Pine Barrens, New Jersey
Wooded trails, tea-colored waters -- and the Jersey Devil.
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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.
Lebanon State Forest
New Lisbon, NJ 08064
Wharton State Forest
4110 Nesco Road
Hammonton, NJ 08037
Bass River State Forest
New Gretna, NJ 08224
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The Pine Barrens are located in south-central New Jersey about 35 miles from Philadelphia and 80 miles from New York City. Nearby towns include Mount Holly, Toms River, and Hammonton.
Take State Route 70 east from the New Jersey Turnpike (exit 4) to the point where Route 72 heads south at Four Mile Circle. Take a hard left for about a mile to Ong’s Hat (the name comes with a long story, so ask at the store). The trailhead is across the road. Or head south on 72 for about a mile to the Lebanon State Forest visitor center.
Camping is year round, but you’ll see fewer people in early spring, late fall, and winter.
Temperatures in the region can be extreme. If summer temperatures in Philadelphia are in the 90s, the Pine Barrens could be in the 100s. And when Philly temperatures are in the 50s, the Pine Barrens can dip below freezing. In winter, the flat landscape allows cold pockets and the sand doesn’t hold much heat. The only time frost has not been seen in the Pine Barrens is July.
In the area that was once home to black bears, panthers, timber wolves, and bobcats, you’ll now see white-tailed deer, gray foxes, beavers, otters, rabbits, opossums, skunks, and raccoons. Muskrats, mink, and otters have also been spotted in the area. Beavers are almost a nuisance in some areas at the edge of the barrens.
Eighty-four species of birds are known to breed in the pines. Frogs, toads, salamanders. lizards, snakes, and turtles also live here. Two of the frogs ~ the pine barrens tree frog and the carpenter or sphagnum frog ~ are rare.
Be careful of ticks and Lyme disease. The worst seasons for ticks are spring and fall. The best precautions are bug lotion and long pants, and don’t forget to check yourself frequently.
Bleached white trunks of ageless cedars and pines stand straight in the middle of the stream in stark contrast to the ferns, rushes, and sphagnum moss along the banks. Low pitch pines, cedar swamps, and bogs overrun by wild blueberries and cranberries dominate the sandy soil. Swamp magnolia are also common, with sour gum, red maple, and gray birch on somewhat drier soils nearby.
A number of campsites are available to canoeists and hikers on the major streams and hiking trails. There are both state-owned and private campsites available. State-owned sites range from rustic to modern. Group sites are also available for seven or more. Half of the campsites operate on a reservation basis.
The trail cuts through Wharton State Forest, Lebanon State Forest, and Bass River State Forest, where camping is permitted in designated sites.
- Bass River offers tent and trailer campsites with fire rings and picnic tables. Flush toilets, showers, and laundry facilities are within walking distance. There are also lean-tos, and seasonal shelters and cabins available.
- Lebanon offers tent and trailer sites with fire rings and picnic tables. Flush toilets, showers, and laundry facilities are within walking distance. Seasonal cabins are also available.
- Wharton offers seasonal tent and trailer Atsion sites with fire rings, picnic tables, and water. Flush toilets and showers are within walking distance. Godfrey Bridge year-round campsites have water, picnic tables, and pit toilets. There are also wilderness sites and seasonal cabins.
The Pine Barrens is full of navigable waterways, and there are more than a dozen canoe rental outfitters in the Pine Barrens. State law requires life jackets. Not all outfitters will haul you to and from your paddling put-in and take-out, and prices for shuttles vary.
Contact park office for information.
Campground fees include fire permits. Permits may be obtained at the Lebanon State Forest Office, Wharton State Forest Office, or Atsion Office.
Fees for modern campsites are $10. Group rates are 75 cents to $1 per person. For reservations, there is an extra $7 fee and a two-night minimum. You can also purchase a New Jersey State Park Pass for $35.
No pets overnight.
Contact park office for information.
Leave No Trace:
Camp only at designated sites.
All LNT guidelines apply.
Writing to any of the addresses above will net you a pile of material. Be sure to ask for a map of the Batona Trail. It includes many of the sand roads you’ll want to wander onto.
Other Trip Options:
Island Beach State Park is just east of Toms River.