“Are we almost to the marsh?” asks 8-year-old Wynn Chitwood. Despite the potential for spotting a beaver working on his lodge in this wet, sunken area spiked with wildflowers and hundreds of standing dead trees, he’s more excited about the marsh’s proximity to our final destination: Terrace Pond, a glacial lake atop the 1,380-foot Bearfort Mountain in Wawayanda State Park in West Milford.
Young Wynn is with his older brother, Freddy, 11, and his father, David Chitwood, of Montclair. “This is the longest hike the boys have ever done, but they’re loving it,” Chitwood says. “They’re so proud of themselves for getting up and down all the rock scrambles.”
Wynn and Freddy had much to look at along the 5-mile trail: a bulbous, black-and-yellow marbled orb-weaver spider that had spun a web across the trail; a family of brown-speckled American toads at the edge of the marsh; orange eastern newts; and red-capped russula mushrooms.
The loop to Terrace Pond is often rated challenging, but that’s only because of those few sections of rock scramble leading up to and away from the lake, no matter which direction you choose to hike. However, hikers who take their time and wear appropriate footwear find the rocky sections totally doable—and fun—even for children.
The trailhead is on the east side of Clinton Road, which runs north from Route 23 opposite a small, unpaved parking lot with room for about 10 cars. (Do not park on the shoulder of Clinton Road; you will likely be towed.) As you enter the woods, the well-blazed yellow trail leads off in two directions. Go right (counterclockwise) if you want to do the complete 5-mile loop; walking that way leaves a shorter return trip after reaching the pond. At a leisurely pace, it should take under three hours. If you want to go directly to the pond, go left at the trailhead for a 3.7-mile out-and-back. However, you’ll miss the beautiful scenery the south branch of the trail has to offer.
Snap a photo of the trail map at the kiosk at the trailhead, as new trails were added in the fall of 2020, and there is much to explore. There’s a sign suggesting you give timber rattlesnakes and copperheads a wide berth, but don’t fret; sightings are rare, and the snakes don’t bite unless provoked.
The yellow trail winds through mountain laurel, hemlock and white pine, skirts cliffs scattered with boulders, and weaves through tunnels of rhododendron before turning onto a woodsy trail flanked by the ruins of several old stone walls. After the marsh, which is less than a mile from the pond, the trail will start a series of rocky ups and downs over crests of puddingstone (pinkish-purple rock streaked with white quartz) and glacial erratics (boulders dropped in place at the end of the Ice Age). Eventually, the yellow trail joins the white at a T junction. Here, turn left and proceed to the pond. There are several wide rock slabs on the west side of the pond that are perfect for a rest or a snack, or for spotting snapping turtles in the water below.
You might see people on the high cliffs along the east side of the pond jumping into the water for a swim. However, because there are no safe points of ingress and the water can be startlingly cold, swimming is forbidden; state park police will patrol and ticket. The pond can only be accessed on foot, and help often arrives too late when called; at least five people have drowned in Terrace Pond since 2010. Clearly, it’s best to enjoy the view from above.
Walk along the pond on the dual-blazed white and yellow trail until the two split again. If you’re still feeling fresh, follow the white trail to the right, across a newly built floating walkway and all the way around the pond; this adds an extra mile. Or bear left on the yellow trail, which descends over some rocky terrain before popping out of the woods into a cut under a string of power lines. Here, you’ll head downhill for a quarter mile before following the yellow markers back into the woods and, eventually, back to your car.
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Take a Ride Along the Delaware River
Grab a Kayak and Paddle the Pinelands
Test Your Agility on a Treetop Course
Explore Two Attractions on Jersey’s Appalachian Trail
Get a Kick Out of Foot Golf
Sleep Under the Stars in Worthington State Forest