Isolated in a place and time of its own, the Schunemunk Ridge (pronounced skun-uh-munk, meaning excellent fireplace in the Algonquin language) rises subtly in the rolling Northern Highlands. Even at 1,700 feet, its long, serpentine double ridge seems to elude the gaze of hikers from afar, as it lies neatly
tucked between the Central Highlands and the little hills that taper into western flatlands. But once you have experienced the ridge personally, you will be able to pick it out of the crowd.
Though it may be low and hemmed about by larger east-lying hills such as Storm King, the views from this uplifted sandstone ridge of Devonian vintage are dramatic and sweeping-particularly to the west and north, And because of the cruelly steep elevation gain required to reach its summit, the ridge seems to frustrate all but the most determined hikers, Come prepared with plenty of water and your best day-hiking gear.
From the parking lot, follow southwest through open meadows on a private (legal) easement, keeping the cornfields to your right, The trail follows a farmer’s road through cutover fields, and within 10 minutes of walking enters the woods to the right of a residence, where trail signs are posted, Go right, around a chained gate on the farm road, Marking is excellent. At the first intersection, bear left on the white-blazed Sweet Clover Trail and cross a shallow creek. Cross a large meadow in view of the Ridge to your right, where the easement is kept mowed for hikers and where wild morning glory and bindweed dot the fields along with brilliant hawkweed, Indian paintbrush, and clutches of asters. You draw unpleasantly close to the NYS Thruway (1-87) now, but soon put it behind you as the trail enters an oak woods turning decisively southwest. Follow the white blazes uphill, crossing the railroad tracks, and avoiding the intersecting red trail. The footing is easy as you climb along the northern rim of Dark Hollow, becoming rocky with talus as the ascent is engaged along the route of an old, built-up road amid scrub oak and pinewoods. Quarry talus appears uphill where heavy, stone water bars protect the trail, which then levels between pitches so you can catch your breath. As you ascend, impatiently anticipating your scenic payback, a few long, conglomerate outcroppings offer views to the east. Suddenly at 1,500 feet, you’re at Sweet Clover Junction, an intersection of the Jessup and Highlands trails signed with no less than magic marker on a piece of tin. Bear left on the yellow-marked Jessup Trail and climb a short distance to finally attain ridge elevation where a dramatic type change to pitch pine and blueberry heath takes place. The colors are what get your attention. The rock is pinkish-purple with hematite-the concretized sands of an ancient tropical beach-inlaid with white quartz pebbles and the fuchsia berry bushes make a startling contrast against the dark pines. You will be reminded of the much older but similar-looking Shawangunk conglomerate and the Pine Barrens as you thread your way along the trail between hardwood patches and open heaths. As for views, you will get some now, over the Hudson River into the Highlands, including Storm King, Mount Beacon, Mount Taurus, and the nearer-at-hand Black Rock Forest.
The trail is identified ‘with paint blazes and cairns as it crosses the open rocks. At a tilted slab, the poorly identified, even obscure Dark Hollow Trail (black rectangle on a white background) bears left and descends. This is Dark Hollow Junction. Continue following the yellow blazes (blue will also be present), until, at a little over two hours into the hike, you reach a large open area where white paint blazes mark a spur trail to the right (west), and the site of the Megaliths (not to be missed). The 5-minute walk features expansive views across the Delaware Valley, and north to the Shawangunks and Catskills. You look across the shallow valley of Barton Swamp at the Western Ridge Trail outcroppings, where you will soon be headed. The Megaliths themselves are large blocks of fissured bedrock, split away from the ridge and separated by deep crevices. Be careful-you can fall into them. This is the natural mid-point and highlight of the hike, although more scenic treats lie ahead.
From the main trail, proceed south again following the Jessup and Highlands trails, quickly reaching the summit (1,664 feet) and additional easterly views. Within minutes of leaving the summit, the blue-and-white marked Western Ridge Trail departs to the right (west). Follow it downhill as it descends gradually into lush woods over sloppy, makeshift corduroy to intersect with the Barton Swamp Trail (red on white markers) as it cuts across to the lower western ridge. Go left (south) to suddenly turn west as the red trail ends. (You can save a bit of distance by turning right here, but the trail is often very wet. Either way, the Western Ridge Trail is followed to the Long Path.) Join the Long Path atop the western ridge and follow it to the right (north). Now you walk a narrow ridge, crossing tilted slabs of pitch pine on the eastern slope. At Sweet Clover Junction (not the first one you saw by the same name), by now an hour beyond the Megaliths, bear right (east) onto the white-blazed Sweet Clover Trail, descend across Barton Swamp and climb the eastern ridge again, through thick patches of laurel and red oak. Turn left (north) as you intersect with the Jessup Trail on a prominent spine of the ridge with excellent views to the east (you can see the sculptures at the Storm King Art Center) and of the Catskills and Shawangunks. The Jessup Trail descends into Taylor Hollow and bears right at a four-way intersection with the Barton Swamp Trail and Long Path, then follows Baby Brook downhill through pine and hemlock forest to the railroad tracks. Go right (south), following the yellow markers along the west side of the tracks, within 250 feet crossing them to join a woods road heading south. After passing an arch stone culvert under the tracks to your right, be alert as the Jessup Trail departs the woods road to the left. Follow it across an open meadow where metal posts mark the way into the woods again. Shortly you will arrive at the first intersection with the Sweet Clover Trail, which you will recognize. Turn left and backtrack your way to the parking area.