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Backpacker Magazine – BACKPACKER.com Online Exclusive
Wooded trails, tea-colored waters -- and the Jersey Devil.
Little-Known Fact: Did you know that there are some unusually named places in the Pine Barrens area, such as Bread-and-Cheese Run, Comical Corner, Double Trouble and Hundred-Dollar Bridge?
The water is the color of tea. That's the observation everyone makes when they first see the springs and creeks along the Batona Trail, 40 miles of almost preternaturally peaceful hiking through the Pine Barrens.
As I sit gazing at the tiny, murmuring Skit Branch, I find its deep brown color, gentle current, and cedar smell enchanting. This is a secret, soothing spot; camp here on weekends and see few people ~ on weekdays, you're alone.
A unique ecosystem covering more than a million acres of south-central New Jersey, the Pine Barrens was deeply respected and avoided by the Lenape Indians, the area's original inhabitants.
European settlers clearcut the trees to make shipyard lumber and mined the land for silica and bog iron. Today the area has returned to its natural condition: acre upon acre of stunted, windswept pines, broken occasionally by clear, quiet streams, abandoned sandy roads, and random stands of other conifers or oaks.
The Batona Trail is flat, and the blanket of pine needles that covers its gentle curves is easy on the feet. Walking on sand the trail follows sand roads at times can be tough, however. The Batona runs through the Lebanon and Wharton State Forests. It's a 3- to 4-day hike, and some of the area's most beautiful spots ~ Quaker Bridge across the Batsto River, or tiny Deep Hollow Pond, for instance ~ are accessible only by the trail.
With the Pines merely an hour away, I find myself stealing away for a quick afternoon hike. Five minutes from the car and I'm in a still, isolated world where the only sounds are the hissing of the windblown sand and the gentle sway of the trees.