Blue Hole Trail – Winslow Wildlife Management Area – Winslow, Camden County, NJ
Distance: 1.6 miles round trip
Difficulty: 3 of 10. – Mostly due to giant puddles you have to navigate around in the road (which the trail is on)
Total score: 5 of 10.
Terrain – Mostly sand roads through the pines, with a bit of marsh.
Trailheads – 39° 37.196’N, 74° 53.797’W
Directions: Off of Piney Hollow Road, behind the archery range.
Standouts – The Blue Hole.
Markings – White circles with a blue blaze in the middle.
Description: So years ago, I got into the “Weird NJ” of the 1930s – the books of Henry Charlton Beck. They quickly became some of my favorite books of all time, and remain so more than a decade later. For those of you who have never heard of Beck, he was a reported for the Courier Post 80 some years ago. The story goes that, on a slow news day, his editor sent him out to run down the story on one of those tiny crossroads that has an interesting name, but that no one seems to know about – Ong’s Hat. He grabbed a photographer/mechanic and hopped into his Ford Model-something or another and went off to figure out about Ong’s Hat. He got there, discovered a tiny hamlet of a couple of buildings and only one guy, but a fascinating history/story/folklore. His article came out, and he was hooked. He’d venture out scores of more times, traveling the length and breadth of New Jersey tracking down interesting places and people to write about. Eventually, he’d author a series of books based on those articles, the first two of which are titled Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey.
The fascination with the Pine Barrens and the State of New Jersey was not Beck’s alone, and 70 years after his first book came out, my buddy Mike and I (all of my friends are named Mike, just like me) started exploring the Pine Barrens in earnest. We’d both had a lot of exposure as Boy Scouts, but owe wanted to go rediscover those places we’d seen as Scouts, and find ones we’d never seen. We both dove into Beck. One of the first places we decided to visit was the famous Blue Hole of Winslow (as covered by Beck in his book More Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey).
The Blue Hole is legendary. According to Beck (who never let a good story get in the way of the truth), it was bottomless and cold year round, yet never froze over all the way in winter. Many folks had drowned swimming in it, pulled down into it’s icy depths (perhaps by the Jersey Devil). The water was supposed to be bring blue, as contrasting with the usual iced tea colored Egg Harbor River within ten steps or so of the Blue Hole. How could we not go find it? So find it we did. And it was a great day. We even had a crappy website on angelfire called “Adventures in the South Jersey Woods” where we shared our pictures (haha, remember angelfire?).
Eleven years later, I was in the area, so I figured I’d stop in a visit the Blue Hole. Crappy phone cameras on track phones were better than the camera I’d owned at the time, so I figured I could snap some quick pictures. Problem is, despite the upgrades in technology (Mike and I used to get by on memory, county maps, a few topo maps we sprang for, and a healthy amount of “I’m sure we’ll see it.”), I couldn’t figure out where it was. I remembered you had to park at the gun range (I remember hearing shotguns the entire time we explored back in 2003), but I couldn’t find any gun range! After a half hour of aimlessly driving down dirt roads in the Winslow Wildlife Refuge, I couldn’t seem to end up on the correct side of the river. While I had fun driving around back there, I had to give up on the Blue Hole, and I headed home.
The next week, armed with some help from my favorite pine barrens message board, and backed by my two year old, I went back in search. He fell asleep in the car right before we got there. Thanks dude. Anyway, I found the correct lot! The gun range is gone (apparently long gone), but I knew I was in the right place as soon as I parked. Mom sat with sleepy head in the car while I tried to retrace my steps.
Once I was on the trail, it was easy. Just follow the road (complete with massive trail markers) down a ways. The road is definitely more chopped up than I remember it. There were times I had trouble walking it, and I definitely, definitely, definitely recommend NOT driving down it.
It was the first really beautiful day in months (and months and months), so I took my time coming up the road. I hadn’t been in the pines in two months, so all the more reason to go slow. Eventually, the road splits left, and the “trail” goes right. Just follow the ridiculously massive blazes, you can hardly miss them.
Once the road ends, you end up on a very wide and spacious trail, which leads maybe 1/4 mile to the Blue Hole itself.
Now, the Blue Hole ain’t what she used to be. For starters, she isn’t very clear (although still not the same brown color that most pine barrens waterways are). She is quite obviously not bottomless either. The thought is that she might have filled in a bit over the years. I’m not sure, but the walk is still nice, no matter if the Blue Hole doesn’t blow you away.
A couple paces away is the Egg Harbor River. Once upon a time, a bridge crossed it, but it’s been washed out at least as long as I’ve been alive.
When you’ve had your fill of waiting for the Jersey Devil to come take a bath, it’s right back the way your came.
Overall recommendation: The Blue Hole is hardly spectacular, but the walk through the woods on a nice day is worth the effort anyway!
Other pics from 2003, because I took them, I might as well share them.