Cameron Wildlife Sanctuary (Cape Map County Park North) – Palermo (or Marmora or Upper Township, all are technically correct) , Cape May County, NJ
Distance – 1.2 miles of trails (we did 1.7 miles with some backtracking, overlapping, and poking around)
Type – Mostly a lollipop
Difficulty: 1 of 10
Total score: 8 of 10
Website – Cape May County Website
Open – 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM. I was warned that the park gate is locked PROMPTLY at 4 PM, so make sure you are out of the gate.
Terrain – woodlands along small lakes
Trailheads – 39°14’24.56″N, 74°40’21.42″W
Directions – 1099 Route 9 South, Palermo, NJ
Parking – Large lot
Dog friendly? No dogs allowed on the property Sorry my four legged friends.
Stroller friendly? Very stroller friendly, about half the trail is paved, the other half is extremely well maintained.
Benches? TONS of benches, including swinging ones! Tons of great spots to take a seat and hang out.
Bathrooms? Port-a-potty on the site near the buildings toward the back of the park. No place to fill your water
Standouts – Highlight is series of very pretty little lakes left over from when sand was mined here. Also a herd of deer on the property, but I didn’t see any.
Markings – Wooden arrows.
Description – The last week of August, I took the babies to visit Grandma and Grandpa down the shore. One day, I had to sit around and work on work stuff (booo!) while my wife and her friend took the collective brood down to the beach.
So when I could take working no more, I headed out for the closest hike I had on my list, one about 10 minutes away in Palermo – Cameron’s Wildlife Sanctuary (aka Cape May County Park North). It was awesome.
The preserve is an old sand quarry, conviently located along the railline that ran from the mainland to Ocean City. Later, it was purchased as a private hunting ground by the Cameron family. When the last Cameron brother couldn’t use the property any longer, he donated it to the county for a park.
First warnings first, they are REALLY STRICT about the hours, and the extremely tall fence will make it really hard to get out if you get locked in. Get OUT by 4 PM!
The positive end of that? This is a BEAUTIFUL park and the first I’ve been to in a long time that didn’t have a single piece of litter or graffiti ANYWHERE in the park.
You start by walking from the parking area along the fence on a concrete path, which will lead past a picnic area to the the gate into the preserve proper.
From there, an unmarked trail heads right. DON’T follow that one (I’ll let you know where it goes at the end of the post. It’s not that exciting.) Instead, follow the paved pathway (which seems to be both the Red and Blue Trail. They overlap most of their length) straight down until you reach the buildings. Along the way, you’ll pass a totem pole, a side trail (this is Red Trail reconnecting with itself, we’ll get there!), a bench with a view of the lake (feel free to check this out now, or you can save it for later). While hiking this stretch, check out the drop off in elevation on the right side of the trail, all thanks to sand mining.
Once you get the buildings, stick with the paved path and curve around them. A view of the lake, featuring lilypads, will open up on the right side. What could make this view better? A SWINGING BENCH! I was now officially in love with this park.
The Red Trail will finally leave the pavement to the left here (although the pavement keeps going). This side split will head around another small pond. Look for the port-a-potty (the only bathroom in the park) to make sure you make the turn.
After reaching the back of the lake, the Red Trail takes a left turn just before the tiny dam release. It’s the first bit that looks like a trail, and its a short detour, but it leads into some reeds, around another pond, and over a small bridge that the very, very edge of the preserve. From here, you can look toward the ocean through the fence.
The trail immediately makes a right after the bridge, follows the edge of said third pond, and rejoins the “dirt road” trail from earlier about twenty feet down from where you left this trail a minute ago. It will wander past pond #2 until you reach the large pond that we started at. The trail will again leave the road here, splitting right to leave the pavement and get a closer look at the shoreline of the largest of the ponds. Don’t worry, plenty more benches on this stretch.
From the views, the trail heads back out to pavement and makes a right turn. It will then follow a piece of land that runs between two ponds, passes another pavilion, and goes all the way down to a third pavilion where the pavement finally runs out for good. Benches and swimming benches all along the way, many with worthwhile views.
With the pavement ending for real at a swamp, I turned to cross a bridge and follow dirt trails the rest of the way. The trail begins back around the far side of the lake, but not very close to the water. Within a short time, the Red and the Blue Trail, for the first time I could tell at least, split off from each other. The Blue Trail heads straight to finish going around the lake. The Red Trail heads left to meet back up with the pavement portion of the Red Trail near where we entered the preserve.
For now, I went Blue to finish the lake loop. It would continue on for 0.2 of a mile, with some nice views of the lake and a final climb over a ridge of sand leftover from the mining days. It would end by that optional bench that I pointed out on the first leg of this hike.
From here, you get back on the pavement and turn left. This is the original stretch of pavement you came in on, only now you are heading away from the buildings. At this point, you just go straight to the gate.
Then it was backtracking to the pavement and heading for the exit!
But wait, what’s that sand path without a label next to the information sign?
Despite the heat and not having eaten lunch yet, I really hate writing unit plans, so I decided to find out. It looks like it may once have been a blazed trail, and left back to a bench near the “near that last pavilion” bridge. But its not now (maybe its left over from before the bridge was put in?). And has a steep section. And the other trails are much nicer. So don’t worry about it, I have you covered.
So I went back out the gate for real this time, pausing only to check out the sign and flag pole at the entrance to the park (surprise! Another Eagle project) before I could find no more excuses, and was forced to go back and try to work out how much of my year I could devote to the Populist movement of the 1880s.
However, being the thorough (sometimes) writer that I am, I took the left split with the fences (also seen early in this post) to check out the other end of the Red Trail. It’s a very short (0.15 of a mile) bit through some woods, but nothing special. I definitely preferred the Blue Trail exit finishing the lake loop.
Overall recommendation – This park is small (you might get a mile a half out of it) with short hours, but totally worth making happen. The views are nice, the birds are nice, the swinging benches are nice, the whole park is great. I absolutely loved it.
Also, unit plans are the worst.