Mullica River Trail – Wharton State Forest – Atsion, Shamong, Burlington County to Batsto, Hammonton, Atlantic County, NJ
Distance: 9.5 miles (can be done as a one night backpacking trip or as a day hike)
Type: One way
Difficulty: 3 of 10
Total score: 7 of 10
Terrain – forest, swamps, meadows
Trailheads – Atsion – 39°44’30.37″N, 74°43’33.55″W (next to ranger station/general store) – (5.5 miles to campsite from here)
Batsto – 39°38’33.67″N, 74°39’18.61″W (on dirt Batsto Lake Road) (4 miles to campsite from here)
Note – you can also
Directions: Atsion is located at 721 U.S. 206, Shamong, NJ 08088.
Batsto is located at 31 Batsto Road: Hammonton, NJ 08037. The trailhead is on the opposite side of Batsto Village from the Visitor’s Center, past the worker’s cabins. You can get to it directly on the dirt Batsto Lake Road, or walk over from the Visitor’s Center, which is how we left.
Parking – plenty of parking at Atsion next to the ranger station and mansion. Plenty of parking at Batsto in the visitor’s center lot.
Standouts – nice swamps, beautiful views of the Mullica River, and two of the best preserved iron towns in the pines. Plus, all of the other great stuff that comes with a trip to the pine barrens.
Camping – Mullica River Camp – 10 sites, book through Wharton State Forest at Reserveamerica.com
Map – Lost my copy!
Description: It was going to be the last day of work before summer. I had a whole summer ahead of me of stay-at-home-Daddom. But how to start it off right? The obvious answer – toddler’s first backpacking trip! I called up my buddy Skunk, who happened to have Thursday night off, and, hey-presto, backpacking trip! It would be the first for both of my traveling partners.
I knew that Wharton State Forest had just reblazed the Mullica River Trail after the fire back in May, so that would be our goal. I made campsite reservations, Skunk got us some freeze dried meals, The Pres grabbed his copy of Fred and Ted Go Camping, and away we went!
And by went, I mean, got stuck in traffic on Route 70. I knew I should have taken Tuckerton Road. Our 5:00 start turned out to be after 5:30. It was going to be a race to cover the 5 1/2 miles before dark.
The Mullica River Trail starts out in front of the Atsion Ranger Station, which used to be the general store. Make sure to pick up your camping permit there if you can be there before they close at 4 PM (hahahaha! No one ever gets there before they close).
The trail heads along the fence surround the mansion, cuts across the front lawn, and ends up on the dirt Quaker Bridge Road. You’ll see yellow trail markers start here on posts. It will continue, past the mansion, past the little swamp, past the hunting club and church, and past the old schoolhouse before turning left and heading into the woods.
The next section is through a very recently burned area. I’m shocked at how much green is coming up considering how recent this fire was. However, the bugs here were absolutely unbearable. The Pres was very upset (“honey bee! honey bee!” All bugs are honey bees) and I had a sinking feeling that our backpacking trip would be cut very short. Mercifully, the bug population drops exponentially as soon as you cross the tracks and leave the burn area.
Once you enter the woods, the trail is pretty much normal pine barrens trail. You’ll meander through pine forests, pass a few marshy areas, cross the road a few times, follows the road some other times, and touches the edge of the Mullica River every once in a while. About halfway to camp (pretty much exactly 2.75 in), you’ll reach where the Quaker Bridge Trail (purple) continues east and the Mullica River Trail (yellow) turns to head south toward Batsto.
At the halfway point, we took a break to celebrate. The Pres and Skunk had earned it.
By this point, we figured we had about an hour ’til the sun set, but we made good time. The trail parallels the road, which parallels the river, all heading South. You’ll pass the Wilderness Camps Connector Trail, then the trail joins the road (which cars are banned on) and runs straight down into the Mullica River Camp.
We had the whole place to ourselves, as the other nine campsites were empty. Tents went up, meals were cooked, and Fred and Ted was read again. The Pres had eaten dinner ahead of time, so he had snacks and shelf-stable milk. Skunk had his first backpacking freeze dried meal, we had a fire despite the rain most of the morning (but wow was it a lot of effort!), and then it was bed time a bit after 10. We read Fred and Ted one more time, said prayers, and went to sleep.
We were up at 7:30. Actually, since Skunk works the night shift usually, he never really went to sleep. By 8 we had eaten breakfast, broken camp, and cleaned up after ourselves and a few other people too. Day 2 was a nice four mile walk into Batsto.
The day started slow, as The Pres was still a little groggy (he woke up with the light at 7:30 and not when he was ready to get up), but promises of Mommy bringing doughnuts to pick us up got him going pretty quick. The first two miles of trail follows the same road that brought us into camp the night before, so the trail is not particularly exciting, although it does have some nice views of the river.
At the two mile mark for the day (halfway!), two things happen. Number 1 is that we read Fred and Ted Go Camping again (I swear I’m not being paid to endorse this book! Although it is the reason The Pres wanted to walk to a campground). #2 is that the trail left the road for a little bit. Most of the time, the trail was within easy site of the road, but different was good!
When the trail emerges onto the road next to Constable Bridge, it detours. It is supposed to cross the bridge and continue heading south to meet up with the Tom’s Pond Trail, which is a nice little trail in itself. But due to storm damage and a bridge being out, it’s been rerouted straight down Batsto Lake Road, which is straight ahead. This is going to be a detour for a long time, as they moved the metal blazes to follow the road until the trail is fixed. At least it makes it easy to follow your way, and you’ll be able to get views of Batsto Lake on your left as you head down. Eventually, you’ll see the canoe launch, then the fences that signify that you’ve reached Batsto, and then hit the trailhead (which is the trailhead for the detour, the actual Mullica River Trail, and the Tom’s Pond Trail). Skunk and The Pres have survived their first backpacking trip!
You can get picked up here, but it’s more likely your car or your ride is over at the parking lot. Ours was. You’ll head past the nature center and worker’s cabins, cross the bridge at the sawmill, pass the Batsto Mansion, and you’ll end up at the Batsto Visitor’s Center. People may look at you strangely. If there is any spring left in your step, ditch the pack and take a look around. Feeling really good? The Batona runs very close by, you could hike over and get another 35 miles or so in!
Overall recommendation: GREAT spot for a first backpacking trip, and doesn’t make a bad day hike either. The second half is definitely not as scenic as the first half, but if a stupid whippoorwill wakes you up at 4:30, you won’t care much.