Schooley's Mountain Park Trails
Due to recent land acquisition by the Morris County Park Commission and the Green Acres Program, hiking opportunities in Washington Township have been expanded as shown in the map below.
Schooley's Mountain Park consists of land previously acquired by the Morris County Park Commission, which now includes a designated trail as part of Patriot's Path, which traverses through northwestern New Jersey. This trail begins on Route 24 near Washington Valley Road and meanders through the Ort Farm, where it eventually crosses the South Branch of the Raritan River and on to Fairview Avenue.
At this point, it branches to the left and proceeds up the mountain to the lookout, where it connects with the Schooley's Mountain Park Trail System. Parking, is available where the trail crosses Fairview Avenue. The hike to the lookout is through the woods and is fairly strenuous.
As it leaves the Park, this trail passes over East Springtown Road, where it proceeds through the woods and some occasional wet spots before entering Rock Road. To keep on course, it is important to observe all trail blazes .
BY DAN GOLDFISCHER,
Special to the Daily Record (2009)
There is a directory with a trail map in the parking lot. From there, it is about one mile to the overlook of Long Valley, if you follow the road that goes past the rest rooms, turn left at the trail intersection near a rock outcrop, and the follow that trail to the overlook. From the overlook, there is another trail that goes directly back to the parking lots, and also a trail down to the falls of Electric Brook. The walk back up the brook towards the parking lots requires some climbing over rocks. There are also trails from the far end of the upper left (on the map) parking lot, that can be used to walk a two and a half mile loop that visits the overlook.
The park offers a secluded outdoor chapel in the woods, a challenging rock scramble down a stream bed to beautiful waterfalls, and an overlook commanding a view of the still-agricultural valley far below.
Start at the parking lot nearest the lake, boathouse and playground. Walk down to the boathouse and cross the floating bridge. Head up the trail into the meadow on the other side of the lake, and turn left toward the flagpole. Then climb up to the old lodge building. Walk to the front of the building, through the dirt parking area and down toward the right side of the building.
Look for a well-maintained stairway heading down into the woods. This will take you past an open-air chapel, as pleasant a spot for quiet meditation as you'll find in this county. Continuing past the chapel the trail becomes narrower and steeper, and the sound of Electric Brook louder, until you are down by the brook.
Turn left, heading toward the dam at the end of Lake George which has a bridge, often with several fishermen, just below it.
The official park map shows trails along Electric Brook but rock scrambles are a way to describe them. The going is steep and challenging, and you will have to pick your footholds carefully, around rocks, along muddy slopes and over fallen trees.
If you have difficulty with this type of walking, or if there have been recent heavy rains, I recommend an easier alternative, described at the end of this article.
When you reach the bridge, turn right to cross it and turn right at the first path, coming back down along Electric Brook on the other side. The path is in excellent shape for the first few hundred feet. Look for concrete abutments with a semi-circular cutout, former supports for a large pipe, and down by the stream near a small waterfall you will see the concrete foundation of a former powerhouse.
After this point the trail pretty much disappears. Follow the stream, picking your way from rock to rock. This is not like the easy, flat rock scramble in Hacklebarney State Park — it is a steep, sometimes hairy rock scramble over rockslides and alongside the steep banks of a ravine.
Although the trail on the other side of the stream is in somewhat better condition here, it can be difficult to cross the stream. You will eventually make it to a major double waterfall and feel somewhat like a pioneer in the wilderness, as you are far from the crowds, deep in the forest, and the stream is all you can hear.
The trail suddenly reappears at the waterfall. Look up at the falls and the ravine you just climbed down — it almost appears that the falls are a gate to the wilderness.
Turn left when you reach a fence marking private property and climb up a trail that goes for a while next to that fence. This trail is wide and obvious, but sometimes muddy due to the prevalence of mountain springs. After a short climb you will reach a great pile of rock that is left over from a quarrying operation. Either scramble up the rock or follow the trail, and you will reach an overlook that peers out over Long Valley.
Your difficult trail walk is behind you now. Return from the overlook to a junction of two well-maintained trails, almost roads, and take the one to the right. In about five or 10 minutes you will reach a junction. Turn right on a dead-end path to check out a huge pile of boulders that appears as though some giant baby was playing with rocks and plopped them randomly in the woods. This spot is a winter overlook when the leaves are down.
Return to the junction and go straight ahead on another wide road-like trail. In less than a mile a restroom building will be in sight. Turn left at a trail before the building, then turn right. This leads to the natural amphitheater where the Morris County Park Commission holds several summer concerts. Walk down the steep amphitheater (you'll probably have to run), then turn right to walk alongside Lake George to the boathouse, and back up to your car.
If you wish to avoid the difficult parts mentioned above, you can still see the highlights (floating bridge, chapel, old powerhouse, overlook, falls and amphitheater) but the cost will be a slightly longer walk that is not a loop.
Follow the directions above to the chapel, then turn around and return to the old lodge building. Return to the lake, turn right, and cross the bridge below the dam. Turn right at the first trail to view the powerhouse ruins, then return to the lake and turn right again.
Turn right beyond the amphitheater to head toward the picnic pavilion, then turn right at the trail marked "Overlook 0.8 Miles." This trail leads to the rock outcrop.
Turn right at the junction, proceed down to the overlook, and after viewing that, continue downhill to the falls. Then reverse yourself, following the main directions back to Lake George.
The most recent addition to Schooley's Mountain is a new section of Patriots Path. One part goes down the hill to Fairview Avenue, but a more level three-quarter mile section runs from East Springtown Road to Rock Avenue. This trail generally follows the route of Electric Brook, and in season the plants near the brook create a lush green environment. The Park Commission has installed several sections of boardwalk and three bridges, so mud should not be a problem. There is a small gravel parking area at the start of the trail, near a bridge on East Springtown Road; you can also reach this trail by following the white blazes that go past the back of the large parking area. Bicycles are not allowed on this trail.
Today you can drive the still-scenic route through Long Valley and up the mountain to the park.
DAN GOLDFISCHER of Succasunna is the author of several bicycle guidebooks, including "Ride Guide/North Jersey" and "Ride Guide/Central Jersey."