Mount Defiance/Mountain Bike Trail Shorter Loop from Shepherd Lake
Directions to trailhead
Take Skyline Drive to its northwestern terminus at Greenwood Lake Turnpike (County Route 511). Turn right, continue for 1.5 miles, and turn right onto Sloatsburg Road. Continue for 2.1 miles and turn right onto Morris Road. In 1.3 miles, just before the entrance to the Skylands section of Ringwood State Park, turn left onto Shepherd Lake Road and proceed for 0.8 mile to Shepherd Lake. Past the entrance booth, bear left and park in the designated parking area (a parking fee is charged from Memorial Day to Labor Day). NOTE: Shepherd Lake is a popular destination on summer weekends, and the parking area can fill up early in the day.
From the parking area, follow the paved path down to the beach on Shepherd Lake. Continue past the boat launch parking area and the boat house, with the lake on your left. Just beyond the boat house, you’ll notice a kiosk, where an orange-blazed trail begins. Continue on a gravel road along the lake, following both the orange blazes and the red-on-white blazes of the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail.
In about a third of a mile, both trails turn right, leaving the road. Continue to follow the blazed trails, which head uphill on a footpath. At an intersection with a woods road, the orange-blazed trail turns left, but you should continue ahead, now following only the red-and-white blazes of the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail.
The trail climbs to the top of a rise, then descends to cross a mountain bike trail. This will be your return route, but for now, continue ahead on the red-on-white-blazed trail, which passes an old stone foundation on the left. A short distance beyond, the trail crosses a gas pipeline (the many plastic tubes you see along the pipeline contain seedlings, part of an effort to remediate the area). The trail now climbs the northern shoulder of Mount Defiance, first gradually, then more steeply. Just below the 1,040-foot summit, there is a limited view to the west over Ringwood Manor and the Cupsaw Lake area.
After a short but steep descent, the trail follows the crest of the ridge, paralleling impressive cliffs on the right and passing an interesting split boulder. Soon, you’ll reach a junction with the pink-on-white-blazed Five Ponds Loop. You will be continuing ahead on the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail. In about 350 feet, there is a broad west-facing viewpoint from a rock outcrop with cedars, on the right. In leaf-off season, Skylands Manor may be seen directly below, through the trees, surrounded by the exotic trees of the New Jersey State Botanical Garden. The Monksville Reservoir is directly ahead, and the Wanaque Reservoir is visible to the left (south) through the trees.
Continue south on the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail, which descends gradually and loops around, soon reaching a junction where the blue triangle-on-white Skylands Trail begins on the left. Turn left and follow the Skylands Trail north for a short distance. When you reach the pink-on-white-blazed Five Ponds Loop, turn right and descend the mountain on switchbacks. At the base of the descent, follow the Five Ponds Loop as it turns left onto a gravel road. Just ahead, the Five Ponds Loop turns right, but you should continue ahead on the gravel road.
Soon, you’ll pass the ruins of a collapsed frame building on the left and proceed between two stone pillars, with abandoned stone buildings (originally, the gate houses for the estate) on each side of the trail. Just beyond, bear left at the fork.
A short distance ahead, at the top of a rise, a mountain bike trail goes off to the left (a brown wand is visible about 25 feet into the woods). Turn left and follow this “single-track” trail, which will take you back to Shepherd Lake. Although not marked (except with occasional brown wands at intersections), the trail is well-defined and easy to follow. It climbs on switchbacks to cross the gas pipeline and the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail, then continues to climb a little more. After reaching a high point, it descends gradually, crosses a woods road, and once again approaches the gas pipeline (although it does not cross it). The mountain bike trail then heads north to end at the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail along the shore of Shepherd Lake. Turn left and follow the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail back to the parking area at the southwest corner of the lake, where the hike began.