From the rear of the parking area, go around the gate and follow the woods road which leads south. This road is marked with the blue-on-white blazes of the Sterling Ridge Trail, the teal diamond blazes of the Highlands Trail and the yellow blazes of the Sterling Valley Trail. Follow the road for only about 100 feet, then leave the road and turn right onto a footpath, following the blue-and-...
From the rear of the parking area, go around the gate and follow the woods road which leads south. This road is marked with the blue-on-white blazes of the Sterling Ridge Trail, the teal diamond blazes of the Highlands Trail and the yellow blazes of the Sterling Valley Trail. Follow the road for only about 100 feet, then leave the road and turn right onto a footpath, following the blue-and-white and teal diamond blazes (the yellow blazes continue ahead on the road). The trail climbs over a small rise and then levels off. Soon, the trail begins to run along the edge of a ravine, gradually descending, with limited views to the left through the trees. The trail crosses a seasonal stream and then begins to ascend. About a mile from the trailhead, you will cross under a power line, with good views on both sides of the trail.
After a short but steady ascent, the trail crosses a large rock outcrop. The trail continues along the ridge, now following a relatively level route. In about half a mile, you’ll come out on another large rock outcrop, with a limited east-facing view. After another level stretch, the trail continues on undulating terrain and then emerges onto a third rock outcrop, with an interesting stunted evergreen tree growing out of a crack in the rock. There are only very limited views from the outcrop, but after a brief descent, you’ll reach a panoramic viewpoint over Sterling Lake to the east, with a log supported by stones serving as a bench.
The trail continues along the ridge. After descending a little, it crosses a woods road – the route of the orange-blazed Bare Rock Trail. The trail then climbs to another, more limited viewpoint over Sterling Lake from open rocks. It continues over undulating terrain, and after traversing an area dominated by hemlock and mountain laurel, reaches a ranger cabin and the Sterling Forest Fire Tower, about 3.5 miles from the start of the hike.
The view from the top of the fire tower, built in 1922, is well worth the climb. When open to the public, the tower provides an expansive view over the entire Sterling Forest. Sterling Lake is visible to the northeast, and a portion of the much-larger Greenwood Lake can be seen to the west. A picnic table at the base of the tower makes it a good place to stop for lunch.
When you're ready to continue, find the white-stripe-on-red-blazed Fire Tower Trail and follow it as it descends from the ridge on a pleasant gravel road, with many grassy sections (do not follow the joint Fire Tower/Sterling Ridge Trail, which heads south on a footpath). After about half a mile, as the road levels off, you’ll come to a junction. The Fire Tower Trail turns off to the right on a branch road, but you should bear left and continue ahead on the main road, now marked with red-triangle-on-white blazes as the Fire Tower Connector Trail. The trail continues to descend, and after passing a private residence and going around a locked gate, it ends at a paved road, near the shore of Sterling Lake.
Turn left and then go straight ahead on the road -- marked with the blue blazes of the Sterling Lake Loop -- as the paving ends and the road is blocked by a cable barrier. Soon, the road begins to follow the scenic shoreline of Sterling Lake. In about three-fourths of a mile, you’ll come to a Y-intersection. Bear left here and follow the yellow-blazed Sterling Valley Trail, another woods road that leads slightly uphill, away from the lake. After a level stretch, the road begins to climb. It passes under the same power line that you crossed earlier in the hike, and then continues to ascend steadily. In about a mile and a half, it ends at the parking area where you began the hike.
To view a photo collection for this hike, click here.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 09/19/2002 updated/verified on 06/04/2013
This loop hike traverses Sterling Ridge, includes a fire tower, offers great views and a walk along scenic Sterling Lake.
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.