As the world’s oldest wildlife sanctuary exclusively committed to the protection and observation of birds of prey, Hawk Mountain holds a unique place in geographic and scientific history. It is not owned or financially supported by the state; it remains entirely self-sufficient. In 1965 the sanctuary was registered as a National Natural Landmark. Open year-round, visitors enjoy scenic vistas, 8-miles of ridge and valley trails, a Visitor Center, Bookstore, and native plant garden, and each autumn, the chance to observe large numbers of hawks, eagles and falcons as they migrate past our lookouts.
Trail Hiking, Biking, Bird Watching
A visit to Hawk Mountain year-round means that each season is full of surprises. In pre-spring weather you have the chance to spot early spring growth in nature and have some peace and solitude at less crowded lookout points. As it get to spring you can hike the trails in comfortable weather, spot and hear returning songbirds and mammals, and you might catch some tree frogs and spring peepers in the pond. Plus you can see changing blooms in the Native Plant Garden and visit the visitor center which houses a shop and displays.
Raptor migration has been monitored intermittently since the 1960s, using several different observation points. During late summer and fall you can view kettling and migrating raptors with an average of 20,000 hawks, eagles and falcons. The birds are identified and counted by staff and volunteers to produce annual counts of migrating raptors that represent the world’s longest record of raptor populations. These counts have provided conservationists with valuable information on changes in raptor numbers in North America.
Peak migration time at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is as follows. Time periods given here are those when the raptor has historically been counted on half or more days. Species of raptor are listed in chronological order of the start of their period of likely observation.
- Broad-winged hawk: late August to late September
- American kestrel: late August to early October
- Osprey: late August to early October
- Bald eagle: early September
- Northern harrier: early September to early November
- Sharp-shinned hawk: early September to early November
- Red-tailed hawk: early September to early December
- Cooper’s hawk: late September to late October
- Merlin: early October (seen only two in five days)
- Peregrine falcon: early October (seen only two in five days)
- Red-shouldered hawk: early October to early November
- Golden eagle: early November
- Rough-legged hawk: early November to early December (seen only one in five days)
- Goshawk: late November
The 1 mile Lookout Trail runs from the Visitor Center to a number of raptor viewing sites along the ridge, the most popular being the close by South Lookout (elevation 1,300 feet [400 m]) and the North Lookout (elevation 1,521 feet [464 m]) with a 200 degree panoramic view that extends to 70 miles. Nine trails of varying difficulty are available to hikers. TRAILS ARE ROCKY AND UNGRADED except the walk to South Lookout.
175 yards from Entrance Gate, the trail to this lookout is groomed and can be accessed by motorized wheelchairs as well as by manual wheelchairs with assistance. Below South Lookout is the River of Rocks, an Ice-Age boulder field. An observer-interpreter is stationed daily at South Lookout September through early November.
Vertical rise: 300 feet. The quickest trail to North Lookout is the Lookout Trail (orange blazes). Alternatives are the Express Route, a steep shortcut often used for return descent, and the rocky difficult Escarpment Trail that follows the ridge edge. The North Lookout consists of large boulders that require rock scrambling to traverse.
Vertical descent: 600 feet. Begin this trail by turning right just before South Lookout after 0.3 mile on the Lookout Trail. Allow 3-4 hours to complete loop. The loop trail is very rough and rocky. Several unmarked trails cross this trail; pay extra attention and follow the RED blazes.
This rugged, ridgetop trail (blue blazes) follows the spine of the Kittatinny eastward and down over North Lookout. It crosses a scenic lookout, East Rocks, and meets the Appalachian Trail 2.2 miles from the North Lookout. East Rocks is a good place to see migration. This difficult trail includes 4-point rock scrambling and is recommended only for experienced hikers—just off North Lookout is a 30-foot vertical descent.
A trail guide with additional trails and descriptions can be viewed and downloaded at https://www.hawkmountain.org/visit/hiking/trail-descriptions
Trails are open dawn to dusk