From the gate, proceed ahead on the gravel road, marked with the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). In about a quarter of a mile, the road curves sharply right and enters a rhododendron grove. A short distance beyond, the white blazes of the A.T. leave to the left, but you should continue ahead along the gravel road.
About 300 feet beyond the A.T. turnoff, you will see a triple-orange blaze and a sign for the Rattlesnake Swamp Trail on the right side of the road. Turn right, leaving the road, and enter the woods on a footpath. The trail proceeds through a dense forest of mountain laurel, hemlock and rhododendron, with the swamp to your right and a secondary ridge beyond. You are now traversing a wild, remote area, and although you probably won’t encounter any rattlesnakes, you are likely to see other wildlife.
At one point, the trail detours to the left, climbing a little further up the hill to avoid a wet section of the former trail route. When the trail goes back down to the level of the swamp, you’ll tunnel under dense rhododendron thickets and then cross a stream, the inlet of Catfish Pond, on rocks. Soon, the swamp ends, the vegetation becomes less dense and the trail descends a little.
After crossing the stream three more times, the Rattlesnake Swamp Trail approaches Catfish Pond, which may be visible through the vegetation to the right. It does not reach the shore of the pond, though, and it soon bears left, away from the pond. The trail emerges onto a woods road, which it follows, past an abandoned concrete slab on the right, to a T-intersection. To the right, the road leads to the Mohican Outdoor Center, operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club, which offers lodging to hikers (for more information, go to www.outdoors.org/lodging-camping/Lodges/mohican/index.cfm), but you should turn left, continuing to follow the orange blazes.
The trail now begins a gradual climb up the Kittatinny Ridge, following a woods road with a rocky treadway. After a while, the grade steepens as the trail narrows to a footpath and climbs rock steps. The trail then levels off, only to climb again. Finally, after another level stretch, you’ll climb once more to reach the crest of the ridge. The Rattlesnake Swamp Trail now descends briefly, and it ends at a junction with the A.T. on the eastern face of the Kittatinny Ridge.
The rock ledges at the junction afford a panoramic east-facing view over the Great Valley. To the south, you can see the Upper and Lower Yards Creek Reservoirs, which are pumped-storage facilities used to generate electricity. This is a good place to take a break and enjoy the view.
When you’re ready to continue, proceed north along the A.T. The trail runs close to the edge of the ridge, and you’ll be afforded more views over the Great Valley to the east. In another mile, you’ll reach the base of the 60-foot-high Catfish Fire Tower, which affords panoramic 360° views. If the fire tower observer is present, he may invite you to climb the tower to enjoy the views.
From the fire tower, the A.T. begins to descend along a gravel road (the access road to the tower). Soon, the white blazes turn left, leaving the road, and descend on a rocky footpath. Continue to follow the white-blazed A.T., which will lead you back to the starting point of the hike. After briefly rejoining the road, the A.T. again leaves the road, this time to the right, and follows a footpath downhill. The trail goes under power lines, passes through a dense rhododendron thicket, and reaches another junction with the road. Turn right, now retracing your steps along the road you followed at the start of the hike. In another ten minutes, you’ll reach the trailhead where the hike began.
To view a photo collection for this hike, click here.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 09/22/2006 updated/verified on 05/29/2022
This loop hike combines a stroll through a dense forest along an interesting swamp with a ridgetop walk, featuring panoramic views and a fire tower.
Whether you are going for a day hike or backpacking overnight, it is good practice to carry what we call The Hiking Essentials. These essentials will help you enjoy your outing more and will provide basic safety gear if needed. There may also be more essentials, depending on the season and your needs.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
Water - Two quarts per person is recommended in every season. Keep in mind that fluid loss is heightened in winter as well as summer. Don't put yourself in the position of having to end your hike early because you have run out of water.
Map - Know where you are and where you are going. Many of our hiking areas feature interconnecting network of trails. Use a waterproof/tear-resistant Tyvek Trail Conference map if available or enclose your map in a Ziplock plastic bag. If you have a mobile device, download Avenza’s free PDF Maps app and grab some GPS-enhanced Trail Conference maps (a backup Tyvek or paper version of the map is good to have just in case your batteries die or you don't have service). Check out some map-reading basics here.
Food - Snacks/lunch will keep you going as you burn energy walking or climbing. Nuts, seeds, and chocolate are favorites on the trail.
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Rain Gear and Extra Clothing - Rain happens. So does cold. Be prepared for changing weather. Avoid cotton--it traps water against your skin and is slow to dry. If you are wearing wet cotton and must return to your starting point, you risk getting chills that may lead to a dangerous hypothermia. Choose synthetic shirts, sweaters and/or vests and dress in layers for easy on and off.
Compass - A simple compass is all you need to orient you and your map to magnetic north.
Light - A flashlight or small, lightweight headlamp will be welcome gear if you find yourself still on the trail when darkness falls. Check the batteries before you start out and have extras in your pack.
First Aid Kit - Keep it simple, compact, and weatherproof. Know how to use the basic components.
Firestarter and Matches - In an emergency, you may need to keep yourself or someone else warm until help arrives. A firestarter (this could be as simple as leftover birthday candles that are kept inside a waterproof container) and matches (again, make sure to keep them in a waterproof container) could save a life.
Knife or Multi-tool - You may need to cut a piece of moleskin to put over a blister, repair a piece of broken equipment, or solve some other unexpected problem.
Emergency Numbers - Know the emergency numbers for the area you're going to and realize that in many locations--especially mountainous ones, your phone will not get reception.
Common Sense - Pay attention to your environment, your energy, and the condition of your companions. Has the weather turned rainy? Is daylight fading? Did you drink all your water? Did your companion fail to bring rain gear? Are you getting tired? Keep in mind that until you turn around you are (typically) only half-way to completing your hike--you must still get back to where you started from! (Exceptions are loop hikes.)
Check the weather forecast before you head out. Know the rules and regulations of the area.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
The Trail Conference is a 2015 Leave No Trace partner.
(c) Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.