Terrace Pond

One of your first views of the lake.

Since the 1970s when the Round Valley Reservoir was created, it has been a favorite spot for fishers, swimmers, scuba divers, hikers and bikers, as well as for people who enjoy the simple pleasures of camping and boating. 180 feet deep, the reservoir is the deepest one in New Jersey and the only one to accommodate lake trout, which occasionally grows to over 20 pounds here. The crystal-clear waters are inviting, and the surrounding forests offer a relatively easy yet beautiful hike.

Getting there
The way here is very well marked. From I-78, take Exit 20A towards Route 23. At the first light turn right, and after passing a shopping plaza, turn left, following the signs to the park (the left turn is one of those "all turns from right lane" things). After about three miles, the entrance to the park will be to your left. Once you pick up the trail map at the park office, proceed to the right-most parking lot.

Our hike starts from the parking lot, at the red-blazed Cushetunk Trail. After crossing a small patch of pine trees, the trail turns slightly left and proceeds along the ridge over the reservoir. Soon, you'll reach the top of the hill, with great view of the lake. Once you take the obligatory photographs, head steeply downhill roughly parallel to the lake (later the trail turns slightly left towards the lake), through tall grass. This hike is one of the most open ones you'll find on this site. Even though there will be plenty of forest to cross, large sections remain open, and this is one of them.

Occasionally, the trail will split, only to merge later on. Unlike most hikes, there are very few trail signs here, but the trail is so obvious that they are unnecessary. Trail signs are located only in places where the hiker could get confused, such as forks and crossings, and every mile. The latter feature is a very welcome one, especially if you don't plan on hiking the entire 11 miles each way. This particular hike will get you only 5 miles away from your car, to a small, but pretty beach.

The trail is so obvious that you won't need markers.
Once you reach the bottom of the trail, you'll reenter the pine forest. The next 30 minutes will be a lesson in botany. In addition to white pines, there's plenty of dogwood, very varied undergrowth and grasses, as well as your usual north Jersey mix. The trail is largely flat, offering very good dirt or sand footing. After roughly 20 minutes you'll notice a fence separating you from Road 629. This is where the trail starts a gentle ascent. You will now pass through the best-smelling portion of the hike, courtesy of large pine trees. A few minutes later, you'll cross a road, climb some more and come to a set of building towards your right.

Here, you'll come to a fork in the trail. The red-blazed trail goes on towards a chain link fence to the left, while another trail, marked as alternate route goes to the right. We'll return on the main trail; the alternate route is a much more pleasant experience. It traverses down a relatively steep hill in small and narrow curve like a snake trail. Occasionally, the trail emerges from under the trees, but usually is stays in the shadows. From time to time, you'll see the main trail towards your left, but you won't rejoin it until you come to a large grassy area.

This grassy area sloped downwards until it hits a road. You'll notice the fence towards your left, which separates you from the reservoir's dam. Its slope is a favorite hangout spot for the local deer population at twilight, so if you are still here that late (not recommended; the park closes at 8PM during summer and 7PM off-season), you can watch an impressive show. Right now, however, you'll be more concerned about the climb that awaits you on your return trip, and I can tell you, it won't be fun.

You decide to be brave and join me for the rest of the hike. Right now, you'll be less than two miles into the whole 10-mile experience. After you cross the access road to the dam and a small stream, the trail starts climbing steeply for a minute or two. Here you'll notice for the first time your main companions for the rest of your hike - No Trespassing notices. At times, it will appear that even going one step from the trail makes you a criminal. Needless to say, the bright-yellow, orange and white signs are not the most pleasing sight out there.

The water in the lake is crystal-clear; a boon for scuba divers.
After a short climb up, you'll arrive to a very level portion of the hike, winding its way through some very young forest. The trees are still young enough to offer plenty of ground to various grasses and flowers, which can be full of butterflies during season. Depending on your speed, anytime between an hour and hour and a half you'll pass the two-miles marker, and the trail starts climbing very gently. Once you see a weird structure to your left, look for a sharp left turn in the trail. Remember this spot, as the turn is easy to miss on your way back.

The trail turns sharply right soon, at a tree with ingrown markers. I found this sight to be very impressive: two metal plates placed on the tree a long time ago, and the bark growing over them, deforming the plates in the process. The trail keeps climbing ever so slightly, and soon you'll get to a crossroads. A bright-green sign will point to a trail to your left, steeply downhill. Ignore this trail and instead turn right. Five to ten minutes later, you'll get to the three-miles marker.

It's time to take a deep breath, as the next mile will largely consist of not-so-pleasant climbing on a relatively rocky trail. From time to time, you'll get to rest on benches placed on the left side of the trail, from where you can spot the lake through the trees. For a better view, you'll have to come in winter when all the leaves are down from the trees. For now, be content with the slightly more mature forest around you and still very thick undergrowth. I spotted a few deer here during the day, which seem to be very tame and offer a great photo opportunity.

The trail is a little treacherous here. It curves slightly, giving the impression that you're almost done with your ascent. It will keep fooling you for a good half an hour or more, depending on your speed. Once it levels off, the trail will go through a series of shallow ups and downs. The footing improves in this section, only to become rocky once again, when you start your descent. The most prominent sight in this area are the "Beware of Dog" signs that join the usual "No Trespassing" signs on your right.

Once again, nature triumphs over humans.
After a relatively steep descent, the trail crosses a gravel road near the five-miles marker. It is now time to leave the trail and turn left, onto the gravel road. Almost immediately, you'll come to a building and a drinking water fountain. To your left will be a small structure with benches and tables, overlooking the lake. Behind the bushes is a narrow and clean rocky beach. I like to sit here and enjoy the activity on the lake, which largely takes place on the opposite shore where you can spot the parking lot with your car. Even though there are no swimming signs posted here, in nice weather you are almost certain to run into people enjoying the water.

Once you are well rested, it's time to head back. The next hour or so will be very easy. Continue on the gravel road you came on, away from the building you came across. You will be on his gravel road for the larger part of your return trip, as you wind your way through pristine forest and a multitude of camping places on both sides of the road. Off-season, this place is empty, but during summer people may have problems finding a spot to camp. Especially in late spring and early autumn, when the day can still get hot but it cools off very fast, a thin mist envelops the trees, allowing you to see the rays of a low-lying sun. I was lucky enough to see this effect on my last trip here. Combined with an absolute lack of other people around, the place looked very pristine.

After 45 minutes to an hour, you'll get to a crossroads. Go straight up the imposing climb, which will prove much shorter than you feared. Once up, you'll rejoin the red trail about two and a half miles before the end of the hike. Turn right here and follow the trail back. Once you cross the large grassy area, take the right trail. This one is less atmospheric than the alternate route, following a fence, but it's more straight and offering some steps when it gets too steep. At this point, I found this trail to be easier to climb than the alternate route. From the top it's another half an hour to an hour back to your car, depending what shape you are in.

Difficulty: 6 out of 10. Relatively long hike, but except one steep section relatively flat.
Orientation: 9 out of 10. Easy to find, hard to get lost even without markers.
Beauty: 7 out of 10. Great views of the lake nd awesome forest, but the no trespassing signs detract from the view.

Additional resources
Official site

Time table
Net time Total time Notes
120 - 180 min 120 - 180 min The first five miles shouldn't take longer than three hours. While the first two miles to going may be slow (mainly to enjoy the surroundings), the last three miles are a little of a workout.
45 - 60 min 165 - 240 min The gravel road is very easy to hike, and you'll be halfway back before you know it. The time that you take walking towards the lake for another good view is not included, though.
75 - 120 min 240 - 360 min While you are even 2.5 miles away from the end of the hike, expect some slow going, especially due to the nasty ascent and because you'll be quite tired. You may want to add another half an hour you'll spend soaking your feet in the water towards the end of the hike.
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, 2003

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