Things to know: Campfires are prohibited in Jew Jersey and camping is restricted to designated campsites. Plan accordingly.
Fun Fact: New Jersey is home to one of the highest densities of black bears in the nation.
Odds of seeing one = GOOD
Odds of seeing one while blissfully chatting away with friends = ZILCH,
… Oh well, it was worth it…
Welcome to New Jersey.
Home of the Jersey Shore, slick-haired mobsters, pollution…
and beautiful marshland?
[INSERT RECORD SCRATCH HERE]
Our expectations needed a quick adjustment. If I could give an award to the one state that blew our preconceptions out of the water the most, it would be New Jersey.
Going northbound, you make a rather uninteresting entrance into the state crossing the Delaware Water Gap Toll Bridge. There was no small wooden sign signifying your entrance into another state. Instead, you get to cross a body of water with a large traffic sign welcoming you to the Garden State. As is the case virtually every time leaving town, you will make the climb out of the gap until you are standing atop Kittatiny Ridge. Hold tight, you’ll be frolicking along this ridgeline for a good portion of the state.
First up in New Jersey’s sights and wonders is Sunfish Pond. Designated a National Natural Landmark, this gathering of H2O is the southernmost glacial pond along the A.T. People commemorated this, or more likely their own architectural achievements, with these iconic rock sculptures. Watch out Easter Island, there are some new bad boys in town.
After pausing to admire these Donatello-esque masterpieces, we forced ourselves to trudge onward and upward to Mt. Mohican granting us good views of the land to come. There is no shortage of company in this section. Here are a few friends we made along the way:
While these friends were (somewhat) welcome, we had to keep our wits about us when another person tried to “befriend” us. While resting shortly after Mohican, Rob and I were startled when a ragged-looking man walked up to us seemingly out of nowhere. He said he was thru-hiking the A.T. but appeared to fit the complete opposite description as he was dressed in jeans, was freshly shaven, and didn’t have any gear (something of a red flag). He seemed mentally off rambling along the lines of God, guns, and drugs when he shifted gears and wanted to show us the campsite he found…. rather excitedly. He pointed in the same direction as where he took a play out of “Hollow Man” and said he’d love to show us his spot. This guy could have been the Mr. Rodgers of Mt. Mohican but every one of our instincts told us otherwise. Practically in sync, Rob and I stood up and mentioned that our friends were right ahead of us waiting to head into town so we had to get a move on (politely and with a big smile, of course). Fortunately for us, he didn’t follow us to discover our lie.
99.9% of the people you meet along the way are some of the most inspiring, incredible people you will ever meet. Your statistical chance of harm inflicted by another human is much greater in the town you grew up than in middle of the woods on the A.T. But, it has happened and will happen again. Keep your wits about you and trust your instincts. All it takes is one bad soul to change everything. Some more safety precautions:
- Camp in groups
- Don’t camp near roads
- Don’t disclose to the world (i.e. social media) your exact coordinates for the night
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Run faster than your fellow hikers
While we didn’t see any bears, we did see a handful of rattlesnakes. One was so gutsy as to slither right through the middle of our group of four. I don’t know if it is some rattlesnake game to divide, conquer, and fright but it didn’t work. At least not this time, Mr. Rattlesnake. Our first instincts were to take pictures.
On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t always trust your first instincts… or ours, at the very least.
After a delightful following day of hiking, our group was utterly exhausted. I don’t know if it was a lack of calories or vitamins, the weather, or boredom. What I did know is that hiking was the last thing we wanted to do. While saturating our hunger at Gyp’s Tavern in Branchville, we decided that our first order of business was to look for respite in the form of a mattress, shower, and giant, wall-sized TV. I couldn’t tell you the name of the motel we ended up checking into. All I know was they offered a free shuttle to and from for motel guests. That turned out to be absolutely necessary as it was located at the crossroads of Timbuktu and Bumfuck Nowhere. Good thing we picked up food to grill as it would have been quite the jaunt to get anything edible outside of a vending machine.
Nevertheless, it’s amazing how just one night of motel luxury gives you the push you need to conquer the next section of trail. Never underestimate the power of a mattress… and the fear of isolation.
Back in Branchville, we were fortunate enough to meet a local trail angel who wanted to prove that, in his words, “not all people from ‘Joisey’ are assholes”. Well you, Sir, are a shining example of the goodness that we found in New Jersey. He provided us with some basic toiletries that helps keep you somewhat civilized in the woods. He even went so far as to hand-roll toilet paper so we didn’t have the added weight of the cardboard in middle.
Side Note: It took a long time for me to push aside the mindset of rolling up toilet paper to stow away for future use (rounding out the list at #2,896 of weird things thru-hikers do).
The next section of trail would bring us up and over Sunrise Mountain, where the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a beautiful pavilion overlooking rural Northern New Jersey, and into High Point State Park. As you’ve probably guessed from its creative name, the highest point in New Jersey is found here. [MIND BLOWN] The A.T. skirts around “High Point” where the summit is distinguished with a war memorial obelisk.
From here, the trail juts southeast and follows along the New Jersey-New York state border. A couple of sections actually cross over into NY providing your first official steps in your 9th state. One such spot is outside of Unionville, NY where we ended up resupplying. While small, one of the smallest villages in the state of New York in fact, its quaint charm had us admiring the town from the rocking chairs at the local general store (the resupply spot). While pricier than a conventional grocery store, they had enough food selection to last us a couple of days.
It was from this point that our love affair with New Jersey’s countryside began. A particularly memorable segment cut through some beautiful marshland near Vernon Township on the Pochuck Boardwalk. Completed in 2002, many volunteer hours were put in to make this section enjoyable for all. I know we did. Every now and again, it’s pleasant to hike and not have to watch out for those pesky rocks and roots bent on your demise.
Near the end of the Pochuck Boardwalk, there is a fantastic farm market called Heaven Hill Farm. While we stopped here for lunch, they didn’t have much in terms of prepared meals so we gorged ourselves with fresh fruits and vegetables. It was perfect timing to do so as an enormous storm rolled through dumping buckets of rain. It was pleasant to watch with a roof overhead but we would have had quite the opposite experience otherwise.
Once it finished, we continued on to climb Wawayanda Mountain. While it is not the largest mountain you’ll climb on your trek, it is a steep climb that rewards you with picturesque views of the countryside just hiked through. To get these views, take the short side trail to Pinwheel’s Vista. You’ll be thankful that you did.
As it turns out, the storm was not finished with us so we called it an early night. It was welcomed as we feasted on a delicious dinner cooked with the fresh veggies purchased earlier. When you eat dried food so frequently, anything fresh provides an intoxicating food-gasm.
Rounding out New Jersey are the rolling hills of Wawayanda State Park and dense forests of Abram S. Hewitt State Forest. While our journey through New Jersey was short, its unexpected pleasantries left a lasting impression… one of which, not to be such pretentious snobs. As the people of Jersey would say, that title belongs to those in New York.
UP NEXT: Running ridgelines in the Land of the Mohicans (aka New York) and wonderful people that gave New Jersey a run for its money.