Yellow-Silver/Schuber/Cannonball Trail/Bear Swamp Lake Loop
Directions to trailhead
Take N.J. Route 17 to U.S. Route 202 in Mahwah. Turn left at the bottom of the ramp, proceed south on Route 202 for two miles, and turn right into the Ramapo Valley County Reservation parking area.
Short Line offers bus service from Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City to Ramapo College, which is located about a mile to the north of the park entrance on Route 202. For schedule information, go to www.shortlinebus.com. Only limited service is available on weekends.
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 200 feet, the green-dot-on-orange-blazed River Trail begins on the left. Turn left, leaving the wide gravel road, and follow the River Trail along a narrower footpath. Soon, the River Trail begins to run along the shore of the Ramapo River. Since the footpath is in the floodplain of the river, it may be muddy or even flooded in places when the water is high. After passing a small cascade, the trail bears right, away from the river, and it soon ends at a junction with the yellow-blazed Vista Loop Trail. Turn left onto the Vista Loop Trail and cross a stream on a wooden footbridge.
On the other side of the bridge, the trail turns sharply right and follows the cascading stream. Soon, it begins to climb on stone steps, passing an attractive waterfall along the way. This beautiful trail section was built in 2017-18 by an AmeriCorps trail crew of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. After passing more cascades and pools in the stream on the right, the Vista Loop Trail levels off, curves to the right, and reaches a junction with the wide park road leading to the MacMillan Reservoir.
Follow the Vista Loop Trail as it turns left, joining the blue-blazed Ridge Loop Trail, and continues along a paved section of the park road. After crossing a bridge, the trails diverge. Bear left and continue to follow the blue-blazed Ridge Loop Trail. Soon, the trail passes to the left of the stone dam of the MacMillan Reservoir (rebuilt in 2009). You’ve gone a little over a mile from the start, and this is a good place to take a break.
When you’re ready to continue, you’ll notice on the left a triple-red blaze that marks the start of the red-blazed Marsh Loop Trail on the left. Turn left onto the Marsh Loop Ttrail, which begins to climb. As the trail levels off, you’ll notice an old stone foundation on the left.
In half a mile, you’ll reach a junction. Here, the red-blazed Marsh Loop Trail bears right, but you should continue ahead, now following the Yellow-Silver Trail. The Yellow-Silver Trail climbs briefly and then begins a long, gradual descent. At the base of the descent, the trail passes several abandoned stone buildings – remnants of a goat farm.
The Yellow-Silver Trail briefly joins a private paved road (that leads to Camp Yaw Paw) to cross Bear Swamp Brook on a bridge, then bears right, leaving the road, and begins a steady climb, joining a woods road on the way. After a slight descent, the trail bears right and begins to climb again, following a road with numerous switchbacks.
Immediately after passing the rusted frame of an old fire tower to the right, you will reach a junction with the Yellow Trail. Turn right onto the Yellow Trail, which continues to ascend, passing a stone foundation on a rock ledge.
At the high point of the ridge (996 feet), the Yellow Trail is joined by the orange-blazed Schuber Trail. Here, to the right of the trail, there is an expansive viewpoint over northern Bergen County from a rock outcrop. On a clear day, you can see the Manhattan skyline on the horizon to the right. You've now gone about halfway, and you’ll want to stop and take a break.
After you’ve rested and enjoyed the view, return to the Yellow/Schuber Trail and turn right (north). You follow both yellow and orange blazes as you descend from the ridge, steeply in places, passing the start of the green-on-white-blazed Old Guard Trail on the left. Many of the trees in this area are dead or dying – victims of the recent gypsy moth infestation.
At the base of the descent, the Schuber Trail goes off to the right, but you should continue ahead, following the yellow blazes. After crossing a pipeline, then traversing a wet area on wooden bridges, the Yellow Trail ends at a junction with the Cannonball Trail (blazed with a white “C” on red) just beyond the Dogwood Cabin of Camp Yaw Paw.
Turn right on the Cannonball Trail, which follows the route of the historic Cannonball Road, used during the Revolutionary War to transport munitions without being intercepted by the British. You’ll pass a small lean-to on the right and then an A-frame building (used by the camp as a nature center) to the left. Just beyond the A-frame, the Green Trail starts to the left, but you should continue ahead on the Cannonball Trail.
After paralleling the dam of Iaoapogh Lake, the Cannonball Trail turns sharply left, passes the camp’s Coyle Cabin, and heads into the woods. It goes by the terminus of the white-blazed Crossover Trail, then descends to end at a junction with the blue-blazed Shore Trail at Bear Swamp Lake.
Turn right onto the Shore Trail, which immediately crosses a footbridge over the outlet of the lake. The dam which formerly regulated the level of the lake has been breached, and the depth of the lake has dropped several feet, leading to the growth of water lilies over much of the lake.
On the opposite side of the bridge, the blue-blazed trail turns left onto a wide road, of which portions are paved, which parallels the eastern shore of the lake. 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 and soon begins to descend on a rocky footpath.
After leveling off and 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.