Trail Map – There are no marked trails. I hiked roads, though they were just as good as trails. Bring a GPS, because there are unmarked side roads and trails.
Hike Distance – 8.86 miles
Trails – (roads, in this case) Jenkins Road, Penn Place Road, Cabin Road, Sooy Road, Chatsworth Road, Stave Road, Lost Lane Road
It was cloudy all day. It rained for a few minutes, but not enough to break out the jacket, and only two times as I can remember. When I left for the trailhead it was 49 degrees. During the hike I saw it in the mid 50s, and when I returned home, it got above 60. So much for December.
After doing the hike with the State Forest service a couple of weeks ago, I realized I wanted to explore more of the Pine Barrens. Penn State Forest seemed as good as any place to start. Bear in mind, there really are not trails here (though you can find them – they appear to be unmarked.) The roads were my trail. Most were sandy, a couple of the sugar sand variety. Some of the smaller roads would have been difficult to navigate with a car. I only saw a couple of other people the entire time here, most were drivers, no hikers.
This hike is in my copy of 50 Hikes in New Jersey (second edition,) I did it backwards of that hike. My goal was to find Bear Swamp Hill and see the Pygmy Pines.
I parked next to Oswego Lake, and explored it for a few minutes before taking off. The wind was pretty strong, but it was relatively warm.
Just before embarking on the road I found these large Birch Polypore.
And then I was off. There isn’t much elevation in the Pine Barrens and I would be on “roads” so I knew I would cover ground more quickly. Looking at my splits, it looks like 20 minute miles, which doesn’t happen often.
I get asked what it’s like hiking in the Pine Barrens. Here’s a typical view (on a cloudy late Fall day.)
Pitch Pine, Scrub Pine, Cedars, Oak trees make up most of the Pine Barrens. But don’t let this picture of a “typical” view fool you, there’s lots of beauty in the Pines, and finding it is the fun part.
Here’s a picture of the typical roads I traversed, in this case it is Jenkins Road.
On a cloudy day, color is easy to spot.
Before I came to my turn (Penn Place) there was a junction. The road to the right leads to an old Civilian Conservation Corps Camp, which I’ve read planted many of the groves in the area. I did not check the camp out.
About a hundred yards down the road, I noticed it was getting darker. The wind started picking up. I didn’t notice rain, but all of a sudden there was a loud rumbling that was getting louder and louder. Great, I thought, this is how the Jersey Devil gets me.
It took me a minute to get my heart back in my chest, and by the time I got the camera out, the truck was by me. I saw three of them before turning off Jenkins road. I have no idea where they were coming from or where they were headed. That was the last of the noise for the entire day. I went on undaunted.
At one point I came across this locked “cabinet” for lack of better description. The US Geological Society has set up wells where they measure water levels and content; and I just happened to come across one.
Sooy Road is probably the “biggest” road that goes through the forest, though bear in mind it’s all sand. Eventually, I found the turn from Sooy road to Bear Swamp Hill. The road up is steep in some sections, even though max elevation peaked at 160 feet. Parts of the road were paved. It later dawned on me I could have driven all the way to (and up) Bear Swamp Hill. But what fun is that? At the top of the hill is a “parking lot” which is not what I was expecting. To my right was a rhododendron tunnel which looked interesting. And, it went further uphill.
At the top were the remains of the Bear Swamp Hill Firetower – which is what I was looking for. And rather then write out what occurred here, I’ll let the picture speak.
Here is what is left.
I was tempted to try and find the crash site. But A) it would have taken quite a while, B) since the tower is gone, my guess is the wreckage is gone too, and C) I would be trekking into the swamp. If that wreckage exists, feel free to leave a comment.
After descending I took Sooy up to Chatsworth, then turned onto Stave Road; where it proceeded to rain pretty hard. Fortunately it did not rain long. Along Stave Road, you come up to the Spring Hill Plains and the Pygmy Pines it contains. You could see the difference in trees, but it was more noticeable when I turned onto Lost Lane Road.
(The trees in the background are the Pygmies)
Eventually I left the plains and headed back into the taller Pitch and Scrub Pines. In this picture, I tried to capture the edge of the plains. The shorter trees (and the plains) are to the left, while the taller trees start to appear to the right.
The effect is much better live.
Here is Lost Lane Road deep in the Pines.
Fires occur naturally in the Pine Barrens, and they are good for the environment. I remember reading about a particularly big file in Penn State Forest just recently, and evidence was all around.
Just before reaching the car, I passed a really cool and dense Cedar swamp. The trees were really close together and it looked foreboding deep in the forest.
This was a fun hike, I almost wish I had a forest ranger with me to learn more. While it was eerily quiet in the forest, I thought this might make a nice hike with a small amount of snow on the ground and in the trees. The hike would probably be silent. Definitely a hike for another day.
Blazes: (none, I did find two “road signs” though)