Jesse Fried • Jun 14, 2017
Windbeam Mountain is a beautiful and rugged summit located just east of the Wanaque Reservoir in Passaic County. It's a very prominent peak by New Jersey standards, rising almost 900 feet from the water level on its eastern and southern flanks. It is also separated from the bulk of the Wyanoke Plateau to the west by a narrow glacially carved stream valley containing the exurban neighborhood of Stonetown. It is the southernmost peak on a ridge extending north, connected to its neighbor hills by a low col.
Botanically speaking, it is a wonderfully interesting area. The whole ridge is very dry and supports an open oak savanna with dense grasses. The steep southern slope is especially dry and rocky, and supports only scrubby widely spaced trees. An variety of sun-loving herbaceous plants thrive up here, including mountain mint, with it's delicious fragrance. Prickly Pear cacti are a conspicuous presence too (they are also native to the NJ coast'ss sandy barrier islands). I had the serendipitous experience of eating a prickly pear fruit on Windbeam Mountain in September 2016. On the other hand, the valleys of this area are especially lush and support a rich hardwood forest of sugar maple, beech and yellow birch with a shrub layer including spicebush. A striking stand of river birch can be seen from Westbrook Road a bit southwest of Windbeam Mountain.
It's a good hike, too. The 11 mile Stonetown Circular trail crosses Windbeam's summit, with steep and rocky ascents on both sides. It is rare in New Jersey to have a steady climb go on for this long. There is an eastern viewpoint encompassing the reservoir and the Ramapo Mountains, and a separate western viewpoint taking in the main body of the Wyanoke Plateau, cut by the steep path of West Brook.
Because of its prominence and steep outline, Windbeam Mountain is easy to spot from a distance, especially from the southeast. It features prominently in the beautiful northward view from I-287's bridge over the Wanaque River below its impoundment. Farther away, in North Caldwell, Essex County, Windbeam is seen from the suburban streets lining the northwest-facing slopes of the Watchung Mountains, above the broad lowlands of the Passaic River. The asshole density of this part of the state is high, and the reader is advised against crossing suburban lawns for a better viewing angle.