From the parking area, follow the paved path down to the beach on Shepherd Lake. Continue through the boat launch parking area and past the boat house, with the lake on your left. You will notice the red-on-white blazes of the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail, which you will follow for the first part of the hike. As you continue along the trail, you may hear gunshot sounds in the distance. These come...
From the parking area, follow the paved path down to the beach on Shepherd Lake. Continue through the boat launch parking area and past the boat house, with the lake on your left. You will notice the red-on-white blazes of the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail, which you will follow for the first part of the hike. As you continue along the trail, you may hear gunshot sounds in the distance. These come from the Thunder Mountain Shooting Range, located less than half a mile south of the Shepherd Lake parking area.
After passing a kiosk, where an orange-blazed trail begins, continue on a gravel road along the lake, following both red-on-white and orange blazes. In about a third of a mile, both trails turn right, leaving the road. Continue to follow the blazed trails, which head uphill on a footpath. At an intersection with a woods road, the orange-blazed trail turns left, but you should continue ahead, now following only the red-and-white blazes of the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail.
The trail climbs to the top of a rise, then descends to cross a mountain bike trail. Continue ahead on the red-on-white-blazed trail, which passes an old stone foundation to the left. After crossing a gas pipeline (where many seedlings have been planted to remediate the area), the trail begins to climb the northern shoulder of Mount Defiance, first gradually, then more steeply. Just below the 1,040-foot summit, there is a limited view to the west over Ringwood Manor and the Cupsaw Lake area.
After a short but steep descent, the trail follows the crest of the ridge, paralleling impressive cliffs on the right and passing an interesting split boulder. At the end of the cliffs, the pink-on-white-blazed Five Ponds Loop comes in from the right and briefly joins the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail. You will soon head down the mountain on the Five Ponds Loop, but for now, continue ahead for another 350 feet along the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail until you see a large rock outcrop to the right of the trail.
Climb this outcrop, which is studded with cedar trees, to reach a panoramic view from the top. The New Jersey State Botanical Gardens at Skylands Manor may be seen in the foreground, with the Wyanokies in the distance. The Wanaque Reservoir is visible to the left. This is a good place to take a break.
When you’re ready to continue, retrace your steps on the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail back to the junction with the Five Ponds Loop. Turn left (west), following the pink-on-white blazes, which climb over a small rise and then level off. Just before the trail begins a steady descent, you’ll reach a fork. The trail heads left here, but you may wish to follow an unmarked path to the right which leads up to a rock outcrop with a view over the gardens of Skylands Manor.
Continue down the mountain on the pink-on-white-blazed trail, which follows a series of gradual switchbacks -– the remnants of an old bridle path. At the base of the descent, turn right onto the white-blazed Crossover Trail, which follows a gravel road along the base of the mountain. When you reach a paved road, turn right and follow the road through the grounds of Skylands Manor, passing an English Tudor guest house with a sundial clock on its chimney to the right.
Just beyond a greenhouse, you’ll reach a road junction at the entrance to Parking Area A. Turn right into the parking area and proceed to the northwest corner, where you will see a sign for the Crossover Trail. Continue on a footpath through a meadow, then enter the woods and soon begin to descend on switchbacks. This trail section, built by the Jersey Off-Road Bicycle Association, was designed primarily for mountain bikes. It features very gentle grades and switchbacks that may seem excessively long to hikers.
After crossing the paved Shepherd Lake Road diagonally to the right and then crossing the route of a gas pipeline, the trail continues to descend on switchbacks. At the base of the descent, it turns right onto a woods road. It follows the road for a short distance, then turns left, leaving the road, and continues to descend on a footpath. Soon, it joins another woods road, which it follows across a stone causeway and a footbridge over Cupsaw Brook.
Just ahead, you’ll reach a junction with the red-on-white-blazed Ringwood-Ramapo Trail and the blue-blazed Cupsaw Brook Trail. Turn right, leaving the Crossover Trail, and continue on the joint Ringwood-Ramapo and Cupsaw Brook Trails. Soon, the joint trails cross a small stream on rocks. After paralleling Cupsaw Brook, the blue-blazed Cupsaw Brook Trail leaves to the left. Continue ahead on the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail, which turns right and crosses Cupsaw Brook on a wooden bridge. (From here on, the Ringwood-Ramapo Trail is marked by both red-on-white blazes and brown wands with solid red blazes.)
After passing a large cascade on the left, the trail bears right, away from the brook, and begins a steady ascent. At the top of the climb, the trail turns left onto a woods road and soon reaches a paved road at a traffic circle near Shepherd Lake. Turn left and head up to the parking area where the hike began.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 01/28/2010 updated/verified on 02/23/2020
This loop hike climbs to panoramic viewpoints on Mount Defiance and traverses the historic Skylands Manor area.
Whether you are going for a day hike or backpacking overnight, it is good practice to carry what we call The Hiking Essentials. These essentials will help you enjoy your outing more and will provide basic safety gear if needed. There may also be more essentials, depending on the season and your needs.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
Water - Two quarts per person is recommended in every season. Keep in mind that fluid loss is heightened in winter as well as summer. Don't put yourself in the position of having to end your hike early because you have run out of water.
Map - Know where you are and where you are going. Many of our hiking areas feature interconnecting network of trails. Use a waterproof/tear-resistant Tyvek Trail Conference map if available or enclose your map in a Ziplock plastic bag. If you have a mobile device, download Avenza’s free PDF Maps app and grab some GPS-enhanced Trail Conference maps (a backup Tyvek or paper version of the map is good to have just in case your batteries die or you don't have service). Check out some map-reading basics here.
Food - Snacks/lunch will keep you going as you burn energy walking or climbing. Nuts, seeds, and chocolate are favorites on the trail.
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Rain Gear and Extra Clothing - Rain happens. So does cold. Be prepared for changing weather. Avoid cotton--it traps water against your skin and is slow to dry. If you are wearing wet cotton and must return to your starting point, you risk getting chills that may lead to a dangerous hypothermia. Choose synthetic shirts, sweaters and/or vests and dress in layers for easy on and off.
Compass - A simple compass is all you need to orient you and your map to magnetic north.
Light - A flashlight or small, lightweight headlamp will be welcome gear if you find yourself still on the trail when darkness falls. Check the batteries before you start out and have extras in your pack.
First Aid Kit - Keep it simple, compact, and weatherproof. Know how to use the basic components.
Firestarter and Matches - In an emergency, you may need to keep yourself or someone else warm until help arrives. A firestarter (this could be as simple as leftover birthday candles that are kept inside a waterproof container) and matches (again, make sure to keep them in a waterproof container) could save a life.
Knife or Multi-tool - You may need to cut a piece of moleskin to put over a blister, repair a piece of broken equipment, or solve some other unexpected problem.
Emergency Numbers - Know the emergency numbers for the area you're going to and realize that in many locations--especially mountainous ones, your phone will not get reception.
Common Sense - Pay attention to your environment, your energy, and the condition of your companions. Has the weather turned rainy? Is daylight fading? Did you drink all your water? Did your companion fail to bring rain gear? Are you getting tired? Keep in mind that until you turn around you are (typically) only half-way to completing your hike--you must still get back to where you started from! (Exceptions are loop hikes.)
Check the weather forecast before you head out. Know the rules and regulations of the area.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
The Trail Conference is a 2015 Leave No Trace partner.
(c) Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.