The Ramapo Mountain State Forest is a vast forest and mountain range stretching through both Bergen and Passaic county. Its 4,200 acres offers much to do, most notably hiking. The forest is always a busy hiking spot, but thanks to its size, you can still explore in peace. One particular trail, up to Van Slyke Castle, is our pick as one of The Best NJ Hiking Trails.
A few miles up Ramapo Mountain State Forest lies the ruins of Van Slyke Castle, dating back roughly a century. Sitting atop a steep peak, the castle is actually considered to be in Wanaque, Passaic County. While the hike can get a bit rocky, it is possible for any skill level to reach the castle. Besides, it’s a stunning adventure (that we recommend during the spring and fall).
Van Slyke Castle, Before the Rubble
The castle was built in the early 20th century by attorney Warren C. Van Slyke. During World War I, Van Slyke served as assistant to the chief of naval intelligence. He and his wife used the mansion as their summer home for a number of years. After Warren’s death in 1925, his wife took up permanent residence in the home until she died in 1940.
The castle then sat empty for nearly two decades; until vandals broke in and burned it down In 1959. To this day, the Van Slyke Castle ruins remain in the Ramapo Mountain State Forest. Countless hikers enjoy taking the trip to visit the rubble and also enjoy the views of the lush scenery.
Hitting the Van Slyke Castle Trail
You will find parking for this particular hike at the Ramapo Lake Trailhead. (The GPS address is 67 Skyline Drive, Oakland.) This lot is pretty big, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a parking spot. Before you head out, there are a couple porta-potties right by the trailhead; as well as a trailhead kiosk with helpful info about the forest.
The direct hike to the Van Slyke Castle Ruins is about a mile and a half. If you park in the Skyline Drive lot, you’ll begin your trek at the MacEvoy Trail. While this is a firm trail, it is pretty rocky throughout. The trail runs along a stream, which you’ll either have to cross over or else take the long way around. Shortly after crossing over the stream, you’ll come up to a corner of Ramapo Lake. This is at a three-way intersection of two quiet roads, North Shore Drive and Rye Cliff Road. Do not turn left or right; continue straight down North Shore Drive. If you’re going the correct way, Ramapo Lake will be at your left as you travel this road.
Later on, you’ll come to a wide fork, where North Shore Drive continues around the lake; at this point, however, you want to take Foxcroft Road, which takes you away from the lake. This part of the trail is also flat. Foxcroft Road loops right, at which point you’ll quickly come up to Castle Point Trail. While on this path, you want to follow the white markings that guide the trail; this is because the path takes a sharp right, which leads you up a rocky hill. A word of caution, this hill is moderately difficulty to climb, but don’t fear!
A Stunning Vista
For those that make the climb, Van Slyke Castle is just up the hill. The size and scale of the ruins offer a glimpse of both the history of Van Slyke and his wealth. From this vantage point, you can see the New York City skyline (on clear days). In addition, if you keep going along the white Castle Point Trail, you’ll come to the Ramapo Water Tower Ruins.
At this point, you have a few different options for heading back. Of course, you can retrace your steps for a hike of the same difficulty; but for an easier trip back, take Foxcroft Road east of the Castle Point Trail by the water tower ruins. This will bring you back to North Shore Drive, which you can follow back to the trailhead.
If you’d rather reach the water tower ruins first, you can park at the Hiking Trail Parking Area. (265 Skyline Drive, Oakland.) This takes you to Cannonball Trail, where you’ll turn right on Deer Ledge Road, then left onto Castle Point Trail.
The Ramapo Mountain State Forest area has a number of private residences nearby; so please be mindful that you do not disturb any residents during your journey.
The whole forest area is very pet friendly; in fact, during my hike I was one of the only people without a dog. However, the closer you get to the castle ruins, the tougher it is for four-legged friends. But it’s not impossible at any point.
The Ramapo Mountain State Forest is a spectacular hike any month of the year. While hiking to the Van Slyke Castle and water tower ruins, stop and enjoy the 120-acre Ramapo Lake. It’s a superb sight all on its own. But for those willing to make the trip up, the Castle is a truly worthy reward.
If you’re new to hiking, be sure to check out The Best Safety Tips for Hiking in NJ.
All Photos: © Patrick Lombardi / Best of NJ