Lake Rutherford Loop via Appalachian Trail and Iris Trail
Directions to trailhead
Follow N.J. Route 208 to I-287 South. Take Exit 52B of I-287 (N.J. Route 23 North) and proceed north on Route 23 for about 35 miles to High Point State Park. As you begin the final steep climb to High Point, County Route 519 (Greenville Road) goes off to the right. Continue along Route 23 for another 0.6 mile. Just beyond stone pillars on both sides of the road, turn left at a sign for “Appalachian Trail Parking.” Proceed for 0.1 mile and park in the large parking area. (The A.T. parking area turnoff is 0.2 mile southeast of the State Park Office at the crest of the rise.)
From the kiosk at the southwest comer of the parking area, follow a blue-blazed trail gently uphill. In 0.2 mile, the blue-blazed trail joins the red-dot-on-white-blazed Iris Trail. Turn right and follow the joint blue/red trail a short distance to a four-way junction, with a four-foot-high drainage pipe on the left. Here, the red-on-white-blazed Iris Trail turns right, and the yellow-on-white-blazed Mashipacong Trail continues ahead. You should turn left onto the white-blazed Appalachian Trail (A.T.), which you’ll be following for the next 3.3 miles.
After passing an interesting cliff on the right, the A.T. continues ahead on a old woods road. Soon, it bears right and begins to climb to the ridge of the Kittatinny Mountain. It reaches a rocky summit and continues along the ridge, with many jagged rocks along the footpath.
About a mile from the start, the Blue Dot Trail leaves to the right (it leads down to Sawmill Lake). Continue ahead on the A.T. A short distance beyond, you’ll reach a west-facing viewpoint, with Sawmill Lake visible below. The trail now turns left and descends on a rocky footpath to a valley between the two ridges of the mountain. It then climbs very steeply to the eastern ridge. At the top of the climb, there are views to the right of the western ridge. After continuing to the eastern side of the ridge, you’ll reach another viewpoint (elevation 1,622 feet) – this one, facing east, is largely obscured by vegetation. The trail continues south along the ridge, descending gradually.
In another mile along the ridge, you’ll come out on a panoramic east-facing viewpoint from open rocks to the left of the trail. Lake Rutherford, which you’ll be visiting on your return trip, is visible to the left, and the rural Wallkill Valley is beyond. You’ll immediately pass another viewpoint, after which the trail goes back into the woods. In another 0.2 mile, you’ll reach another east-facing viewpoint from open rocks on the left. This viewpoint, known as Dutch Shoe Rock, offers a broad view over the Wallkill Valley, but Lake Rutherford is not visible.
The trail now bears left and begins to descend. At the base of the descent, a blue-blazed side trail on the left leads 0.4 mile to the Rutherford Shelter – a wooden shelter with a nearby spring, where overnight camping is permitted. A side hike to the shelter and back will add about half an hour to your hike.
After climbing a little and turning sharply right, you’ll reach a junction with the red-dot-on-white-blazed Iris Trail. Turn left here and follow the Iris Trail, an old woods road. This trail, for the most part, is relatively level with a grassy surface, and it is a welcome contrast to the jagged rocks along the A.T.
In three-quarters of a mile, you’ll come to a junction with another woods road. Turn left here, staying on the Iris Trail, then bear right at the next fork. In half a mile, you’ll cross a wooden footbridge over the inlet of Lake Rutherford and begin to parallel the lake.
Soon, you’ll pass a rock outcrop on the right with a view of the lake. Then, just before the trail bears left, away from the lake, a side trail on the right leads down to the lake. This is another good spot to take a break and enjoy the views over the scenic lake. Swimming is not permitted, however, since the lake serves as the municipal water supply for the town of Sussex.
After another mile and a half on the Iris Trail, you’ll cross a footbridge over a stream and reach the junction with the blue-blazed trail you followed at the start of the hike. Turn right onto the blue-blazed trail and follow it back to the parking area where the hike began.