Hiking New Jersey: Split Rock Reservoir Loop

On a recent search for hikes within two to two and a half hours from Philadelphia, I stumbled upon a description for one long loop that, in part, read, "this trail is seldom done." And that's all I needed to add it to my to-do list. The promise of some solitude within close driving distance of two of the largest cities in the country - Philadelphia and New York City - sounded too good to be true.

A close-up view of the reservoir from the Four Birds Trail.

Fortunately, the trail description I read proved to be rights. Friends and I headed up to Wildcat Ridge/Farny State Park area on a chilly Sunday in February and saw a total of three people, two of them trail runners. It was also a beautiful, interesting, and challenging trail.

Getting to the Trailhead

The route we chose around the Split Rock Reservoir starts here, at the Split Rock Reservoir boat launch in a large gravel parking lot. The last 0.25 miles of road before arriving at the parking lot weren't paved. After parking, we read numerous signs detailing the multitude of activities not permitted on the reservoir, including paddleboarding, but given the temperatures, we weren't tempted. The lot did have a single porta-potty, which was unlocked the day we did our hike. 

Hiking the Split Rock Loop (10.1 Miles, 1,700' Elevation Gain)

After parking, we took a short walk up Split Rock Road, across a single lane bridge, and kept our eyes peeled for white blazes marking the Four Birds Trail. We'd be on it for the first half of the hike on the west side of the reservoir. The white blazes came into view about 0.5 miles into our hike, and we turned right into the woods.

One of the creek crossings. I found the rope tricky to get around, but it was a nice gesture having it available!

The trail dropped about 250 vertical feet in the first 0.25 miles after our turn off the road, crossing a small creek. It was cold enough to host a good bit of ice, and we noticed most of the reservoir had a thin coating on it as well. Strategically placed thin ropes helped us balance as we crossed, and the Four Birds Trail climbed up another 300 feet in the next mile. 

The majority of the trail felt like a long, drawn out roller coaster ride - up and down and up and down. The three of us debated whether we preferred doing all of the elevation in one big climb, or spreading it out into a bunch of small climbs and descents. As we did, we found ourselves down next to the reservoir around the 3.0 mile mark. We'd stay close to the water for the next 1.5 miles or so, and this was one of my favorite parts of the day.

Heading down the Four Birds Trail toward the reservoir.

At the 4.5 mile mark, we passed an intersection with the yellow blazed Winnebago Trail and kept moving forward toward a particularly rocky section at the north end of the reservoir. About 1.0 miles later, we came to a junction with the blue blazed Split Rock Trail, which we'd follow for most of the rest of the day. Dropping down toward Misty Pond, we realized we'd be climbing up a steep section to a rock outcropping we'd seen from the west side of the reservoir.

The Split Rock Trail took us up about 300 vertical feet in 0.5 miles, landing us on top of the rock outcropping with spectacular views of the reservoir from above about 6.25 miles into our day. It was incredible seeing the reservoir up close on the west side from the Four Birds Trail, then seeing it from far above on the Split Rock Trail. We pressed on, passing through stands of rhododendron with the reservoir now on our right.

The reservoir from above, looking back toward the south end and way, way in the distance, our car!

At around the 6.6 mile mark, we crossed Charlotteburg Road, an unmaintained, rocky, wide path along the reservoir with private land and houses visible up the hill to our left. After following the blue blazes toward the reservoir, the trail turned up and met the road again, this time, following the road for a short bit. We missed a turn off the road and into the woods, but I'd loaded the GPS track on to my Gaia GPS App before we left, and saw we'd have a chance to pick up the Split Rock Trail when it crossed the road again.

Our last little bit of Split Rock Trail before arriving back at the parking lot.

That second opportunity to pick up the Split Rock Trail came at the 8.8 mile mark, and we didn't miss that one. The rocky trail had us back down toward the reservoir for the next mile before the trail hit Split Rock Road. We followed the road for 0.3 miles before getting back to the car, making the whole loop 10.1 miles. Take a look at our entire route below.


Things to Know Before You Go

I read the trail was tricky to follow at times, and for the most part, that was true. Keep your eyes open for white blazes, and generally, it helps to make sure you can always see at least one of them, whether it's in front of you or behind you. We missed one of the turns from Charlotteburg Road back on to the Split Rock Trail toward the end, but we could've followed the road the rest of the way. Keep your eyes open on those crossings as well.

The trail is rocky, wet, and if you're going in winter, icy in parts. We didn't need traction devices, but sturdy footwear with good soles was absolutely necessary.

This map has the trails you'll need to do this hike on it, and this website has the GPX file I used. It never hurts to be doubly prepared, especially on a trail you've never done before.

Have you done this hike? Want to? We'd love to hear from you in the comments!

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