Difficulty: 9 out of 10 (steep climbs & descents, rough terrain, rock scrambling)
Highlights: Amazing lake overlook, interesting trails, pitch pines, some light rock scrambling, NYC views, rhododendron tunnel, rocks, rocks, and rocks. Also, rocks.
Distance: 4.0 miles, loop
Approximate roundtrip time: 3.5 hours
Total ascent: 1,191 ft
Max Elevation: 1,424 ft above sea level
This hike is for you if: You want to take a memorable hike with views, lakes, a rhododendron tunnel, small rock scrambles and a general awesome vibe. Oh, and you enjoy burning lots of calories.
Pooch proclivity: Dogs are allowed here, but I didn’t bring mine, and that was definitely the right call for us. As much as I love hiking with her, besides the very rocky trail that would have been rough on her lil’ tootsies, there are several very steep spots where she would have needed to be carried up or down.
If your dog doesn’t have horns and hooves, and is not an actual, literal mountain goat, you might be well-advised to leave her at home for this one. (Or at least scope it out for yourself the first time you come here, and bring her next time if you think she can handle it.)
Background you can feel free to skip: This trail guide is titled Surprise Lake II (via Greenwood Lake overlook) to keep it consistent with my previous Surprise Lake (via Bearfort Ridge) trail guide, but giving Surprise Lake main billing on this hike is kind of like making an awesome Batman movie and calling it “Commissioner Gordon Returns.” The main event here is not Surprise Lake at all, but the expansive overlook of Greenwood Lake from a wide-open, rocky perch.
What an awesome place. If this view had just completed an eBay transaction with me, here’s the feedback I would give it: A+++++. VERY TRUSTED VIEW!! WOULD VIEW FROM AGAIN!!!!!
My wife and I burned a day of vacation to come here on an early spring Friday, and it really did feel like we escaped for a one-day, zero-night vacation. After coming off the trail, you can bum around the Village of Greenwood Lake (a very short drive away), or take a scenic drive around the lake’s edge. (Greenwood Lake is nine miles long and within easy striking distance from most points in the Hudson Valley. If you’ve never been, it’s worth a visit just to see the lake and surrounding areas.)
The hike documented below is the one I meant to take the first time I came here. A friendly reader commented that I should check out Surprise Lake, and her description sounded intriguing (thanks, Megan!). As I found out after I completed my first Surprise Lake hike, though, there are two loops that visit Surprise Lake (with a fair amount of overlap between the two), and, without realizing I’d made a choice, I’d chosen the less awesome one. Situation rectified!
Surprise Lake hikes are like the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies – the first one is perfectly acceptable, but the second one is where you’ll find most of the awesomeness. (And we won’t bother with a third one, since we all know how that turned out.)
This hike starts with a steep climb up to the Greenwood Lake overlook (you could turn around at the overlook, if you wanted, making this hike a 1.7-mile out-and-back venture instead of a 4-mile loop, but you’d be missing out on some nice trails, sights and small rock scrambles beyond the overlook).
I recommend you do the whole loop at least once, but the Greenwood Lake overlook is most definitely the primary money spot on this hike.
One more note: We visited this spot after several days of drenching rainfall, and we were VERY glad to have some hiking poles (one each) to help us balance across several stream crossings and other wet places. It’s not critical to have them, and the trail was much wetter than usual during our visit, but man, they were nice to have that day.
Before we get to the trail guide, did we hit all the relevant information you need to plan your hike here? Batman. eBay. Spider-Man. Hiking poles. Check, check, check, check.
Okay, let’s get to it!
1. From the parking lot at the Greenwood Lake Marina (see “Directions to the trailhead” below), you’ll find some blue-and-white-blazes on the left side of the driveway (assuming you’re heading away from the lake, uphill). This is the official start of the trail, with a small State Line Trail sign in the woods just beyond.
You can also start your trek just behind the kiosk at the top of the parking lot – you can pick up the blazes here, too, though this doesn’t appear to be the official way to do it.
2. You’ll be on the State Line Trail for the next .7 miles, during which you’ll ascend 511 feet. You may have to skip on some rocks over a few wet places, but the trail here is otherwise pleasant and well-marked. Just keep following those ample blue-and-white blazes and don’t get lured onto any unmarked trails.
Your next point of interest is the junction with the yellow-blazed Ernest Walters Trail (heretofore referred to as the Yellow Trail). It took us just over thirty minutes to get there from the parking lot.
3. As you climb, keep an eye out for the Yellow Trail junction, which is well-marked but not so obvious that you couldn’t stroll right past it if you weren’t paying attention. You’ll find three yellow blazes on a large rock in the middle of the trail, and several yellow blazes veering off to your left. Turn left here to follow those yellow blazes uphill, bidding adieu (for now) to the State Line Trail, as its blue-and-white blazes continue climbing straight ahead to your right.
This is the start of your loop for the day – the next time you visit this spot, you’ll be coming down the State Line Trail with tired legs and, if all goes according to plan, a brain brimming with awesome new memories.
4. Continue following the Yellow Trail uphill. Like, really uphill.
From the beginning of the Yellow Trail, it’s just .15 miles and 140 vertical feet to the money spot, and you’ll start getting some smaller views in about five minutes. w00t!
And then, at the top of the ridge, boom, the money spot.
Take your time. Grab a seat. Soak it in. Try to pick out some NYC skyscrapers on the horizon.
New York City is such an awesome place. But today, you picked the right side of the horizon to be on, didn’t you?
When you’re ready to rock, let’s continue rolling along on the Yellow Trail.
6. From the overlook, you’re just about .3 miles (took us ten minutes) from Surprise Lake. The Yellow Trail follows the ridge for a few more minutes, then takes a right turn to plunge into the woods.
Shortly thereafter, you’ll emerge into a small clearing right in front of Surprise Lake.
(As mentioned in my first Surprise Lake trail guide, there’s a local – and fictional — tradition you should be aware of: The first person in your hiking party to spot Surprise Lake has to jump out at everyone else and yell, “SURPRISE!!!”. Let’s make that a real thing.)
On your left, notice the Yellow Trail and orange-blazed Quail Trail heading off into the woods.
That’s soak it in, not soak in it — Surprise Lake is apparently a popular swimming hole, though the examiner.com article “Swimming hole hikes in North Jersey” lists this place as one of “numerous backcountry waters that are popular among hikers who are willing to risk a fine.” So, you know, sounds like you’re not supposed to do that. (Also, this nice blog post shows pictures of a snapping turtle in Surprise Lake, if that gives you any encouragement to stay on the straight-and-narrow.)
7. When you’re done checking out the gorgeous lake (and not swimming in it), return to the clearing behind you, and turn to your right to hop on the Yellow/Orange Trail.
In just a few yards, the Yellow and Orange Trails diverge, and you’ll turn right to stick with our old buddy, Yellow Trail. Goodbye, Orange Trail! We hardly knew ye.
8. What’s French, has two thumbs, and is about to walk through a rhododendron tunnel? (This is the part where you point at yourself with both thumbs and say, “Moi!”) Rhododendron tunnel, here we come!
Is this your first rhododendron tunnel? Hey, mine too! The tunnel just keeps on going and going. What a cool place.
Keep following the Yellow Trail as it meanders past the rhododendron tunnel and over some rocky patches, perhaps also asking you to hop on some rocks over wet areas, depending on the conditions when you visit.
The trail then steeply ascends 200 vertical feet to your next overlook.
You’ve reached the overlook when you crest the ridge and arrive at one curved, yellow, banana-looking blaze and three white blazes in the middle of the trail.
9. When you reach the banana blaze and three blazes marking the end of the White Trail, check out the view behind you. This overlook isn’t as impressive as the Greenwood Lake overlook, but it’s still a certified money spot.
To your left, you can juuust see Surprise Lake through the trees (at least you can when the leaves are down). This spot also gives you an even better gander at some NYC skyscrapers on the horizon.
When you’re done checking out the view, continue the way you were heading on the Yellow Trail. Steel yourself – some serious ups and downs ahead.
10. In case you’re saying to yourself, “Where are those rock scrambles this dude was talking about?”, you’re about to find out. The top of this ridge is arranged like three parallel speed bumps – it’s pretty quick when you’re walking lengthwise along one of the bumps, but it’s seriously slow going when you’re heading across them the bumpy way, like you’re about to do.
Your next point of interest is coming up in about five minutes, at the bottom of a bump, where you’ll find a tree with a very faded (faded as of our last visit on 5/2/2014) yellow arrow pointing to the right and the barely legible word “VIEW.” The Yellow Trail heads left here (which is the way we’ll go in just a moment), but you can visit a very short spur trail to your right to visit a pleasant overlook of West Pond first, which is your only real chance to get a good look at it.
Go right here to check out the small view over West Pond in just a few feet. Purty!
When you’re done checking it out, head back to the tree with the faded marker and turn right to continue along on the Yellow Trail.
11. Your next junction is coming up in .8 miles, when the Yellow Trail dead-ends into the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. It took us about 30 minutes to get there from the West Pond overlook.
Along the way on the Yellow Trail, you’ll find some steep and slow-going spots.
Shortly after the West Pond overlook, when the Yellow Trail takes a hard bend to the right, you may notice the white-and-green-blazed West Ridge Trail joining you from the left. Just ignore it and keep following the yellow blazes across the beautiful and rocky terrain, with West Pond occasionally (and barely) visible through the trees on your right.
This section also features some very nice pitch pines, and it never gets skimpy with the rocks.
When you get to the T-intersection where the Yellow Trail ends, you’ll find three blazes in the middle of the trail.
12. From the end of the Yellow Trail, turn right on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail (heretofore referred to as the White Trail). If you weren’t paying attention, it’s possible you’d turn that way without even noticing the Yellow Trail had ended.
Keep following those white blazes for about fifteen minutes across more rough, beautiful terrain.
13. Your jaunt on the Appalachian Trail ends at a well-marked junction, painted on a rock face, where the State Line Trail (hello again, old friend!) departs to the right. Turn right here to follow those familiar blue-and-white blazes.
14. Navigationally, you’re done with this hike! Hooray! You still have to walk the remaining 1.15 miles down the blue-and-white-blazed State Line Trail to your car, though, during which you’ll descend 768 feet. Don’t forget about that part!
In about twenty minutes, you may notice three yellow blazes marking the junction from earlier in the day, where you turned up the Yellow Trail to check out the money spot. Remember that, way back when your feet didn’t hurt?
This time, though, you can ignore the yellow blazes and keep on chuggin’ downhill on the State Line Trail. From here, you’re retracing your steps all the way back to your car, perhaps hopping over a stream or two along the way.
After about thirty minutes or so, ahoy, there, parking lot! Hello again, car! Thanks for bringing us to this awesome hike and waiting for us while we busted it out. We hope you enjoyed chatting with the boats while we were gone.
My wife and I had to scurry back home, but not before stopping at Mango’s in Greenwood Lake (104 Windermere Ave.) for some quick Mexican food (it’s mostly a takeout joint, but they have some tables). We did not regret that choice one bit, though there are plenty of other grub options in Greenwood Lake if you’re looking for something different. (It’s important to retroactively carbo-load after an awesome hike like this. And even if it’s not, it’s important to stuff down Mexican takeout whenever life gives you that opportunity.)
Whatever you decide to do from here, I hope you enjoyed the adventure! Tonight, you’ve earned the right to kick up your (probably aching) feet and relax. You could watch a movie! Spider-Man 2, perhaps?
Directions to the trailhead: From Newburgh headed south on I-87, take exit 16 for NY Rt. 17 (near the Harriman toll booths), then merge onto 17 West. After 2.5 miles, take exit 130 for NY 208 South, then turn left onto NY 208 South. You’ll only be on 208 South (Main St) for about half a mile, then you’ll turn right onto Schunemunk Road (also labeled 208 S) for a few hundred yards. When Schunemunk Road dead-ends into NY 17M, turn left onto NY 17M East. In one half-mile, turn right onto Lakes Road (aka Rt 5), and enjoy not having to make any more turns for the next 9 miles.
Toward the end of that 9-mile stretch, Lakes Road becomes Mountain Lakes Lane, then NY-17A East, then Windermere Ave, all without you having to make any turns. From the center of the town of Greenwood Lake, turn right onto NY 210 South (Jersey Ave). This road runs along the length of Greenwood Lake, giving you nice views as you go.
Continue on NY 210 South (Jersey Ave) for 3.5 miles. After you cross into New Jersey, this road changes its name to Lakeside Rd, and your destination is juuuust on the New Jersey side, at the Greenwood Lake Marina (538 Lakeside Rd), immediately after you pass Lake Shore Rd on your left. Drive slow here – it’s easy to blast right past the marina and have to figure out how to get turned around on this small, windy, busy road (I may speak from experience here).
The marina is on the lake side of the street (which, you know, makes sense), and the parking lot is on the opposite (west) side of Lakeside Rd. Turn into the parking lot for the Greenwood Lake Marina and drive to the back of the lot, up the hill, and park by the kiosk.
Important note on parking: Parking here is VERY tight. We visited on an off-season Friday afternoon, and we got the last available spot. Here’s the view from the parking lot, looking back down at the marina:
Figuring that the situation can get hairy here in peak times, I called the Greenwood Lake Marina to discuss the parking advice I should give, and had a nice conversation with the very helpful manager. Here’s what she told me:
- Once you turn into the parking lot from Lakeside Rd, the first two lots (on your right) are marina parking only. Do not park in these lots.
- The top of the driveway (the third lot) is for hikers – everything up there is fair game, and you can park blocking in the boats up there. They won’t need access to them.
- The lot is always full on nice weekends. Like, always. There is no overflow parking for this hike. It’s strongly recommended to visit at an off-peak time. And please carpool as much as you can – don’t bring three cars for three hikers, which would deprive other hikers of a great day and be really bad for your karma. (And if you can’t get a spot here, you can always do the other Surprise Lake hike, with the trailhead just a few miles down the road. A strong Plan B.)
- As you drive up the parking lot, it’s marina land to your right, state land to your left. There’s an easement-type situation going on here, in case you’re wondering.
Thanks for all the great information, Greenwood Lake Marina! And thank you to everyone for being so gracious and harmonious in a crowded location, which is crowded because it’s awesome.
You can also get directions by checking out the Surprise Lake II (via Greenwood Lake overlook) entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The Greenwood Lake Marina is directly across the street from the parking area for the trailhead – you’ll actually park at the top of the marina’s parking lot (which is on the opposite side of the street from the marina itself). Its address is:
538 Lakeside Rd
Hewitt, NJ 07421
Hop out and let the adventure begin! (And please see the Important note on parking above for more information on the parking situation here.)
GPS coordinates of parking area: 41.18592, -74.33213 (Clicking will open in Google Maps or the Apple Maps app, depending on your browser/device.)
Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit these resources:
- An excellent write-up for the exact same hike from the always-awesome New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
- My other Surprise Lake trail guide, visiting the lake from the other direction (though if you’re only going to do one Surprise Lake hike, I’d highly recommend you choose the one documented above)
- A handy-dandy PDF trail map from njhiking.com (Caveat: That map should show the white-blazed Bearfort Ridge Trail connecting with the orange-blazed Quail Trail on the left-hand side, but you won’t be visiting that spot today, anyway.)
- Greenwood Lake’s homepage, for some other sights you might want to see while you’re here
More Surprise Lake II (via Greenwood Lake overlook) pictures from the hike’s Flickr album:
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