I love hiking. As much as I love working up a sweat by running or lifting weights, there is something relaxing about walking for long amounts of time. I personally love hiking up a mountain since you get the visual confirmation of seeing how far you really walked. But there are two problems I face. One is that I live in South Jersey, and it is FLAT. No mountains near by. And to get to the trails in North Jersey it is a 2 hour plus drive.
My second problem is finding information. Hiking maybe free to do, but detailed information that doesn’t involve buying a book can be hard to get. It is definitely a hobby that is mostly written about in books rather than shared freely on the internet. I am not saying the information isn’t there, you just need to search a little. It isn’t as if I could just google “hikes” and common trails are going to come up in google maps in the same way as I could for book stores. Part of the problem are funds for government protected parks. Unless parks are as big as Yellowstone, they tend to have trouble in the publicity department. So I was really happy to find a personal blog called NJ Hiking. They have tons of great trails, and detailed information about them. I would recommend reading the whole description about a hike before a setting out, as I always find it helpful in the end.
NJ Hiking helped me find out about Wharton State Park. They listed this park as one of their top favorite hikes, and thought it wasn’t too long of a drive. So we went, and found out that the park was quite huge. In fact Wharton State Park is the biggest park in New Jersey, and is pretty much the largest park in the area (around Philadelphia, Delaware.) It provides lots of different activities, like biking, fishing, boating, off roading, and camping.
Also when we arrived at the park, we became aware that there are lots of different options for hiking. We planed on traveling in a loop, but there was a clearly marked hike from Atsion to Batso, which was only 9 miles one way. So we are hoping to have another trip where we go early in the morning and hike a total of 18 miles in one day. That’s the joy of hiking, you can pretty much do any length as long as you plan ahead.
We planned to take the Atsion to Quaker Bridge Loop found on the NJ Hiking website. We arrived at the parking lot and I immediately noticed how organized everything was. There were a few buildings, some were falling down, some were in use. One was an information center, which can help if you have any questions about camping grounds, fishing, etc. There is an outhouse that you use (yey!) and a small box full of trails guides, which you should grab regardless how confident you are about knowing the trail. Once you start down the trail you’ll find more abandoned buildings, a church, and even a graveyard. Eventually the path becomes more forested, and you don’t see any structures that remind you of the human population.
Wharton State Forest is part of the Pine Barrens, a stretch of land in New Jersey. These forests are still largely rural, probably because the ground is very sandy, making living conditions difficult. Because of the ground there are some unique flora. There are dwarf pine trees, carnivorous plants, and orchids. Aside from the pines, I didn’t get to see any of the pitcher plants or pink lady slippers yet. It is still too cold. And there are naturally the stories about the New Jersey Devil, which are always fun to read about.
- Although we went during early spring, the walk was beautiful. There many patches of water that are nice to stop the hike to admire. There were also many spots that you could stop to rest or grab a bite. It should be even more interesting in the summer when all the plants are growing.
- Aside from the plants, the buildings and rails are pretty cool. There are tours of the mansion at the beginning of the trail, but I think you need to plan ahead for that. There are also old train tracks that are being taken over by plants. There is even an old cemetery you can explore as well.
- The trail is flat and easy. There might be a few trees and logs to walk over, but in general the ground is level. If you are worried about a long walk, you can rest easy that it won’t strenuous.
- There are lots of options in the park. If you want a challenge, just extend the trail. You can plan for a hike and camping, just hiking, just camping, whatever. Part of the trails we used are actually used to connect one trail to others, making it easy to create your own hike.
- It’s a long hike. There are lots of little parks closer to where I live, but they only keep us busy for maybe 1 to 2 hours. So it is nice to be able to drive a little out the way and be busy for the whole day, or several more if you are interested in backpacking.
- Ticks and Mosquitos! I read the warning on NJ Hiking, and thought they might be exaggerating. But when talking to other hikers who’ve been on the trail told me that they consistently find ticks on them from the trail. So spray up with something. Heck, I even got bit by something during the hike, even though it was early spring.
- Cars and off-roaders have separate trails, but you can see and hear them from time to time. It kind-of sucks, but it makes sense for people who want to camp or kayak. I wouldn’t say it ruined the hike, but is something to be aware of.
- Speaking of cars, if you taking the loop, it is really hard to see the green trail. The trick is if you cross a bridge, you went too far. My husband and I got confused because the trail can lead to another green car trail… so we spent 3 miles on the wrong trail in sandy road. I could go on a rant, but I will spare you the boring details. Just look carefully for the green trail marker. (Note: We went down the yellow trail, walked down the pink/pastel purple trail then to the green trail, back to the yellow. This is the same direction as on NJ Hiking, but you can reverse it.)
Wharton State Park Official Site: gives information about the historically significant aspects of the park, and gives information about boating, hours, etc.
Batsto Village Home Page: Contains information about Batsto Village if you plan on taking a tour of the historic village.
Atsion to Quaker Bridge Loop: NJ Hiking page for the hike that I talked about in this post. I totally recommend reading the whole walkthrough.
Batso Lake Trail: Another trail in Wharton State Park with details on NJ Hiking.
Apple Pie Hill Trail: This is (according the Wikipedia at least) one of the most popular trails in Wharton State Park. There is a tower you can climb and get a sky view of the park.