The latest update for this article was written by Lindsay Podolak.
New Jersey isn’t just a small, overpopulated, overdeveloped micro-giant. For those of us that know “the other Jersey,” the one that lives up to its title as the Garden State, there are tons of hiking spots to escape the rat race and get back to nature. Today, we would like to encourage our detractors to go take a hike (in New Jersey).
One of America’s most famous trails, the Appalachian, cuts across from east to west at the top of the state. About 72 miles of the famed trail from Maine to Georgia lies within New Jersey. The elevation changes are gentle compared to some other portions of the Appalachian Trail; in addition, hikers experience terrain that varies from dry to boggy. The state’s still wild enough that hikers have a chance of encountering bears along the path.
When you don’t feel up to tackling one of America’s most famous trails, there are plenty of hikes, easy to difficult, in all parts of the state. There are more than 30 state parks and forests, plus trails and recreation areas that are part of the National Park Service. Rails-to-trails projects make hiking accessible to urban residents. Many of the parks and trails are also accessible through public transportation, so you don’t need a car to take a walk in the woods.
The best hiking in NJ lets hikers explore mountains, swamps, forests and beaches—sometimes on the same trail. Here are some of the best ways to take a hike in New Jersey, in every region.
North Jersey Hiking Spots
There are lots of challenging and diverse hiking trails in North Jersey. For instance, you can hike the Appalachian Trail, the Delaware Water Gap or along the Hudson River. That’s not to mention the beautiful hike through High Point State Park to reach a lake fed by local springs. Parks in this region have both easy walks on level gravel paths and some of the most demanding trails in the region at Mt. Tammany and Stonetown Circular.
Mt. Tammany, located in Knowlton Township in Warren County, is a tough but rewarding climb to the top for views over the Delaware Water Gap. The Stonetown Circular hike passes over four mountains, and you feel every one of them. If the hiking doesn’t take your breath away, the views surely will.
Palisades Interstate Park sits in Alpine, New Jersey. New Yorkers, as well as New Jerseyites, can explore Palisades Interstate Park, a narrow greenway strip that starts in Fort Lee by the George Washington Bridge. You’re never too far from the Hudson here. The easy Shore Trail stays at water level. Here you can stroll along the river and comb the shore for shells at low tide. More strenuous trails, like the Giant Stairs, follow the steep cliffs and require rock scrambling.
Newly open in the last few years is the Stoney Ridge Trail in Paterson, which replicates a path near the Passaic River that mill workers used to take centuries ago to travel from their homes to their jobs. The long-forgotten, overgrown trail was cleaned up in a two-year effort costing $20,000 and debuting in October 2017. A high point on the trail features a magnificent view while standing 60 feet above Spruce Street, Paterson.
Also new is the first leg of the Lake Hopatcong Trail. Open since September 2017, the trail will eventually become a system encompassing the four municipalities of Hopatcong, Byram, Mount Arlington and Jefferson. The initial trail runs approximately 9.5 miles with the finished loop expected to measure 40 miles long.
Ramapo Mountain State Forest is in Ringwood. It covers 4,200 acres in Bergen and Passaic Counties. The park offers views of castle ruins as well as the New York skyline. Ramapo also has the Ramapo Valley County Reservation, where the hike to Hawk Rock leads to vistas stretching across the valley.
Long Pond Ironworks State Park in West Milford recently installed a 60-foot wooden footbridge over the Wanaque River, allowing hikers access to trails that had been unreachable since Hurricane Irene destroyed the original bridge in 2011.
The New Jersey Highlands are in the heart of North Jersey, and the Farny Highlands Cluster in Rockaway Township offers hiking through a landscape dotted with boulders left behind by long-ago glaciers. Waterfalls, forests and mountains provide food and shelter to endangered bird species.
The Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area in Montville covers 1,500 acres and features Tripod Rock, an enormous cylindrical boulder that looks like a gentle push would roll it off the three smaller boulders it balances on.
Central Jersey Hiking Spots
The Musconetcong Gorge Preserve is in Holland Township along the Hunterdon and Warren County border. There are several hikes along rocky trails along the river, ranging from one and a half mile hikes to ten-mile hikes. The preserve now contains over 500 acres. Different trails include the Railroad Trail, the Gas Line Road Trail, the Waterfall Trail and the Ridge and Highlands Trail that stretches all the way into New York state.
Point Mountain Reservation sits in Washington and Port Murray. The entire hike measures about 11.5 miles with several options for shorter hikes. The reservation consists of more than 1,100 acres. The Point Mountain Scenic Overlook also offers one of the most striking views on New Jersey countryside of any trail in the state. The mountain is one of the highest elevation points in Hunterdon County at 935 feet above sea level.
Cheesequake State Park is in Old Bridge Township in Middlesex County. It is a nature preserve that spans both sides of the Garden State Parkway in the middle of a highly populated and congested area. The park’s unusual name derives from a Native American word meaning upland. You can roam through a variety of terrain in the park, including marshes, Pine Barrens and hardwood forest. An easy trail through the swamp has boardwalks to keep your feet dry. There are several trails here from one and a half miles to three and a half miles in length.
At Sourland Mountain Preserve, you will find a handful of trails, ranging from easy to moderately difficult. The five mile long Ridge Trail is the most challenging, but it takes you past two famed rock formations– the Devil’s Half-Acre Boulders and the Roaring Rocks Boulders. During your travels, you may see one of the variety of nesting birds that make their home here, including the Summer Tanager, Winter Wren and Black-capped and Carolina Chickadees.
If you’re looking for easy hiking, head on over to Washington Crossing State Park, which has fifteen miles of beginner-level trails for you to enjoy. The Blue Dot Trail, the longest in the park at 2.7 miles long, gives you the best view of the Delaware River, while the other trails take you through the more wooded areas of the 3,500 acre park.
Jersey Shore Hiking Spots
Gateway National Recreation Area includes areas in New York state as well as New Jersey. At Sandy Hook, you can stroll along six miles of beach or take an easy hike, some on paved paths, with views of New York Harbor and the skyline of Manhattan.
Hartshorne Woods Park, located in Locust, features over 14 miles of trails. The park consists of 787 forested acres that overlook the Navesink River. It’s known as a challenging trail. You’ll enjoy the mountain laurels and the sites of historic WWII military bunkers as you walk over gentle hills.
Double Trouble State Park is an 8,000-acre park located in Forked River. The park features a one and a half mile nature trail as well as several miles of unmarked paths along service roads. Other points of interest in the park include a historic village associated with the cranberry and logging industries, a working cranberry bog and a Pine Barrens watershed.
Jakes Branch County Park, located in Beachwood in Ocean County features over eight miles of nature trails. Climb five stories up at the observation deck to get views over the Pine Barrens. You’ll walk on pine needles on the sandy trails here. A new purple-marked “Play Trail” measures a scant 0.5 miles, so it’s a good one for kids to hike.
Island Beach State Park is located in Seaside Park at the end of the northernmost barrier island. It features several short trails that take you through multiple plant habitats; you can also walk along the sandy shore. The land is covered with dunes, briar and shrubs. The best hiking to be had here is along the miles and miles of pristine beaches; in fact, the trail is undisturbed by commercial and speculative development.
The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge is in Galloway in Atlantic County. It’s a beautiful wildlife refuge, which runs along the Atlantic Flyway. It is more than 3/4 salt marsh and an important nesting site for songbirds. Short trails also let visitors explore the distinctive habitats and view the songbirds that visit the area.
Cape May Point State Park is located at Cape May Point at the iconic Cape May lighthouse. The park features three short hiking trails that range from a half mile to two miles in length. Other features of the park include a beach, a WWII bunker, the lighthouse, bird watching platforms and more.
South Jersey Hiking Spots
There are numerous hiking trails through the Pine Barrens, South Jersey’s forested coastal plains. The Pinelands or the Pinelands National Preserve cover seven South Jersey and Jersey Shore counties and encompass over one million acres of forests, wetlands and farms. Over 700,000 people live here in 56 different communities. Hiking the Pinelands gives you the opportunity to see rare plant and animal species.
At Batsto Village, in Burlington County, you can trek around the lake and explore the historic village. Highlights include a mansion, smithy, mill and a charming, almost spooky general store.
Bass River State Forest in Tuckerton, contains over 18,000 acres of forests and the 67-acre Lake Absegami. There are trails here from one to just over three miles long. The trail takes you through woods and bogs. Lake Absegami is popular for swimming, kayaking and boating.
The Batona Trail is one of the longest in the state, at 50 miles. This trail crosses large tracts of the preserve. It travels from Brendan Byrne to Wharton to Bass River State Park. As a bonus, it also passes through historic Batsto Village and the forgotten South Jersey towns of Lower Forge, Four Mile and Martha. There are several major South Jersey roads that cross the trail. These intersections of the trail and the roads make it easier to make shorter Batona trail hikes. Fun fact: Batona gets its name from the words “back to nature.”
Spanning both Cumberland and Cape May counties, Belleplain State Forest offers 24 official trails for both motorized and non-motorized use. The terrain is generally flat, with trails of varying lengths from 0.3 miles (Eagles Fitness Trail) all the way up to 9.2 miles (Mountain Bike Trail).
Parvin State Park is tucked away in the southwestern corner of the Garden State with just over 15 miles of trails. Visitors will see plentiful flowering plant species, as well as forests and swamps.
Hiking in Urban New Jersey
The East Coast Greenway (ECG) welcomes both cyclists and walkers as it runs through 15 states and 3,000 miles. New Jersey’s portion of path follows the D&R Canal Towpath, while other parts run through city parks in Rahway and Newark. The ECG then ends at the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway (HRWW) in Hoboken.
The walkway itself is 18.5 miles long and it reaches from Bayonne to Palisades Interstate Park. It passes through numerous other New Jersey cities, including Weehawken, Edgewater and Fort Lee. In Fort Lee, the Fort Lee Historic Park provides access to the Long Path, approximately 350 miles of trails that start at the GW Bridge.
In December 2017 the Rahway River Scenic Trail, a 1.64 mile stretch bordering the Rahway River, was added to the ECG.
Hiking Groups in New Jersey
The Appalachian Mountain Club and Sierra Club have chapters in New Jersey. They lead hikes and other outdoor activities around the state. There are also many hiking meetups, some with fewer than 20 members, others with more than 5,000 members. You never have to hike alone, unless you want to enjoy solitude along the trail.
Hero (Top) Feature Image (& Additional Images): © Val Gerischer