Greenwood Lake, West Milford, Vernon
Situated half in New Jersey and half in New York, Greenwood Lake is not about political boundaries. It is a state of mind, a Highlands destination in the with the biggest water in the New York area.
Beyond the shade of old sugar maples on its northern shore, Greenwood Lake stretches and waves for six to nine miles, depending on who you talk to. This glassine water body, made for pleasure, supports every water sport a visitor can think of – swimming, diving, fishing, water skiing, jet skiing, and boating by sail, canoe, kayak, paddle, motor, row, and skull.
Greenwood is an important lake in the Skylands region. Historically known as a resort community and playground for celebrities – Cecil B. deMille, Babe Ruth, the Jeter family, and others in sports and the arts – Greenwood Lake still offers adventure, fun, and relaxation for families and singles. It and the surrounding Town of Warwick and nearby Vernon have everything a vacationer could want for a weekend or a week: entertainment, night life, antiquing, a wine trail, outdoor concerts, festivals, boutique shopping, restaurants with lakeside dining, cozy inns, plenty of outdoors activities, and hiking in national and state parks.
A tour around Greenwood Lake reveals where to have some fun. From 17A south, turn right onto East Shore Drive to check out the East Arm of the lake. A boathouse on the right houses the East Arm Rowing Club, an organization that teaches new members, provides skulls, and sponsors a spring regatta on the lake. Along the drive, notice several marinas that rent slips for boats and also rent the boats themselves.
Pass flashy restaurants of various styles. A 1914 castle at water’s edge, complete with haunting by ghosts of a past owner’s mistress and wife, has waterside dining and live music on the dock, beach volley ball, and for those who prefer indoors, a dining room with colorful murals and a wall of windows to watch the action on the lake.
Moorings at Greenwood Lake. Photo by Mary Jasch
Staying close to the lake, the road rises and runs along a hillside between woodland above and the lake below. The hillside is part of the 15,973-acre Sterling Forest State Park with hiking, fishing, boating, and scheduled guided events (845-351-5907). On the other side of Sterling Forest, on Route 17A, the New York Renaissance Faire, open weekends August 4 through September 23, occupies 35 acres of Elizabethan pleasure givers and seekers – Shakespearean performers, jousting knights, jugglers, musicians, magicians, artisans, and food and drink of the Middle Ages. A lady may find her knight in shining armor amid the romance. After all, its “Where Fantasy Rules!”
But back to the lake! Soon a grand home appears on Chapel Island where, years ago, a church accessible only by boat held services until it burned. Now the island is home to a judge and local orchard owner. In this Forest Knolls section of the lake, garages become the most visible structures on the road because the houses are down by the lake. Tree-lined hilly streets, and the lake as backdrop for stone and log houses with well tended gardens, lend a European flair to these private communities with their own beaches. So, if you want to swim, go to the town beach at Morahan Waterfront Park in the Village of Greenwood Lake.
High country at Bearfort State Park. Photo by Mary Jasch
At about half-way down the lake, enter West Milford, New Jersey. Soon you will drive over the Wanaque River, the sole outlet of the lake. The river flows to Monksville Reservoir, then on to Wanaque Reservoir. Here, the Ryerson family dammed the lake in the 1830s, flooding several farms to create the southern half of the lake. (First, Peter Hasenclever, Long Pond ironmaster, dammed the middle of the lake in 1765.) Ryerson’s son was involved with the Morris Canal and Banking Company. After that, luxury steamboats plied the new lake, bringing visitors to the new grand hotels and resorts built on its shores. Rob Sparks, GIS Specialist for West Milford’s Planning Department, calculates that the current body of Greenwood Lake is 7.6 miles long at 620 feet elevation. By contrast, Upper Greenwood Lake on Bearfort Mountain is entirely a man-made lake at 1,100 feet elevation.
This lengthy lake gets a lot of boating action. It’s even perfect for sailing and paddle-boating. Has the thought of learning to sail sailed across your mind? Here’s the perfect opportunity. At the T-intersection, turn right onto Greenwood Lake Turnpike. South Shore Marina, on the right, offers doable, inexpensive sailing lessons. They also rent pontoon boats! Want to learn how to fly? Take Airport Road to the left and find Greenwood Lake Airport. Take a ride in a small plane or sit in the Crossroads Café and watch take-offs and landings while you enjoy lunch. Next to the airport, check out what was once “Jungle Habitat,” a defunct Warner Brothers drive-thru safari open in 1972 and closed four years later after a wild cat killed a man. The sign and other artifacts remain, as do some interesting plantings of exotic species meant to enhance habitat of exotic animals. Most is overgrown now but it all makes hiking there fun, and some established, marked trails exist.
To get maps for them, contact the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. Another wonderful place to hike is Bearfort Mountain which runs along the western side of Greenwood Lake. The mountain is part of the Abram S. Hewitt State Forest with exciting trails. This New Jersey-style adventure hike has fabulous views, fun rock-climbing, streams to ford, boulders to hop, waterfalls and habitats to explore, and lots of wild plant and animal life to watch for. It’s one of the Garden State’s best. Get a map from the NY-NJTC. Ringwood State Park and the New Jersey Botanical Garden, New Jersey’s official botanical garden, are to the southeast.