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

Hike the Wild and Scenic Dismal Harmony Natural Area

If there ever were a park with an inapt name, this is it. The word “dismal” conjures up notions of a place that is dingy, gloomy and dreary. But this preserve is just the opposite. This two-and-one-half-mile “lollipop”-loop hike in the Dismal Harmony Natural Area features some of the most delightful hiking in Morris County, with trails paralleling a cascading brook and climbing to an unusually shaped rock. This wild and scenic preserve is not to be missed!

The hike is rated “easy to moderate,” which means that there is one relatively steep climb and another relatively steep descent, but that most of the hike features level terrain or gradual climbs and descents. The hike should take about two hours, and dogs are allowed on leash.

To get there, take Route 4 West and continue on Route 208 North, which leads into I-287 South. Take Exit 36 of I-287 (County Route 510/Morris Avenue). Continue ahead past the first traffic light, proceed past the Morristown railroad station, then turn right onto Morris Street. At the next intersection, bear left, then turn right onto East Park Place, passing the Morristown Green on the left. Turn left at the following intersection onto North Park Place, then turn right onto Washington Street. (In each case, follow signs for County Route 510 West). In 4.0 miles, after passing a pedestrian crossing with a blinking light, turn right onto Tingley Road. In 0.7 miles, turn left onto East Main Street and proceed for 0.2 miles to the parking area for Dismal Harmony Natural Area, on the right. GPS address: 29 East Main Street, Brookside, NJ 07960. The park is about 35 miles from Teaneck, and it should take about 45 minutes to get there.

From the parking area, follow the white-blazed Patriots’ Path as it heads north on a footpath parallel to the cascading Dismal Brook. After crossing two wooden bridges over tributary streams, the trail moves away from the brook, climbing gradually on a woods road. In about half a mile, you’ll come to a T-intersection with a gravel road. Turn left to continue on the Patriots’ Path, which once again closely parallels the brook, now below on the left. A short distance beyond, the trail bears left and crosses a wooden bridge over Dismal Brook. It immediately turns right onto a woods road and continues to parallel the brook, now on the right. Just ahead, the trail bears left onto a footpath to avoid a wet section of the road, which it soon rejoins.

A short distance ahead, the woods road followed by the Patriots’ Path bears left and heads uphill, continuing to run parallel to the brook. Then, in another 500 feet, you’ll come to a junction marked by a huge cairn. Here, the Patriots’ Path bears left, but you should continue ahead on a pink-blazed trail, which begins here. The trail continues north, parallel to the brook, climbing gradually. Several unmarked side trails lead down to beautiful cascades in the brook.

In about half a mile, you’ll reach a junction where a yellow-blazed trail begins. Turn left, away from the brook, and climb rather steeply on the yellow-blazed trail. At a T-intersection at the crest of the rise, marked by a small cairn, turn left, continuing to follow the yellow blazes. Soon, you’ll reach a second intersection, marked by a larger cairn, where the yellow blazes lead both ways. Turn right, bear left a short distance ahead, then bear left again, continuing to follow the yellow blazes, which lead to a huge boulder known as Legend Rock. (The story goes that, in the 1700s, Scottish people who settled the area hid from the Native Americans by crawling into cracks in this boulder.) Although there is a sheer face on the north side of the rock, the rock can easily be climbed from the west side.

After exploring this interesting feature, retrace your steps to the junction with the large cairn and bear right, now heading south. The next 0.4 miles on the yellow-blazed trail is relatively level, with one short stretch where the trail descends.

Soon, you’ll reach another junction, also marked by a large cairn. Turn left here, and follow the white-blazed Patriots’ Path as it descends on switchbacks. At the base of the descent, you’ll return to the junction near the brook marked by a huge cairn. Turn right and continue along the white-blazed Patriots’ Path, now retracing your steps to the parking area on East Main Street where the hike began.

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