climb up to the fire tower. Did this hike end of September and the leaves on the trees were just magnificent. This is a good hike to start out with for those who want to step up and add some mileage to their hikes, without all that elevation gain. What I like also is that the trails are extremely well marked, probably one of the best maintained trail circuits in the whole NY/NJ area.
June 17, 2014
Just did this hike with my hiking club on Sunday and both GPSs calculated the mileage to be 8.5 miles. You may want to revise your description. It's a great hike--wonderful views at Bare Rock and of course from the tower.
June 09, 2012
a couple of minor things
I did this hike today and had a great time. Just wanted to make a couple of notes to the description - the trail out to bare rock is now blazed orange with binoculars on the blaze and says Bare Rock Vista - you can't miss it. Also, in the flooded area near the beaver pond the fire tower trail is completely re-routed around it. I saw some pink ribbons from the past and to me it looks like it has been rerouted totally around, so no bush whack was necessary.
Last thing I would say, and just mu opinion, I would rate this as a moderate to streneous. The first two thirds are moderate - only the last part prior to getting to the fire tower would be strenuous. Before that there are a couple of little climbs but nothing too major.
Thanks for a good hike description. Had a great day. I had never been to Sterling - it was nice to see Greenwood Lake from the other side.