Batsto to Ongs Hat
3 days – 34 miles
Back in November, Skunk, Danny, Pat, and I went for a little three day, 34 mile stroll on the Batona Trail.
(Note: This is more adventure log and not so much trail info. For trail info, go to https://southjerseytrails.org/batonatrail/)
Day 1 – Batsto to Batona Campground – about 12 1/2 miles
Three of us managed to get off on Friday (sorry Danny), so we met at Batsto and, after getting our permits, headed off down the Batona. The first few miles flew and we walked through the areas that burned in the forest fire a few summers back.
The first bit of really interesting came when we found a brand new river. On a road. Where rivers aren’t supposed to be.
Man, it rained a lot in 2018.
We opted to head down the left side. That was a mistake, as we ended up in a swamp (normally a swamp?) with no good way to get through the well-above-out-boots water levels. We back tracked, found a log to put across the water, got to the other side, and bushwhacked down to where the trail dried up again. FUN! This fun new river was located between Batsto and Quaker Bridge, just a little before the bridge where Goodwater Road crosses Penn Swamp Branch.
The rest of the hike was uneventful, as we passed Quaker Bridge, Lower Forge Campground, and the Carranza Memorial. We hiked out of the dark and into camp at Batona Campground in a good mood, even if it was cold. We cooked dinners and attempted to start a fire, but the wood everywhere was soaked, and we couldn’t keep it going for long. Dan joined us and took a crack at making a fire, but also failed (and I can vouch, he’s really good at starting campfires). Hot chocolate had to substitute for fire.
Anyway, we went to sleep for a chilly night of rest.
Day 2 – Batona Camp to Brendan Bryne State Forest Campground – about 13 miles
We woke up to mid-20 degree temperatures. Fun!
The not fun part was taking Dan’s car, going back for our cars, then shuttling two of the cars to the end of our hike at Ong’s Hat. Guh. We also picked up our camping permit.
Which put us back at the campground around 10 to cook breakfast, and off hiking at 10:30. The goal for the day was 13 miles through Wharton State Forest and the Parker Preserve.
The first stretch is just about four miles from the campground to Apple Pie Hill, and used to be my favorite section of the trail. It starts following the road along the edge of the swamp until crossing the bridge over Skit Branch.
After crossing the bridge, the trail wanders through the woods, heading over a few wooden footbridges, before climbing Mount Korbar (Tea Time Hill) and then Apple Pie Hill. It’s a nice stretch and my hands were cold, so I didn’t get any pictures. Sadly, due to all the rain, the firetower was closed when we got there. Guess there isn’t much danger of wildfires when we are struggling (and failing) to set fires on purpose back at camp.
Luckily, after finishing the Carranza to Apple Pie Hill section of the Batona Trail (my old favorite section), you then hit the Batona Trail Reroute through the Parker Preserve, which is my current favorite part of the Batona. From Apple Pie Hill to Route 72 is 8.6 miles or so. Along the way, you’ll pass little bridges, beautiful cranberry bogs, and walk along old dikes.
There was, of course, flooding here too. The Drunken Hobbit Bridge was a mess, thanks part to rain and part to beavers. Danny and I were super excited for the adventure of a bridge that might dump us into the water at any second. Pat and Skunk had more sense and were a little more worried.
None of us went in here, so ADVENTURE ACHIEVED! (Note: this bridge had since been fixed up beautifully by the wonderful crew from the Outdoor Club of South Jersey that takes care of the Batona. They are amazing people, and the Batona was nearly unhikeable before they took it over).
We hiked on the rest of the day, racing the sun to try to make it out of the Parker Preserve before it went down (thanks short days of late November and a late start thanks to shuttling cars). But I couldn’t help stopping to take pictures a bunch of places.
We were ALMOST out of the Parker Preserve when we hit our old friend… massive trail flooding. It would have been impossible to go down the correct trail path without getting soaked (and with temperatures set to go below freezing again that night, that option seemed pretty terrible). We managed to bushwhack in a few spots around puddled, and had to sink some floating boards at one spot (boards placed to keep you above slightly damp areas. NOT meant to be floating. Thanks rain.). The water reached the tippy top of my boots at one point, but I managed to keep my feet dry. Not everyone else was as lucky.
Luckily, my favorite part of my favorite part of the Batona, a series of boards places over swampy areas between little islands, wasn’t too bad, although Dan and I did have to put a few boards back that had floated out of place.
We lost the sun as we entered Brendan Bryne State Forest, but managed to flashlight hike our way down to Pakim Pond, before making our way up the road to our campsite at Brendan Bryne Campground. The campsite was JAM PACKED thanks to a motocross rally scheduled for the next day, but we had booked well in the back corner of the campground, and enjoyed a BEAUTIFUL night of camping, made 1000% better by Dan refusing to take no for an answer and…
Day 3 – Brendan Bryne Campground to Ong’s Hat – just under 9 trail miles
Sunday, we woke up in the bitter cold, but we were excited to get one more day of backpacking in. We were joined by my friend Rich for this last day, because the more, the merrier!
We started out the morning following the trail around Pakim Pond.
We followed the trail over the seemingly endless series of small hills that make up the northern part of the Batona. The flooding was minimal, which was really nice.
We stopped for second breakfast at the Lebanon Fire tower, but I didn’t have the nerve to go up (that one has always made me more nervous than Apple Pie Hill) before pushing on the last few miles to the finish hat rack.
We celebrated a great 34 mile trip the best way possible, with Wawa gobblers. Poor Dan had heard us go on and on about these for about two days without having ever tried one…