Four Birds Trail/Wildcat Ridge Trail Loop from Lower Hibernia Road
Directions to trailhead
Take I-80 West to Exit 37 (Hibernia/Rockaway). At the bottom of the ramp, turn left onto Green Pond Road (County 513). Follow Green Pond Road north for 2.8 miles and turn right onto Lower Hibernia Road. Immediately turn left into a parking area for the Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area.
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). 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 (a site where bats hibernate over the winter), 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 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.