In the late Fall, Winter, and early Spring the lower gate on Van Buren Road will be closed. At these times park on the right next to a large campsite. Note: Backcountry camping in the National Forest is on a first-come first- serve basis. You can't reserve campsites, but there is no cost to camp. If it's open, feel free to camp there!
Mile 0.8 - After starting the climb up Tea Mountain the Tuscarora Trail becomes more narrow and moss covered for 0.3 miles recrossing the creek where a former wooden bridge crossed, then widens back into an old forestry road. The trail passes a hollow on the right, then makes a hairpin turn left and leaves the forestry road. There is a sign here indicating a spring. Again make sure to look for a double blazed tree that marks this turn.
Mile 2.1 - Turn left off the forestry road as the Tuscarora Trail continues to climb Tea Mountain. Pass a spring that was put in by PATC volunteers in 2018 then make several switchbacks before reaching an unmarked side trail at another switchback. Follow the side trail 150 feet around the back of a rock outcrop for a panoramic view west towards Little Sluice Mountain. Return to the Tuscarora Trail to continue the hike.
Mile 2.7 - Continue up the Tuscarora Trail making one more switchback and reach the saddle between Tea Mountain and Little North Mountain. The trail will then make the short climb to the Little North Mountain ridge. There is a large camping area on the left.
Mile 3.2 - Follow the Tuscarora Trail along the ridge for 0.1 miles to the panoramic Kepler Overlook, and a great ridgeline camping site.
Mile 3.3 - From the overlook and campsite retrace your route back to the parking area
Mile 6.6 - Arrive back at the parking area.
September Storm (courtesy of Zach Blanchet)
Kepler Overlook Hike Comments
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 24, 2019
Fun hike. Not too strenuous and nice views from the top.
Be careful about the sign for the spring though! When you get to a fork in the trail, there's a sign that says the spring is 140' down a wide, muddy forestry road to the right. That sign is wrong. Instead, go left, following the Tuscarora Trail and you'll find the spring.
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 13, 2019
The campsite at the view is really phenomenal. There's nothing like waking up to a pink, misty sunrise over the mountains and valley without having to get out of your sleeping bag to enjoy it! That said, the viewpoint isn't as nice as some of the others in the area. I didn't realize until I did the hike that the campsite is the viewpoint--it would have been disappointing and a little awkward to make the hike and then find that someone was already camping there. There are a couple of other clearings in the area where people could camp, but none with quite the same view (they are great for stargazing though!) We didn't see any other people on this summer Sat-Sun trip.
The signage around the improved spring is a little confusing. It's right off the trail, not down the muddy side-path. Don't get your feet muddy for nothing, just stay on the Tuscarora and you'll see it!
As expected, the ridge is pretty dry so fill up at the spring and bring enough water to the top for the night and morning.
Date of Hike: Saturday, February 2, 2019
Backpacked to Kepler overlook and stayed the night on 2/2/2019. The trail was very well marked. THANK YOU to the volunteers/rangers that put up the new signs. The trail was icy in spots so we had to be cautious carrying the extra 25+ pounds on our backs. We were fortunate to have a clear night and the stars and valley lights did not disappoint. Winter camping takes a little more preparation and warmer gear but totally worth the effort.
Date of Hike: Saturday, September 22, 2018
Overall, really enjoyed this hike on National Public Lands Day! Trail was waterlogged in places around the stream portions due to all the rains we've had, but the views from the Kepler Overlook were great and the leaves around the top of the mountain had a hint of fall to them! Took us 4 hours and 15 minutes with picture/snack breaks. A few notes:
1) As another commenter noted, they have new signs that make finding things pretty easy.
2) Maybe due to this new attention, the trail was less secluded than we anticipated - still not busy, but we did run into several groups (especially with dogs).
3) If the Kepler Overlook is crowded or already has campers, there are also a few rock outcroppings a bit further down the trail that provide similar, more secluded views as well.
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 28, 2018
I took my nine-year-old son on his first backpacking trip on this route, and it was perfect for that purpose. There are signs, which appear new and aren't mentioned in the description, at several points that combine with the blazing to make the well-maintained trail very easy to follow. Two of the signs pointed us to springs, close to the main trail about a mile from the top, that were flowing well (mid-summer, after a week with substantial rain). Even the steepest parts are moderate, at best. We came across a huge black rat snake and a tiny rattler, but no other significant wildlife. The campsite at Kepler's Overlook has the most memorable view of anywhere I've camped in in the region. We were treated to a huge, incandescent harvest moon.
Date of Hike: Saturday, May 26, 2018
A great hike through beautiful blooming mountain Laurel. The view from Kepler Overlook is amazing. There are several water crossings with rocks to walk on, but bring a walking stick for balance. The trail is well blazed and not overgrown. We stayed at the campsite at the top of the ridge, on the right, as the trail just bends to the left.
It stormed like crazy!!!
We love this hike. Not too steep. Our dog joined us.
Date of Hike: Saturday, April 21, 2018
Overall a good hike. It is worth to make a quick stop on the hike up to the a vista west from Tea Mountain. You can avoid getting your shoes wet in the stream if you look around a little, there is a big log to cross the second part of the stream on the left while going up. My friends decided to take their shoes off and get in the water instead :)
Date of Hike: Thursday, April 19, 2018
Great hike with an outstanding view. The creek can be knee deep or more, so be prepared to get wet.
I camped overnight but got surprisingly drenched because the weather forecast linked above is for a town 50 miles to the south! It was super windy and rained the entire time. I wish I had caught that because it sucks having a muddy puppy in the tent and I wouldn't have gone.
Date of Hike: Friday, October 27, 2017
This out and back hike is phenomenal. I went as a solo backpack trip for an overnighter on a Friday night. It took me about 2 hours to reach the top with 30lb, fully loaded pack. (FYI-There is no water any where near the top. If you do not have water, make sure that you fill up at the creek crossing. This is your only opportunity. Carry all the water you will need.) The hike is beautiful and easy to follow. I would have a print to make sure you follow the directions. Once on top, the campsite and view are second to none.
Another recommendation is to keep an eye on the weather. I would not recommend camping up here if winds are predicted to be above about 5 mph. The prediction was for 5 -10 and I think they were closer to 15 - 20 with gusts to 25. As a matter of fact, as soon as I was on the back side of the ridge, the wind was significantly less brutal.
The wind aside, the fall colors are a bit past the peak but man were they still out in all the glory. Also sunset and sunrise are amazing up here. Excellent view, wonderful campsite and solitude was plentiful. I saw zero people on the trail and only one other party camping down by the parking area. I heard the dogs, saw the tents and cars, but did not see another person. The leaves on the trail even seemed quite undisturbed and I feel like many people do not make it back this way. The return trip on that morning took me only about an hour and was quite nice in the early morning.
This is my new favorite and look forward to hiking this again year round. Hope you enjoy your time out there. Cheers!
Date of Hike: Friday, September 29, 2017
I was in the mood for a shorter hike and this did fine. Both the forestry road and the Tuscarora Trail portions, for the most part, are wide and relatively smooth. The incline of the trail is relatively constant. I forgot my hiking pole in my car but it turned out I didn't need it. The leaves were starting to fall so I had to be a little careful of covered holes and covered rocks that might twist my ankle.
The Tea Mountain overlook toward Little Sluice Mountain is nice. The description says the side trail to it is unmarked but there is now a small wooden sign marking it. Once you get to the rock outcrop you have to negotiate it to get to the view. You can't go up and have to go right or left -- it's not clear which way is best but if you go right in 20 feet or so you will see a trail leading to the view.
The Keppler Overlook and campsite are great. I'd like to spend a night there sometime. There are several potential tent areas near the main campsite in case the main one is occupied.
I didn't get the "3" rating for streams. Cedar Creek was dry as were all other apparent runs. I saw no water on the hike, contrary to the photos linked in the description showing water. I was at those locations and they were bone dry. Not even one spring. It had been dry for a several days before I hiked. Bring enough water.
The gate at Parking Area 1 was unlocked so I drove to Parking Area 2. By my reckoning that shortened the hike to 5.8 miles. I saw no others on the hike. In many respects a pleasant hike.