Carris Hill

Looking north from the top.
Carris Hill is one of the most difficult short hikes in New Jersey. It has not the streepest climb, nor it is the longest hike. However, the layout of the trails is rather unconventional: you start by descending, which would place one last ascend into your way when returning, and some parts of descend from the top of the hill are difficult.

Getting there
Take Exit 53 off I-287 and turn left on the first traffic light. After about 2 miles, at a fork, turn right to Riverdale Avenue, and almost immediatelly, on another fork, turn right again, onto Glenwild Road. Drive for another 3 miles and look for a parking lot to your right.

The trail starts right at the parking lot; just follow the blue markers. After a few minutes of walking on a relatively level terrain, you will come across a large creek. Usually, you can cross it on large boulders, bearing slightly left from the trail. After heavy rains or snow melts, however, this stream can turn pretty violent. If you are not sure whether you'd be able to cross it safely, return at this point and try a different hike.

Once you cross the stream, you will face a short ascend, ending with a green-marked trail merging with the blue one. Follow and green and blue markers onto a long and steady descend. Watch out for the trail leaving the woods road and turning slightly left. In a few minutes, you will come across a yellow trail, which joins yours for a few feet. There is a small parking lot at Greenwild Road about a mile south from where you park. From there, you could have taken the yellow trail and later connect here. This is a possible alternate route if you weren't able to cross the stream.

Follow the green and blue markers through a potentially wet terrain, until you cross another stream. You are standing near a place where two streams merge, and see that the blue trail is leaving uphill to the left. Take that trail and start climbing. The first part is easy, and soon comes to an end, when the trail levels out in a relatively open terrain. Soon, however, the trail turns slightly right to face the hill. From here, you are up to a long and strenuous climb.

A view east from the descent.

Follow the relatively well-defined trail uphill. As the surface starts to change from gravel and dead leaves to tall grass, you will come across a few boulders that offer good resting places. As you reach what appears to be the top (one of several false summits you'll encounter), the trail levels out and turns right. Follow the trail, which soon starts to descend into a small gully. Just before the descend, you may want to climb on the rock left from you for a nice scenic view. After you descend to the gully, the trail starts to climb again, but not as steeply as before. The terrain changes again, and grass will be replaced by sand-like gravel and thick undergrowth on both sides. The trail may turn into a small stream after heavy rains.

Soon, you will reach another false summit, this time represented by a huge flat rock, facing south. This place offers a very good view south, but for some reason did not manage to keep me interested for long. Get beck on the trail and climb a little more. In a few minutes, you will come to the real summit, marked by the end of the blue trail. This summit is also a large flat rock, but now it offers some awesome view to the west and north. Unlike the previous place, this one offers some protection from wind, and is a great spot to sit down and relax for a while, before starting a very nasty descend.

Once you rested, leave the summit to the east, following the yellow markers, which the sun bleached to near white. After a short walk through a forest with thick undergrowth, you will come to another open area, with a good view to the south, and hints of a view to the east. The trail here descends abruptly, in a series of several big steps. You will need to sit down and slide a little here. Soon, you will start to traverse down the hillside. The trail turns sharply left, and you will come across the best eastwards view on this hike. You will be able to see as far as Manhattan. The trail takes a sharp turn to the right and goes around a huge stone wall. In the next 20 minutes, you will make several more such turns, crossing large rock fields and finding your way around stone walls. This is a relatively open area, and the trail is very indistinct, so do your best to spot the yellow markers, which are very sparse here. However, you should get the general direction - downhill, hugging the slope - right.

Sunset near the waterfall.

You will know you are done with the descend when you cross a small brook and the trail levels out. After a few minutes, you will come to a fence, and the trail turns right, following the fence. After a few more minutes, a white-marked trail crosses the yellow one. Here, turn right and follow the white trail. This is basically a wide woods road, whose surface slowly changes from gravel to a relatively wet and marshy grass-covered dirt. Soon, it opens up to a larger area, and you will find yourself standing at the bottom of a small waterfall. This waterfall can be pretty impressive after some rains, and is the sole reason why you may want to risk a bath to get here. You can rest here for a while, before returning to your hike.

The white trail crosses the stream right after the waterfall and starts to climb again. Soon, it levels out and follows the stream, which is now on your right. After a few minutes, it merges with the blue trail, and the place where you originally turned uphill. Follow the long ascend of the blue trail to your car.

Difficulty: 9 out of 10. The descent is very tricky, and the hike is badly organized.
Orientation: 6 out of 10. During the descent, there is a chance that you would lose the trail. Also, there are several sharp turns to follow.
Beauty: 6 out of 10. Some rough nature an d nice views, but nothing spectacular.

Additional notes
Please bear in mind two things. First, unlike other hikes, you will start downhill, so conserve some energy for the last uphill section. Second, the descent is steep, and often on a very rocky surface. Take your time and be extra careful when going down.

Trail update
November 23, 2003 - please be aware that the creek is overflowing with water. Several new streams formed, sometimes cutting the blue trail, sometimes flooding it. In addition, there's so much water in the creek at this time that crossing it near the parking lot is difficult, and crossing it at the waterfall is very reckless (to say the least). In fact, I would not recommend this hike unless you are a very adventurous type, as you'll face two very difficult stream crossings at the white trail (and the water is really cold; trust me). If you find yourself on the other side of the stream and can't cross back, head up the ridge to a wide path, turn right here and always go straight at forks. When you get to the yellow trail, turn right, as this is the only place you can cross the creek easily. Once back on the blue trail, turl left to get to the parking lot.

Other resources
Hike profile at LocalHikes

Time table
Net time Total time Notes
20 - 35 min 20 - 35 min The trail gently descends. The things to watch out for are a potentially difficult creek crossing, and a very rocky trail. This section ends as the blue trail turns sharply right, and a white trail goes straight.
25 - 50 min 45 - 85 min The trail first gently slopes up, but soon you will start climbing in earnest. After you reach the top, there will be a few ups and downs until you get to the top at the yellow trail trailhead.
45 - 65 min 90 - 130 min The trail moves through the flat top, but soon starts a sharp descent. The trail here is very difficult: steep and rocky, until it reaches the bottom. Once there, the trail flattens up, and you will soon arrive to the waterfall
30 - 50 min 120 - 180 min What originally seemed like a gentle descent turns into hard work now, as you will rejoin the blue trail and make your way back to the car.
Methodology: The lower number is how long it took me to finish each part. While I'm in mid 20s and in a relatively good shape, I tend to stop often to take pictures or simply enjoy the view. It is very likely that your time will be close to mine. The upper limit is my time adjusted to the difficulty of the trail and various distractions. I assumed a family with children in my calculation. I believe that the upper limit is rather extreme. I have not taken into account the time spent for an extended break.

© Jozef Purdes, 2001-2003

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