North Branch Preserve – Pemberton, Burlington County, NJ
Distance – 1.1 miles total
Type – lollipop
Difficulty: 3 of 10 – Beginning of the trail was overgrown, trail markers sometimes scarce
Total score: 4 of 10
Website – Rancocas Conservancy
Open – Sunrise to Sunset.
Terrain – woods and creek
Trailheads – 39°57’44.44″N. 74°39’20.85″W (located off the parking lot, no trail sign)
Directions – Located on the Pemberton Bypass, directly across the street from the intersection with Duck Island Road
Parking – Small lot for 6 or 7 cars
Dog friendly? Yes
Stroller friendly? No (blow downs and trails not well cleared)
Standouts – Nice views of the creek
Markings – Yellow diamond markers nailed to trees
Description – Last Friday, I got out of work early, YAY! So I went home, grabbed The Pres and Tree Rider and headed for the North Branch Preserve in Pemberton. Finding the trailhead was easy since I had scouted it out before (it was not easy the first time), and we loaded up and headed in. Yay!
The first 50 yards or so, I had flashbacks of our cut-very-short hike at the nearby Cowan Nature Preserve, as the trail was narrow and not always obvious, which left The Pres confused on which way to go. We soon hit a power line clearing, after which the trail widened out to old road. This trail could use some TLC, but after that first, short stretch, we never had to worry about it being too narrow.
After crossing the power line cut and reentering the woods, we followed the old road for a stretch until our way was blocked by a blow down. We opted to take a hard right through the sticker bushes and down to the creak, then come back up again. We figured out on the way back that this wasn’t the shortest route, but we enjoyed the view of the river anyway.
We then climbed back up to the other side of the blow down, where the trail again became very clear and obvious. We continued onward.
The next obstacle was a yellow arrow at a split. To the right, the trail is blocked by a fallen tree (remember this, it’ll be important later). The arrow pointed left. We were unsure if it meant to take the left fork, or whether the trail somehow made a sharp turn here into the woods. It meant take the left fork. Now you know!
Soon after this, the trail gets weird. Again.
It splits left and right. Right is blocked by (you guessed it), a downed tree. There are no markers to indicate which way to go. Being the good outdoorsman that I am, I decided to let my four year old decide which way to go. He opted to go right over the dead tree (of course). We walked down a ways, past a cool little bog area that I didn’t get a picture of, through some head-high brush, and were just about to give up with this being the wrong way when… a marker! It was quite a ways down the trail, which was not very helpful.
I didn’t even get picture of this stretch, because I was convinced it was the wrong way. A few more yellow markers would have been infinitely helpful here!
However, this was the last major area of uncertainty for the hike (coincidentally, it was also pretty much exactly halfway through the hike). The trail, now well marked with markers, headed straight back to the creek, then turned right to head back in the direction that we had come.
We then came upon the scant remains of some old buildings. Maybe they were a small house? There wasn’t enough there to tell what they had been. It was pretty cool, and unsuspected, find.
In the last picture, you can see the way the trail headed (pretty much a straight line from the way we’d come in), which led down what I could only think of as an old. overgrown driveway. It followed the edge of the creek, and had a few small views of the water. We ended up back at that downed tree by the yellow arrow marker that I told you to remember. Yay! At this point, we discovered the trail was a lollipop.
We made the slight left and headed back toward the car. We had to go back around the first blowdown that we’d encountered (which we found a shorter, more direct route over this time) and across the power line cut.
We arrived back at the car with about 20 minutes of daylight to spare. Good adventure!
Overall recommendation – This is not the easiest trail to follow, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you have kids with little legs, need to use a stroller, don’t want to worry about tripping over things in the trail, or like knowing exactly where you are at all times.
However, for adventure, this trail was perfect and is recommended. The trail is tough to figure out at times, but never too tough. The trail has obstacles, but also stretches where you won’t have problems, so you aren’t bushwhacking the whole time. The swamp area would be great to check out, and you can poke among the ruins of the buildings.
So despite giving this trail a 4 out of 10, it was a perfect outing for us, and we all had a great time!
Nearby – The Pemberton Rail Trail and the Pemberton Wildlife Management Area are each nearby with trails, although we haven’t done either of them quite yet!