The Pinelands offers innumerable hiking opportunities through a variety of habitats and of any length the hiker desires. The longest marked trail in the Pinelands is the Batona Trail (standing for BAckTONAture), stretching from Brendan T. Byrne in the North to Bass River State forest in the South over a total of 52 miles. This trail, lovingly maintained by dedicated members of the NJ Outdoor Club, goes through some of the most interesting landscapes of the pines. On their journey, hikers will be able to see ancient hills, paleodunes, intermittent ponds, long abandoned cranberry bogs, old rail lines, ghost towns, and much more. The other trails of the Pines are often much shorter, ranging from 1-7 miles in length with the exception of the 19 mile Penn Swamp Trail, which is designated primarily for mountain biking in Wharton State Forest.
State lands and non-profit managed preserves offer day-hiking opportunities throughout the Pinelands. Most parks and preserves have marked trails, but there are also thousands of miles of old sand paths in the Pinelands that often have no markings, no designation, and are open for hiking and other low-impact activities.
If you want to do an extensive hike outside of marked trails, good planning is important to avoid getting lost among an often-confusing network of sand roads and trails, and to avoid finding yourself in wet, swampy areas or facing old wooden bridges or culverts that have long been washed away. Hikes through the pygmy pines are great for self-navigators, where an average height adult may find themselves at the level of the canopy in this wistful and unique Pinelands forest.
The New Jersey State Trail is currently in-progress. Planned to be 380 miles, will cross over 200 miles just in the Pinelands, primarily through Fish and Wildlife’s Wildlife Management Areas. PPA Volunteers have recently begun working to help blaze this new trail and we are excited to see it come together after the years of hard work from a small and dedicated team. This new hiking trail will most likely remain something of an adventure compared to other hiking trails in the Pinelands because of its length. The longer the trail, the harder it is to maintain, but some will certainly enjoy the ability to have a 200-mile wilderness experience in the middle of the most densely populated state in the nation.
Best Hikes and Great Trails in the Pine Barrens:
The forested acres of Belleplain include stands of young pine, oak and Atlantic white cedar, reflecting better soil conditions and less damage by fire than found in the Pine Barrens just north of the forest. Belleplain State Forest was established in 1928 by the State of New Jersey for recreation, wildlife management, timber production, and water conservation. Several nature trails traverse the area.
Black Run Preserve is a 1300-acre preserve owned by Evesham Township and managed by the Friends of the Black Run Preserve. Surrounded by suburban development, it is an oasis of nature that has preserved pristine habitats and water quality. A system of marked trails makes it easy to explore. Old cranberry bogs in the long process of returning to nature provide beautiful perspectives and excellent bird watching.
Brendan T. Byrne State Forest has more than 25 miles of marked trails. The various trails and loops provide challenges ranging from long single-track hiking trails to a trail accessible for people with disabilities. The Batona Trail is designed for hiking, cross country skiing, and snow shoeing. The Mount Misery Trail allows visitors the additional option of mountain biking, and the Cranberry Trail allows for access by wheelchairs in addition to all the other uses listed above.
Cape May National Wildlife Refuge was established as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System in 1989. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has acquired about 11,500 acres and the refuge continues to grow. Ultimately, the refuge will protect 21,200 acres of precious wildlife habitat in New Jersey’s Cape May Peninsula. Cape May National Wildlife Refuge’s key location in the Atlantic Flyway makes it an important link in the vast nationwide network of National Wildlife Refuges. It ensures availability of critical habitat to hundreds of thousands of migratory birds each year, as these long-distance flyers travel along the New Jersey coast.
Cattus Island Park (Ocean County Parks) is almost 500 acres in size and boasts miles of trails, many offering lovely vistas of the adjacent Silver Bay. Cattus Island is home to the Cooper Environmental Center, where visitors of all ages will enjoy many displays and collections of snakes and reptiles, as well as numerous programs and presentations. Check out this video of Cattus Island Park.
Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, located 10 miles north of Atlantic City, is composed of two separate Divisions, Barnegat in the north and Brigantine in the south. Nearly 80 percent of Forsythe Refuge is tidal salt meadow and marsh, interspersed with shallow coves and bays. Most of the remainder of the refuge acreage is woodlands dominated by pitch pines, oaks, and white cedar, with some fields which are maintained to provide habitat diversity. More than 6,000 acres are designated as Wilderness Area. Each spring and fall, thousands of water birds stop at Forsythe Refuge during their long migrations. There is a boardwalk trail into the salt marshes and maritime forest.
The Franklin Parker Preserve, managed by New Jersey Conservation Foundation, is now more than 10,000 acres in the heart of the Pine Barrens. This is the largest private land conservation acquisition in the state. Adjacent to 250,000 acres of state preserved lands, the preserve is home to sandy roads that wind through pitch pine forest, blueberry fields, shallow lakes and pristine streams. The property is available for passive recreation and can be accessed by the public from points along County Routes 563 and 532.
This short video tells the story of the Franklin Parker Preserve:
Island Beach State Park’s Discovery Trails System provides a self-guided experience through the nine plant communities of a barrier island. Wayside exhibits located along each trail interpret the natural and cultural stories of the park. There are a total of 8 trails, each under one mile. For a copy of the Discovery Trails brochure and map, please contact the Park Office.
Parvin State Park is situated at the edge of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The Parvin Natural Area combines many of the characteristics and species of southern New Jersey and the Pine Barrens. Several trails run through the hardwood and Atlantic white cedar swamps, pitch pine lowlands and upland pine and oak forests. Parvin is home to the state-threatened barred owl and the endangered swamp pink.
Penn State Forest’s wilderness attracts picnickers and hikers. Lake Oswego, a result of an upstream dam that was constructed to create a reservoir for a downstream cranberry operation, is suitable for canoeing and fishing. The Pine Barren Plains, known locally as the Pygmy Forest, contains trees that may attain a height of only about four feet at maturity. New Jersey contains the world’s largest acreage of this globally rare forest community, which can be seen within portions of Penn State Forest.
While outside of the Pinelands boundary, the Rancocas Creek is the idyllic setting for hiking and nature observation in this rustic park. The Audubon Society operates a nature center within the park and sponsors wildlife programs. A network of trails wanders through upland and lowland hardwood forest, leading hikers along the North Branch of the Rancocas Creek and an extensive freshwater tidal marsh. The diversity of the landscape provides habitat for numerous species of birds and animals. The natural area features a self-guided interpretive trail with highlighted points of interest.
Webb’s Mill Boardwalk is a little hard to find but well worth the effort. Explore this cedar swamp without getting your feet wet! The boardwalk trail allows you to explore scattered sphagnum hummocks that rise above a sand base often covered by about an inch or two of water. Here, beautiful orchids, pitcher plants, sundews and other characteristic Pinelands flowers thrive. Directions: From 4 Mile Circle get on Rt. 72 east towards Long Beach Island. Turn left (north) onto Rt. 539 north and proceed 6.2 miles. Park on the side of the road by the bridge that crosses Webb’s Mill Branch. Be careful, as cars and trucks drive fast on this road.
Wells Mills Park (Ocean County Parks) has the distinction of being the largest park in the Ocean County park system with over 900 acres of pine and oak forest within southern New Jersey’s environmental marvel known as the Pine Barrens. Miles of hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty can be found here, including a “VIP” (Visually Impaired Persons) Trail.
Wharton State Forest is the largest single tract of land within the New Jersey State Park System and has a superb visitors center at Batsto Village. Throughout Wharton are miles of marked hiking trails (including a major section of the Batona Trail), as well as unpaved roads for mountain biking and horseback riding, and numerous lakes, ponds and fields ideal for wildlife observation.