Massive boulders in the Highlands of New Jersey shifted to form large rock shelters millions of years ago. These shelters became a natural home to the Lenni-Lenape tribes. The word “apshawa” translates to, “upon the mountain.” This is a very fitting name for this preserve in West Milford; because there certainly is magic in the mountains here.
Many Trails To Choose From
We began our hike at this 576 acre preserve by entering the deer enclosure. In 2010 the fence was erected to promote healthier native plant life. There are currently 5 miles of trails. The Yellow Trail has been closed for years due to beaver activity.
The Blue Trail begins with lots of roots and rocks. There are several small footbridges to cross the muddier parts of the trail. Initially the incline is slow through rolling hills. Although the majority of the forest is comprised of oak and sugar maples, we did come through a small pine forest among a large rock outcropping.
Make a left the Orange Trail and then bear left at the Green Trail. You’ll arrive at the top of the waterfall. Follow the trail down a steep, rocky incline to the base of the Apshawa Brook. The trail was hard to follow at this point, but we continued walking along the brook. That’s where the old stone ruins of the water tank project from the 1900’s are located.
Cross over the brook to the other side; the trail is beautiful and there were several little waterfalls at different parts the further down we walked. Make a right on the Green Trail before the fence. Again, this part of the trail was a little hard to follow.
Ready For A Challenge?
This is where the trail gets more challenging. The incline is steep and it’s straight up. There are no switchbacks for easy ascent. The trail is roots, rocks and requires a little rock hopping here and there. We were lucky enough to have a gorgeous Scarlet Tanager stop and cheer us on as we huffed and puff our way forward. The view from the summit is beautiful. There are several large rock faces which offer unobstructed views of the surrounding Highland Mountains. It is definitely worth the climb.
The descent was also straight and steep, through more roots, boulders and a rambling dirt path. At one point the ruins of a moss-covered structure was off to our right. We have no idea what that may have once been.
The path becomes a bit muddy here. Go through another deer fence and head right on the gravel road. This is where you pick up the Red Trail. Here is where my eagle-eyed partner spied the bear. It was a cub, just behind the deer enclosure. We watched it for a few minutes and then headed off on our way. We knew Mama Bear was probably nearby and a picture wasn’t worth the risk.
Continuing on the Red Trail, Butler Reservoir now comes into view on the right. This 43-acre body of water was formed by the damming of the Pequannock River. The cool thing is you are below the reservoir so our view was eye-level, like an infinity pool. It is definitely something to see.
After the dam go back to the metal bridge. Stay straight on the Green Trail and follow it back along the water. This will loop you back to the Blue Trail which will lead you out the way you came in.
The parking lot for the Preserve is very small. The day we went we only saw a handful of other people. This park is a very special place, you can feel it the moment you enter the enclosure. There certainly is magic here on the mountain; put on your hiking boots and go find it!