From the parking area, the Four Birds Trail heads north on a woods road, running jointly with the orange-blazed Hibernia Brook Trail. To the right are the stone-and-concrete ruins of buildings that once processed ore extracted from the Hibernia Mines. In 300 feet, bear right to continue on the white-blazed Four Birds Trail (the orange-blazed Hibernia Mine Trail bears left here). In another 100...
From the parking area, the Four Birds Trail heads north on a woods road, running jointly with the orange-blazed Hibernia Brook Trail. To the right are the stone-and-concrete ruins of buildings that once processed ore extracted from the Hibernia Mines. In 300 feet, bear right to continue on the white-blazed Four Birds Trail (the orange-blazed Hibernia Mine Trail bears left here). In another 100 feet, follow the white blazes as they turn left onto another woods road.
A short distance ahead, you’ll come to a fork. Here, the Four Birds Trail bears left, but you should take the right fork (and, just ahead, bear left at another fork). A sign indicates that the gravel road ahead leads to the Bat Hibernaculum – a site where bats hibernate over the winter. You’ll pass a viewing platform and reach a barricaded entrance to the former Hibernia Mine (abandoned about 1916). Considered to be New Jersey’s most significant bat hibernaculum, it was once the home of over 25,000 bats each winter. However, these numbers have been dramatically reduced by an outbreak of the white nose syndrome fungus.
Return to the fork and bear right to continue on the white-blazed Four Birds Trail. Soon, the trail runs parallel to a trench on the left, and it begins a steady climb. On the way, it crosses a woods road, the route of the orange-blazed Hibernia Brook Trail (which will be your return route). After reaching the top of the rise, it descends gradually, then climbs a little to join a mining berm. At the end of the berm, the trail turns left onto a woods road.
You may wish to take a short side trip by turning right on the road. In 450 feet, you’ll reach the abandoned St. Patrick’s Cemetery on the right. Established in 1869, it served as a burial ground for many of the miners. When the mines were closed in the early 1900s, it fell into disuse, but many of the headstones are still in good condition.
Go back to the junction between the berm and the woods road, and continue ahead on the road. A short distance ahead, follow the Four Birds Trail as it turns right, leaving the road, and begins to run along another berm. It follows the berm for about a third of a mile until it bears right, away from the berm, and continues on a level footpath.
After crossing an old stone wall and a gravel road, the Four Birds Trail begins a steady ascent, first rather steeply, then more gradually. Near the crest of the rise, it crosses a mining berm and levels off. The trail then begins to descend, crossing a woods road and an intermittent stream at the base of the descent.
After another level stretch, the Four Birds Trail begins to climb on a rocky footpath. As it approaches the crest of the rise, a yellow-blazed trail (which leads to a viewpoint at Grafitti Cliffs) begins on the right, but you should proceed ahead, continuing to follow the white blazes. A short distance ahead, the trail crosses a wide woods road and levels off. It continues along the crest of the ridge for a quarter mile, with limited views through the trees on the left during leaf-off season, then begins a steady descent.
At the base of the descent, the trail crosses a stream and bears left, briefly joining a woods road, then climbs to cross another woods road - the route of the orange-blazed Flyway Spur Trail. Turn right and follow the orange-blazed trail for 500 feet to the Hawk Watch – an open rock ledge that provides a panoramic view over the Rockaway Valley below. During the fall and spring migratory seasons, volunteers continually record the numbers of migratory birds observed here. On a clear day, portions of the New York City skyline can be seen on the horizon to the left.
When you’re ready to continue, retrace your steps to the white-blazed Four Birds Trail and turn right. The trail crosses a gravel road (which, to the right, leads to a television transmission tower) and begins a long, steady descent. In half a mile, at the base of the descent, the trail traverses a rocky area, crosses a stream on a wooden footbridge, and begins a steady climb.
In another quarter mile, the red-blazed Beaver Pond Trail (marked by an arrow that points to “Beaver Pond” and a single red-on-white blaze) begins on the left. Continue ahead on the Four Birds Trail, which soon crosses a woods road and a stream and begins a steady climb, steeply in places. At the top of the climb, a rock outcrop to the right of the trail provides a limited view to the southeast when there are no leaves on the trees. The trail now descends gently, then climbs briefly to reach the southern terminus of the blue-blazed Split Rock Trail on the right.
Proceed ahead on the Four Birds Trail, which descends rather steeply, passing a huge glacial erratic on the left. At the base of the descent, turn left, leaving the Four Birds Trail, and begin to follow the yellow-blazed Wildcat Ridge Trail. The Wildcat Ridge Trail climbs gradually on a woods road, passing through mountain laurel thickets. After crossing a stream, the trail bears right onto a footpath, bypassing a wet section of the woods road. Soon, the trail reaches an overlook above a stream and, just ahead, it rejoins the woods road.
Before reaching a power line clearing, the Wildcat Ridge Trail turns left, leaving the woods road, and follows a footpath through the woods. After turning right at a fork, you’ll reach the paved Upper Hibernia Road. Turn left and follow the road for 200 feet, then turn left onto a yellow-blazed gravel road, marked with a sign for the Wildcat Ridge Trail.
For the next half mile, you’ll be following the abandoned right-of-way of the Oreland Branch of the Wharton & Northern Railroad, built in 1888 to transport iron ore from the Hibernia mines and abandoned about 1919. Despite the fact that the tracks were removed nearly a century ago, the right-of-way is in remarkably good condition. Along the way, you’ll pass cliffs on the left, parallel a stone wall on the right, go through rock cuts and cross a long, 15-foot-high embankment over a wetland. You’ll also notice some discarded railroad ties along the right-of-way. In the words of Larry Lowenthal, author of Iron Mine Railroads of Northern New Jersey (p. 130), “[w]ith its upland swamps, rocky cliffs, some with glacial markings, abundance of purple, fluoride-bearing puddingstones, numerous brooks and springs, thick but unenta[n]gled woods and Appalachian wildflowers, the countryside traversed by the Oreland Branch embodies the essence of the New Jersey Highlands.”
In half a mile, the Wildcat Ridge Trail turns left onto a paved road and follows it for 150 feet, then turns right and continues along the old railbed through a deep rock cut. In a short distance, the railbed ends at a gravel road. Turn left onto the gravel road, and immediately turn right onto a paved road. In 150 feet, you’ll notice a triple-yellow blaze and a sign for the Wildcat Ridge Trail on the left. Turn left, leaving the road, and enter the woods on a footpath. Soon, the trail turns right and begins to run along a mining berm that parallels a ditch.
After moving away from the berm, the Wildcat Ridge Trail passes between two large rocks and ends at a gravel road. Turn right, follow the gravel road for 100 feet, then turn left onto the abandoned section of Hibernia Road. This section of the road - marked occasionally with orange blazes - has been closed to vehicular traffic for many years and is blocked off by a yellow gate (you can walk around the gate). As you proceed along the road, you’ll notice remnants of former settlements, including old fences which use abandoned rails as fenceposts!
In two places, the road jogs to the left and then immediately jogs back to the right. The first of these jogs is marked by an orange blaze on a rail driven into the ground. In each case, be sure to follow the main road, as branch roads go off to the right. After these jogs, you’ll come to fork where you should bear left, as indicated by a double orange blaze. The trail now narrows to a footpath and begins to descend.
A short distance ahead, you’ll cross a woods road. Just ahead, you’ll notice a triple-orange blaze and a sign for the Hibernia Brook Trail. Continue ahead, now following orange blazes along a well-marked route. The trail descends along an old mining road. At the base of the descent, the trail makes several switchbacks and heads south, between Hibernia Brook on the right and a stone wall on the left. You are now following the right-of-way of the abandoned Hibernia Mine Railroad, built in 1863 to transport ore from the Hibernia Mines.
In about a quarter mile, the Hibernia Brook Trail bears left (note the abandoned stone abutments that once supported a railroad bridge over the brook) and soon reaches a junction with the white-blazed Four Birds Trail. Turn right and follow the joint Four Birds/Hibernia Brook Trail a short distance back to the parking area where the hike began.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 01/08/2017
This loop hike passes many remnants of former mining activity, including a barricaded mine used by hibernating bats and an abandoned cemetery, reaches a panoramic viewpoint, and follows an old railroad bed.
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.