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.
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.
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 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 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.
© Jozef Purdes, 2003