Note: This article is written by guest blogger, Susan Quinn. Susan is a true explorer and one of my favorite Adventure Moms. She is mother to three and has been creating rich outdoor experiences for her family for years. This is her voice. Enjoy!
It's a rare day in October that you can spend time outdoors in a tank top and shorts. As a stay at home mom to three kids who are all in school full time for the first time, I knew I had to take advantage of it! So I packed my lunch, my copy of The Fellowship Of the Ring and my dog and headed into the woods.
While there are numerous trails at Schooleys Mountain Park, for my destination today, I chose to take a longer roundabout way then I normally do. I parked at the very back and left of the parking lot and walked into the meadow. This meadow leads to the yellow trail, also know as the Grand Loop Trail. The plan was to combine this trail with a couple others to reach my favorite parts of the park.
I entered the meadow and almost immediately the yellow trail began on my right. I was greeted by the sight of squirrels collecting nuts for the winter and birds fluttering through the trees. My dog, Donovan, and I followed this well marked trail for approx 3/4 of a mile until we reached the junction for the Highlands Cut trail, marked with red paint. You can always tell the beginning of a trail as the square markers will be in the shape of a triangle.
We took the red trail to the right. Making sure to keep a keen eye, as the trail is very wide and rocky here and easily lost. Luckily there are plenty of red blazes to keep you on track! We continued on this red trail surrounded by trees of a stunning yellow until we came upon a small cliff, really just a rock ledge, that I couldn't help but think how much fun my kids would have exploring!
The trail then narrows making it much easier to navigate. It continues this way for about 1/4 of a mile until you reach what I call the 'main trail'. It's a very wide and well-worn path that if you were to go right, would take you back to the parking lot. But we are not doing that today! So we made a left onto the path, which also happen to be part of the Grand Loop Trail so you will be back to following yellow markers.
Soon we reached an intersection and were met by two bus loads of school children! It was amazing to see the school getting them out for the afternoon. I wish there could be more days like that for kids at school, but I guess that's a topic for another day!
This intersection brings you to the pink trail, which you will make a right onto and follow to the end. (Please note, the map seems to show this trail as orange, so they must have recently changed blaze color. ) At the end you are greeted by a rocky outcropping offering stunning views on the valley and town below. Aptly named, Long Valley. This is a beautiful place to sit for a while and that is exactly what we did. I enjoyed my book and lunch, and Donovan enjoyed sitting in the shade. Take the time here to sit and listen and you may get to see and hear the screeching of Hawks soaring above. If you have a pair of binoculars I would suggest you bring them!
When your rest is done, back track just a few yards and take the blue trail on the left. This will lead you down to the creek bed, which my dog thoroughly enjoyed! Continue on this blue trail back up. It parallels the creek, which has numerous waterfalls and pools to enjoy. The trail ends at the top where the lake is. You have options here to take the path to the left around the lake, but be warned there is a park on the other side and if your kids are like mine, they are sure to want to stop! The other option is to stay to the right on the gravel path and it will lead you right back up to the parking lot where there is a pavilion and restroom facilities. Whatever path you chose, you are sure to find some peace and beautiful scenery here. Don't forget to grab a map so you can check out all your amazing options!
I accessed Schooleys Mountain Park from the entrance on East Springtown Road Washington Township NJ 07853. I would rate this hike as easy to moderate. Most of the terrain is flat with small rocks in the path and the only up or down being when you reach the creek on the blue trail. In my opinion, if you are four and up you can do this whole loop on your own. Moms and dads may need to help out here and there, but overall a very family-friendly hike totaling approximately two miles.
Hike #1: Hook Mountain Nyack, NY
Hiking with my daughter has become one of my most prized ways to spend time together. My hiking toddler is now 2 1/2 yrs old. Although she has been hiking and exploring the forest all of her life, toddlers need incentives to "hike". For us, a nice incentive of chocolate milk gets her hike on! For our first #ReachYourPeak Fall Challenge Hike we headed about an hour north of NYC to Hook Mountain. We have hiked this trail before but at a time when I was predominantly babywearing. I used to carry her in a Kelty Backpack which wasn't terrible to take up and down once you got the hang of it. It was convenient enough to store necessary items such as first aid, water, snacks, and extra clothes, but as my tot's weight has increased I have returned to my beloved Ergo.
The hike begins with a steep ascent. Perfect for grabbing roots, climbing rocks, and spotting the next blaze...perfect for engaging my 2 1/2 year old! She led the way (with me closely behind!) cheering herself on at the tough times "I can do it!"
With plenty of songs, including "Let It Go", and a few stops to look at leaves, fungus, and deer, she lasted nearly 2 miles! After that she was out. She slept all through lunch at the peak of Hook Mountain and woke up just as we were leaving the trail.
We covered nearly 5 miles in just under 3.5 hours including lunch.