Sourland Mountain is a...
Sourland Mountain is a ridge which straddles the borders of Somerset, Hunterdon and Mercer Counties. Due to the harshness of the land and its unsuitability for farming, large portions of the ridge have remained undeveloped. The largest protected portion of the ridge is in Somerset County, where about 4,000 acres have been set aside as a preserve, administered by the Somerset County Park Commission.
The preserve offers three loop trails, marked with white blazes with the logo of the Somerset County Park Commission. The white-triangle-blazed Maple Flats Trail and the white-circle-blazed Pondside Trail are short, easy loop hikes. The five-mile-long white-square-blazed Ridge Trail, which passes through an interesting boulder field, is more challenging, and it permits one to spend several hours exploring this beautiful preserve. A trail blazed with red circles traverses another boulder field. Finally, there are several short connecting trails, marked with “C” blazes on a white background. This hike follows the Ridge Trail and the Red Circle Trail (none of the short connecting trails are included in the route of this hike).
Near a small kiosk at the edge of the woods, you will notice a wooden post with three blazes – white triangle, white circle and white square. This marks the start of the three loop trails, which head uphill into the woods, passing a number of fallen trees, and paralleling a brook on the left. Note the many beech trees, with exposed route systems, along the trail.
In about five minutes, you’ll reach post #1 (all intersections are marked with white-on-green reflective numbers on wooden posts). Here the white-triangle and white-circle trails turn left, crossing the stream on a footbridge, but you should continue ahead on the white-square-blazed Ridge Trail.
The white-square-blazed trail proceeds steadily uphill (you’ll climb a total of about 400 vertical feet during the first part of the hike), skirting a small boulder field. It goes through a heavily wooded area, far removed from the homes and farms that you passed on your way to the park. In about ten minutes, the trail levels off and a connector trail (with “C” blazes) begins on the left. Continue ahead on the white-square-blazed trail, which soon resumes its climb.
After leveling off again, the white-square-blazed trail climbs a little more and reaches an area of huge boulders. The first gigantic boulder is just to the left of the trail, but you’ll encounter many other large boulders in the next half hour or so. This is the most interesting part of the hike, so take your time to enjoy the unusual boulders. You’ll pass several overhanging boulders, as well as rocks perched atop large boulders. At one point, the trail goes through a narrow passage between two huge boulders. (Take care to follow the white square markers, as there are a number of unmarked trails in this area.) Towards the end of the boulder field, be alert for another unique feature of this trail – a large tree that has grown out of a horizontal crack in a boulder!
The trail continues through a forest that features many tulip trees – tall, straight trees, with no branches below the treetops. You’ll notice a number of multiple tulip tree trunks growing out of the same roots.
Finally, after about an hour of hiking, you’ll reach post #4. To the left, a connecting trail leads back towards the parking area, but you should bear right to continue along the white-square-blazed trail. In another 200 feet, you’ll come to another junction. Here, the white-square-blazed trail bears left, but you should turn right onto the Red Circle Trail, which crosses a stream and proceeds through another boulder field, climbing gently.
In about 15 minutes, you’ll pass through a gap in a chain-link fence. Just beyond, the trail crosses a gas pipeline. Soon, the trail winds through another boulder field, passing a number of interesting large boulders. For much of the way, the trail route is relatively level, but it eventually descends a little.
After following the Red Circle Trail for about 45 minutes, you’ll reach a junction where a connecting trail begins on the left. Bear right to continue on the Red Circle Trail, which soon begins a steady descent towards Roaring Brook, passing a large overhanging rock on the left.
In a short distance, you’ll come to a T-intersection. Here, the Red Circle Trail ends, and you should turn right onto the white-square-blazed Ridge Trail. The trail continues to descend parallel to Roaring Brook, below on the right. Soon, you’ll reach post #7, marked by a huge cairn. Another connecting trail begins on the left, but proceed ahead on the white-square-blazed trail, which descends on switchbacks and continues parallel to Roaring Brook.
Just beyond an open gate in a chain-link fence, you’ll reach post #8. A connecting trail goes off to the left, but you should proceed ahead on the white-square-blazed Ridge Trail. Just ahead, the trail approaches Roaring Brook (note the cascades in the brook), then bears left and heads away from the brook.
In another 15 minutes, you’ll cross a boardwalk over a stream and pass an old stone-and-concrete wall (possibly built as a dam) to the left of the trail. Just beyond, you’ll come to a four-way intersection marked by post #9, where you should continue straight ahead.
The next stretch of trail is nearly level, and it features a long boardwalk and many short stretches of boardwalk. In another 20 minutes or so, you’ll reach post #10. Here, you’ll encounter the white-triangle-blazed Maple Flats Trail once more. Turn right and follow both white-square and white-triangle blazes.
Soon after traversing another long stretch of boardwalk, you’ll again cross the gas pipeline (marked by post #11). Continue straight ahead, soon reaching post #12, where the white-circle-blazed Pondside Trail joins from the left. Here, you should turn right, now following all three trails – white triangle, white circle and white square. Just ahead, you’ll emerge onto a grassy area and descend towards a small pond. Bear left around the pond, pass post #13, and you’ll reach the parking area where the hike began.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 09/14/2007 updated/verified on 03/15/2016
This hike loops around this Somerset County park, passing through several interesting boulder fields.
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.