Mount Defiance/Skylands Manor 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. (Note: Google Maps may show this as Sheppard Pond.)
From the parking area, follow the paved path down to the beach on Shepherd Lake. Continue through the boat launch parking area and past the boat house, with the lake on your left. You will notice the red-on-white blazes of the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail, which you will follow for the first part of the hike. As you continue along the trail, you may hear gunshot sounds in the distance. These come from the Thunder Mountain Shooting Range, located less than half a mile south of the Shepherd Lake parking area.
After passing a kiosk, where an orange-blazed trail begins, continue on a gravel road along the lake, following both red-on-white and orange blazes. 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. Continue ahead on the red-on-white-blazed trail, which passes an old stone foundation to the left. After crossing a gas pipeline (where many seedlings have been planted to remediate the area), the trail begins to climb 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. At the end of the cliffs, the pink-on-white-blazed Five Ponds Loop comes in from the right and briefly joins the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail. You will soon head down the mountain on the Five Ponds Loop, but for now, continue ahead for another 350 feet along the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail until you see a large rock outcrop to the right of the trail.
Climb this outcrop, which is studded with cedar trees, to reach a panoramic view from the top. The New Jersey State Botanical Gardens at Skylands Manor may be seen in the foreground, with the Wyanokies in the distance. The Wanaque Reservoir is visible to the left. This is a good place to take a break.
When you’re ready to continue, retrace your steps on the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail back to the junction with the Five Ponds Loop. Turn left (west), following the pink-on-white blazes, which climb over a small rise and then level off. Just before the trail begins a steady descent, you’ll reach a fork. The trail heads left here, but you may wish to follow an unmarked path to the right which leads up to a rock outcrop with a view over the gardens of Skylands Manor.
Continue down the mountain on the pink-on-white-blazed trail, which follows a series of gradual switchbacks -– the remnants of an old bridle path. At the base of the descent, turn right onto the white-blazed Crossover Trail, which follows a gravel road along the base of the mountain. When you reach a paved road, turn right and follow the road through the grounds of Skylands Manor, passing an English Tudor guest house with a sundial clock on its chimney to the right.
Just beyond a greenhouse, you’ll reach a road junction at the entrance to Parking Area A. Turn right into the parking area and proceed to the northwest corner, where you will see a sign for the Crossover Trail. Continue on a footpath through a meadow, then enter the woods and soon begin to descend on switchbacks. This trail section, built by the Jersey Off-Road Bicycle Association, was designed primarily for mountain bikes. It features very gentle grades and switchbacks that may seem excessively long to hikers.
After crossing the paved Shepherd Lake Road diagonally to the right and then crossing the route of a gas pipeline, the trail continues to descend on switchbacks. At the base of the descent, it turns right onto a woods road. It follows the road for a short distance, then turns left, leaving the road, and continues to descend on a footpath. Soon, it joins another woods road, which it follows across a stone causeway and a footbridge over Cupsaw Brook.
Just ahead, you’ll reach a junction with the red-on-white-blazed Ringwood-Ramapo Trail and the blue-blazed Cupsaw Brook Trail. Turn right, leaving the Crossover Trail, and continue on the joint Ringwood-Ramapo and Cupsaw Brook Trails. Soon, the joint trails cross a small stream on rocks. After paralleling Cupsaw Brook, the blue-blazed Cupsaw Brook Trail leaves to the left. Continue ahead on the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail, which turns right and crosses Cupsaw Brook on a wooden bridge. (From here on, the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail is marked by both red-on-white blazes and brown wands with solid red blazes.)
After passing a large cascade on the left, the trail bears right, away from the brook, and begins a steady ascent. At the top of the climb, the trail turns left onto a woods road and soon reaches a paved road at a traffic circle near Shepherd Lake. Turn left and head up to the parking area where the hike began.