Ward Pound Ridge Reservation - Raven Rocks, CCC Camp, Castle Rock, Spy Rock, Dancing Rock
September 26, 2020
Distance: 8.9 Mi
Elevation Gain: 1,147 Ft
My visit to Ward Pound Ridge Reservation was satisfying in a lot of ways. I tried out several new pieces of gear on this trip and I explored a part of Westchester County's largest park! Since this was my first visit, I mapped out a "tourist" route, meaning I planned to hike through several points of interest shown on the map in the south eastern part of the park.
As is my standard routine now, the night before I prepared my water with Orange flavor Nuun Sport Electrolyte Drink Tablets ($) and put it in the refrigerator to chill. Since I have not been consuming as much water on my last few trips, I decided to bring 5.5L this time instead of the full 7L. I figured that would shave off about 4 pounds off my Osprey Hydration Backpack ($) weight.
The first piece of gear I was testing on this trip was a pair of Vasque Breeze AT Mid GTX Hiking Boots. On previous hikes, I was using an old pair of military style high laced up boots. Those are probably more of an all-purpose utility shoe, so I decided it was time to invest in proper hiking footwear.
On most of my previous hikes, I wore a pair of Lee Wyoming Cargo shorts ($). With cooler weather rolling in, I needed hiking pants, so after some researched I purchased REI Co-op Sahara Roll-Up Cargo Pants. I typically wear a size 33 or 34 waist, so I originally ordered a size 34 as they only offer even sizes. When they arrived, it was clear these pants run very small as the button was no where near close to closing, even with the elastic waistband. I quickly reordered a new pair in size 38 to ensure this wouldn't happen again. When the size 38 arrived, it was a much better fit. I might have been able to get away with a size 36, but I didn't want to risk having to return it again and I figured I wouldn't mind a little looser fit in the waist and legs. I wore them with a belt (not included) and I think this size fits me well. If you plan to order these, I recommend going one or two sizes larger than you normally wear.
My last few hikes made me realize that the battery in my Pixel 3 was not enough on its own, given the amount of photos I am taking and the use of GPS with the All Trails and/or MapMyRun apps. I picked up an Anker PowerCore Slim 10000mAh PD, USB-C Power Bank ($) and charged it a few days before my hike.
With my new and old gear in hand, I hit the road and arrived at the park office on Reservation Road around 10:30a. There's a parking fee of $10 per car. I offered up a $20 bill, but the attendant didn't have any change so she let me on through for free. I was prepared to pay, but didn't know I needed exact change.
I drove to the Michigan Road parking lot and set off on my journey south down the Yellow trail, which is a very wide carriage trail. I followed it south to intersection 22, then headed left (east) onto the Yellow trail and Rock Trail (RT blazes). After passing intersection 33, I came across a lean to shelter (#6). These are available for a 24-hour rental for $50 ($35 with a Westchester County park pass) and can fit up to 8 people.
I followed this trail east until I came to intersection 19, where I turned right (south) onto RT. At this point RT turned into more of a traditional hiking trail than the carriage trails I was previously on. My first POI was the Indian Rock Shelter. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was a little underwhelmed. The layout of the rocks doesn't seem to offer much shelter at all, but it was still neat to photograph.
At intersection 49, I turned left (north) on the white blazed trail to make my way up to the site of the former fire tower where the white trail meets the Blue trail. This is marked as the highest point in the park. There was a slight ascent of about 200 ft getting up there, but it was very gradual and easy to manage. Once at the top, there wasn't much left to see except for a water well spigot and what appeared to be the foundation of the tower. A plaque nearby described the history of the 60-foot tower, which operated from 1926 to 1971. At 983 feet above sea level, it was once the highest point in all of Westchester. I was happy I made this detour, but unfortunately no views were visible due to all the trees.
I followed the Blue trail south, first down a sharp descent of rocks from the tower area, then on a mostly flat path. I reached intersection #17 and saw Gilmore Pond on the map. I walked down to explore, but sadly this is on private property and I wasn't able to get to the shore line. Along with the "No Trespassing" signs was a sign warning about giant snapping turtles. I wonder if that's true or just a scare tactic.
I retreated back to catch the White trail at intersection #17 and followed that west until it met up with the Rock Trail (RT blazes). The RT trail follows the south eastern ridge of Stone Hill. There are a few lookout spots along the way, and POIs labeled Raven Rocks and Castle Rock. At or near the Raven Rocks lookout, a beautiful mansion can be seen in the distance in the valley below. This appears to be off Lyndel Road on the map, next to the southern end of Gilmore Pond.
This stretch of RT is a narrow but peaceful section of trail. After following RT all the way west, it curves to the north where I encountered the "stairs" POI. True to its name, there were a bunch of rock stairs placed nicely in the hillside to help with the journey. It's marked as "The 99 Steps" on Google Maps, but I didn't count them on my way up. This was another easy ascent of about 200 ft.
My next stop was at Spy Rock, which offered similar views as before of the valley below. This time I spotted a different mansion off Stone Hill Road. I also saw an engraving in the rock saying "Aug 19, 1904", but I couldn't find any reference to this online.
Continuing on the RT trail at intersection #39, my next stop was Bear Rock Petroglyph. I had to look up the meaning of this word -- an engraving or carving in rock. I could see what was possibly the remnants of an engraving, but it was so weathered, it wasn't clear to me what I was looking at.
At intersection #60, I took the White trail over to Dancing Rock. This is a large, flat piece of rock. My guess at the name is because it could resemble a large open dance floor? I'm not quite sure. I was hoping for some views here, but it was too isolated.
At intersection #36, I followed RT north to bring me back to intersection #22 with the Yellow trail I had taken earlier. I followed this north until I reached intersection #23, the site of the former CCC Camp. According to History.com, "The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a work relief program that gave millions of young men employment on environmental projects during the Great Depression." The area is mostly overgrown now and although there are building markers, there wasn't much left to see except for the foundation of the former lavatory building.
After exploring the camp, I followed a couple unmarked trails past lean to shelter #5, where a big group of people were barbecuing and playing volleyball. They also had about 8 tents setup. It would be cool to come back and camp out in the park one day.
I ended my journey back at the parking lot a little less than 5 hours after I started. I would classify this hike as mostly an easy difficulty. There are a few ascents and descents along the way, but they are moderate and reasonable. At over 4,300 acres, there's definitely a lot more park and new trails for me to explore in future visits.
So how did my new gear work out?
The Anker PowerCore Slim 10000mAh PD, USB-C Power Bank ($) was amazing! I kept it plugged into my phone from the start of the hike and I had full power the entire time. While I definitely used some of the charge in the Anker, it still showed 5 of 5 bars of power at the end of the trip, so I had plenty of power left in reserve. The battery pack comes with a travel pouch, and I put the whole ensemble in the right pouch of my backpack, with the included USB C cable running to my phone in my right front pants pocket. The cable is approximately 34" inches, which gave me plenty of room to use my phone and take photos without feeling tethered. As the cable was dangling by my side, I was worried it was going to get caught on bushes or trees during my hike, but it surprisingly did not. I can see myself using this in everyday scenarios outside of hiking too, so I'll probably carry it any time I expect to be gone for more than a couple hours. I will note that AT&T service is very spotty in the lower elevations of the park. I couldn't get a signal on most of the Yellow trail and in various other areas throughout the day. For this reason, I always carry a paper map, have a PDF of the map downloaded on my phone beforehand, and if available, preload the map in the Avenza app.
I chose the Vasque Breeze AT Mid GTX Hiking Boots because I like high ankle support, especially coming from my military style boots. When I left the house, I think I tied the metal eyelets too tight as I started feeling some pain in my left boot while driving. After loosening them up, the pain subsided. I really like the eyelets because they allow me to easily take the boots on and off with a wide opening without stuffing my feet in like other boots. It's a little too early to fully judge the overall performance since they're still new and stiff, so I'll give them another hike or two before my full review, but so far I am happy. I didn't come home with any blisters and my footing felt secure during the whole hike.
Lastly, the REI Co-op Sahara Roll-Up Cargo Pants were very light and walk-able. Aside from my sizing critique, the only other negative I would say is the front carry pockets are very small and the openings are tight for my hands. I wish they were a cargo style pocket with larger openings and a larger capacity. Other than that, they performed well and didn't feel too hot in the 70-degree weather.
I'm very impressed with Ward Pound Ridge Reservation as a beginner to intermediate hiking spot. I found the trails to be very clearly marked, blazed at short intervals, and most of the intersections are numbered, which made it very easy to follow along on the trail map. The varying terrain and flora made it a beautiful hike to photograph. I hope you enjoy!
[It looks like my GPX track for this hike is glitchy. It's possible I forgot to turn on tracking until I was well into the hike, so I'm missing a good portion of the start from Michigan Road down through around intersection #33.]