High Point State Park

Autumn view from the top of the mountain.
This page features two hikes now. The first hike is the one most people are aware of, around the monument. The other hike takes place across the street, south of Rt. 23.

Hiking north of Rt. 23
Hiking south of Rt. 23

Hiking north of Rt. 23
If you are like me, High Point State Park will provide you with the ultimate late November hiking experience. Very pleasant and well-kept trails cut through some rough but scenic nature, and the harsh weather in November provides a welcome solitude, as most hikers stay home. As a bonus, you get an awesome view (High Point is the highest point in New Jersey), accessible parking and a decent visitor center.

Getting there
High Point State Park is slightly out of the main roads, so expect a longer drive. The fastest way is to take Exit 52 of I-287 and take Route 23 North. Drive an additional 40 miles or so, and you'll see the visitor's center to your left. The park entrance is across the road from the visitor's center, take it and follow the signs to the High Point Monument - right behind it is a big parking lot.

I, however, prefer taking Exit 34 of I-80, then Route 15 North and later turn to Route 519 North. This road will connect with Route 23, where you take a left, about three miles before you get to the visitor center. Route 519 is a scenic route - you will be driving through the New Jersey farmland, which is a sight you should not miss. The last time I went to the park was about a week before Halloween - the pumpkin fields on both sides of the road offered a great sight.


Rocky ravine at Mountain Trail.
I prefer hiking the Iris and Appalachian Trails to the south of the visitor's center, but they offer little except of a good workout and wild nature. For a few more interesting sights and trails of a varying difficulty, read the following description of a circular hike consisting of a few trails. This hike combines several traditional circular hikes into something new that not many people know about.

Once you park the car, you can go to the monument and enjoy the view. Towards the east, you'll be able to see vast forests. This view is the only reason why you may want to visit the park in early fall; the colors are spectacular. Towards the west, you can see as far as the Delaware River. This view, however, is slightly spoiled by a mining operation you can see as well.

When you are ready to hike, start walking towards the end of the parking lot; the Monument Trail starts there. The first part of the trail leads north, with very little elevation differential. Now and then, you will be able to enjoy some scenic view to your right. Soon, the trail will start turning left and descend rapidly. The Monument Trail is very well known, so expect meeting some other hikers as well.

As soon as the trail levels up again, you will enter the Cedar Swamp. Depending on the season, this part can be very pleasant or feature insects straight from hell. Even in late fall the cedars stay green here; a welcome contrast to the leafless forest. In the Cedar Swamp, you will come across a gravel road, which disappears to the right. Most hikers come up this road and then return on the Monument Trail, so for the rest of your trip you will meet much fewer people. Last November, I met two groups in the first part of the hike and no living soul in the second.

In Cedar Swamp, the Monument Trail crosses a small brook and continues back into the forest. By now, you must be pretty surprised by the relative lack of rocks, both on the trail and elsewhere. This is going to change, however, as you come across a rocky ravine to your left. This impressive display of the rough force of the nature is a sight to behold, especially in late fall, when the harsh weather makes the rock seem even rougher.

Now watch to your right - the Steenykill Trail starts here. This trail is easily recognizable by huge pieces of rock that create a series of steps downhill. It is surprising, however, how little used this trail tends to be. After a short descent, the trail levels off and soon emerges from the forest at the Steenykill Lake. This lake is supposedly a decent fishing place, but in late fall/early winter, it is practically deserted. Sit down here and relax - if you are lucky you will experience an atmosphere of solitude as never before. This place is slightly spoiled by only one thing - Route 23 goes around the lake from the other side.

Steenykill Lake at sunset.
When you want to leave, turn right and walk along the lake's northern shore towards the road. Route 23 tends to be pretty deserted in this area, especially during weekends, so you should have no problems walking here. Still, I prefer to avoid asphalt surfaces, but here it is necessary; once on the road turn left and walk along the road. Soon, the road makes a sharp left turn - watch out here, as incoming cars tend to go deep into the shoulder.

After about a mile, look to your left for a broad trailhead. This trail, Old Trail, is probably the easiest marked trail in the whole state - about half a mile long, wide and perfectly level. Take it, and soon you will arrive at Lake Marcia. This lake has a small beach, and lots of people in the summer take a swim here. In fall, the lake provides a short, but relaxing walk around its shore. I tend to take the western side of the lake (closer to the road), which is slightly shorter. I tend to forget myself at Lake Steenykill, and have to hurry back to get to my car before sunset.

At the northern end of the lake, cross the road and you will come back to the Monument Trail. If you haven't guessed it, it is the gravel road that leads straight for the monument. After a few hours of hiking, this trail will prove to be somewhat of a challenge - it climbs sharply, and even though it is short, you will be breathing heavily by the time you get to the top. Sit down on one of the benches and relax, you deserve it. You just finished one of the most beautiful circular hikes in New Jersey.

Other activities

The monument, as seen from Lake Marcia.
The park offers a few cabins you can rent, a small beach at Lake Marcia, and lots of picnic facilities. While you won't find big grassy areas for summer sports, the picnic locations offer some little privacy. The parking lot on the top is designed to hold busses as well, so expect lots of tourists (especially school trips) visiting the Monument when the weather is warmer. In addition, Lake Steenykill, Sawmill Lake and Big Flatbrook offer some fishing opportunities. The lakes and streams are stocked with trout and large-mouth bass.

Trail update (October 20, 2002)
The area around Lake Steenykill has a sort of a fencing. However, it is torn down on a few places, and I had no troubles hiking there. Watch out, though, as the stream of water leaving the lake, which you have to cross, was much bigger than I remembered it.

March 26, 2014
Wow. I can't believe it's been some ten years since I enjoyed the trail the last time. I have, however, received updates from a trail historian and maintainer of trails in the area. So here they are:
Iris Trail: This trail is now all cleared and much easier to hike than before. Even more importantly, though, the Rutherford Shelter on the trail is in a very good condition and features fresh water for through-hikers. It is a little north of the Appalachian Trail, but it offers the
Monument Loop Trail: It's been also cleared last year.

Difficulty: 4 out of 10, due to the final climb.
Orientation: 7 out of 10. Markings partially washed out, map not offering much detail.
Beauty: 7 out of 10. Great view, Lake Steenykill, but part of the hike is on a main road.

Final words
When I first hiked in High Point State Park, I was thinking: "This is why God created late fall." Some may claim it is not a hiking weather, but clear skies, strong wind and wind chill at about 30F is the perfect weather to hike here. At that time, the park is virtually empty, and the rough nature fits well into that weather. However, the park is worth visiting at any time of the year, for one reason or another.

Time table
Net time Total time Notes
25 - 35 min 25 - 35 min The first part is relatively flat, with a few wiews to the east. As you turn left and descent, you will come to a wooden bridge.
25 - 40 min 50 - 75 min After crossing the bridge, the trail slowly gains altitude and winds its way on the top of a slamm ridge. This section ends when you cross another bridge and turn right onto Steenykill Trail
30 - 50 min 80 - 125 min Get to the Steenykill lake, turn right and go around it. As you come to the end, turn right and walk on the side of the road. The section ends when you reach Lake Marcia.
15 - 30 min 95 - 155 min Go around Lake Marcia and prepare for a short but nasty climb up, back to the monument. If you are too tired, take the road, which doesn't climb as high.
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.

Hiking south of Rt. 23
Getting there
Follow the directions to the previous hike. Instead of turning right when you see the ranger station, follow a gravel road to the left just before you come to the ranger station. Most likely, you will pick up a map at the station and drive a few yards back to the gravel road. If this parking lot is full, you can leave the car at the station (not recommended).

This hike is not too spectacular. Compared with other hikes on the ridge, such as the Stokes State Forest hike or the Kittatinny Ridge hike, High Point does not offer the same quality of sights. However, it is still a great workout, and especially in the summer it's virtually empty save for people who are hiking the Appalachian Trail. Most visitors head to Lake Marcia over the summer, leaving the whole southern part of the park to the few lone hikers.

Sawmill Lake
You start out from the end of the parking lot, following the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail. In fact, for the first half of the hike you will follow this trail. From the beginning, the route offers some difficult footing. The New Jersey portion of the Appalachian Trail is known for its rocky footing, and I would guess that this portion has played a significant role in that distinction. In addition to sharp rocks, there is a lot of roots sticking out of the ground, and the progress will be slow.

In a few minutes, you will come to a crossroads. The yellow-blazed Mashipacong Trail leaves to the right, while the red-blazed Iris Trail goes to the left. You will return on the Iris Trail, and unless you are up for some serious climbing back to the Appalachian Trail, you ignore the former trail. Instead, go straight, following the white blazes.

This part of the trail can be a little muddy from time to time, and if you have troubles crossing the mud, you should return and try a different hike; the return trip is always a little more muddy. A few minutes later, the trail starts to climb, but soon levels out in a relatively open forest area. The trail is narrow, but well defined, winding its way through fern. In the height of the summer, this is where the mosquitoes start plaguing you. As you start climbing again, the surface of the trail changes. For the next mile or so, it will be choke-full of jagged rocks, offering one of the most challenging footings in New Jersey.

After about half an hour, you will come across the blue-blazed Blue Dot Trail. Have you taken the yellow-blazed trail and later followed a road, you'd have some to the Sawmill Lake. You'd then climb up to the Appalachian Trail on the Blue Dot Trail; a climb that is both challenging and unnecessary. In a minute or two, you'll come to an overlook towards the west. You'll be able to see the Sawmill Lake quite a way down.

The private Lake Rutherford is tantalizlingly close but restricted.
As you pass this overlook, the trail descends sharply. The surface here is treacherous - it features plenty of loose jagged rocks, so be careful. Once you reach the bottom and walk for a short distance, you'll be stopped by an imposing climb. In hindsight, this climb will seem surprisingly short and easy, mainly because the large boulders act almost as stairs. Alf an hour after leaving the westward overlook, you should arrive to a similar one, looking to the east.

From here, the trail descends slowly, but still features very challenging footing. Another half an hour later, you will arrive to what is the best overlook on this hike. It consists of a huge slab of rock, slanted down the hill in an angle that offers some very comfortable seating. It is in a relatively open and sunny area, which the insects don't seem to be very fond of, as I could rest and have a quick lunch here without being bothered. Nearby is also a side trail to a hidden Appalachian Trail shelter.

Another half an hour later, you will come to the Iris Trail. This last stretch of the Appalachian Trail is much better, offering numerous stretches of dirt and gravel road. As you descend, you will come to a words road, and find yourself looking at both the white and red blazes. You need to turn sharply left here and stay on the woods road.

Iris Trail can be very pretty in autumn.
There was a time when the Iris Trail was a joy to walk. However, these days it seems largely ignored, with several swampy areas and numerous fallen trees blocking the road. In addition to mosquitoes, this part of the hike is infested with deer ticks, so be careful. The whole way back can be hiked in an hour, if you are really in a hurry. The only sight here is a private lake about halfway through the hike. There are signs everywhere telling you to keep off, but in the summer some people ignore them and bathe there. Even though I wouldn't go as far, sitting at the shore and relaxing a little is certainly refreshing.

Don't give up on the Iris rail, though. It offers two picturesque stream crossings, and a very pretty forest, especially in late fall when most of the leaves have fallen, but still retained their bright colors. There are very few other places that match the beauty of the Iris Trail in the autumn.

Once you reach the Appalachian Trail again, turn right and follow the white blazes back to the parking lot.

Difficulty: 7 out of 10, due to very difficult footing.
Orientation: 9 out of 10. Markings clearly visible, the trails very well defined.
Beauty: 4 out of 10. There are a few views, but compared with other hikes, nothing spectacular. Iris Trail is pretty in fall, though.

Time table
Net time Total time Notes
20 - 40 min 20 - 40 min While offering some difficult footing, getting to the westwards overlook and the Blue Dot Trail is still relatively easy.
40 - 70 min 60 - 110 min This is the toughest part of the hike, due to a few steep ups and downs and very difficult footing. You will be able to rest, though, once you reach the end of this part, the second eastwards overlook, which offers a nice place for a quick lunch.
20 - 30 min 80 - 100 min The last part of the Appalachian Trail descends slowly, and the surface is improving.
60 - 120 min 140 - 220 min Iris Trail can be hiked in an hour, but you'll almost run to do so. Take your time and enjoy the easy walk if the mosquitoes let you.
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.

Other links
Offficial site - basic information and driving directions.
Real-time weather cam
High Point @ Skylands Visitor Guide - an excellent article, including great pictures.
High Point @ About.com - a short article, covering all the facts.
Hike profile at LocalHikes
Park description at OutdoorPlaces.com
Park reviews at Epinions
Park pictures at Webshots

© Jozef Purdes, 2001-2003

Back to main page