Vista Loop/Halifax/Red-Silver/Ridge Loop Trails to Bear Swamp Lake
Directions to trailhead
Take N.J. Route 17 to U.S. Route 202 in Mahwah. Proceed south on Route 202 for two miles, then turn right into the Ramapo Valley County Reservation parking area.
The hike begins at a kiosk in the southwest corner of the parking area. Just ahead, you'll notice a triple-black-square-on-yellow blaze on a tree, which marks the start of the Vista Spur Trail. Follow the black-square-on-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. Just beyond the bridge, you'll pass one end of the orange-on-white-blazed River Loop Trail on the right and, in another 250 feet, you'll pass the other end of this loop, but you should continue ahead on the wide dirt road, following the black-square-on-yellow blazes along the southern shore of Scarlet Oak Pond (formerly the site of a gravel quarry).
At the end of the pond, you’ll notice a sign for the “Yellow Vista Loop,” with arrows pointing in both directions. Here, the yellow-blazed Vista Loop Trail begins. Continue ahead on the wide dirt road to follow the Vista Loop Trail in the counter-clockwise direction. In another 125 feet, turn right, continuing to follow the yellow blazes of the Vista Loop Trail. Just ahead, a triple purple-on-white blaze marks the start of the Pond Loop Trail. Continue ahead, parallel to the western shore of the pond, now following both yellow and purple-on-white blazes.
In 500 feet, follow the yellow-blazed Vista Loop Trail as it turns sharply left, leaving the wide dirt road and the Pond Loop Trail, and crosses a wooden footbridge. 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. 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 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. In half a mile, the White Trail begins on the left. In another 250 feet, the trail crosses the wide route of a pipeline.
In another third of a mile, the trail goes around a locked gate. Just beyond, it passes two woods roads which depart to the right and once more crosses a gas pipeline. On the other side of the pipeline, the Halifax Trail briefly joins the paved Bear Swamp Road, which comes in from the left. In 100 feet, the trail turns right, leaves the road, and descends into the woods on a footpath. In about half a mile, after briefly joining a woods road, the trail bears left 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 on rocks 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. Side trails on the left lead to two intact stone chimneys at former lakeside homesites. You’ve now hiked for over four miles, and you might want to take a break at a rock ledge adjacent to one of the stone chimneys 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-blazed Rocky Mountain Connector. A short distance ahead, this trail crosses a gas pipeline. About 300 feet beyond, follow the Rocky Mountain Connector as it bears right, leaving the woods road. Soon, the trail begins to descend rather steeply on a rocky footpath. After crossing a wet area, it levels off.
The Rocky Mountain Connector descends to cross a stream on rocks and reaches a junction where the orange-blazed Schuber Trail begins on the right. Bear left to continue along the Rocky Mountain Connector, which follows a woods road. Soon, the Rocky Mountain Connector ends at a junction with the blue-blazed Ridge Loop Trail. Bear right and continue 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 (at a sign for the “waterfall”), 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 turn left and head uphill. Here, you continue ahead and follow the blue/yellow-blazed Vista-Ridge Connector, which heads downhill along the park road. Near the base of the descent, the Vista-Ridge Connector 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 for 200 feet, then continue on the black-square-on-yellow-blazed Vista Spur 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.area where the hike began.