May 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Hike the Reservoir Loop in Ramapo Reservation

Do you like hiking along water? If so, this hike is for you! This three-mile easy-to-moderate hike in the Ramapo Valley County Reservation begins by paralleling the Ramapo River. It then climbs along a stream with a waterfall to reach the scenic MacMillan Reservoir. After looping around the reservoir, with several panoramic views, it descends, and it ends by following along the shore of Scarlet Oak Pond. The hike should take about two hours. Dogs are allowed on leash. (This park is a favorite for dog lovers, and you should expect to encounter quite a few people walking their dogs along the way.)

To get there, take N.J. Route 17 North to U.S. Route 202 in Mahwah. Turn left at the bottom of the ramp, proceed south on Route 202 for 2.0 miles, and turn right into the Ramapo Valley County Reservation parking area. GPS address: 608 Ramapo Valley Road, Mahwah, NJ 07430. The trailhead is 20 miles from Teaneck, and it should take about 25 minutes to get there.

The hike begins at a kiosk in the southwest corner of the parking area. Just ahead, you’ll notice a triple-black-square-on-yellow blaze on a tree, which marks the start of the Vista Spur Trail. Follow the black-square-on-yellow blazes as they descend wooden steps, join a wide dirt road, and continue ahead to cross the Ramapo River on a steel truss bridge.

Just beyond the bridge, the orange-on-white-blazed River Loop Trail begins on the left. Turn left, leaving the wide gravel road, and follow the River Loop Trail along a narrower footpath, parallel to the shore of the Ramapo River. Since the footpath is in the floodplain of the river, it may be muddy or even flooded in places when the water is high.

Soon, you’ll reach a junction with the black-square-on-orange-blazed River Spur Trail. Turn left onto the River Spur Trail, which continues along the river. In 750 feet, the trail bears right, away from the river, and it soon ends at a junction with the yellow-blazed Vista Loop Trail. Turn left onto the Vista Loop Trail and cross a stream on a wooden footbridge.

On the other side of the bridge, the trail turns sharply right and follows the cascading stream. Soon, it begins to climb on stone steps, passing an attractive waterfall along the way. This beautiful trail section was built in 2017-18 by an AmeriCorps trail crew of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. After passing more cascades and pools in the stream on the right, the Vista Loop Trail levels off, curves to the right, and reaches a junction with the wide park road leading to the MacMillan Reservoir.

Follow the Vista Loop Trail as it turns left, joining the blue-blazed Ridge Loop Trail, and continues along a paved section of the park road. A short distance ahead, the two trails diverge. The Ridge Loop Trail bears left, but you should proceed ahead on the yellow-blazed Vista Loop Trail. This junction is also the start of the pink-blazed Reservoir Loop Trail, which you will follow around the reservoir. This trail was blazed in 2015 by volunteers of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, including students at the nearby Ramapo College and members of the Mahwah Environmental Volunteers Organization (MEVO).

Follow the yellow and pink blazes as they climb to the dam of the reservoir, turn right, and head north along the eastern side of the reservoir. In 750 feet, you’ll reach a large expanse of open rock. Here, the yellow-blazed Vista Loop Trail turns right, but you should proceed ahead on the pink-blazed Reservoir Loop Trail, which continues to follow the eastern shore of the reservoir.

This section of the trail is rocky and the footpath is often not well-defined, so take care to follow the pink blazes. As you approach the northern end of the reservoir, the trail closely parallels the shore, then crosses a wooden footbridge over a stream, built as an Eagle Scout project in 2018.

At the northern tip of the reservoir, a massive boulder on the left marks a spot where a flat rock that juts into the reservoir affords a panoramic view. A short distance beyond, the trail reaches a wooden footbridge over the inlet of the reservoir. The bridge was built as an Eagle Scout project in the summer of 2015. The blue/pink-blazed Brookside Trail begins here on the right, but you should turn left and cross the bridge, continuing to follow the pink-blazed Reservoir Loop Trail. Just beyond, another rock along the shore provides an expansive view of the reservoir. Soon, the red-blazed Marsh Loop Trail begins on the right, but you should continue to follow the pink-blazed Reservoir Loop Trail, which proceeds along the southwestern side of the reservoir.

After continuing for some distance close to the shore, the Reservoir Loop Trail ends at a junction with the blue-blazed Ridge Loop Trail, just before the dam. Proceed ahead (downhill) on the Ridge Loop Trail, which follows the wide park road. Soon, the yellow-blazed Vista Loop Trail joins from the left, but when the two trails diverge, bear left to stay on the blue-blazed Ridge Loop Trail, which continues to follow the wide park road. A short distance ahead, you’ll reach a junction where a triple-blue blaze marks the end of the Ridge Loop Trail. Here, you should bear right and follow the descending route of the blue/yellow-blazed Vista-Ridge Connector along the wide park road.

Near the base of the descent, the Vista-Ridge Connector curves to the right, and it soon ends at a junction with the yellow-blazed Vista Loop Trail. Continue ahead on the wide park road, now the route of the black-square-on-yellow-blazed Vista Spur Trail. The trail passes to the right of Scarlet Oak Pond, continues across the bridge over the Ramapo River, and ends at the parking area where the hike began.


This hiking article is provided by Daniel Chazin of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. The Trail Conference is a volunteer organization that builds and maintains over 2,000 miles of hiking trails and publishes a library of hiking maps and books. The Trail Conference’s office is at 600 Ramapo Valley Road (Route 202), Mahwah; (201) 512-9348; www.nynjtc.org. Daniel Chazin can be reached at [email protected].

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