At the northwest end of the parking area, you will see a sign for the Castle Loop. This trail will be your route for the entire hike. Follow the white blazes into the woods, bear left at the fork, then (with a kiosk on the left) bear right onto a footpath parallel to a gravel road. After passing a small pond on the right, follow the white blazes as they briefly turn right onto the road (this...
At the northwest end of the parking area, you will see a sign for the Castle Loop. This trail will be your route for the entire hike. Follow the white blazes into the woods, bear left at the fork, then (with a kiosk on the left) bear right onto a footpath parallel to a gravel road. After passing a small pond on the right, follow the white blazes as they briefly turn right onto the road (this portion of the road is paved), then turn left onto another woods road (at another sign for the Castle Loop). After passing an interesting rock outcrop on the right, you’ll come to a Y-intersection, where the white-blazed trail bears right and begins to descend.
Soon, the gravel road briefly reappears on the right, but bear left to stay on the white-blazed trail, which follows a rocky woods road over undulating terrain. The road eventually narrows to a footpath and crosses an intermittent stream. After descending on a winding route and once again briefly approaching the gravel road, the Castle Loop heads down to a woods road – the route of the black-square-on-blue-blazed Ramapo Lake Spur. Turn right, now following both white and black-square-on-blue blazes.
Soon, the trails bear left and descend a short pitch to Ramapo Lake (the dam of the lake is just to the left; do not cross it). Here, the black-square-on-blue-blazed Ramapo Lake Spur ends. You should continue ahead onto North Shore Drive (marked by a street sign), following the white blazes of the Castle Loop, now joined by the blue-on-white blazes of the Ramapo Lake Loop (which begins here). The joint trails follow a gravel road along the northeast shore of the lake, passing a private home on the right and then crossing a small stream on a stone-arch bridge, with an attractive cascade on the right.
A short distance beyond, you’ll come to a rock ledge on the left that overlooks the lake. This is a good place to take a break. Once known as Rotten Pond, and later as Lake LeGrande, Ramapo Lake is the centerpiece of Ramapo Mountain State Forest. It was formerly surrounded by private property, but most of the land around the lake was acquired by the state in the 1970s.
Just beyond, the trails reach the northern tip of Ramapo Lake. Here, you should bear right at the fork in the road, now following only white blazes, and pass between two concrete pillars. A short distance ahead, the white-"C"-on-red-blazed Cannonball Trail joins from the left. Just beyond, as the road curves sharply to the right, turn left, leaving the road, and follow the white-blazed Castle Loop Trail as it climbs steadily and rather steeply.
As you approach the top of the climb, bear left onto a rock ledge that offers a spectacular view. Directly below you is Ramapo Lake, with the Wanaque Mountains to the right (west). On a clear day, you can see the New York City skyline on the horizon to the left. You’ll want to pause here to rest from the steep climb and enjoy the view.
When you’re ready to continue, follow the white-blazed trail uphill. After climbing over a stone wall on a step-stile, you’ll reach the ruins of a mansion. Known as Foxcroft, it was built around 1910 by William Porter, a stockbroker. His widow occupied it until her death in 1940, and it fell into ruin in the late 1950s. Use caution if you wish to explore the remains of this once-elegant stone structure.
The trail continues to the north, passing the remains of a concrete swimming pool. Just beyond, the trail bears left and soon reaches an unobstructed west-facing viewpoint over the Wanaque Reservoir and the Wyanokie Mountains. Continue on the white-blazed trail, which climbs to a stone tower. Contrary to what one might think at first glance, this was not a lookout tower; rather, it held a cistern that supplied water to the mansion (note the rusted pipes adjacent to the tower). Just beyond, there is another view from an open rock ledge to the left of the trail over the Wanaque Reservoir to the west. The trail now begins to descend.
Watch carefully as the Castle Loop briefly turns left onto a woods road, then immediately turns right onto a footpath before reaching the route of a gas pipeline. It turns right again onto a woods road, turns left onto a footpath before reaching a wide gravel road, then turns right and follows the gas pipeline for 350 feet. After turning right and leaving the pipeline, the trail crosses a stream and climbs, first gradually, then rather steeply through mountain laurel, to a rock ledge with a broad view. From the ledge, you may be able to see the stone tower you passed about half a mile back.
A short distance beyond, the Castle Loop reaches a paved road, with Skyline Drive just to the left. Turn right onto the road, also the route of the Cannonball Trail (white-“C”-on-red blazes). The trails follow the road for 200 feet, then turn left onto a footpath through the woods. Soon, you’ll reach a junction where the two trails diverge. Turn left and follow the white-blazed Castle Loop along a footpath roughly parallel to Skyline Drive until you reach the parking area where the hike began.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 03/24/2006 updated/verified on 07/28/2022
This loop hike runs along the shore of scenic Ramapo Lake and climbs to the ruins of an old stone castle and tower, with panoramic views.
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.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
The Trail Conference is a 2015 Leave No Trace partner.
(c) Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.