By Michele S. Byers
THIS STATE WE’RE in often gets a bad rap. New Jersey is known more for hairspray and concrete than natural wonders. But, in truth, our state’s diverse terrain – from the Delaware to the Atlantic, from High Point to Cape May – offers an amazing variety of outdoor hiking experiences.
Here’s my personal Top 10:
Franklin Parker Preserve: I’ll admit my bias: I’m a “Piney” and New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s Franklin Parker Preserve in the Pine Barrens of Burlington County represents some of the best of the Pines. Its iconic pitch pine forest, former cranberry bogs, sandy roads, open waters and cedar swamps are spectacular. Covering 9,400 acres, with 21 miles of trails and habitats that nurture more than 50 rare, threatened or endangered species, it’s definitely a top nature destination.
Terrace Pond at Wawayanda State Park: At the opposite end of the ecological spectrum is northern New Jersey’s Highlands, where glaciers scraped the bedrock clean millennia ago, carving steep ridges and narrow valleys. Wawayanda straddles Sussex and Passaic counties and offers 60 miles of hiking trails – but none beat the four-mile loop through the rugged Bearfort Mountain Natural Area to Terrace Pond, one of New Jersey most pristine glacial lakes. Take in 360-degree views of the Highlands and the western ridges, including High Point, and remind yourself that this is New Jersey!
Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge: Sandwiched between the Highlands and coastal plains is our Piedmont region … and the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is one of its most exciting natural areas. This is the place that catalyzed New Jersey’s conservation movement in the early 1960s, when citizens organized to save the land from becoming a major airport. The refuge includes over 12 square miles of varied wildlife habitat (including resting, nesting and feeding places for almost 250 bird species) and trails and observation platforms that allow hikers easy access and great views.
Hacklebarney State Park: No words can aptly describe this magnificent state park. The Black River and its tributaries, the Rinehart and Trout Brooks, thunder through a glacial valley of exposed rock, hemlock and oak trees. The land was actively mined for iron in the 18th and 19th centuries, but today it’s a favorite spot for hiking, fishing, birding and family picnics. It is not to be missed!
Estelle Manor County Park: Visit the 1,700-acre Estelle Manor County Park in Atlantic County for great trails, including a marked fitness trail, orienteering trail and bike trails. And don’t miss the Swamp Trail Boardwalk that runs for almost two miles through cedar swamp and coastal forest. Historic ruins, excellent views of South River and the W.E. Fox Nature Center make it well worth the trip.
Jenny Jump State Forest This Warren County state forest offers amazing views of the Highlands, including the Kittatinny Mountains and Valley, Mountain Lake and Great Meadows. Fourteen miles of trails, lined with rocky outcroppings and boulders, run through the forest. The Summit Trail reaches 1,090 feet with views of the Delaware Water Gap and Pequest Valley. The views are so clear, in fact, that astronomers maintain the Greenwood Observatory there!
Sunfish Pond: This popular trail is located in Worthington State Forest, along the Kittatinny Ridge in Warren County. The beautiful glacial lake is stunning enough, in fact, to be designated as a National Natural Landmark. Surrounded by hardwood forest and stands of laurel, the pond can be accessed by several trails, including the Appalachian Trail.
Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area: Hike Morris County’s Pyramid Mountain to see the impact of glaciers in the Highlands …and why this region is so worth preserving. Be sure to visit Tripod Rock – a car-sized boulder left balanced atop three soccer-ball sized rocks!
Hudson River Waterfront Walkway:You can’t truly experience New Jersey without hiking this urban linear park along the waterfront, with breathtaking views of the New York City skyline. The walkway is an ongoing project that will ultimately stretch over 18 miles from the George Washington Bridge to the Bayonne Bridge, connecting Palisades Interstate Park (another spectacular park), Liberty State Park, Liberty Science Center and a host of other landmarks and historic sites.
Whitesbog Village in Brendan Byrne State Forest: Whitesbog Village, a preserved cranberry and blueberry “company town” founded in 1870 to house workers at one of the state’s largest berry farms, is a rare glimpse into another era in Garden State history. Brendan Byrne State Forest is the second largest in the state and it includes 25 miles of hiking trails.
You may be surprised at what I’ve lift off this list. No Batsto Village? No Delaware Water Gap? No Patriots’ Path? New Jersey has so much to offer, it’s almost impossible to pick just 10!
And don’t forget that all of these great hikes are just a few hours from anywhere in the state … and you’re never far from good restaurants and hotels. Get out and hike these special New Jersey trails in 2012!
For more New Jersey hiking ideas, visit the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference website at www.nynjtc.org.
If you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.