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Red Back Loop Trail
Directions to trailhead
Take the New York State Thruway to Exit 15A. Turn left at the bottom of the ramp onto Route 17 and head north for 1.4 miles to the exit for Sterling Forest. Follow Sterling Mine Road (County Route 72) west for 2.4 miles, then turn right onto Eagle Valley Road. Continue on Eagle Valley Road for 0.8 mile to South Gate Road. Turn right onto South Gate Road and continue for 1.2 miles. Opposite Buttonwood Road (on the right), turn left at a Hikers’ Trailhead Parking sign and proceed for a short distance to a dirt parking area.
This hike, for the most part, follows woods roads in a loop around the southeastern section of Sterling Forest State Park, with considerable ups and downs. It traverses a remote and little-used section of the park, and portions of the trail may be very wet, especially after heavy rains. Along the way, the trail passes remnants of the historic Red Back Mine and runs along the interesting McKeags Meadow.
From the trailhead parking area, head west, past a locked gate. You immediately notice a signpost indicating that the Red Back Trail goes both left and straight ahead. Continue straight ahead to follow the trail in the counter-clockwise direction. For the entire hike, you will be following the Red Back Trail, blazed magenta (purplish-red). In places, the trail is not well blazed, but blazes and/or signs are evident at all important turns and junctions.
Follow the Red Back Trail as it climbs on a wide woods road. Be alert for a cairn on the left, and follow the trail as it departs from the road and continues on a winding footpath, passing attractive cascades in the stream below to the left. After a while, the footpath ends and the trail turns left onto the woods road.
After a brief descent, the Red Back Trail again bears right and follows a footpath that bypasses a section of the road. It then rejoins the road, passing a huge boulder on the left. A short distance ahead, you’ll come to a T-intersection, where the trail turns left and descends on a narrower woods road.
At the base of the descent, the trail turns sharply right and begins to climb. Soon, you’ll notice a deep trench on the left. This is a remnant of the Red Back Mine, after which the trail is named. You’ll also notice a large heap of rusted iron – a remnant of the roaster used to process the ore from the mine. The Red Back Mine was discovered in 1780 and was last worked in 1900.
At the end of the mine, the trail turns left, leaving the road, and continues on a footpath, which crosses an underground stream on rocks, loops to the south, and then heads north on the opposite side of the valley, climbing gradually. Near the crest of the rise, the footpath rejoins the road. Just ahead, you’ll reach an intersection with the Hutchinson Trail (which continues ahead on the road). Follow the Red Back Trail, which turns sharply left, leaving the road, and descends on a footpath through mountain laurel thickets.
After crossing a stream at the base of the descent (the crossing may be difficult, especially when the water is high), you’ll come to a T-intersection. Here, the Red Back Trail turns left onto a woods road, joining the route of the McKeags Meadow Trail (green stripe on yellow). A short distance ahead, the blazes turn right and follow a footpath that bypasses an eroded section of the road.
Soon after rejoining the road, the Red Back/McKeags Meadow Trail begins to parallel McKeags Meadow, visible through the trees on the left. After a while, the Red Back Trail turns left, leaving the McKeags Meadow Trail. A short distance ahead, it bears right at a fork. Upon reaching a T-intersection, the Red Back Trail turns left. Just beyond, it bears left and crosses a stream on stepping stones.
The Red Back Trail now climbs a little and soon begins to head northeast, parallel to McKeags Meadow (visible below on the left). The trail then turns right, away from the meadow, and begins a steady climb of Bill White Mountain. The trail passes just below the summit and begins to descend.
After crossing a stream at the base of the descent, the trail turns left onto a woods road and climbs some more. It descends steadily until it reaches another road that joins from the left. Here, the trail bears right and continues ahead along undulating terrain.
With white “restricted area” signs visible ahead, the trail bears left and descends steadily, parallel to South Gate Road. It crosses several streams at the base of the descent, then turns right and returns to the parking area where the hike began.