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Blue Mountain Loop Trail - Northern Section
Directions to trailhead
Take I-80 to Exit 34B and continue north on NJ 15 for about 17 miles. When NJ 15 ends, continue ahead on US 206 North for 8.6 miles and turn right onto Flatbrook Road. In 1.0 mile, turn sharply right to continue on Flatbrook Road. Continue for another 2.4 miles and turn right onto Skellenger Road at a sign for the New Jersey School of Conservation. Proceed ahead for another 0.6 mile, crossing a stone-faced bridge over the Big Flat Brook along the way. Just before a “Dead End” sign, turn right onto a gated dirt road, and park in a small parking area on the right (if this small parking area is full, you may be able to park along the shoulder of Skellenger Road).
This hike follows the northern section of the Blue Mountain Loop Trail, blazed with a blue dot on white. This trail, constructed by the park in the summer of 2015, incorporates a number of pre-existing trails, and as of this writing, the old blazes remain.
From the parking area, walk around the locked gate and proceed southeast on the yellow-blazed Tinsley Trail, which follows a woods road. Several marked trails maintained by the New Jersey State School of Conservation branch off to the left, and one of these trails (the Purple Finch Trail) is co-aligned with the Tinsley Trail for some distance.
After descending to a wetland, the Tinsley Trail begins a gradual climb. About half a mile from the start, you’ll reach a fork, where you should bear right to continue along the Tinsley Trail. The trail now levels off, but it soon resumes its climb.
At the next junction, turn left, leaving the Tinsley Trail, and follow the blue-dot-on-white blazes of the Blue Mountain Loop Trail, as well as the red-on-white blazes of the Swenson Trail, which descend on a rocky footpath. You will be following the Blue Mountain Loop Trail for the remainder of the hike.
In a third of a mile, you’ll reach an open area with a locked cabin and an adjacent picnic table. Continue ahead on the Swenson/Blue Mountain Trail, which follows a level woods road. In about half a mile, after crossing several branches of a stream, follow the Blue Mountain Loop Trail as it turns right, leaving the woods road. The brown/red-blazed Cartwright Trail begins here, and you will be following both blue and brown/red blazes.
The Blue Mountain Loop/Cartwright Trail climbs on a footpath, paralleling a stream on the left. After crossing the stream on rocks, the trail levels off. Soon, it crosses another stream and continues through a dense understory of ferns. It then climbs a little more to cross the paved Sunrise Mountain Road. The climb steepens on the other side of the road, and, in a short distance, the trail reaches a panoramic west-facing viewpoint from an open rock ledge, with several pine trees. This is a good spot to take a break.
After climbing a little more, you’ll come to another junction. Here, the Cartwright Trail continues ahead (and a side trail with black/blue blazes begins), but you should turn left, continuing to follow the blue-dot-on-white blazes of the Blue Mountain Loop Trail. Soon, you’ll come to another west-facing viewpoint from an open rock ledge.
In another quarter mile, follow the Blue Mountain Trail as it turns left onto an eroded woods road. After descending some more on this road, the Blue Mountain Loop Trail turns right onto an intersecting woods road. Just beyond, the grey-on-white-blazed Howell Trail joins from the left, and the two trails run jointly for the next 2.5 miles.
The joint Blue Mountain Loop/Howell Trail now descends gently. In about a mile, it crosses a few short wooden bridges and then a longer bridge over the Big Flat Brook. It continues to descend a little, but after crossing a stream on rocks, the trail begins to climb. After leveling off, the trail descends gradually, then crosses a wet area on puncheons. Soon, it reaches a grassy woods road -– the route of the blue-blazed Parker Trail.
Turn left onto the road, now following three blazed trails (grey and two shades of blue) which descend gradually. In about half a mile, follow the blue and green blazes as they turn left, leaving the road, and descend on a footpath (from here on, there are only two sets of blazes).
Soon, you’ll reach the paved Crigger Road, with a piped spring on the opposite side of the road. Turn left onto the paved road, continuing to follow the blue-on-white blazes of the Blue Mountain Loop Trail. The trail crosses the Big Flat Brook on the road bridge, then turns right, leaving the paved road, and continues on a footpath.
For the next two miles, the trail proceeds through a hemlock forest, closely paralleling the cascading Big Flat Brook. This is the most interesting and beautiful portion of the hike, and you’ll want to take your time to enjoy this trail section.
After about 1.2 miles of pleasant walking along the brook, you’ll traverse an open grassy area, with a fenced-in area on the left. A short distance beyond, the Blue Mountain Loop Trail turns right and crosses an impressive wooden footbridge over the outlet of Lake Wapalanne. Just beyond, you’ll pass the ruins of a stone fireplace, and the Brown Creeper Trail joins from the left.
Soon, the Blue Mountain Trail turns left, away from the brook. With a parking area and buildings of the New Jersey School of Conservation visible ahead, the Blue Mountain Trail turns right and continues high above the brook. In a short distance, joined by the Orange Wood Lily Trail, it descends to the level of the brook, which it follows around a bend.
Be alert for a yellow blaze which marks the start of the Tinsley Trail. At this junction, turn left, leaving the Blue Mountain Loop Trail, and follow the Tinsley Trail up a steep rise. Just ahead, the Tinsley Trail crosses Skellinger Road and reaches the parking area where the hike began.