Surprise Lake Loop – Abraham S. Hewitt State Forest, NJ

Location: Abraham S. Hewitt State Forest, West Milford, NJ

Length: 6.4 Miles

Trip Type: Day trip accessible via public transit.

Difficulty: Moderate

Getting There: Take NJ Transit bus #197 from Port Authority Bus Station to West Milford. Get off at “Union Valley Road at White Road.” Be sure to ask the bus driver to stop here or (s)he might skip it. When you get off the bus walk along White Road for a few minutes until you reach Warwick Turnpike. Take a right and you’ll see the trail head on your left in a few hundred feet. Cars whip quickly through this area and the shoulder is very narrow, so be careful!

Trail Description: After reading many rave reviews about this trail I finally got to check it out for myself last weekend. I was not disappointed! This trail includes rock scrambling, beautiful wildflowers (in the spring), soft moss and fern patches, babbling brooks, stunted Pitch Pine trees, upland swamps, dramatic rock outcroppings, and last but certainly not least, the serene Surprise Lake. Throughout the hike I kept stopping to take it all in. All this just bus ride away from NYC. This girl was in heaven!

On this particular day the trail was very quiet, likely due to predicted showers that never materialized. Lucky me! When I arrived I suspected that I was the first person on the trail, and as I started hiking my suspicion was soon confirmed. I took four spiderwebs to the face in quick succession. After locating a trusty cobweb stick I was on my way!

From the trail head you’ll start off on Bearfort Ridge trail (white blazes), this trail will quickly dead end into another trail. Take a left to stay on Bearfort Ridge trail (if you take a right you’ll be taken back to the road). You’ll soon come to an intersection with Quail Trail (orange blazes) on the right. This is the trail you’ll be looping back to, so stay to the left and continue on Bearfort Ridge trail following the white blazes for about three miles. At a beautiful overlook you’ll come to an intersection with Ernest Walker trail (yellow blazes). Take a right and follow the yellow blazes all the way to Surprise Lake. The trial merges with Quail Trail (orange blazes) just as you approach the lake. If you’re craving another expansive vista follow the orange blazes about a quarter mile past the lake to an elevated rocky area with a incredible view. Once you’ve soaked up some rays head back the way you came and pick up Quail Trail (orange blazes) to complete the loop. This will take you back to the Bearfort Ridge trail (white blaze) intersection where you’ll take a left and head back to the road.

Getting Back: When exiting the trail after the hike continue walking east on Warwick Turnpike until it merges with Union Valley Road. The #197 bus stop will be on your left, just past the intersection. This is not the same bus stop where you were dropped off. On the right is a little gas station where I grabbed a drink and a snack while waiting for the bus. Buses don’t stop in these rural areas unless they see someone waiting, so be sure to make yourself seen when you see the bus approaching! Either buy a round trip ticket when you leave Port Authority, or bring cash to buy your ticket on board.

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Surprise Lake overlook!
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Rock outcropping overlooking an upland swamp.
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Lush ferns catch some rays.
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Intersection of Bearfort Ridge trail & Ernest Walker trail. I love hiking in my five fingers!
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NJ transit bus stop at the intersection of Warwick Turpike & Union Valley Road.
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