Wawayanda State Park

The forest is quite open...
I cannot say that Waywanda State Park is among my most favorite ones. True, it offers different and challenging hikes, terrain ranging from hilly to swampy and a large lake, the park is infested with weekend hikers, bike riders and horses. That's right: a major portion of the park is open to horses.

Getting there
The quickest way to get to the park is from the south, through New York State. From Route 23, take either Route 515 or Route 94 North (whichever comes first) to Vernon. Continue on Route 94 about 1 mile into New York and turn right on Moe Road. This road becomes Warwick Turnpike in New Jersey; the park entrance will be to your right, well marked. Optionally, you can take Exit 55 off I-287 and take Route 511 North. Stay on this road for about 20 minutes until you reach a large shopping plaza to your left, dominated by Staples. On a road fork, keep right. The road will become Warwick Turnpike, and the entrance to the park will be to your left about 2.5 miles from the shopping center.

The following hike will lead you through the Waywanda Swamp Natural Area, to the Waywanda Lake and back. It will remain relatively flat, with the first section in a forest, which later opens up until you come to the lake. About half of the hike is on gravel roads, all of which are often used by horseback riders.

Park the car at the park office (the last spot you can park the car for free during season), cross the road and head up the blue-marked William Hoeferlien Trail. Thus begins the most lovely part of the hike, through some picturesque woods. The trail markings were vandalized recently, being painted over by black paint. If you run into this problem, simply follow the black marks - they are clearly visible.

...unlike the thick rhododendron growth.
The trail starts to ascend a little and wind its way through the forest. You can observe some bike marks here: the trail is open to bikers, but usually ignored. Soon, you will come so a sharp left turn on the trail, which becomes increasingly rocky. A few minutes after this turn, green marked Black Eagle Trail leaves to the right. Use this trail to come back to the access road to the park, where you turn right and get back to the car in about 15 minutes. This is not the way we will go today, however.

Continue on the blue trail, which now descends into a lovely valley. The trail surface is mostly rocky, but lacking the sharp rocks that are so common elsewhere in New Jersey. As you descend, notice the rhododendrons to your right. Those mark the edge of the Wawayanda Swamp. After 20 to 25 minutes after leaving the Black Eagle Trail, you will come to a T-junction with a gravel road. Turn right onto this road, and follow the yellow markers of the Wingdam Trail. Actually, you don't have to follow the markers: as you will soon discover, the first half of the trail is really a tunnel with thick growth of rhododendrons on both sides. Even after you emerge from this tunnel, just keep on going on the gravel road. There will be one fork in the road, but it is well marked. This part of the trail, however, shows signs of heavy use by horses, so watch where you step.

At the end of the yellow marked trail, you will emerge at a picnic area. Just follow the road down, the hill to an intersection. At this intersection, you will notice a stone building to your left. This is the historic iron furnace, built and operated during the second half of the 19th century, when there was a whole town around. This area is very inviting to sit down and enjoy the sun for a while, a little away from the crowds at the Wawayanda Lake.

Ever seen traffic signs on a hiking trail?
When you decide to continue, look for the yellow markers of the Laurel Pond Trail. This is basically a gravel road, which will lead you around the northern shore of the Wawayanda Lake to the boat rentals house. The lake is a popular destination for swimming, fishing and boating, but in the winter it is deserted, save for a few hikers and people with dogs. The main beach is about five minutes walking from the boat rentals house at the other side. You can walk there, as a small peninsula offers the best view of the lake on this side of the coast.

The trail picks up at the far end of the parking lot behind the boat rentals building. Follow the white markers onto a road underneath some phone lines. An open field will be on your right side. This is where the main horseback riding route begins, and you have good chances to meet some riders at any time of the year here. Once you hit the road, cross it and follow the red-and-white markers of the Iron Mountain Trail. This trail consists of a gravel road, but can be quite wet on places. You will continue under the phone lines for another half an hour. After the first fifteen minutes, the trail makes a series of sharp turns and starts to climb abruptly. Soon, it will descend again into a swampy area. Here, you will come to a T-junction with the Appalachian Trail, marked with white blazers. Turn right.

This is one of the most unique portions of the whole Appalachian Trail. While the trail itself is nothing special, the fact that it is heavily used by horseback riders is. This is the only portion of the Appalachian Trail I know where non-hikers are being tolerated (while the park guide describes it as a foot access-only trail, I've never seen anybody enforcing it). The trail will soon start a short ascent. Once you pass some ruins on your right, watch for a sharp right turn into the woods. Behind this turn, the trail changes from a gravel road to a narrow path, winding its way down the hill. At the end, you will reach a wide gravel road again. Turn left here and walk for a few minutes until you notice the Appalachian Trail turning right.

Once back in the woods, look for a blue-marked trail to your right. The first trail you see will lead you about 200 feet to the Wawayanda Hilton (as somebody creatively named the local Appalachian Trail shelter), and you can ignore it. The second blue-marked trail will lead you back to your car in about five minutes.

Update (September 10, 2003) I was told by one of the site visitors that the beach at the Wawayanda Lake is filthy in summer, full of duck droppings. The reader didn't recommend coming here with children.

While the ice looks firm, skating is not permitted on the Wawayanda Lake.
Difficulty: 3 out of 10. The hardest part is to avoid all the horse dung.
Orientation: 8 out of 10. All of the trails are well defined, and the marking is adequate.
Beauty: 4 out of 10. Horseback riders on the Appalachian Trail, need I say more?

Additional resources
Official site
Park profile at New Jersey Skylands
Profile at LocalHikes
Park reviews at Epinions
Pictures at Webshots

© Jozef Purdes, 2001-2003

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