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 truly 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. 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 at 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 becomes rigorous, there are no switchbacks for an easy ascent, and the incline is steep. The path contains exposed roots, rocks, and requires agility to navigate the various rock formations. 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.
What goes up, must come down. The descent wont be any less challenging than the ascent. You will again encounter roots, boulders, and rambling dirt paths. During this descent we uncovered a moss-covered ruin, which we yet to know the origins.
Next on the trail, you will go through a deer fence and head right, toward the gravel road. This is where you find the Red Trail. This is also the location 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 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-hand side. This 43-acre body of water was formed by the damming of the Pequannock River. The most peculiar aspect of this body of water is your eye-level view, making the reservoir seem to have an infinity pool illusion.
Proceed to the metal bridge after viewing the dam, continue straight on the Green Trail and follow it back along the water. This path will loop you back to the Blue Trail, which will then 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!