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Buttermilk Falls, Crater Lake, and Hemlock Pond Loop

Intermediate/Difficult
 4.2 (15) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

The tallest waterfall in NJ followed by a glacial lake and one of the largest remaining hemlock groves in the Northeast.


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Map Key

7.2

Miles

11.6

KM

Loop

1,545' 471 m

High

431' 131 m

Low

1,301' 397 m

Up

1,301' 397 m

Down

7%

Avg Grade (4°)

56%

Max Grade (29°)

Dogs Leashed

Features Birding · Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Access to trailhead is closed in the winter.

Overview

This route highlights interesting hiking terrain while taking the wanderer to great destinations along the way. On this loop, you'll enjoy the tallest waterfall in New Jersey and climb up alongside it to two lookout platforms, hike a portion of the AT, relax at a glacially formed lake that begs you to take a siesta, hike through dying hemlock groves with a deep woods feel, and pass by several vista points with views of the surrounding Kittatinny Mountains.

Need to Know

The road to Buttermilk Falls Trail is closed in winters and the route coming from the west (Mountain Road) is not in the best of shape. Cars with abnormally low clearance should take the route from the east (the 206 side).

Description

Start this great hike with a long and winding car ride through dirt roads in the backwoods of the Delaware National Recreational Area. The trailhead is at the base of Buttermilk Falls and your payoff is immediate, although the flow does slow to a trickle in the drier months.

The hike begins on the blue-blazed Buttermilk Falls Trail which takes you up the eastern flank of the river. This early section looks quite difficult on the elevation chart but don't be discouraged, as there are wooden steps with railings for the most difficult portions. The falls themselves are wonderful, topping out at 200 ft, the tallest in New Jersey, and are stunning on a sunny day with the sun's rays peeking through the forest canopy above.

The first 1.4 miles of trail are almost entirely uphill, climbing just under 1100 ft until reaching Appalachian Trail on the top of the ridge. Here, turn south (right) for just under a mile and pick up the Crater Lake Trail. This is a little tricky as there are no blazes on Crater Lake Trail and there are a few other unmarked trails in the area as well. You can loop around Crater Lake in either direction but I recommend clockwise as it breaks up the Appalachian Trail into two sections.

Crater Lake is the perfect lunch spot. At the south end near the parking lot (this lake is also accessible by car), you can relax on exposed bedrock near the shoreline. The lake itself was formed by a glacier millennia ago and is one of the most serene places in the area to visit.

The loop hooks back into the AT at the north end of the lake and bears left (north) onto the Orange Trail for 1/2 of a mile and then pick up the Blue Mountain Lake Trail (Outer Loop) for 1/3 of a mile. These two sections of trail cut a path through amazing groves of the soon to be extinct Hemlock Trees. Here, you can see the devastation of the Woody Adelgid with one grove almost completely devoid of needles.

Next bear right onto the Woods Road, which is more of a trail than a road, and follow 1 1/3 miles northeast until it intersects with Buttermilk Falls Trail. This section is pleasant hiking with the highlight being a swamp towards the beginning of the trail that is home to dozens of dead trees, standing in water until they ultimately fall in the near future. The scene is a bit spooky if you use your imagination.

Finally, head back down to the base of Buttermilk Falls, being careful not to slide down the mountain. It's almost as difficult going down the steep incline as it was going up, but well worth your time and effort.

Flora & Fauna

Northern NJ Hardwoods, some wildflowers, hemlock groves - also saw a great blue heron and there are deer in the area.

History & Background

From the National Park Service: Crater Lake is glacial lake left behind after the Wisconsin Glacier retreated from this area about twenty-two thousand years ago. This beautiful setting attracted developers and in the mid-1900s, this was a budding vacation community. Hikers may spot remnants of old abandoned buildings along several trails.

Contacts

Shared By:

Lou Poulas

Trail Ratings

  4.2 from 15 votes

#944

Overall
  4.2 from 15 votes
5 Star
40%
4 Star
47%
3 Star
7%
2 Star
7%
1 Star
0%
Recommended Route Rankings

#4

in New Jersey

#944

Overall
355 Views Last Month
12,038 Since Jun 3, 2017
Intermediate/Difficult

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Photos

A winter view of Buttermilk Falls in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Feb 5, 2019 near Crandon…, NJ
A damp evening at the top of a beautiful 85 foot cascade, Buttermilk Falls, in the Delaware Watergap NRA
Aug 18, 2018 near Crandon…, NJ
This fantastic loop starts with a great view of Buttermilk Falls and gets better as the day progresses.
Jun 5, 2017 near Crandon…, NJ
Beautiful swampland sits atop the Kittatinny Mountains of New Jersey.
Jun 3, 2017 near Crandon…, NJ
Hemlock Pond provides pleasant trailside companionship.
Jun 3, 2017 near Crandon…, NJ
Even a dead tree can look beautiful in the Delaware Water Gap!
Oct 10, 2020 near Crandon…, NJ

Weather


Current Trail Conditions

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All Clear 5 days ago See History
Add Your Check-In

Check-Ins

Aug 17, 2019
Pradeep Thomas
8mi — 4h 00m
Jun 21, 2019
Peri S
May 26, 2019
Sam Kaplan
3h 15m
May 17, 2019
Chen Fong
May 11, 2019
Arpita Aneja
7mi — 5h 00m
Apr 23, 2019
Michael Troeller
the uphill beginning seems daunting, but also includes some sick views of the falls and it's source! the straight away after the uphill is scenic a… 7.2mi
Apr 20, 2019
Mengying Wang
4h 30m
Apr 13, 2019
Kalyan B
7.3mi — 4h 34m