Hawks Cliff & Green Pond Mountain Overview
This is a short out-and-back hike to the Hawks Cliff on Green Pond Mountain, a dramatic spot with some of the best view in New Jersey that has historically been popular with rock climbers in the state (although rock climbing there is currently illegal).
The cliffs are located behind Craigmeur, the former ski area in Newfoundland, NJ which operated from 1937 to 1998. The cliffs themselves are on Morris County property, while much of the Four Birds Trail is on the Pequonnack Watershed, which requires a permit from the City of Newark to access.
Hike length: 2.6 miles
Elevation gain: 420 feet
Location: Pequannock Watershed, Rockaway Township, NJ
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
History of the “Crown Jewel” of New Jersey climbing
*** Note: As of 2022, climbing on Green Pond Mountain is currently illegal.
There is evidence that the cliffs of Green Pond Mountain have been climbed since at least the 1930’s/1940’s. John Anderson wrote about the history of climbing at the cliff in Appalachia in 1995:
Nearly two miles west along the Green Pond ridge lies Craigmeur, site of the former ski area, also called Hawks Cliff. This escarpment flanks a stratified valley formed by glacier drift. These cliffs rival those at the Delaware Water Gap. Federal, state, and local agencies manage public lands in and around Green Pond Mountain. Patterns of legal access to the area evolved to the current permit system***. Climbing is prohibited on the area’s federal lands.
This section of cliff ranges from 180 to 220 feet in height and exceeds 2,000 feet in length. At the base of these cliffs is a wonderful, large, and complex talus field. The adjacent talus field woodlands and the associated clefts along the Highland Ridge place one in a forgotten and remote corner of New Jersey.
Over the years, despite the risk, surreptitious climbing took place at Hawks Cliff. The remoteness, the undeveloped nature of the area, and the risk of potential trespassing fines and possible confiscation of climbing gear held climbers in check. In 2010, when access expanded, climbers bridged first known ascents and explored the cliffs. In doing climbs along the escarpment, they found ring and iron pitons from the 1930s or 1940s. Also found on a ledge in this area, buried under leaves, was a World War II-era carabineer stamped “USA.” Farther down the cliff, climbers found a well-worn, three-stranded, gold-line rope from an earlier era.“The Rusty Pitons: In New Jersey, Evidence of Rock Climbing 75 Years Ago,” Appalachia: Vol. 66: No. 2, Article 3
According to a post on mountainproject.com, “This area was once opened for rock climbing in the 1980’s but was closed due to several small accidents and liability concerns.”
A number of rock climbing routes have been identified on these cliffs (from John Anderson).
In a story of the May, 2013 issue of Climberism Magazine, also written by John Anderson, Green Pond Mountain was called “The Crown Jewel of New Jersey Climbing.”
The article notes an effort to reopen the area to climbing on the cliffs, which are on Morris County land.
“Andrew Sinclair, a local climber, and John Anderson, an AMGA member since 1987, along with a small group of AMGA Certified Guides, have completed a series of first known ascents at Green Pond. Their goal was to assess the quality of climbing as a public resource for the Morris County Park system. Their proposal, which would allow for access to AMGA Certified Guides and their clients, is currently awaiting finalization by Morris County. For liability reasons – and considering the adventurous nature of the climbing – the area will not be open to non-guided climbing.“
According to the January 10, 2012 minutes of the Morris County Parks Commission, the Commission heard from Andrew regarding the interest in using the cliffs for climbing.
According to same post on mountainproject.com, “In 2011 and 2012, Andrew Sinclair gained access here for commercial guide services to operate under a “per use” permit. Nobody renewed any paperwork so the commercial use policy ceased as of 2016/2017.”
Another comment on mountainproject.com notes that the assessment that was conducted to determine if the cliffs should be reopened to climbing “was shut off, because a Rattlesnake den was discovered on or near the cliffs.”
Green Pond Mountain Parking
Park on the small shoulder parking lot on the west side of Green Pond Road (County Route 513). If you’re driving south from NJ-23, it will be on your right hand side.
Parking address: Google maps link.
Green Pond Mountain Trail Map
Green Pond Mountain Trail Description
From the parking lot, look for the trailhead for the very short spur trail heading into the woods marked by a black-dot-on-white blaze (don’t cross the street). The spur trail ends in just a few feet and reaches the white-blazed Four Birds Trail.
Follow the white blazes through the woods. The trail begins relatively flat as it skirts and crosses a stream a few times.
After crossing the stream after about a half mile, the trail begins to more steeply climb the base of Green Pound Mountain. You’ll notice mountain laurel throughout the hike.
If the leaves are down, you’ll soon be able to see through the trees the steep cliff that you’ll be ascending.
Follow the trail – now a wide road as it heads even more steeply uphill.
You’ll only follow the road for a relatively short distance. Look for the blazes that mark where the trail branches off of the road to the right and into a footpath in the woods as the road continues.
A short distance ahead, on your right, the trail reaches the edge of the cliff.
Here on the edge of the cliff is one of the most dramatic views in New Jersey. Below you is a large talus field. To the north, the southern part of Echo Lake is visible.,
Enjoy the view here, then retrace your steps to return to the parking area.