The Appalachian Trail Reveals a Magnificent and Unexpected Side of NJ

Dunfield Creek offers spectacular views to the south side of New Jersey’s Appalachian Trail.Photo credit: Getty Images

Less than two minutes into the hike, I spotted a path through a burning white forest.

Follow the sculpted landscape of creeks that hold the clearest clean water you’ve ever seen. Before our epic adventure really begins, we decided to cross a small footbridge nearby to take a break by a beautiful waterfall that cascades into the pool. Gaze at glacial ponds formed thousands of years ago during the Ice Age, and get panoramic views on your way to New Jersey’s highest point. And what could surpass it? So wait until you climb the stairway to heaven.

It’s no surprise that the Appalachian Trail (AT) is one of the most famous hiking trails on the planet. What amazes people is that 72 of the approximately 2,200 miles are here in New Jersey. Yes, outside the state’s sprawling cities and suburbs are unspoiled wilderness strewn with astonishing wonders. No way. ” And it all boils down to the famous AT.

“This place is absolutely spectacular and completely blows away anyone with any preconceived notions of New Jersey,” said Zachary Cole, long-distance trail program coordinator for the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. region. “There’s a lot of beauty and wilderness when you get out of the suburbs. A common reaction is, ‘Oh, is this New Jersey? I can’t believe I’m in New Jersey.'”

Sunfish Pond is a National Natural Landmark, nicknamed “One of New Jersey’s Seven Natural Wonders” for its spectacular scenery.Photo by Mark Crudilla | Photo by Madhair

The unseen side of the Garden State

The south side of the trail enters the state through Worthington State Forest in Warren County and winds through upper Sussex and Passaic counties to New York. Worthington is one of New Jersey’s most popular areas at AT for two reasons. It’s close to Interstate 80. Its proximity to Interstate 80 makes it perfect for day-trippers looking for in-and-out hiking loops and Sunfish Pond. The 41-acre glacial lake is a National Natural Landmark that has been called “one of New Jersey’s Seven Natural Wonders” for its stunning scenery carved out by Wisconsin glaciers thousands of years ago.

However, those who want a real reward for their hiking efforts should go beyond Sunfish Pond. You will feel like you are the only one around.

“If you’re looking for a quieter place, it’s best to take the trail north of Sunfish Pond and follow that section to the border with the National Park Service. We can do that,” said Worthington State Forest Manager Ernie Covert. “Raccoon Ridge is a clearing at the top of a ridge with stunning views of the Delaware River, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”

Sunrise Mountain in Stokes State Forest is a great place to watch the sunrise along the AT.Photo credit: Getty Images

Stunning scenery is a common theme as you travel north from Worthington State Forest into the heart of New Jersey’s backcountry. The next 20+ miles run atop Kitatinny Ridge in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Here, the state’s natural beauty shines through with the numerous lakes and ponds that dot the landscape. There’s also Stokes State Forest, a place of interest for spectacular sunrises and birdwatching opportunities, and High Point State Park, the state’s highest peak at 1,803 feet above sea level. And what about that stairway to heaven? As you approach this popular landmark in Wawayanda State Park, you’ll instantly recognize its name. Follow the Pochak Boardwalk and cross a suspension bridge into a cattle pasture. Afterwards, climb the heavenly steps to its crown jewel, Windmill Vista. The scenery there is simply out of this world.

“Overlooking Pinwheel Vista, it’s a spectacular view of the Sussex County countryside and all the protected forests and farmlands there. That’s the ‘wow’ factor,” Cole said.

Click here for more information on Appalachian Trail hiking routes in New Jersey. The story continues below.

Windmill Vista is regularly described as one of the most breathtaking vantage points in the state.Photo credit: Getty Images

AT’s transformative power

Kevin Kearns often says that the Appalachian Trail “doesn’t attract good people, it makes good people.”

At the age of 33, he found himself in a funk due to an unrewarding job, lack of good taste, and lack of clear direction in life. So he started deciding to “check the little things” he could handle. One of them was backpacking.

“I’ve been into the outdoors my whole life. I’ve been fishing, hunting, things like that, but when I started hiking, what I was trying to do with all these hobbies was I realized that it was about spending time outdoors,” said Kearns.

Short backpacking trips quickly turned into long backpacking trips, long backpacking trips turned into long-distance backpacking, and long-distance backpacking became the ultimate challenge: hiking the Appalachian Trail from end to end. . Airline executive Kerns, his recruiter, left his Pittsburgh home in early March 2020, where he reached just over 400 miles before COVID stopped him. , not before AT already left that impression.

This experience remained in his mind until the following year, which forced Kearns to apply for and eventually accept a position as a “Ridge Runner” in New Jersey. This job has allowed him to be the eyes and ears of the trail, educating the public on responsible outdoors his practices (such as Leave No Trace), reporting his maintenance requests, answering visitor questions, and much more. I was able to make my dream come true. He returned to his role in 2022, inspired by the places and people he met on this most transformative trail.

“For seven days I will meet people who are processing their grief. It has its own story, nothing is typical,” Kearns said. “A lot of people come here broken in some way, but by the time it’s over they’re healed.”

Heaven Hill Farm is one of many businesses that benefit from the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey.Photo courtesy Heaven Hill Farm

“More than just a trail”

It’s no exaggeration to say there’s more to the Appalachian Trail than meets the eye. Its influence goes far beyond the stories and experiences contained within the iconic white flame.

why? Because, in Cole’s words, “It’s more than just a trail.”

“Because it’s a continuous corridor of protected land, it can connect forest areas, and it can connect other animals, wildlife, or other types of habitats that people can use,” he explained. “And because it has a unique following, it has established itself as a premier hiking destination. People come from all over the world to hike the AT. Being part of the AT Also, trails of this kind contribute significantly to economic development: Local economic towns that may be near long-distance trails ensure that local goods are sold to people who come to the area for hiking. you can start.”

With the AT’s far-reaching impact, organizations like the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) are constantly looking for ways to “protect the experience of hiking the trail,” said Bob Sickley, ATC’s regional manager for the Susquehanna River. said. to the Hudson River. One such example he is a bridge and boardwalk project within the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge in Sussex County, comparable in size to the nearby Pochuk Boardwalk.

Volunteers also play a large role in managing the trail and its structural features. About 6,000 people from Georgia to Maine spend “hundreds of thousands of hours” each year clearing overgrown bushes, looking at fallen trees, cleaning up trash, and working on many of the trail facilities, Sickley said. is maintained. Frankly, “[The Appalachian Trail]wouldn’t have been possible without them,” he said.

Vernon’s Pochuk Boardwalk is one of the most popular locations along the state’s AT because of its picturesque nature.Photo credit: Getty Images

“Wow, I didn’t know New Jersey looked like this.”

Before Kearns moved to New Jersey for the Ridgerunner role, two images came to mind: Snooki and the Dump. He’s not shy about admitting that his perspective has changed just a little in the last two years.

“I love New Jersey food. It’s a food mecca,” he said. “There are at least four delis within a 10-mile drive of where I’m based that you can walk into and get a round roll to make a special sandwich. It doesn’t exist on the ground.” He continued to pile on the accolades, from pizza to cuisine to antique stores. But the most influential experience of all? Of course, the Appalachian Trail. But it’s his reasoning that resonates with residents inside and outside the state.

“When you walk 72 miles of the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey, you’re like, ‘Wow, this is beautiful.’ ‘Wow, I didn’t know New Jersey looked like this.'”

As you absorb the magic of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, remember that you can find it… just in jersey.

Hunter Hulbert is a Just in Jersey feature writer for Jersey’s Best magazine. Do you have any story suggestions? Please contact [email protected] To read more stories like this, click here.


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