Leave the park visitor center, using the front entrance, and turn right on a dirt path, following the blue blazes of the Sterling Lake Loop. The trail briefly joins the paved entrance road, then bears right and goes across a grassy field, passing the stone foundations of a former church to the right. It enters the woods on a footpath and crosses a wooden bridge over the outlet of Sterling Lake...
Leave the park visitor center, using the front entrance, and turn right on a dirt path, following the blue blazes of the Sterling Lake Loop. The trail briefly joins the paved entrance road, then bears right and goes across a grassy field, passing the stone foundations of a former church to the right. It enters the woods on a footpath and crosses a wooden bridge over the outlet of Sterling Lake. To the left, through the trees, you can see the remains of the Sterling Furnace, built in 1770 and abandoned in 1804. After following a woods road for 150 feet, the trail turns left and descends on a footpath, soon reaching paved West Sterling Lake Road.
Turn right and follow the blue blazes along the road. Soon, you'll notice concrete-and-brick ruins on the left side of the road. These are remnants of former mining and ore processing operations. Iron ore was discovered in the area as early as 1736, and mining operations continued until 1917. The structure that you can see from the road was built for the Sterling and Lake Mines, both of which extended under the lake. Just past these ruins, the road briefly runs alongside Sterling Lake, affording views across the lake.
A short distance beyond, the road curves to the right. In another 200 feet, a sign marks the start of the Bare Rock and Fire Tower Connector Trails. Turn left, leaving the blue-blazed trail, then immediately turn right and continue along the orange-blazed Bare Rock Trail, which begins to climb on an old woods road. The trail generally follows this road up the Sterling Ridge, but it has been routed off the road in a number of places to avoid some wet and badly eroded sections. Follow the orange blazes for about three-quarters of a mile, climbing steadily, until you reach the crest of the ridge at a junction with the blue-on-white-blazed Sterling Ridge Trail (marked by a sign).
Turn left here and head south along the ridge on a footpath, now following the blue-on-white blazes of the Sterling Ridge Trail and the teal diamond blazes of the Highlands Trail. The trail climbs to a broad viewpoint over Sterling Lake from open rocks, (ignore the yellow blazes that lead to the right just before this viewpoint), then continues along the ridge over undulating terrain. About a mile from the junction with the Bare Rock Trail, you'll reach a ranger cabin and the Sterling Forest Fire Tower. The view from the tower is well worth the climb.
Built in 1922, the fire tower affords an impressive 360-degree view of Sterling Forest and the surrounding area. Sterling Lake is in the foreground to the northeast, Cedar Pond may be seen to the south, and a portion of Greenwood Lake is visible to the west. On a clear day, North and South Beacon mountains of the East Hudson Highlands may be seen in the distance to the northeast, and Schunemunk Mountain is visible to the north, with the Catskills on the horizon.
After climbing the tower, you may want to take a break. There is a picnic table at the base of the tower where you can eat your lunch. When you're ready to continue, proceed east on the red-blazed Fire Tower Trail, which descends from the ridge on a pleasant woods road (do not follow the joint Fire Tower/Sterling Ridge Trail, which heads south on a footpath). This grassy road descends steadily, with a few rough benches placed alongside for hikers to rest. After about half a mile, when the road levels off, you'll come to a junction. The rectangular red plastic blazes that you have been following turn off to the right on a branch road, but you should continue ahead on the main road, now marked with red triangle blazes as the Fire Tower Connector Trail. The road continues to descend, and after passing a private residence and going around a locked gate, it ends at a junction with the blue-blazed Sterling Lake Loop, near the shore of Sterling Lake. Turn right and follow the blue blazes back to the visitor center (note the left turn off the paved road in about a third of a mile).Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 11/19/2004
This loop hike goes along scenic Sterling Lake, passing ruins of former mining activity, and climbs to the Sterling Forest Fire Tower, with panoramic views.
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.