Grab some sturdy shoes, take advantage of the unseasonably warm temps and go explore in the woods with the kids. Here are some of the very best (most scenic!) hikes in the area.
Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area
Boonton Ave., Montville
Total Distance: About 3 miles (though there are plenty of alternate routes)
Before heading out, stop at the Visitor Center for maps and advice—(they often know which trails are crowded with scout troops). Our favorite trek is the not-too-challenging hike up to Tripod Rock: Stranded here after glaciers moved through, this massive boulder is perfectly balanced on three much smaller rocks (hence the name). Although it looks precarious, it’s totally safe, and climbing under it makes for fun photo ops.
What You’ll See: Aside from the awesome Tripod Rock and some pretty views, if you keep heading down the orange trail, you’ll walk along the beautiful shores of the Taylortown Reservoir. The kids can also go off-trail for some geocaching in the woods.
Rifle Camp Park
387 Rifle Camp Rd., Woodland Park
Total Distance: The outer loop is 3.5 miles
From the first parking lot, take the yellow trail that leads you along the outskirts of the entire park close to the neighboring reservoir, or take the red trail, which is shorter and more direct. Both routes have access to the observatory at the top, where there’s great stargazing in the evenings. Neither trail is particularly difficult, so both are great options for beginners. What You’ll See: A stunning view of the New York City skyline, as well as some cool rocky cliffs. Most days you’ll also see tons of wildlife along the trails, too
High Point State Park
1480 Route 23, Sussex
Total Distance: 3.6 miles
There are a bunch of great hikes here—park in the monument lot and follow the kid-friendly red/green loop, which heads along the ridge and then goes past Lake Marcia. In the summer, make sure to pack bathing suits and a towel because once the kids spot the water, they’ll want to spend some time swimming. (There are lifeguards and concessions here, too). Before you head back, hit the highlight of the park: Climb up inside the 220-foot, circa 1930 monument erected in honor of all war veterans.
What You’ll See: At the top of the monument you’ll see 360-degree views of the Catskill and Pocono Mountains.
Stairway to Heaven
Rt. 94, Vernon
Total Distance: 2.4 miles
If the word “stair” is in the name, you can bet there’s climbing involved. But with this hike, you can choose your pleasure (or pain). Pick the scenic route, with over two miles of relatively flat boardwalk that crosses through marshland, ambles over stiles (little ladder structures), through cow pastures and near old railroad tracks. If you’re brave enough, you can also tackle the seemingly straight uphill mile of rock slab “stairs” to the tippy top of Wawayanda Mountain. The kids will love peeking in the mailbox at the top, where hikers traversing the Appalachian Trail (from Georgia to Maine) all sign in as they pass.
What You’ll See: Make it to the top, and you’ll be rewarded with amazing views of the Catskills, Pochuck Mountain and Vernon Valley. If you opt for the gentle route, you may come face-to-face with a mama cow and her calf.
Castle Point Trail: Ramapo Mountain State Forest
Skyline Dr., Ringwood
(park in the second lot on the left)
Total Distance: 3 miles
This 3-mile loop is a challenge best left for ambitious big kids, but there’s a great reward at the end—a castle! Start on the yellow Hoeferlin Memorial trail, then take the white Castle Point trail up a very steep hill to see the ruins of the Van Slyke mansion built by stockbroker William Porter in the early 1900s. You’ll want to spend some time exploring here (we love the swimming pool overgrown with plants), then return to your car by following the white and red Skyline Connector trail markings or head back down the way you came.
What You’ll See: The really cool ruins of an old mansion, a pretty lake and lots of flora and fauna.
Palisades Interstate Park: Peanut Leap
Palisades Interstate Parkway, exit 2
State Line Lookout, Alpine
Total Distance: 3 miles
The second you get out of your car, you’ll see the stunning view of the Hudson River. Head out of the parking lot and down the aqua-blazed Long Path. You’ll meet the stone marker for the NJ/NY boundary and cross through a fence that separates the states. Once you enter NY, head down a mess of stone steps to the base of the Peanut Leap waterfall that ends in the ruins of the “Italian Garden” created by sculptor Mary Lawrence-Tonetti. The falls are beautiful in the spring and shaded, but the kids will make a beeline for the rope swings that hang right next to the Hudson River. The walk back up is slow and steady, so the snack bar at the top makes a good incentive. If you’ve got teens, challenge them to take the Giant Stairs boulder path back to the top (not suitable for kids or small animals).
What You’ll See: A really cool waterfall, an up-close-and-personal view of the Hudson River, and if you hike the Giant Stairs, an amazing view of the cliffs along the river.
Delaware Water Gap George W. Childs Park Trail
Park Rd., Dingmans Ferry, PA
Total Distance: 1.4 miles
This trail is handicap-accessible all the way to the first waterfall (about a third of a mile in), so everyone can enjoy the beauty of the Delaware Water Gap. Follow the 1.4-mile loop from there, and you’ll pass by the Factory Falls, the Fulmer Falls and the Deer Leap Falls.
What You’ll See: In addition to the three waterfalls, you’ll pass beautiful scenery as you walk the ravine, including the ruins of an old wool mill next to the Factory Falls.
A few more easy hikes to get you started:
- Loantaka Brook Reservation (Morris Township, NJ); an easy, well-marked 3.5-mile round-trip trail, with a pond frequented by ducks and geese. Please call before going for best directions; 973-326-7600.
- The 3-mile round-trip Black River Trail at Hacklebarney State Park (Long Valley, NJ) sits in a gorge of unusual beauty. The first mile may be slow going because kids love to toss rocks into the brook or watch the numerous tiny waterfalls. Reaching the river is exciting, for there are large and small ripples and boulders to climb along the path. Be sure to use caution: rocks in the water can be slippery; 908-638-8572.
- Cheesequake State Park (Matawan, NJ) offers several easy trails, each with different terrain, plus a nature center filled with live critters and excellent displays; 732-566-2161.
- Choose one of the three short trails at the Pequest Trout Hatchery (Oxford, NJ). Later, visit the interactive displays in the Natural Resource Education Center, and learn how more than 600,000 trout used to stock the state’s waterways are raised here; 908-637-4125.
- Hiking along the long boardwalks at Lord Stirling Park (Basking Ridge, NJ) will keep you high and dry in the swampy areas as you pass huge stands of cattails. In the dense wooded areas, or when taking a break atop the platform overlooking the Passaic River, you may spot fox, raccoons, skunks, or deer; 908-766-2489.
Never been hiking? Here’s an easy chart to reading the trail markings so you don’t get lost in the woods.