The hike begins at a kiosk in the southwest corner of the parking area. Just ahead, you'll notice a triple-yellow blaze on a tree, which marks the start of the Vista Loop Trail. Follow the yellow blazes as they descend wooden steps, join a wide dirt road, and continue ahead to cross the Ramapo River on a steel truss bridge. In another 250 feet, the green-dot-on-orange-blazed River Trail begins...
The hike begins at a kiosk in the southwest corner of the parking area. Just ahead, you'll notice a triple-yellow blaze on a tree, which marks the start of the Vista Loop Trail. Follow the yellow blazes as they descend wooden steps, join a wide dirt road, and continue ahead to cross the Ramapo River on a steel truss bridge. In another 250 feet, the green-dot-on-orange-blazed River Trail begins on the left, but you should continue ahead on the wide dirt road, following the southern shore of Scarlet Oak Pond (formerly the site of a gravel quarry).
At the end of the pond, you’ll notice two sets of double yellow blazes on a tree, which mark the start of the loop. Continue ahead on the wide dirt road to follow the Vista Loop Trail in the counter-clockwise direction. In 200 feet, a triple-blue blaze marks the start of the Ridge Loop Trail, but you should turn right, continuing to follow the Vista Loop Trail. The trail heads north along a dirt road for 500 feet, paralleling the western shore of the pond, then turns left and crosses a wooden footbridge (ahead, the dirt road is the route of the silver-on-white-blazed Pond Loop Trail, which loops around the northern end of the pond).
The Vista Loop Trail now begins to climb on a moderately steep grade. After a short level stretch, followed by a brief climb over a rock outcrop, it arrives at Hawk Rock. This east-facing ledge offers an expansive view over much of Bergen County, with Ramapo College in the foreground on the left. Lake Henry is directly ahead, with Scarlet Oak Pond to the south (right).
The Vista Loop Trail now bends to the left and continues to ascend. After a steep, rocky climb, the trail levels off and soon emerges on an open rock ledge with a panoramic east-facing view. The view from this Cactus Ledge is even broader than that from Hawk Rock, with the New York City skyline visible on the horizon on a clear day. You’ll also notice several clumps of prickly pear cactus – the only native American cactus that grows east of the Rocky Mountains. You’ve climbed about 400 vertical feet to reach this spectacular viewpoint, so you’ll want to take a break here.
When you’re ready to continue, follow the yellow blazes as they turn right and reenter the woods at the southern end of the viewpoint. Soon, the Vista Loop Trail joins a wider footpath. A short distance ahead, you'll reach a junction. Here, a triple-green-on-white blaze marks the start of the Halifax Trail. Bear right and continue ahead on the Halifax Trail, which begins a gradual descent. It crosses the wide route of a gas pipeline diagonally to the right, reenters the woods, and continues to descend, crossing an eroded woods road along the way. At the base of the descent, the Halifax Trail turns left onto a woods road which traverses Havemeyer Hollow. You’re now about two miles from the start of the hike. Continue to follow the Halifax Trail along this relatively level road that goes up the valley, with Havemeyer Brook to the right.
In a quarter of a mile, you’ll reach a junction with the purple-blazed Havemeyer Trail. Proceed ahead on the Halifax Trail, crossing Havemeyer Brook on rocks (the brook crossing may be a little difficult after heavy rains.) A short distance ahead, you’ll notice terraced stone walls on the hillside to the right, indicating that the land was formerly devoted to agricultural use. Ruins of several old stone buildings may also be seen along the road (Map #115 designates this site as the “Halifax Ruins”).
About a third of a mile beyond the brook crossing, the Halifax Trail turns left, leaving the woods road, and passes through a rocky area. It once again crosses the brook on rocks and turns right on a narrower woods road, continuing to ascend. The trail crosses a wide pipeline route in about half a mile. Then, in another third of a mile, after passing two woods roads which depart together to the right and once more crossing a gas pipeline, the Halifax Trail briefly joins Bear Swamp Road, which comes in from the left. Almost immediately, it turns right, leaves the road, and descends into the woods on a footpath. In about half a mile, after crossing a woods road, the trail bears slightly right to cross Bear Swamp Brook on a wooden bridge.
Just beyond the brook, you’ll reach a fork. Here, the Halifax Trail heads to the right, but you should take the left fork, now following the yellow-blazed Hoeferlin Memorial Trail, which begins here. In 500 feet, you’ll join the blue-blazed Shore Trail, which comes in from the left. The two trails run jointly for a short distance. When the yellow blazes depart to the right, stay to the left and continue to follow the blue blazes.
The blue-blazed Shore Trail heads south, soon crossing the main inlet stream of Bear Swamp Lake and continuing parallel to its western shore. You’ll pass through a rocky area with highbush blueberry bushes along the trail. After following the blue-blazed trail for about half a mile, you’ll cross another inlet stream and pass some evergreen trees. This area was once the site of the Bear Lake Club, a private summer-home community. All of the summer cottages were demolished when the state acquired the property in the 1970s, but many traces of these buildings remain, including two intact stone chimneys in former lakeside homesites to the left of the trail. You’ve now hiked for over four miles, and you might want to take a break at a rock ledge that overlooks the lake.
Just beyond, you’ll reach another fork in the trail. The Cannonball Trail (white C on red) begins here and takes the right fork, but you should bear left and continue to follow the blue-blazed Shore Trail, which crosses a footbridge over the outlet of the lake. The dam which formerly regulated the level of the lake has been breached, and the lake has dropped several feet as a result. This has led to the growth of water lilies and other vegetation, which now covers most of the lake.
On the opposite side of the bridge, the blue-blazed trail turns left onto the wide Bear Swamp Road, of which portions are paved. Follow the road along the eastern shore of the lake for about half a mile, passing more remnants of old homesites. At the next fork in the road, turn right, leaving the Shore Trail, and begin to follow the Red-Silver Trail. This trail, marked by red/silver blazes, immediately crosses a gas pipeline. About 300 feet beyond, follow the Red-Silver Trail as it bears right, leaving the woods road. Soon, the trail begins to descend on a rocky footpath, first rather steeply, then more gradually.
After crossing a stream, the Red-Silver Trail reaches a junction where the orange-blazed Schuber Trail begins on the right. Bear left to continue along the Red-Silver Trail, which follows a woods road. Soon, the Red-Silver Trail ends at a junction with the blue-blazed Ridge Loop Trail. Continue ahead along the road, now following the blue blazes of the Ridge Loop Trail. After crossing the red-blazed Marsh Loop Trail, you'll descend to the dam of the MacMillan Reservoir (visible on the left). Proceed ahead (downhill) on the Ridge Loop Trail. Soon, the yellow-blazed Vista Loop Trail joins from the left, but when the two trails diverge, bear left to stay on the blue-blazed Ridge Loop Trail.
The Ridge Loop Trail continues to descend, following the wide park road. On the way, you’ll reach a junction where the blue blazes head both left and right. Here, you should bear right and follow the descending route of the blue-blazed Ridge Loop Trail. Near the base of the descent, the Ridge Loop Trail curves to the right, and it soon ends at a junction with the yellow-blazed Vista Loop Trail. Proceed straight ahead on the Vista Loop Trail, which passes to the right of Scarlet Oak Pond, continues across the bridge over the Ramapo River, and ends at the parking area where the hike began.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 08/14/2003 updated/verified on 08/28/2016
This loop hike climbs to Hawk Rock, a panoramic overlook, and circles Bear Swamp 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.
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.