Tucked away in the northwest corner of the county is a nature lover’s paradise. Located on Ramapo Valley Road in Mahwah, the Ramapo Valley County Reservation covers 2,145 acres of low-rising mountains, rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. There are numerous well-marked hiking trails that offer a variety of difficulty levels. Visitors are welcome to camp along the Ramapo River, where fishing is also permitted.
I’m not really one for fishing, but I do love the hiking trails and have several different loops that I like to frequent. I’d like to share with you one of my favorite loops that I call the Waterside Loop. It is relatively easy with very few inclines and offers numerous picture-worthy vistas including a waterfall and the remains of an old stone house. I recommend bringing along a comfortable pair of sneakers (I have a pair of cushiony Asics trail runners), a digital camera, and a bottle of water. Now for the loop:
- Park your car in the parking area on Ramapo Valley Road (Route 202), and start off at the information kiosk. While you’re at the kiosk, take a look at all three sides for any important information that’s been posted by the park rangers. Follow the wood chip trail down the small hill, past the murky pond on the left, and over the bridge that traverses the Ramapo River. If you take your dog with you, there are always a lot of pooches and their owners on and around the bridge, so be prepared to stop and sniff.
- Once you cross the bridge, the trail splits and you’re going to veer right and follow the gravel road as it wraps around the eastern shore of Scarlet Oak Pond. You’ll want to make sure the pond remains to your left. As you follow the trail, you’ll come up on some picnic benches to the right. I like to stretch here and take in the scenery. I especially love how the hills rise up from behind the pond.
- Continuing a little further, you’ll come upon a grassy meadow behind the pond. The trail wraps around the meadow, but I often cut through the field. If you decide to walk through the meadow, just be careful where you step because snakes have a tendency to hide out in the tall grasses. But have no fear…these snakes are relatively harmless.
- After the meadow, the trail follows the western shore of the pond. This leg is canopied by trees, and to your right you’ll see the foot of the hillside. Continue on the trail until it comes to a triangle, where you’re going to proceed left and down the hill.
- Directly at the foot of the hill, you’re going to veer right onto a wide dirt road which becomes the green and white trail; Your back should be to Scarlet Oak Pond. This leg of the loop follows the foot of the hillside, but you’ll notice that the trail remains flat. You’ll eventually come upon a small downward slope where you’re going to stay to the right and look for a wooden bridge in the near distance.
- Cross the wooden bridge, after which you’ll come upon a clearing with the remains of an abandoned stone house. It’s somewhat of an eerie site, yet very intriguing at the same time. After you’re done marveling at the stone structure, look to the right of the remains for an orange trail marker (it’s supposed to be yellow but looks orange).
- Follow the yellow trail up the hillside. This part of the trail is very rocky, so be careful with your foot placement. After several yards, you should be able to hear the trickle of the waterfall off to the right. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can trek down the rocks and into the ravine where you’ll have an out-of-this-world view of the falls. If you visit the waterfall after a big rainfall, the cascade is very impressive.
- The yellow trail will eventually merge with the silver trail and you’ll bear left to continue on the yellow trail. This part of the route is generally flat and winds alongside the stream that feeds into the waterfall.
- The yellow trail will eventually lead you to the southeast corner of MacMillan Reservoir. There will probably be a bunch of dogs swimming in the water while their owners hang out on the ledge along the dam. Follow the ledge across the dam. Be very careful as it tends to get slippery.
- At the other end of the dam ledge you’ll see a square stone marker. Continue following the shore of the reservoir past the square marker, making sure the water stays to your left. You will eventually come upon a large rock at the water’s edge. Cross the rock and continue along the shore edge. Shortly after, you’ll come upon an even larger rock that runs all the way up the hillside. I like to climb to the top and soak in the scenery. You probably won’t be alone on the rock as it is a popular place for people to gather.
- When you’re ready to descend the rock, head back in the opposite direction along the shoreside trail so that the reservoir will be to your right. Once you get back to the square stone marker, instead of crossing the ledge, trek down the rocks to the gravelly trail below.
- Continue on this trail, which will bring you back to the yellow trail. Eventually you’ll approach where the yellow and silver trails merged and you’ll stay to the left, continuing on the silver trail.
- The silver trail will eventually lead you down the hillside to a straight and flat trail that runs along the southern bank of Scarlet Oak Pond. You’ll continue on this trail with the water to your left.
- After passing the pond, you should see the bridge straight ahead of you that traverses the Ramapo River, which will lead you back to the kiosk and to the parking area.
Depending on how much time you spend marveling at all of the different sights and vistas, this loop should take you between 1 ½ and 2 hours. I highly recommend that when you get back to the parking lot, stretch your legs thoroughly. No one wants to ruin a beautiful day of hiking with uncomfortable leg cramps and muscle pains. And make sure you check your entire body for ticks!
And there you have it…the Waterside Loop. Ramapo Valley County Reservation is very easy to get to. Take Route 17 north to the Route 202 exit. Proceed left onto Route 202 south (Route 202 is the same as Ramapo Valley Road). Continue for two miles, past the college on your left, and you’ll turn right into the entrance and parking area of the reservation.
Here is a detailed topographical map of the entire reservation.