Monday, February 15, 2010

Short Hikes on the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey

The Appalachian Trail (AT) is America's first National Scenic Trail. It stretches from Mount Katahdin in Maine south to Springer Mountain in Georgia.

Originally conceived as a greenway between these states in the 1920s, it has become the most popular trail in the Appalachian Mountains.

Though "thru-hikers" will take on its 2,160 miles, many more day, weekend and section hikers will use it.

In New Jersey, here are 72 miles of the AT. The sections range in difficulty from 2-5 on a scale where 10 is the most difficult. I have hiked 6 of the 8 popular sections in NJ and all of them were great experiences.

There is a lot of information available free online about the trail (see below) and many excellent books on the AT, including the NJ section.

Our part of the Appalachian Trail runs from High Point State Park at Route 23 in the very northern-most corner of the state down to the Delaware Water Gap where it enters Pennsylvania. The ridges of the Kittatinny Mountains run parallel to the Delaware River to the west.

Even a good road map of New Jersey will probably show show the trail, and a stop at the ranger offices at High Point on Route 23 in Sussex County, Stokes Forest on Route 206 in Sussex County, and the National Park Service on Route 80 at the Water Gap in Warren County, all have maps showing the trail. Still, I would invest in a detailed trail map or book if I planned to walk the length of the NJ AT.

One good shorter hike on the AT in NJ is near Sunfish Pond. Atop the Kittatinny Ridge, Sunfish Pond was created by a glacier long ago and today is along the Appalachian Trail in Worthington State Park near the Delaware Water Gap.

The Appalachian Trail runs around the pond. Don't be surprised to find any number of rock cairns that have been created by passing hikers. A cairn (carn in Irish, carnedd in Welsh, càrn in Scots Gaelic) is a manmade pile of stones, often in a conical form left as a marker. The rocky shores of Sunfish Pond offer a beautiful contrast to the crystal clear lake water.

The suggested hike here is a good day's adventure. Weekdays and winter are good times to go and have the trail pretty much to yourself and some wildlife (which is more likely to be seen too).

You can drop by the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Information Center at Kittatinny Point and talk to a ranger and get books on local flora, fauna, history, and geology for the hike.

The visitor center offers a great view of the Water Gap. The river flows by Pennsylvania's Mt. Minsi and New Jersey's Mount Tammany which form the Gap at about 1200 feet above and show us millions of years of geological history.

Features long the way includes Dunnfield Hollow hemlock ravine, Sunfish Pond (actually a glacial lake) and beautiful views from Mt. Mohican.

Sunfish Pond

The hike as listed on most trail maps run 8.8 total miles. Though the elevation gain is considered minimal (from 350 to 1500 feet), this point-to-point (rather than circular) hike is considered "strenuous." It should take a prepared hiker about 6 hours. Of course, n one says you have to do the entire length n one day if you're not prepared. New hikers shuld be cautioned that even a short hike like this is not like walking through he park or equal to the 8 miles you do on a track or treadmill.

Take a look at one online topographical map of the area.

Hiking this trail in NJ can give you a sense of what New Jersey was 200 years ago. In some sections, it is a time machine that will take you out of the present.

Coming back to 2010, there is still much of it that is undeveloped, with a few towns visible in the valleys that might be considered country villages.

The AT through NJ is intersected by country lanes or Park roads about every 5 to 10 miles. This makes it useful for teaming up with a partner and leaving one car at your starting place and one at the end.
You won't need much equipment for a day hike, but don't just throw a sandwich in a backpack and put on your basketball sneakers. Decent hiking boots or trail shoes (most have thick Vibram soles and are high enough to give ankle support) should feet well with your heavier hiking socks and some swollen feet. Don't attempt a hike more than two miles with new boots or shoes - break them in first.

Dress for the weather and have layers so that you can add and subtract as the day changes and your own body reacts. A hat is good. So is bug spray - especially in the spring.

There are lots of hiking equipment lists online but a light pack and water with lunch and some snacks is essential. The pack gets lighter along the way, but pack out all of your trash and any that you find and can carry along.  Leave the trail cleaner than when you entered.

I always add weight with a camera and cell phone. The camera is optional but the phone is a good safety idea.

Along those ridges of the Kittatinny Mountains, hawks and eagles can be seen along with common trail companions like the little Towhee.

The Trail is marked with white painted blazes on trees and rocks along the way. Two blazes, one above the other, indicate a change in direction of the trail.

Is their danger on the trail? Probably the greatest danger is in you attempting more hiking than you can handle or a trip, fall or twisted ankle. Snakes are rare and the only poisonous one you would encounter is the copperhead who would rather not encounter you.

There are certainly black bears in the area, but they also will do their best to avoid you. (Campers with food supplies are more likely to attract the nterest of bears, raccoons and other creatures.)

There are some trail shelters along the way, but if there's a chance of rain, bring some protection.

Do you have a favorite short hike in New Jersey? Post a comment and let us know and maybe we can feature it on the site.
Appalachian Trail Guide to New York - New Jersey (Appalachian Trail Guides)
Hikes in the Mid-Atlantic States: MD PA NJ NY the Appalachian Trail
Nature Walks in New Jersey, AMC Guide to the Best Trails from the Highlands to Cape May

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