Hike Distance – 7.69 miles
Trails: Buttermilk Falls (blue), Appalachian (white), Crater Loop (orange), Hemlock Crater connector (orange/green), Hemlock Pond (Green), Woods Road (yellow)
My Map –
This was the trip I was hoping for two weeks ago when I went out chasing Fall foliage. While there were spots of brilliant colors, there were also spots with leaves down. It depended on where you were. So, for this post, be on the lookout for bonus pictures.
What the heck, bonus picture number 1. This picture was taken on the road (before Mountain Road) on the drive in. Fortunately, at that hour of the morning, there were no other cars.
On the drive in, if you’re coming from 206, follow Struble Road until you reach Wallpack Cemetery (you will pass two parking lots for Tillman Ravine.) Make a left at the cemetery and proceed down Mountain Road. A note on Mountain Road, it’s a dirt road, with many potholes, and some water crossings. It’s definitely doable in most any car, though you have to be careful, play a lot of dodge-pothole, and be wary of cars coming in the other direction.
As I entered Mountain Road, I couldn’t believe all the cars I saw before me. Until I saw all the blaze orange and the shotguns. Fortunately, by the time I reached the parking lot for the falls, I had left the hunters behind me. I pulled into the parking lot at 8:30 and was the first car there. It felt darker, but that was because the sun was on the other side of the ridge and had not risen high enough yet. I guess the other reason there was no one in the lot was due to the fact it was 23. That’s Fahrenheit.
So, let’s get the money shot out of the way.
If it were not so cold, I could have sat there a while. Which is why this place gets so crowded. I headed off with a fleece, hat and gloves on; knowing that enough activity would warm me up and keep me warm.
Not in the picture are the stairs that wind their way up the side to reach the top of the falls. Most of it was pretty easy, except for the last stairway to the top.
I was only a couple of hundred yards in. I couldn’t back out now. Head down, I plowed on up. Though, in the back of my mind the entire day was how I was going to get back DOWN those stairs. There’s a viewing platform at the top, that sort of looks down the falls. I didn’t even go look.
The entire Buttermilk Falls trail is a little less than two miles. But, it is almost straight up onto the ridge. In fact, it was the only serious climbing I did the entire day. Right after the falls is a section that is pretty steep. It was during this portion that I shed the gloves; the hat and fleece stayed on all day.
Did I mention the colors?
Just before the Woods Road trail would bisect the Buttermilk Falls trail, there is a portion to walk on the top of some exposed (large) rocks. I took this picture of the frost.
When I came back this way a little later, the sun was up and had melted the frost. When the sun was out, it was really nice. However, when the sun was behind the ridge or blocked by the trees, you could tell it was much cooler. And, when the sun was hidden, it looked a lot like this:
Eventually making it onto the ridge, I prepared myself for a typical New Jersey section of the Appalachian Trail.
This was downright pleasant. Where were the rocks? Where was the tortuous ups and downs? If the 2×6 white blazes were not visible every so often I would have thought I was someplace else. It was .9 miles to Crater Lake, and that went by quickly.
The Appalachian Trail junctions with the Crater Lake Loop just passed the trail to Hemlock Pond. I would come back to this spot momentarily. First, it was a trip to Crater Lake. I chose to go counter-clockwise, which meant a stop at a viewpoint.
Right after the viewpoint, the AT and the Crater Lake Loop sort of split. I wanted to take the shortcut, so I should have stayed on the AT. I stayed on the Crater Lake trail, and ended up adding about a half mile more. Definitely worth it, the Crater Lake Loop is almost entirely a woods road.
There’s one section where the land passes Crater Lake on the left and big pond on the right. I found out why there are many trees down in the area.
While most of the time was spent looking up, I did manage to look down once or twice to find some Mountain Laurel.
Upon reaching Crater Lake, there’s a parking lot with a small spur trail to the lakeside.
Absolutely serene. No wind. And no one was around. I had it to myself. I sat for quite a bit, but was interrupted by two cars entering the parking lot with real loud music blasting. Not wanting to leave, I stuck around until it became apparent that people were headed in my direction.
The rest of the loop was rather short. I did notice this old structure in the woods. And if it was a house at one time, the occupants had one heck of a view.
The Hemlock Crater Connector trail was the only other trail that was not a woods road; but at .4 miles long, I wasn’t on it enough to worry or matter. Mostly, it descends to the Hemlock Pond trail; another woods road. Though, it’s easy to see where Hemlock Pond gets its name.
Opposite the junction of the (Blue Mountain) Outer Loop trail is a small spur trail to the pond. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by these types of spur trails in the past, so I gave it a shot.
I definitely stayed here a few minutes. Again, no one around. And quiet. Real quiet. Life could percolate for a few minutes here. Feel free to pause a few minutes. I can wait.
The trail winds up the western shore until you reach a large rock outcrop.
You can just barely make out my earlier stopping point on the right.
I followed the Hemlock Pond trail on my way to the Woods Road trail. The Hemlock Pond trail would branch off to head down the eastern shore of Hemlock Pond. The Woods Road trail heads back to Buttermilk Falls. Why is this trail named the Woods Road Trail?
It passed through a small swamp. And the mystery of downed trees was solved once again.
One small stream crossing was a little trickier than it needed to be as the bridge (log) has been washed away. Still fun though.
The forest was very very quiet, which made for some great hiking. The only noise was my traipsing through leaves. It wasn’t quite noon, but the sun shining through the Hemlock trees was pretty magical.
I ran into people on my way back down the Buttermilk Falls trail. And the number of people without maps was astounding. I’m not sure where they all were going. The thought of the stairs popped back into my head. And when I reached the stairs, there were a lot of people milling around. I waited until no one was coming up…..then just put my head down and went down. It certainly wasn’t “fun” but I made it without thinking too much about it. And holy moly, the lot was full. Not just full, but packed, with cars waiting to get in. Most people were just stopping to view the falls, then leaving.
As I was leaving, I got a shot of one of the water crossings on Mountain Road.
Bonus Pic 2, for those of you that read this far. The drive out.
Mention the bonus word “Color” to receive a free hike.
Disclaimer: Elevation not guaranteed, colors not guaranteed, weather not guaranteed, trip not guaranteed.