After the number of people I saw in the parks last week, I thought I would find something a little more off the beaten path, so to say. For this trip, I headed to Sourland Mountain Preserve, and the famed Devil’s Half Acre. Sourland Preserve is known for its bouldering, both in the Devil’s Half Acre and by the Roaring Brook. There were more cars in the parking lot at 9:00 a.m. than I expected but still plenty of spaces.
Trails are mostly dirt, with some roots, and lots and lots of rocks.
After about 100 yards, the trails would be exclusively
And that is not a lot, by comparison.
The boulders in the Devil’s Half Acre were huge, and there were lots of people all over them. I did not partake: a) there were too many people, not many masked, and b) I wasn’t really dressed for it. But it was cool to see. The trails around these boulders were not well marked, as evidence by my map. If you look at the northern-most part of my map, you’ll see where it appears I went around in circles. I did. AllTrails didn’t really help either. I almost broke out the compass. Once I figured out where to go, it was smooth sailing from then on.
After turning on the Roaring Brook trail, the path became mostly rock.
From here to the end there were numerous small creek crossing that entailed fairly easy rock hopping. It was also at this point that the sun became blazing hot. Surprisingly, I had to pass through, not one, but two chain link fences – I suspect the same fence in two locations. And after looking at the map, my guess is the fence is the town border. Also, I had to cut across a pipeline cut twice.
When the Roaring Brook meets back with the Ridge trail it is mostly downhill and more level terrain. At this point I started meeting more people, probably 80/20 masked; and I came across a group with unleashed dogs.
Getting back to the parking lot around noon I noticed it was packed. In fact, closed. I’m sure a great many of the people were bouldering, as I did not see many people on the trails away from the big rocks. People by the lake were not social distancing. And at least one car followed my back to my car for my space. While it was great in the woods, the parking lot was another story all together. This was a great hike, though, and I would definitely come back.
Tails: Many (of the named ones: Corfield, Far, River’s Edge, Marsh, Oden & Trolley Track)
In the midst of the quarantine, and with parks open for the first week, I thought I would find some place relatively secluded where I could ramble the trails. And in this case, I wanted to find the swinging bridge. Arriving at the park early enough there were only six other cars in the parking, which I thought might be a good sign.
I started by hiking out down the road, thinking I would take a trail that skirted the woods and would pick up the River’s Edge trail. After walking down the road, I found where the map AND AllTrails indicated the turn to towards the woods should be. However, that trail doesn’t exist. So, it was back up the road, with the sun blazing down. I eventually turned on the Cornfield trail by the marker.
Once inside Institute Woods, trails would be wide and packed dirt, with occasional roots. It’s easy walking with no elevation gain; and it is really hard to get lost – even though blazes are sporadic and trails are only named on the map. And, there are numerous unmarked trails.
However, I was off to find the bridge. The path by the river’s edge is very nice, the water moving faster than I expected. After some time, found it:
Following the trail on the other side of the bridge led to the Delaware & Raritan Canal and trail of the same name. However, a rockhop over the canal would be necessary; the rocks were spaced a bit and I didn’t have trekking polls to help balance. Another day.
I hiked down to the viewing stand and walked around the marsh. If you are into birding, this is a great place to watch the birds, with a clear view while remaining hidden in the trees.
While walking I got to see a little wildlife:
Finally, I walked along the old trolley track and took the trail up to the Columns. I didn’t hike out to the columns because there were too many people – and I was trying to stay away.
When I got back to the parking lot, there were easily 30+ cars jammed in; and cars lining the driveway. People were all over the place, and no one was social distancing. I guess cabin fever crept in. After unloading, I walked to see the Clarke House, but from a distance. As there were so many people I figured to come back another day.
Trail Map: 1 & 2 <— 2 is better, it shows more of the unmarked trails
Hike Distance 5.02 miles
Trails: White, Yellow, Red, Blue, and a bunch of unmarked trails
It was the first weekend of parks being open, so I figured I would make the most of it. I started out in rain, though by the time I got to the park, the sun was out and it was warming up. The lot was crowded, mostly with bikes, dogs, and a few people running. I did see a couple of horses. Once I got into the woods, I rarely saw anyone; which was nice. I saw plenty of people out on the lake and when I reached the airport. Yes, I said airport.
Sorry, no payphone this post.
I started on white, which quickly went up on the ridge. The trails were wide, soft dirt, with rocks strewn in; but it was easy walking.
I especially like walking next to Lake Aeroflex (I think now named Lake Wawayanda.) The trail came pretty close to the water, and there were some spots where it would have been pretty easy to fall in.
The trail comes to a little dock with a great view of the lake. Next to it is an old wall, I took the picture looking back.
Next to this fireplace was a trail that led down to the water. At one point the YMCA Wawayanda camp for boys was here, and I suspect that trail led to a boat launch of some kind.
A few minutes more walking brought me to the Aeroflex Andover Airport. This was the coolest spot, and one other spot where I saw other people. There were multiple benches where one could sit and watch the planes take off and land. After getting a selfie with a plane landing, I plopped down on a hill to watch for a while. The planes would land by coming right over the lake; and took off going away from it. While I was there I saw four or five takeoffs and landings.
After sitting for a few minutes, it was back to the hike.
While heading towards the Sussex Branch trail, I found this rock.
A few minutes further down the trail I ran into an issue, easily six inches of water cover the trail for about 10 yards. I had to bushwhack around it.
Towards the southern end of the park there are many unmarked trails. It looks like there is a new Andover Loop trail (not marked on my map, and with smaller trails branching off it.) I found my way to the Blue trail, but not using the path I intended.
Coming back up the Blue trail was nice. Atop a hill there was a nice view of White’s Pond, which my initial path would have taken me closer to.
All in all this was a great hike. It’s not often you hike to an airport. The trails were not too strenuous, and it seemed pretty hard to get lost in the park, even on some of the unmarked trails. I highly recommend, for the airport alone.
Trails: I think I was on all of them (I didn’t hike Green or the Blue Shortcut)
For the first weekend in April, it was pretty warm. I thought I would be able to get away, stay socially distanced, and log a few miles. Well, I was partially right. I once lived in Plainsboro, and never knew about this park, so it was nice to visit, explore, and hike a new find.
However, in the midst of the pandemic, it seems many people had somewhat the same idea. The fact that it was gorgeous out at the beginning didn’t hurt. There were more cars in the parking lot than I was comfortable seeing. I was hoping that once I cut into the woods I would see less people. And for the most part, that was true.
Trails here are really well marked, some are lined by felled trees and branches. It’s kind of hard to get lost here. And all the trails were wide, flat, and dirt-covered, which meant walking was awesome.
Starting out of the parking lot…what the…?
This is the second time in two hikes.
One thing I noticed while walking the park is that there has been A LOT of beaver activity.
The Blue trail and Maggie’s Trail skirt McCormack Lake, with Maggie’s trail going out into the lake. It was clouding up at this time, but it was still nice. On a more warmer day, I would have stayed longer.
This was a great place to hike, part of the Audubon Society. There were signs for when the park and trails are closed due to hunting season, but I was beyond that. Also nice, on the White trail there were signs giving a little of the history of the park and descriptions of some of the flora.
However, there were way too many people congregating by the lake on my way out, I could not get out of there fast enough. Driving home, there were way too many cars on the road, and I was glad to finally get home.
Trails: I was on most of them: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, connectors – Orange was closed
The Ides of March. When I left home, it was cloudy and low 40s. I got to the park and was the fourth or fifth car there; the temperatures had warmed up to about 45. I stopped in the Environmental Education Center for a map, and by the time I got back out the sun was coming out. I could tell this would be a great day. And it was.
Lord Stirling Park (part of the Somerset County Parks) is immensely diverse, and should be on your list of hikes; if it already isn’t. There’s forest, mud, ponds, mud, swamp and wetland, mud, fields, mud, observation towers, mud and even blinds to check out both the scenery and wildlife. I would be remiss not to mention that the trails in the southern part of the park can be muddy. To me, the southeastern portion of the park reminds me of the La Brea Tar Pits. Looking at my split times for miles, I see my times are down – partly because there is so much to see and read in the park; and partly because the really muddy sections will slow you down. Really though, what was I expecting hiking in The Great Swamp?
The trail in the southeast starts off nice and flat and wide.
One of your first stops, if starting in the southeast, is the eastern observation blind, right outside Lily Pad Pond.
As you are walking, you can tell you are near the Passaic River.
This section of the park has lots of mud:
You really don’t have to worry about losing the trail, look for the mud (or the boardwalks when you get to them.) There are plenty of blazes and you don’t really need to worry about turns. As a bonus, at EVERY trail junction, there’s a sign that shows exactly where you are and because of that I really did not need my trail map. Frequently, I changed my mind on where I was going when I reached a sign.
My next stopping point would be the East Observation Tower, overlooking the Passaic River. Bonus points were given as I was out of the mud and onto a boardwalk.
Back on the trail, I headed for my next waypoint.
I thought I was out of it, but
I wouldn’t see mud again until I finished with the northern section of the park which included the swamp and boardwalks. It was very pleasant walking at his point; the sun was out and it was getting warmer.
Finally, onto the boards.
I came across a landing overlooking the Passaic River called the Dance Floor. No music was playing, but there were benches to sit and watch the river amble by.
It would be boards all the way to the Boondocks Boardwalk, which traversed La Plus Grande, part of the Great Swamp. This was by far my favorite section of the park. Just before La Plus Grande:
It’s shown on the map as Boondocks Bypass, but taking it would detour you around the fabulous wetlands and boardwalk. And you can see, looking down the trail in the picture, yep: mud.
There was no question in my mind where I was going.
I can imagine this section of the trail is HOT in the Summer months. Off the boards and back into the woods made a nice change of scenery. It should be noted that there are benches at almost all the trail junctions.
After walking around Woodpecker Swamp, I came to The Great Swamp Oak. This tree was huge; I figure it would take three or four people holding hands to be able to reach around it.
The Southwestern portion of the park skirts a bunch of fields and leads to the West Observation Deck.
There was evidence of recent burning in the fields and I read that this was a result of prescribed burns, so that the fields can grow anew. I made a quick detour up to the Sugar Shack, where they were making syrup. This was the last weekend of the year for the demonstration.
I had to stop at Bullfrog Pond – I didn’t see any frogs but I heard one.
This was a great hike! It is only the middle of March, but I would be surprised if this hike does not end up in the Top 5 by the end of the year. The weather was perfect, the trails were great (despite the mud) and there is so much to see. I had planned to hit the orange trail as well, but it was closed due to construction; looks like I’ll be back. I finished hiking around 12:30 and by this time the parking lot was packed. I stopped into the center after the hike, and there are great exhibits detailing the wildlife and the history of the Great Swamp. Finally, I headed over to the Turtle Pond. No turtles.
Ticks: 0 (Though I imagine that number changes in the Summer)
Back to Brendan T Byrne for another trail in 50 Hikes in New Jersey. Today was a much better day, gorgeous sun, and not a cloud in the sky. It was 33 when I got out of the car, and 42 when I returned with a light wind blowing the whole time. Though, I didn’t notice it much as I was in the trees. As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m not likely to backpack the whole trail, there are some other sections I might do; but I wanted to come back and do this section.
The trails were the of the same makeup, soft dirt, covered with pine needles or sandy roads – truly great to walk on.
Be aware that walking this portion of the Batona Trail does cross over some busy roads, though early on a Sunday morning I had no difficulty and saw limited traffic. Two paved roads in particular to cross are Route 70 and Four Mile Road. Within the forest there are numerous woods roads, unmarked trails and sandy/dirt roads that you will cross and are not on all maps.
After crossing Route 70, the first feature you will come to is Deep Hollow Pond.
The trail meanders generally to the northeast, almost parallel to Bisphams Mill Creek. There was no place that the trail actually goes to the creek, so my pictures had to be through the brambles. You wouldn’t be able to see the creek in the summer with the foliage out.
There’s evidence of fire.
On a day like today, you could walk and walk. I saw a couple of people running on the trail, and towards the end I met a couple with two dogs on leash. Supposedly, bikes are not allowed, but there is definitely evidence that bikes use the trail. Fortunately, I did not run into any. On the way back from Ong’s Hat, I heard a motorbike, but I never saw it. The only other noise to be heard were the cars on the roads you cross, and traffic on Route 72 while the trail is close by.
There is a spot where you have to cross Four Mile Road. On a Sunday morning, there was no traffic.
Finally, I reached the northern terminus of the Batona Trail, located in Ong’s Hat.
What is Ong’s Hat? I’ll quote from 50 Hikes In New Jersey (second edition):
The story begins in the early 1700s, when Jacob Ong built a tavern here. He was a Quaker from Pennsylvania who apparently strayed from the steady course and took a liking to dancing and flirting. The tavern, which made an excellent halfway stop for stagecoaches travelling between Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore, soon became the scene of some wild goings-on, and in 1715, the history-making event occurred. Jacob got in a fight with one of his girlfriends. In a jealous rage, she grabbed the hat off his head and thew it high into a huge oak tree beside the tavern. For years the hat remained caught in the high branches, and passersby would frequently say, “Look, there’s Ong’s hat.” It took a while, but in 1828 the town got official recognition on New Jersey maps. It is also shown on the USGS Browns Mills quad. As for the tree, well, it was cut down in 1978 by the county highway department.
I walked around, I didn’t see any buildings or anything remaining of Ong’s Hat. There was a deserted building across Route 72, but I wasn’t going to cross a very busy road to investigate.
On the way back, I took Shinns Road. Straight. Wide. Sandy.
I passed a section on the right where you could see that the trees had been cleared out, and after a while, where the forest resumed.
There were a bunch of spots along the Batona Trail where you entered forests of young trees, nature reclaiming its space. The trees were close together, but not very tall.
Here’s a shot of (re)crossing Route 70 (early on a Sunday morning.)
At the beginning of the trail I walked by the Lebanon Fire Tower. On the way back, I investigated. There was nothing preventing me from climbing the tower, I don’t know if the door to the room at the top was open. I wasn’t finding out. And it had nothing do with the sign saying “no trespassing.” There was no way I was going up those stairs.
I had a great time on this hike; the weather co-operated which made the hike pleasant. This would be even better in the Spring or early Summer as you are in the shade for much of the hike. Highly recommended.
Trails: Connector, Batona, Cranberry, Mount Misery, Lebanon
You can tell by the first picture that the sun is out and it looks like great weather for a hike. That was true, to start. I finished in the rain and with the temperatures lower than when I started. This is another hike in “50 Hikes in New Jersey” that I wanted to check off, and it’s a great hike in the heart of the Pine Barrens. One mistake I made (and rather crucial.) I used the online map to plan my hike, figuring that there would be parking sort of where the Lebanon and the Cranberry Dot trail met. That would make for a nice round trip of around eight miles. Oops. Parking is at the visitor center…I needed to take a trail or two to GET to my route, then a walk back to the car (from my proposed route.) That’s how I got to 12 miles. And yes, I’m still sore.
You’ll notice for this post there are almost as many pictures of blazes as there are of the hike itself. There were many blazes on this hike, including one that isn’t on any map.
My original plan did not call for me to walk a portion of the Batonatrail, but I’m glad I did. I’m not one for much backpacking, so it’s doubtful I’ll ever hike the whole trail in one shot. I may section hike it, because I really liked what I walked. It’s well marked, and the trail (in this section) was a dream – loose dirt/sand, covered with pine needles.
Some pictures from the Batona trail:
I took the Batona trail to Pakim Pond Day Use Area, which, believe it or not, had people enjoying a cookout. In 40 degree weather. Pakim Pond looked like a cool area to hang out in the summer.
The next section of the hike was spent on the Mount Misery trail and the Lebanon trail, which is mostly a paved road through the forest. It was at this point that the rain started, mostly as sprinkles. But, it started to get dark, and the rain a little more intense, so I stuck to the Lebanon trail to shave off some time (and distance.)
I got back on the Mount Misery trail heading back to the park office. Doing so took me through Reeves Cranberry bogs, which were really neat to see (even in the rain.)
Finally, I was back on the Cranberry trail headed back to the office. There was a portion of the trail that was wide, but forest close-in on both sides of the trail.
This was a great hike in the Pine Barrens. There was no elevation change to speak of and the trails were a dream to walk on, loose dirt/sand usually topped with pine needles. There were only a couple of locations with plenty of roots. And, on the Batona trail there was a long stretch of boardwalk. As it had rained the night before, there were a few sections that were a little spongy but nothing impassable. The Lebanon trail is paved (for vehicles) most of the way, with one portion that is a dirt road. The Park office wasn’t open (it was a Sunday) so I would like to come back and see what the office had to offer.
Jersey Devil sightings: 0
Connector trail to the Batona trail:
Batona and Cranberry:
One of two blazes I saw for the Lebanon trail:
I have no idea what the heck this one is, it wasn’t on ANY map. I saw a second one too. Anyone who knows, leave a comment.