To get started on the Shepherd Lake/Mount Defiance/Skylands Manor Loop, proceed ahead, passing through an opening in a stone wall by a “Do Not Enter” sign. Immediately turn right, crossing a grassy area. Continue across an old concrete bridge over the Ringwood River (this was the original entrance to the Ringwood Manor estate). At the end of the bridge, white and red-on-white blazes on a brown...
To get started on the Shepherd Lake/Mount Defiance/Skylands Manor Loop, proceed ahead, passing through an opening in a stone wall by a “Do Not Enter” sign. Immediately turn right, crossing a grassy area. Continue across an old concrete bridge over the Ringwood River (this was the original entrance to the Ringwood Manor estate). At the end of the bridge, white and red-on-white blazes on a brown wand mark the start of the Crossover and Ringwood-Ramapo Trails. Proceed ahead on a footpath, crossing the heavily-traveled Sloatsburg Road. The trails turn left and parallel the road, bear right and climb gently on switchbacks, then continue along the side of the hill, parallel to the road below.
After climbing on another switchback, you’ll reach a junction where the white-blazed Crossover Trail leaves to the right. This will be your return route, but you should continue ahead on the red-on-white-blazed Ringwood-Ramapo Trail. Soon, you’ll join the former trail route, which comes in from the left. The Ringwood-Ramapo Trail now continues its ascent of Cupsaw Mountain on a steeper grade. As the trail nears the crest of the ridge, the climb steepens.
At the ridgetop, the yellow-blazed Cooper Union Trail joins from the right, and both trails run jointly for 200 feet, descending to a woods road. Here, the Cooper Union Trail leaves to the left, but you should continue to follow the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail, which turns right, soon reaching an old shelter, in poor condition. The shelter was built by “The Hiking, Eating, Arguing and Puzzle-Solving Club of the Cooper Union” (this land, now part of Ringwood State Park, was once owned by Cooper Union). The trail now descends into a valley, climbs a little, then descends into a rocky valley where it crosses a stream and turns left onto a woods road, joining the blue-blazed Cupsaw Brook Trail.
Follow the joint trails, which cross a stream on rocks, then immediately turn left, leaving the woods road. After crossing a stream on rocks and then paralleling it, the blue-blazed Cupsaw Brook Trail leaves to the left. Continue ahead on the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail, which turns right and crosses Cupsaw Brook on a wooden bridge. (From here on, the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail is marked by both red-on-white blazes and brown wands with solid red blazes). After passing a large cascade on the left, the trail bears right, away from the brook, and begins a steady ascent. At the top of the climb, the trail turns left onto a woods road and soon reaches a paved road at a traffic circle near Shepherd Lake.
The trail turns right on the paved road, then immediately left, following the sign in the middle of the traffic circle for the boat launch. It continues through the boat launch parking area, then follows a paved road past a boathouse and a kiosk, where an orange-blazed trail begins. Continue by following a gravel road along the south shore of Shepherd Lake, marked with both red-on-white and orange blazes.
In about a third of a mile, both trails turn right, leaving the road. Continue to follow the blazed trails, which head uphill on a footpath. At an intersection with a woods road, the orange-blazed trail turns left, but you should continue ahead, now following only the red-and-white blazes of the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail.
The trail climbs to the top of a rise, then descends to cross a mountain bike trail. Continue ahead on the red-on-white-blazed trail, which passes an old stone foundation on the left. After crossing a gas pipeline (where many seedlings have been planted to remediate the area), the trail begins to climb the northern shoulder of Mount Defiance, first gradually, then more steeply.
After reaching the 1,040-foot summit, the trail descends steeply and continues along the ridge, paralleling impressive cliffs on the right. At the end of the cliffs, the green-and-white-blazed Halifax Trail comes in from the right and briefly joins the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail. You will soon head down the mountain on the Halifax Trail, but for now, continue ahead for another 350 feet along the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail until you see a large rock outcrop to the right of the trail.
Climb this outcrop, which is studded with cedar trees, to reach a panoramic view from the top. The New Jersey State Botanical Gardens at Skylands Manor may be seen in the foreground, with the Wyanokies in the distance. The Wanaque Reservoir is visible to the left. This is a good place for a break.
When you’re ready to continue, retrace your steps on the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail back to the junction with the Halifax Trail. Turn left (west), following the green-on-white blazes, which climb over a small rise and then level off. Just before the trail begins a steady descent, you’ll reach a fork. The trail heads left here, but you may wish to follow an unmarked path to the right which leads up to a rock outcrop with a view over the gardens of Skylands Manor.
Continue down the mountain on the green-on-white-blazed trail, which follows a series of gradual switchbacks – the remnants of an old carriage road. At the base of the descent, where the green-on-white trail ends, turn right onto the white-blazed Crossover Trail, which follows a gravel road along the base of the mountain. When you reach a paved road, turn right and follow the road through the grounds of Skylands Manor, passing an English Tudor guest house with a sundial clock on its chimney to the right.
Just beyond a greenhouse, you’ll reach a road junction at the entrance to Parking Area A. The double blaze seems to indicate a right turn into the parking area, but you should instead bear left (do not go into the parking area) and then immediately turn right and follow the park access road downhill, passing between two stone eagles that once adorned New York City’s Pennsylvania Station. After crossing an intersecting road, follow the white blazes as the trail bears left, reenters the woods, and descends steadily, passing through some wet areas. At the base of the descent, the trail crosses the route of a buried gas pipeline, turns right to parallel it, then turns left and reaches the paved Morris Road.
Turn left on the paved road, cross a stone-walled bridge over Cupsaw Brook, then follow the white blazes as they turn right and reenter the woods, passing a stone foundation on the right. The white-blazed Crossover Trail climbs gradually to reach a T-intersection with a woods road – the route of the yellow-blazed Cooper Union Trail. Turn left, briefly following the joint route of the two trails, then turn right at the next T-intersection and follow the white blazes along a relatively level woods road for about half a mile to a junction with the red-on-white blazed Ringwood-Ramapo Trail. Turn left and follow the joint Crossover and Ringwood-Ramapo Trails, retracing your steps back to the start of the hike.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 01/12/2004 updated/verified on 01/12/2017
This loop hike runs along Shepherd Lake, climbs to several viewpoints on Mount Defiance and traverses the historic Skylands Manor area.
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.