Know the New Hiking How-tos
Bearfort Ridge and Firetower in Pequannock Watershed
Directions to trailhead
Take N.J. Route 23 to the Clinton Road exit (just north of Newfoundland). At the end of the ramp, bear left onto Larue Road, then turn right onto Clinton Road and follow it for 2.7 miles to parking area P2 (a small turnout for 2-3 cars on the right side of the road, marked by a wooden post).
PERMITS: Hiking in the Pequannock Watershed is by permit only. An annual permit ($12.00) must be obtained in person at the office of the City of Newark, 223 Echo Lake Road, West Milford; (973) 697-1724. The office is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on weekdays and until 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays.
DESCRIPTION: From the north end of the parking area, head into the woods on the yellow-blazed Fire Tower West Trail, which follows a woods road. In only about 300 feet, you'll notice a triple-blue blaze on the right. Turn right onto this blue-blazed connecting trail, which soon climbs to the ridge. After a short level stretch, it ends at a junction with the red-over-white-blazed Fire Tower Ridge Trail.
Turn left onto the Fire Tower Ridge Trail, which follows a wide, grassy woods road. In about 500 feet, it curves sharply right and reaches the site of Cross Castle. Built in 1907 as the home of Richard F. Cross, the three-story stone mansion was sold to the City of Newark in 1919 and soon abandoned. The stone walls were finally demolished in 1988, and only part of one wall and portions of the foundation remain.
The trail curves left and continues along a narrower woods road, with views of Hanks Pond through the trees to the right. A short distance ahead, a dirt road to the left leads to a circular stone water tower built to supply water to Cross Castle (the water tower can also be seen from the trail). The trail continues along the woods road, parallel to and just east of the summit ridge of Bearfort Mountain.
About three-quarters of a mile from the site of the castle, the woods road turns left and makes a steep but brief climb to a rock outcrop studded with cedar and white pine. Here, the woods road ends. The trail bears right and continues on a footpath along the ridge, following a series of interesting outcrops of conglomerate rock. It passes a blueberry swamp to the left (with a view over the swamp from a rock outcrop to the left of the trail), then descends to a cleft in the rock with an underground stream. Here, the blue-blazed Newark Connector Trail joins from the right and begins to run concurrently with the Fire Tower Ridge Trail.
After dropping down from a rock outcrop and crossing a small stream, you'll come to a fork, where the blue-blazed trail leaves to the left. You should bear right and continue to follow the red-over-white blazes of the Fire Tower Ridge Trail along the ridge.
In another half a mile, you'll reach a large clearing, with the Bearfort Fire Tower visible directly ahead. Built in 1934, this 68-foot-high fire tower provides a panoramic 360-degree view, with pristine Cedar Pond visible directly to the west and the Clinton Reservoir to the south. The tower is manned seasonally, and if the fire tower observer is present, he may invite you to climb the tower to enjoy the views.
When you're ready to continue, head south from the tower. In about 50 feet, you'll notice the teal-diamond blazes of the Highlands Trail to the right. Turn right (west) and follow this trail, which almost immediately turns left and heads south along the ridge, joined by the yellow-blazed Fire Tower West Trail. At the next fork, bear right to continue on the Highlands/Fire Tower West Trails.
As you continue south along the ridge, you pass through a forest of mountain laurel, hemlock and white pine. In about a quarter of a mile, the trail traverses a rock ledge with west-facing views. Cedar Pond is visible to the northwest.
In another half a mile, the blue-blazed Newark Connector Trail begins to the left, with impressive cliffs near its start. You should continue ahead on the joint Fire Tower West/Highlands Trail. But at the next junction, where the Highlands Trail bears right and begins to descend (along with the white-blazed Twin Brooks Trail), be sure to turn left and follow the yellow-blazed Fire Tower West Trail.
The trail parallels sheer cliffs to the left, then moves away from the cliffs, which can be seen through the trees. In another mile, after passing the end of a blue connecting trail to the left, the Fire Tower West Trail ends at parking area P2 on Clinton Road.
To view a photo collection for this hike, click here.