Mount Hope Historical Park

This hole is 25 feet deep - one of the ore mines.

Mount Hope Historical Park is one of the most overlooked parks in the state. While providing little to see and even less to hike, it is still worth the visit when you have a few free hours. Offering about three miles of marked trails with only small portion of them being on an even level, the hiking may be challenging. Combine that with a piece of history and the sight of dozens of iron ore mines, and you have something unique you should not miss.

Getting there
From I-80, take Exit 35B (from I-80 East, there is only one Exit 35) and turn onto Mount Hope Avenue North. After less than a mile, you will come to an intersection, with the Mount Hope Avenue turning slightly right. Turn left onto Richard Mine Road. You are now in a heavily populated residential area with many small children and little traffic, so me careful not to run over anybody. In less than a mile, turn right onto Coburn Road. The parking lot will be to your right. The way is well marked all the time, so you should not get lost.

A little history
Iron ore has been found and mined here as early as 1819 by the Jackson family. Later on, three prominent ore veins have been found and heavily mined. By the turn of the century, however, most mines were abandoned, even though some have been producing up to 20,000 tons of ore annually. The mines were reopened in 1940s, as a response to the wartime economy. The New Leonard Mining Complex has produced over 5.6 million tons of ore by 1950, eight years before the last mine in this area was shut down.


Debris from the ore mines are piled next to the trail.
The trails start at the parking lot, next to the information booth. There, you can get a map as well (during my last visit, however, there weren't any left), especially if you are interested in several features. Some features in this park are numbered, with a short description and history in the map.

After a short climb, you will cross under a powerline. Look for a trail disappearing into the forest to your left. Almost immediately, you will see the Red trail start sign. There is a big wooden sign pointing to this trail before it turns into the forest, but it tends to be overgrown by tall grass.

After a short uphill hike, you will come to a fairly level terrain. You will start noticing great holes to your left and later to the right. Those are the mines - the first ones from the end of the 19th century, the later a little older, from 1840s and 1850s. Underground mines were never built here - all is on the surface. Still, some of these holes can be 20 feet deep or even more. You will also notice great amounts of rock to your right - that's the part that was mined out. And if you pay attention, you may even discover pieces of old fence on the sides. The fence is so old that the surrounding trees grew over it, creating quite an uncommon view.

Soon, you will get to a crossing - the red trail turning right, while the Orange trail going straight. It is up to you which trail you chose; the orange trail will add only another 1 mile or so to your hike.

Decades old fence, firmly overgrown by trees.
If you continue to go on the orange trail, you are up to a downhill walk. The trail here consists of dirt and loose gravel; not my favorite surface, which is also quite slippery. Once you cross the powerline again, you will get to a gravel road. While offroad motor vehicles are illegal here, on my last visit I encountered several groups on dirt bikes in this area, so be careful.

Once you see a sign with the number 9, look left. You will see a clearing with very high undergrowth - that's the Mount Hope Mineral Railroad. Once you cross the clearing, you will discover some remains of the railroad - two rails crossing your trail and lots of rusty debris.

Soon after that, the trail turns slightly right and starts to climb. This will be you longest climb, but not too steep, so you should not have problems with it. This is also where I met most of the bike riders. You will get rid of them, however, once you are on the top and the trail turns right - the riders tend to continue on the unmarked trail to the left.

Now you are on the summit of the mountain, and the hike will be easy. The terrain is quite level and the surroundings finally look like a forest. I liked this part of the hike best; it provides a nice relax after the climb.

Once you get to a crossing, turn left and you are back on the red trail. While most of the time offering nothing special, there are a few parts of the trail that are truly unique, such as a small tunnel under young trees. The trail will later reconnect with the one you came on, and you will see a sign pointing to the parking lot. That's where you are going now.

The more relaxing part of the hike.
As soon as the trail takes a sharp right turn, you will notice another trail going left. You may have noticed it on the way into the forest, along with a warning not to enter the trail, and a gracious offer by the Federal government to continue hiking, but only if you stick to the red trail. This new trail leads to the US Picatinny Arsenal, but you will be still able to walk here for about 1000 feet before entering the Arsenal. The trail, however, is quite dull, but with an almost 10% elevation, it can provide some exercise.

Continue on the red trail until you get to the powerline again. If you turn right here, you will come to the parking lot. But if you are curious about the newest mine in the area, turn left and when the trail splits, turn right.

You are now on the Blue trail, and up for some serious exercise. After clearing a small swamp to your right, the trail starts to climb very fast, with an almost 25% elevation. This climb is even nastier considering that you will be unprotected by any trees and the trail is very treacherous, full of loose rock. Once on the top, you can see in the distance the New Leonard Mining Complex, now closed and off limits. This place provides you with the only feasible panorama view in this park, which is nothing to brag about. In addition, this part of the park is very rarely visited, and so it is the only place where you have a good chance to spot a deer or two. Climb down and head to the car; you are done here.

One of the few truly unique places in the park.
Difficulty: 3 out of 10. Short, with a few ups and downs.
Orientation: 8 out of 10. Easy to find. Recent trail markers are well visible and accurate.
Beauty: 3 out of 10. The original view and lack of hikers is greatly offset by constant highway sounds and dirt bike riders.

Final words
Mount Hope is a great place to go if you look for something really unique and unknown. The park has been included in the book New Jersey of the Beaten Path (by William G. and Kay Scheller, The Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, CN, currently in fifth edition) on a regular basis as a relatively unknown place. It provides enough uneven terrain for an exercise, but all marked trails are short and should not take longer than two hours to hike. The park is the perfect place to go if you live nearby and have an afternoon free.

Additional resources
Park profile at Morris County Park Commission - includes directions and a hi-res printable map.
Hike description at New York New Jersey Trail Conference
Hike profile at LocalHikes

Time table
Net time Total time Notes
15 - 20 min 15 - 20 min After two sharp but very slow ascents, the red trail is very comfortable and flat. Soon, it turhs right while you'll continue on the orange trail.
30 - 60 min 45 - 80 min The orange trail is quite rocky, starting with a sharp descent and later experiencing a long and steady climb. It is also popular with off-road vehicle freaks.
15 - 30 min 60 - 100 min The top portion of the red trail is quite rocky and experiencing an additional short climb and descent.
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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