Ramapo Valley County Reservation is a gem of a site in the northeast corner of New Jersey. It’s a place that’s easy to manage and easy to pop into without a well laid out plan. It’s great for a midday walk, a morning trail run, or a weekend hike with the family.
Much of the enchantment at the reservation flows from the Ramapo River which runs through the park and greets you minutes after you step out of the parking lot and down a flight of stairs. You'll walk past a small pond with turtles sitting atop half submerged logs and across a bridge as you take in a view of the river on both sides.
One of the coolest (and most romantic) spots in the park can be hit right after you cross this bridge. Just turn left and follow the bank of the river, past a white pebble shore spot and a minute or two later you'll see a gorgeous leaning tree that seems to be striving to make its way to the other side of the river. Climb up the tree and shimmy out to the middle of the river. Take a seat and let the river run under you as so many couples choose to do.
Don’t hesitate to step off the well-warn central path (it is more than a car’s width so you can’t miss it) and take a detour down either side of the river. You won’t be disappointed. The river literally sparkles. And the trees along the shore of the river are incredibly accessible to anyone over the age of two, making for fantastic river exploration, climbing on branches, getting muddy, skipping stones, and fishing in the trout-filled waters of the river. There are two trails you can easily hop on near the entrance of the park—the Silver and Schuber Trails. The Schuber Trail (6.5 miles) will take you to MacMillan Reservoir.
If you head back toward the bridge and onto the main gravel path, you’ll hit the real jewel of the site: Scarlet Oak Lake, which factors into almost everyone’s walk, run, or hike. The lake has a dirt path that circles it and is perfect for adding a nice loop (or two or three) to your trail run.
A quarter of the way around the lake you can veer up a seriously steep hill. As it begins to level off you’ll hear, and then see, a small waterfall down below. You can climb down to it but you’ll want to make a slow descent. Back on the trail there are plenty more inclines ahead making for a real workout through heavily wooded areas with beautiful brooks and streams. There are fallen trees galore for kids to climb on, and miles of trails to explore.
There are two types of creatures you’re fairly certain to see at the Ramapo Reservation: snakes and dogs. I ran into three snakes on my last two trips in early spring, two little snakes that tried to get away from me faster than I tried to get away from them and a much bigger snake (2-3 feet) moving along some rocks just a few feet from the gravel loop around Scarlet Oak Pond. A sign on the kiosk near the parking lot as you enter the park warns you that there are Timber Rattlesnakes and Copperhead Snakes in the reservation—the sign is quite accurate.
Just about everyone I saw on a recent visit had a dog and all but one were leashed. This also means that the paths closest to the pond can be a bit crowed. As you move up into the higher parts of the park, the crowds definitely thin out.
The reservation is a quick hop outside of New York City and the Westchester suburbs, just about a dozen miles after you cross the Tappan Zee Bridge in Mahwah, New Jersey. The park is off limits to all wheels, so leave your bike at home, and explore this hidden treasure by foot.