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Wells Mills County Park – Waretown (Ocean Township), Ocean County, NJ
Distance – 14.5 miles of hiking trails, plus a 3+ mile bike trail (the boys and I did just over two miles, my friend Pat and I returned another day to take on the 8 1/2 mile Penns Hill Trail [labeled on the map at the Macri Trail])
Type – Series of looping trails
Difficulty: 3 of 10 – bit of mud, but it had been raining for a whole week
Updated: September 2, 2017

Website – http://www.oceancountyparks.org/ContentPage.aspx?ID=41fee2db-374d-49a2-a7ae-f17b5acc6c92
Open – Sunrise to Sunset.

Terrain – Lakeside, meadow, forest, and swampland

Trailheads – Trail system starts at the nature center –  39°47’39.90″N,  74°16’37.66″W

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Directions – 905 Wells Mills Road Waretown, NJ 08758

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Parking – Large parking lot

Markings – Trails blazed with various colors.

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Dog friendly? Unsure, call ahead
Stroller friendly? Some trails would be doable with a heavy duty stroller (especially the Yellow Trail and the Pink Trail), but NOT the White Trail or Blue Trail.
Benches? Yes, scattered throughout the trail system

Facilities?: Bathrooms at the Nature Center




Map – Trail map can be found here

Our second visit – the Penns Hill Trail (8.4 mile trail)

So it’s a thousand degrees outside (okay, only upper 90s) at 10,000% humidity (actual percentage of humidity) and you are heading out with your buddy to do something… What to do? I know…. hiking!  8 1/2 miles of it!  And let’s start around 11 AM!

Hence Pat and I drove the hour to Wells Mills on a scorching day to take on the Penns Hill Trail (labeled on maps at the Macri Trail).  We parked, grabbed a map at the nature center, and entered the trailhead located on the lake behind the nature center.

The trail starts along the lake and past a cabin. Just after the cabin, turn left and walk out on the dock for a beautiful view of the lake.

Then its back on the trail, which passes through a cedar swamp.  There are lots of little boardwalks and bridges here, it’s the reason that I HAD to come back here and hike the rest of this trail.



After a bridge, the Blue Trail will begin on your right side, but we were sticking with White blazes today.  The cedar swamp continued for a bit, then began to climb as we crossed the Green Trail and Yellow Trail in quick succession.

Crossing the Yellow Trail.

After we finished crossing these trails, it would be over three miles before we crossed another one (Ridge Road with the Yellow and Green Trails at Mile 3.7).  Yay!  The trail entered a hilly section, and we had a good bit of up and down on this stretch.  We spotted blueberries, but were bummed that they were still a few weeks from being widely edible.  We picked a few ripe ones as we went along our merry way.  2 1/2 HOT miles and an hour into our trip, we (okay, just me) collapsed at the top of Penn Hill for a break.  I forgot to take a picture, but there is a bench at the top of the hill, towering 126′ above sea level.

 

Just a few blueberries ready to go…

Very short trail relocation (like, maybe 200 feet).



One of the cool parts of the trail is that the high bushes (many blueberries) make parts of the trail seem really, really isolated. It’s a great feeling.

Make new friends!

Luckily, we found a Super Mario mushroom right after the goomba ran into Pat.



I cant remember EXACTLY what pictures were before and after the hill, so I’m guessing about here is where we took our break.  Some water and some sit down time in the shade made us feel much better, and away we went.  The stretch of trail was still really hilly, dropping down to bridges.  One, marked as crossing a stream, was totally dry.  This, however marked the trails closest venture toward Laurel Hill, towering at 130′ of elevation.

Not a huge concern this day about being wet or frozen.

Steps!

This bridge is marked as having a stream under it, but didn’t. It’s just below the ridge of Laurel Hill.

We continued on another half mile from this dry stream until we reached Ridge Road at 3.7 miles into our trip, which is where the white blazes rejoined with the Yellow and Green ones.

More steps! Told you it was hilly.

The best part of this stretch was that we started passing more blueberry bushes, and these ones were brimming with ready-to-eat berries.  We happily ate as we walked.  This would continue for good stretches for the rest of the hike, it was great.

Also, blueberries!



Step over the fence rail, and you’re on Ridge Road!

Checking the map, you’ll notice that this trail intersection is actually outside of the county park and on the Joseph Citta Boy Scout Reservation.  They are nice enough to let part of the trail system cut through their property, be nice enough to stay on the trails!

At this intersection, we turned right to stay with the White blazes as they followed the green and yellow ones.  The trails turned left at a gate that takes you further into the Scout camp, the continues along the road until crossing a bridge over Oyster Creek.

Shortly after you cross this bridge, the Penns Hill Trail will turn left, leaving the Green and Yellow Trails.

It would be more than two more miles until we crossed another trail.  Until then, we had a few more little bridges, some shady forest, some wide open (and very hot) stretches, and lots and lots of blueberries.  After two miles, we crossed the green and yellow trails again, where we took another break.


Break!

We then took the stretch of the White Trail that was on its own.  It crossed a road, passed through a burned area, then crossed a good sized bridge (labeled on map).

Deer!

We then passed a marker for 7 miles of trail!

This was a bit odd, because we hadn’t passed a marker for miles 1 through 6, but that’s fine!  1.4 miles to go!

We crossed another good sized bridge (also on the map) and soon crossed Morey’s Road in good shape.

We were felling great despite the heat and then… THE PINE FLIES!  Between Morey Road and Wells Mills Road, were were besieged by them.  It was really awful!

Trying to take a picture AND swat at flies.

But when we made the left turn onto Wells Mills Road (rejoining the Green and Yellow Trails, which we’d follow to the end), the flies went away and we enjoyed the last 1/3 of a mile or so.  We crossed a bridge, walked out on the dam to see the lake, and then finished at the Nature Center.

Pat is sitting because Pat ran from the flies. Pat is smarter than me.

Passing the pink trail on the white trail! To see what’s on this, see the second half of this post where we explored it.

8 1/2 miles in the blazing heat accomplished!  We celebrated by guzzling even more water.  Yay!

Our first visit – Blue Trail, Pink Trail, Tree Trail, and the Nature Center (3 miles of hiking)

It was The Wife’s day to sleep in, so I decided to take Tree Rider and The Pres out of the house at the crack of down, drive most of the way across the state, and check out a park I’ve been hearing great things about since I started this blog – Wells Mills County Park.  That’s not a typo, there were two mills here at one point, so take that grammar police.

We ended up here pretty early and went down the short path, path the bathrooms (complete with Smokey the Bear sign on the outside) to the visitors center/nature center.

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The Conrad Trail (Blue Trail) with bit of the Penns Hill Trail (White Trail) to create a loop (about 1.5 miles total):

After talking with the ranger, we decided that our best bet was the Conrad Trail (the blue trail on the maps).  To read this trailhead, we had to take the Penns Hill Trail (white) from just in front of the Visitor’s Center in a westerly direction along the lake.

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On the Penn Hill Trail, a miracle occurred right away – Tree Rider wanted to HIKE.  While he was given the nickname Tree Rider for other reasons, this second kid of mine has wanted nothing more than to ride in his pack from the time he was first going on hikes with the family (about two weeks old… I know, I’m ashamed we started him so late).  Usually, when put on the ground, he’ll just point at the pack and say “Up!  Up!”  But this time, he wanted to follow his older brother.  Unfortunately, he decided he wanted to start his real hiking career on a path littered with roots and small steps up and down.  This is nothing for an adult, or even his brother, but Tree Rider is still working on his walking, so he fell down a lot.  But he smiled the whole time.

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My navigator

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Almost immediately when entering the trail, you’ll pass what is either an employee break cabin, a caretaker lodge, or both.  Right after this is the canoe put in, a dock that juts out into the lake.  We, of course, had to walk out and see what there was to see.

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What to see?  Beautiful lake.

Afterward, back on the Penns Hill trail, we worked our way through some beautiful swampy areas, including my favorite – cedars.  We crossed one bridge, then, just before the second bridge, hit the trailhead for the Conrad Trail.   While I’m not sure the exact distance, I’d say this was a bit more than a 1/4 mile between the start of the white trail and the trailhead of the blue trail.  We turned right to take the blue Conrad Trail.

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Leaving the Penns Hill (White) Trail to get on the Conrad (Blue) Trail.

Right at the beginning, the Conrad Trail was a little muddy, requiring me to scoop up Tree Rider and put him in the pack.  He was okay with this, because he can see better from up high.

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The Conrad Trail loops through some wet areas, over some boardwalks, and through a tiny patch of mud (the only we encountered on the trails this day despite a week of solid rain).

After crossing one more long walkway, the trail then emerges into the standard, but beautiful, pine barrens “lots of pine trees everywhere” terrain.

Finally, you emerge into the big field across from the visitor’s center, completing the Conrad (Blue) Trail.

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We were still full of energy after this first hike, so we decided to take another hike on the…

Cold Brook Trail (aka Shrub Id Trail.  Aka Pink Trail) – 0.70 miles

To get to this trail, take the White/Green/Yellow to the left (if you are facing the lake with the Visitor’s Center at your back).  Walk just a short distance (make a tenth of a mile), and the pink trail will be on your left.

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This trail is labeled as a shrub ID trail on the map, but we didn’t think to ask for a paper to tell us what the numbered signs along the way were depicting.  Might be a good idea for this one.

Anyway, it sets off down what was obviously a road, with all the excitement that comes from walking down a road where you can still see the visitors center most of the time.  Hang in there, it will get better.

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When you hit the large pile of wood, the trail will head off to the right into the woods.

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The trail immediately gets a lot more trail like.  You’ll head through a nice patch of woods, go downhill slightly, and head to the edge of a swamp.

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I love the bend in this tree that overhangs the trail.

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Down the hill!

Unlike the other trails, this one just skirts the swamp at its edge, but it’s still a lovely bit of scenery.  The trail will go along the edge of the swamp, then head back up a very slight hill.

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The trail a few turns, then you’ll emerge back onto the Yellow/Green Trail, which is more or less a road at this point.

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End of the trail.

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As I said, road like.

Turn right and you’ll be heading the short distance to the visitor’s center.

Other things in the park:

Don’t miss the view of the lake from the dam near the start of the Cold Brook Trail, just a short distance from the Visitor’s Center.

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Photo credit – The Pres.  He’s getting pretty good.  For a 3 year old.

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The Visitor’s Center/Nature Center also has some awesome stuff to see –

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Nearby – I’ve been dying to this for over a decade, and just never have, but the legendary Albert Music Hall is in Waretown. Folk, country, and pinelands music every Saturday night since 1974. Come watch, or bring your own instrument and join the folks in the pickin’ shed.

Boy Scout Note – Scouts, this trail system connects with the trail system of Jersey Shore Council’s Joseph A Citta Scout Reservation.

The Good

beautiful cedar swamps, lovely lake, acres and acres of pinelands

The Could Be Better

We had no problems, but I have heard ticks here can he really bad in season.

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Bottom Line

I LOVE this park. Well worth visiting! Love it more after the Penns Hill Trail, which is one of my new favorites in South Jersey.

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  • Jim Ryan
    January 18, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    Excellent choice of hiking trails — definitely worth the drive to! Was just to Wells Mills last summer; did the full Penns Hill Trail. I was hoping to also cover the Conrad Trail (as I hadn’t hiked that one in a while), but ran out of time. However, thanks to your pix, I’m reminded of how nice the trail is, and will make it a point to do that one again later this year! Would definitely recommend doing the full Penns Hill Trail (8.4 miles of Pinelands Heaven); although, maybe not in late spring/early summer, as the flies can be extremely invasive (especially in one section of PHT that is a little more “open”)! Anyway — I’ll be looking out for your PHT write-up someday!

    Jim

  • January 21, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    Wells Mills is probably the best hiking in the Pinelands. the Penn Hill trail is my favorite. Thanks for sharing this nice piece of the Pines!

  • Debbie
    January 23, 2017 at 6:44 am

    I had passed this place on the way to LBI before and thanks to ur post I just checked it out! Love, love, love this place ! The forest there has such a great feel to it, I will definitely be doing more here, it’s beautiful! Thanks for posting all of the great places in our area, I’m always looking for a new place to try and your posting has led me to quite a few great hikes! Did I read that you are from Barrington? Me too!

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