Know the New Hiking How-tos
Directions to trailhead
Take I-287 to Exit 57 (Skyline Drive) and proceed north on Skyline Drive for about one mile to the upper parking area for Ramapo Mountain State Forest on the left side of the road, just beyond milepost 1.4, opposite the entrance to Camp Tamarack.
At the northwest end of the parking area, you will see white blazes, marking the start and end of the Castle Loop. This trail will be your route for the entire hike. Turn left and head east, following the white blazes, then bear right onto a footpath parallel to a gravel road. After passing a small pond on the right, follow the white blazes as they briefly turn right onto the road (this portion of the road is paved), then turn left onto another woods road. After passing an interesting rock outcrop on the right, you’ll come to a Y-intersection, where the white-blazed trail bears right and begins to descend.
Soon, the gravel road briefly reappears on the right, but bear left to stay on the white-blazed trail, which follows a rocky woods road over undulating terrain. The road eventually narrows to a footpath and crosses an intermittent stream. After descending on a winding route and once again briefly approaching the gravel road, the Castle Loop heads down to a woods road – the route of the black-square-on-blue-blazed Ramapo Lake Spur. Turn right, now following both white and black-square-on-blue blazes.
Soon, the trails bear left and descend a short pitch to Ramapo Lake (the dam of the lake is just to the left; do not cross it). Here, the black-square-on-blue-blazed Ramapo Lake Spur ends. You should continue ahead onto North Shore Drive (marked by a street sign), following the white blazes of the Castle Loop, now joined by the blue-on-white blazes of the Ramapo Lake Loop (which begins here). The joint trails follow a gravel road along the northeast shore of the lake, passing a private home on the right and then crossing a small stream on a stone-arch bridge, with an attractive cascade on the right.
A short distance beyond, you’ll come to a rock ledge on the left that overlooks the lake. This is a good place to take a break. Once known as Rotten Pond, and later as Lake LeGrande, Ramapo Lake is the centerpiece of Ramapo Mountain State Forest. It was formerly surrounded by private property, but most of the land around the lake was acquired by the state in the 1970s.
Just beyond, the trails reach the northern tip of Ramapo Lake. Here, you should bear right at the fork in the road, now following only white blazes, and pass between two concrete pillars. A short distance ahead, the white-"C"-on-red-blazed Cannonball Trail joins from the left. Just beyond, as the road curves sharply to the right, turn left, leaving the road, and follow the white-blazed Castle Loop Trail as it climbs steadily and rather steeply.
As you approach the top of the climb, bear left onto a rock ledge that offers a spectacular view. Directly below you is Ramapo Lake, with the Wanaque Mountains to the right (west). On a clear day, you can see the New York City skyline on the horizon to the left. You’ll want to pause here to rest from the steep climb and enjoy the view.
When you’re ready to continue, follow the white-blazed trail uphill. After climbing over a stone wall on a step-stile, you’ll reach the ruins of a mansion. Known as Foxcroft, it was built around 1910 by William Porter, a stockbroker. His widow occupied it until her death in 1940, and it fell into ruin in the late 1950s. Use caution if you wish to explore the remains of this once-elegant stone structure.
The trail continues to the north, passing the remains of a concrete swimming pool. Just beyond, the trail bears left and soon reaches an unobstructed west-facing viewpoint over the Wanaque Reservoir and the Wyanokie Mountains. Continue on the white-blazed trail, which climbs to a stone tower. Contrary to what one might think at first glance, this was not a lookout tower; rather, it held a cistern that supplied water to the mansion (note the rusted pipes adjacent to the tower). Just beyond, there is another view from an open rock ledge to the left of the trail over the Wanaque Reservoir to the west. The trail now begins to descend.
Watch carefully as the Castle Loop briefly turns left onto a woods road, then immediately turns right onto a footpath before reaching the route of a gas pipeline. It turns right again onto a woods road, turns left onto a footpath before reaching a wide gravel road, then turns right and follows the gas pipeline for 350 feet. After turning right and leaving the pipeline, the trail crosses a stream and climbs, first gradually, then rather steeply through mountain laurel, to a rock ledge with a broad view. From the ledge, you may be able to see the stone tower you passed about half a mile back.
A short distance beyond, the Castle Loop reaches a paved road, with Skyline Drive just to the left. Turn right onto the road, also the route of the Cannonball Trail (white-“C”-on-red blazes). The trails follow the road for 200 feet, then turn left onto a footpath through the woods. Soon, you’ll reach a junction where the two trails diverge. Turn left and follow the white-blazed Castle Loop along a footpath roughly parallel to Skyline Drive until you reach the parking area where the hike began.