Park Site (not really a park, though parts of the trail are in Norvin Green State Forest)
Trail Map (I made my own with CalTopo)
Hike Distance: 10.72 miles
Trails: Stonetown Circular
I’ve seen this trail listed as the most strenuous in New Jersey. I’ve seen it argued that it is the most difficult trail in New Jersey. I’ll agree that it’s the most strenuous; and it’s a combination of the length, the significant ups and downs, and the rocks. Oh the rocks. But it wouldn’t be New Jersey without them. Also, I’ve seen it mentioned that the trail is not the most well-marked. I did the trail counter-clockwise; and I can say that when the Highlands trail leaves, there are less blazes. There are lots of woods roads and if you do not pay attention, you can get off trail easy. Many of the woods roads reconnect with the trail. You can see by my map that I got off trail for about 200/300 yards or so, I was on a woods road; and fortunately, I ended up where I needed to be.
But, I will say that the trail is a real workout with some great views. And when else will you say you climbed 5 mountains on one trail? (Caveat: New Jersey mountains, but still.) It’s a lot of ups and downs.
When starting by the guardrail the trail is relatively flat.
And this for this hike, many birch leaves were down, which will play a small factor later. None the less, it looked picturesque. Probably the peak leaf season will be the next weekend into the following.
First up would be Little Windbeam Mountain. And what a way to start the hike, not twenty minutes in.
The view from the top of Little Windbeam was expansive, probably better without leaves.
Next it was onto Windbeam Mountain.
Even the bee was tired – sitting on this Princess Tree
There are multiple viewpoints on the way up Windbeam Mountain.
And yet another scramble.
The top of Windbeam was flat, and the trail was soft dirt, leaves; and a dream to walk on.
Next in line is Bear Mountain (not to be confused with Bear Mountain in New York.) The views were on the way up, not from the top. When I got to top I took a picture, but it’s all leaves.
And then it is on to Board Mountain. I read that there is a scenic overlook; so I decided to eat there – a little early, but by the time I reached the overlook, it had been four mountains of up and down, and I was hungry.
I sat for a while and relaxed.
From Board Mountain, it was a descent and meandering on to Monksville reservoir. After descending, the trails are wide and sandy; great to hike on. You come to a road – hop the guardrail, and cross the road. You’ll see:
Hop the guardrail again, go down the road (leads to a boatramp) and make a left, the trail is wide with crushed rocks.
It will take a bit before you see a blaze.
The trail meanders around Monksville Reservoir a bit.
After crossing the powercut for the second time, prepare. It’s at this point that you ascend your fifth mountain, Harrison Mountain. And the trail heads pretty much straight uphill. It’s a beast. I probably could have used more food at this point. Or maybe I was lulled into complacency by the relatively flat trails before climbing. After four major uphills (and downhills,) this one was rough. This occurs around the six mile mark.
When you get to the top, the Highlands trails heads right, and a connector trail (blue squares with a black dot) head left. It is from this point that there seems to be less blazes. Keep your eyes open.
At the top of Harrison Mountain (and the south peak) there are not one, but two cars rusting off the trail. Hey, it’s Jersey.
I can’t even imagine how they got there. There are woods roads all around, but the roads don’t really look drive-able.
Next up on the agenda would be Tory Rocks. It’s here where I started to think more about the leaves and pine needles on the trail. This is the first real scramble in the “down” direction that I can remember. And a mis-step on the leaves, or a slide, could lead to a very bad day.
Here’s a shot looking back up.
It’s hard to judge slope in the pictures.
The trail meanders for a while, then makes a hard left at a road. If you see this trail sign (for trails in Norvin Green) you know you just got off trail.
Immediately, turn around, go down about five feet, and head right. The trail sort of parallels the road. Yes, I missed the turn, turned left down the road before I realized I was off trail. There maybe shortcuts back onto the trail, but I didn’t find them.
With about a mile and a half you will come to two large rock scrambles, certainly not to the height of the five mountains from before, but definitely notable. My first thought was “This isn’t fair.” Coming down was pretty steep, and again, with plenty of pine needles and leaves.
The trail finally starts a long descent. You can see on my map where I missed a turn, and was on a woods road for a bit. I figured it would lead to where I wanted to go anyway – which fortunately, it did. The trail deposits you out on Magee Road. And it is a short walk to Stonetown Road and the parking lot.
You get a great shot of Windbeam Mountain as you walk to the car. Who knew that over five hours ago, I was at the top:
All in all this was a great hike. Plan for it to be long. If I had not done some of the hikes I did over the last couple of weeks, this might have been rougher. But it is a hike I’ve wanted to attempt for a while. I can confirm, it IS strenuous. The feeling of accomplishment is awesome, and the views going up each of the mountains is great.
I returned to the rec center, where my car was parked, to a PACKED parking lot, so make sure you get there early. It is a large lot, but youth soccer games were ongoing by the time I was leaving.