Watch Hill Trail winds through a beautiful mature forest to a series of rocky outcrops with broad views of Indian Lake and the surrounding mountains
1 mile (2 miles round trip)
Jessup River Wild Forest
Indian Lake, Hamilton County
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Hike Watch Hill
Watch Hill is a short and easygoing hike to a pair of beautiful open rock faces in the Town of Indian Lake in Hamilton County. The Watch Hill Trail is on public Forest Preserve in the Jessup River Wild Forest Area. The trail to Watch Hill is part of a spider’s web of different trails that run parallel to Route 30 and lead down to a rocky beach on Indian Lake. Herd trails make Watch Hill into a loop too.
The parking area for Watch Hill’s official trailhead is located off of Route 30, south of the town of Indian Lake and one mile south of the parking lot for Snowy Mountain. The trail was rerouted in 2015 and now curves gradually around to the north before looping back south to climb toward the summit, avoiding any steep ascents. Ultimately, the hike is a perfect outing for families and hikers of all ages able to make the gradual climbs over the distance.
From the parking lot, the trail follows red trail markers as it weaves through a mixed forest for a few hundred yards before reaching a wide trail junction. From here, the trail turns left to follow a wider dirt trail. After passing a shallow woodland pool on the right, the path begins to ascend gently and soon passes the turn-off for the Watch Hill Ski Trail. Continuing straight at the junction, the route continues to climb steadily. Soon the trail reaches an interesting stretch where it divides the forest in two, the left side being lined by tall hardwoods and the right by shorter conifers.
After a little over 0.5 miles, the trail turns right sharply at the intersection with the trail from the Snowy Mountain parking area. The trail begins to climb over more rocky terrain before turning left sharply to avoid a steep ridge. Mossy cliffs rise up on the right as the trail descends gently past a miniature forest of ferns and ancient, miniature pine tree-like club mosses. The trail continues to descend until it curls to the right and climbs through a stretch with a number of large sugar maples and fir trees.
The Rocky Summit and Overlooks of Watch Hill
The trail soon reaches another junction with the end of the ski trail on the right. After rising over a short passage of open bedrock, evergreen trees begin to grow out of surrounding boulders as the forest system shifts. The trail runs along another bedrock ridge as the view begins to open up through the trees on the right. The handiwork of local woodpeckers is on full display on nearby trees as lines of holes run up decaying conifers. The trail then rises up onto an open rock face, the first of two overlooks on the hike. Though not the true summit, this spot provides a wonderful view of the surrounding woods and a perfect spot to catch a breath.
After passing the overlook, the trail descends down one final time before rising up again to emerge onto the summit. The rocky summit is uniquely shaped, forming a sharp cliff that points out toward the southern tip of Indian Lake. Across Route 30 to the northwest, the silhouette of the Snowy Mountain fire tower is visible on top of its summit, just behind the Griffin Brook Slides. From the summit, a 0.5 mile trail extends down toward a secluded sandy beach on the shore of Indian Lake for hikers looking for an added adventure. Otherwise, the trail out follows the same path and is easy to follow despite the many junctions.
When You Hike Make Sure to Practice “Leave No Trace” to be Prepared and to Protect the Forest Preserve
Please follow “carry in, carry out” rules for all trash and follow other Leave No Trace principles when hiking in the public Forest Preserve and other wild areas. The seven Leave No Trace principles are: 1) Plan ahead and prepare; 2) Stay on hiking trails and camp at designated areas; 3) Dispose of human waste and trash properly; 4) Leave what you find; 5) Minimize campfires; 6) Respect wildlife; 7) Respect other hikers.
Educated hikers do not damage the environment. Prepared hikers do not need search and rescue unless injured.
Winter Use: The Watch Hill Trail is a popular mountain for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter.
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