Happy 10th Birthday to us – today South Jersey Trails turns 10 years old! In celebration of 10 long years, we are doing a series of birthday posts. Look, here’s one right now!
Five years ago, we had hiked just over 160 trails in South Jersey, so we came up with our list of the Top 20 Hiking Trails in South Jersey. Well, another 5 years and close to another 100 new-to-us trails, it’s about time for another Top 20 list! That turned into a Top 25 list (and threatened to become a Top 30 list) because it’s too hard to leave so many great trails off the list!
Click on the name of the trail for a link to our full write up of that hike, which includes things like where to park, if dogs are allowed, if there are benches, any maps that are available, and lots of terrible puns in our write ups of our adventures there, and links to official websites that may have current conditions and hours.
Also feel free to fiercely (but kindly) debate in the comments, as I know I’ve been arguing with five-years-ago me for weeks over this list.
Honorable Mention – They didn’t quite make the list as hikes, but Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge (who do amazing work rehabilitating hurt wildlife and have great nature programs) is a hike we do at least 2-3 times a year and is an amazing stop for kids and adults alike. Whitesbog is also one that didn’t quite make it as a hike, but their historic buildings, historic programs, and annual Blueberry Festival are all fantastic.
25) Petty’s Island – Pennsauken, NJ – 2 1/2 miles
A huge island in the Delaware River with tons of history, possible bald eagles, and views of Camden, the Barnegat Lightship, and the best view on a hike of the Philadelphia skyline? Yes! Yes! Yes! How does a hike like that end up so far down the list? It’s only open through guided tours from the Center for Aquatic Sciences until the State of New Jersey opens it, which is already two years overdue (seriously, don’t trespass, it’s patrolled and has a guard booth). But it’s totally worth trying to snag a ticket for one of the guided hikes here. I recommend the history walk with Bob Shinn, which I’ve been lucky enough to go on twice.
24) Timber Creek Park – Glendora, NJ – about 5 miles of trails
There was almost a family row over this one just being out of the Top 20 (thankfully expanded to Top 25), as it ranks very highly among 8 Year Olds Who Live in My House. Formerly Slim’s Ranch (where I first rode a horse!), this park features nice, wide dirt trails above Timber Creek, a separate paved walking path, a little lake, and a very popular dog park. Cooper River Park has more visitors and money put into it, but this is our favorite county park in Camden County.
23) Blueberry Hill Trails – Gibbsboro, NJ – 3 miles of trails
The view of Philadelphia from the top of the hill is getting harder and harder to see each year (trees man, trees), but this is still a great walk through a patch of pine barrens outlier, with chances to look into what one person told me they refer to as “the Grand Canyon of South Jersey” (an active sand mining pit next door). Gibbsboro Gardens at the beginning of the hike is also a highlight here. Sadly, no Fats Domino appearances here yet (that I am aware of).
22) PSE&G Commercial Township Wetland Restoration Site Nature Trail – Commercial Township, NJ – 2 miles one way, 4 miles out-and-back
Most people are surprised to hear that New Jersey was once an oyster harvesting powerhouse, and the capital of that industry were the twin towns of Bivalve and Shellpile. This 2 mile (one way) boardwalk trail takes you out over the salt marshes at Bivalve. Note that this is NOT a good Summer hike unless there is a very strong, consistent breeze, or you will be carried away by mosquitos and green head flies into the marshes. Of course, no trip down to this part of Down Jersey is complete without visiting the Bayshore Center, home of the AJ Meerwald, which you can drive to or is a short side trip from this trail.
21) Elephant Swamp Trail – Elmer to Elk Township, NJ – 6 miles one way, 12 miles round trip
Some folks don’t like this trail because it’s a rail trail, which makes it flat, wide, and almost straight. I think they are just scared that the elephant will walk down the trail looking to steal their peanuts. For a wide, flat trail, this offers a nice diversity of swamp, farm, and field views along the way, and we always enjoy coming here.
20) Willingboro Lakes Park – Willingboro, NJ – 3 miles of trails
Formerly Olympia Lakes, Burlington County Parks (who have a great park system, it’s not an accident so many of their parks are on this list) closed this park for a few years and completely overhauled it. It now features the same pretty lake (actually, lakes) and trails that run between two bodies of water, but now has a well marked and mapped trail system to go with a beautiful spot, plus a picnic area and playground.
19) Parvin Lake Loop – Parvin State Park, Elmer, NJ – 3.1 miles
Parvin State Park is a great spot to go for a paddle, a swim (at the lifeguard staffed beach), or to camp, but it’s also a great spot for hiking. Our favorite here is the Parvin Lake Loop, which offers beautiful lake views, some fun swamp to explore, and views of the river, but there are miles more trails here to explore. Don’t miss the exhibit on the Civilian Conservation Corp, President Roosevelt’s jobs program during the Great Depression to put young people to work building and improving parks around the country, including Parvin!
18) Birch Grove Park – Northfield, NJ – maybe 4 miles of trails, but many closely packed. 2 miles is a normal walk here.
Any trails looking to get on our 15th Anniversary list in 2028 need to look no further than building lots of little bridges. The kids (and dad) go crazy for little bridges. Birch Grove Park near Atlantic City couldn’t be a better little bridges spot. A series of old sand mines filled with water, the town has built dozens of footbridges so that you can explore between the zillion little lakes. They even built a covered bridge footbridge. Yes, a covered bridge footbridge. There are also tons of birds to see here, who come for the footbrid… small lakes.
17) Cloverdale Farm County Park – Barnegat Township, NJ – 1.5 miles
Ocean County Parks makes their first appearance on our list. They have a fantastic series of parks, all of which are worth visiting, and all which threatened to swamp my list. This one is short at only a mile and half, but it’s a tiny gem with a lot of reward for not a lot of effort – cranberry bogs and old farm buildings.
For some reason, this is the hike that seems to most frequently thwart hikers who read our blog and leave comments, but it’s worth the risk if you don’t mind 10 miles! Starting at Pakim Pond, it waggles it’s way out to Mount Misery Camp (private property) through lots of pitch pines and a few cedars before coming back through the old Lebanon Bogs, which you’ll want to stop and spend some time at! I haven’t had an issue the few times I’ve hiked it, but keep a sharp eye out for trail markers and consider using a trail app to help you keep track of where you are.
We have absolutely loved this placed since I first wandered down here after seeing a picture on the early days (for me) of the Internet. A set of massive defensive works to defend enemies trying to come up the Delaware River to attack Philadelphia, this state park now offers picnicking and some short hikes to explore these massive gun emplacements. The trail allows you to go up, over, and through parts of the defensive works, a very unique hike in South Jersey.
14) Amico Island County Park – Riverside, NJ – 2 miles
Our first trip to Amico Island (not really an island) in the early days of the blog was a slippy, sloppy, icy mess where I had to carry a small toddler in my arms while trying not to wipe out. It was a fun adventure, but didn’t show off the island in all its glory. A dozen visits later, we’ve fallen hard for this island and love coming here over and over for the views, the birds (especially the rookery across the water in the Winter), the odd piles of large rocks at the north end, and sitting by the ponds. Burlington County Parks can really do parks.
13) Tatt Starr Trail – Glades Wildlife Refuge, Downe Township, NJ – 2 miles round trip
Glades Preserve in Dividing Creek is a part of South Jersey that many folks never get to – the Bayshore. It has a series of short trails and a kayak trail. The best, which you need to time carefully with the tides, is the Tatt Starr Trail (no relation to Sally Starr… that I know of). This trail is the highlight, a walk through the woods that leads to a walk over boards out into the marshlands. It feels like a whole other world out there, especially the further out you go. Three things to be careful of – come at low tide so you can go all the way out (we messed that up… three times), don’t come during bug season, because the greenheads and mosquitos will carry you screaming out into the marshes, and wear blaze orange if you go during hunting season. If you work out those three things, you’ll have a magical experience. The other trails in the preserve are also well worth doing, as is the drive out to Turkey Point where kids I was in Scouts with years ago seem to keep getting the most stunning star shots every near the bridge.
12) Cape May Point State Park – Cape May, NJ – 3.2 miles
This park isn’t really much of a secret, about 2.35 million people come here each year (Note- check sources) to climb the lighthouse and check out the old WWII gun emplacement. The secret is that there are also hiking trails here, and they are fantastic. Cape May offers world class birding (I’ve been accused by former teachers and also by blog readers [rightfully so] of loving hyperbole too much, but there is no hyperbole in that statement at all). Take time to walk the trails here, keeping an eye out for our feathered friends along the way. The worst case scenario is that you get some new and interesting views of the lighthouse, which is worth the trip by itself. It didn’t separately make the list because they are neighbors, but South Cape May Meadows is next door with a connecting trail, so you can expand your hike through that park as well, which is the site of a ghost town, which mostly washed out to sea. Sunset Beach and the WWII Watchtower down the street make this into a great half day road trip.
11) Manumuskin River Preserve – Millville, NJ – maybe 7 or 8 miles of trails
This is one of those places that makes the South Jersey social media Internet explode once in a while when someone posts a picture of the water here and it looks like the Caribbean. And it totally does look like that… unless you come during the rain like we did the first time. Unlike many of these misnomered “blue holes” (which are old sand quarries, as opposed the the geologic blue holes like the one in Winslow WMA), for this one access is allowed without getting arrested (although swimming, alcohol, and offroad vehicles are not). You can wander around here all day discovered beautiful views and, if you are super lucky like I was once, an otter.
So why isn’t this higher? This is the hike on the list that I would not recommend for just anyone, you need to be experienced or go with someone who is. There aren’t any trail maps. There are tons of trails, but not in any organized or marked way. Some of the trails don’t really connect. Even finding this place was by the rumor method for a very long time. You could wander around all day discovering beautiful views, but you could also wander around here completely lost and unable to get back to your car.
Still, amazing spot!
Check in next week for our Top… no, I’m just kidding. Makes me crazy when websites do that.
10) Black Run Preserve – Evesham, NJ – around 15 miles of trails
I’ve said a lot of nice things about Black Run over the years, and I’ll keep right on saying them, PLUS new nice things, because there are always improvements going on here. Wonderful hiking trails around old cranberry bogs. Chances to see lots of wildlife. A mountain bike trail. A 5K course. An infestation of beavers that keep flooding trails BUT MEANS YOU CAN SEE A BEAVER HERE (had better luck here than anywhere else!). The parking lots are now larger. Programs and classes (had a great sunset photograph group hike here). A great, great spot.
9) Wells Mills County Park – Waretown, NJ – 14.5 miles of trails
As previously stated, Ocean County has awesome parks. The Penn Hill Trail here is a favorite, just over 8 miles through a cedar swamp, along a lake, and through huge swaths of pine barrens. Trails are all well marked and easy to follow. Blueberries to snack on if you go the right time of year (makes up for the heat!). It’s darn near close to a perfect pine barrens hike.
8) Historic Smithville Park – Eastampton, NJ – 4.1 miles
Sometimes I worry I put Smithville so high in my head because I’m blinded by the fact that Hezekiah Smith owned a carriage that he had pulled by a moose. Then I remember the variety of trails here, how nice Rancocas Creek is, the remains of the town of Smithville, all of factory ruins, and that floating trail on the lake. Who puts a floating trail in? Smithville, that’s who. A FLOATING TRAIL!!!!
To be honest, the cedar swamp and loooooong boardwalk here probably would have been enough to put this on the list. But throw in the remains of a World War I munitions factory complex scattered all over the trail system of this park and it makes for a really special hike.
6) Cattus Island County Park – Toms River, NJ – 7 miles of trails
The final Ocean County Park on the list and the highest rank county park on the list- Cattus Island explores that unusual habitat that develops where the salt marshes of the back bays meet the solid land. This place is a rare (at least in Jersey) spot to explore that ecosystem on foot and to get up close and personal with it along easy to navigate footpaths. The variety of birds alone would make this one worth checked out, but the excellent nature center and beautiful views don’t hurt a bit!
5) Batona Trail Reroute – Franklin Parker Preserve, New Lisbon, NJ – 8.2 miles (one way)
If I had to name my favorite trail in South Jersey, the Batona Trail is it. If I was making a list of my favorite section of that trail, this is it. A little shine has come off with the severe restricting of the days you can climb Apple Pie Hill Fire tower where I start this hike, but it’s still a chance to skirt the edge of beautiful bogs, cross lots of tiny bridges, and do a “swamp hop” just before you reach Route 72. And, somehow, there are still four more hikes ahead of it on the list!
Also, here I need to give the world’s largest shout out to the Outdoor Club of South Jersey‘s trail crew headed by the Mason sisters, who go above and beyond the call of duty for the Batona Trail (and a now expanding network of trails in the pine barrens).
Yes, I CAN have the Batona Trail twice in a row on this list. I may be overrating this loop since it has that new trail smell for me still (I first hiked it two weeks ago), but I’m willing to take that chance. The Sand and Water Trail and the 1808 Trail penetrate deep into a massive cedar swamp here via an ancient, mostly overgrown road that is hard to imagine as a road anymore. For miles, you get to experience the enchantment of huge cedar trees towering over you in a way I just haven’t seen other places in South Jersey. When you finally run out of cedars, you still get to explore a nice stretch of pine barrens via the connector trail and the Batona putting you back at Batsto, the crown jewel of the park system in the pinelands. Great, now I want to go back today instead of going to work. Thanks Outdoor Club of South Jersey trail crew.
Biggest change on this list, Wenonah Woods jumped from #18 to #3 on my list. Yes, it’s in the middle of suburbia. Yes, you can totally see backyards in stretches of it. Yes, it’s far from wilderness and you could probably hear cars from almost any point in it. All of this kept it down the list five years ago for me. I was blind.
Since our early write up, we’ve visited here at least twenty-five times, and this place only gets more and more magical. I can’t over the fact that Wenonah is about one square mile and they saved 20% of their town to put these trails on. The tiny footbridges all over the place are amazing. The big boardwalk that was put in when the beavers flooded an area took an unbelievable amount of work. The bridge a few inches above the swamp (now featuring a brand new bridge) feels like an adventure when you walk there with your kids. The total overhaul of the Clay Hill area is spectacular. There are benches all over the place to sit down and admire the little patches of wild. There are hills and gullies that you have to navigate along the way. All of that stuff is great.
But that’s just the surface. Sit outside the tea house and think that an orchestra played in this spot with rowboats tied up below. Move a dozen feet over to the amphitheater and picture the times Groucho Marx performed here. Imagine the carousel that floated on Comey’s Lake, or the South American beverage factory that sat in the woods close to the trail. See if you can find the little Victorian frog pond that was uncovered during trail building. Join the fisherman down by the railroad bridge. Gape in awe of the raw power of a tornado when you walk through the part of the forest that was leveled a few short years ago. A big tip of the hat to all the folks at the Friends of Wenonah Trails/Wenonah Environmental Commission who put so much effort and love into their trails.
Give it another five years, Wenonah will probably be #1 on this list.
2) Maurice River Bluffs Preserve – Millville, NJ – 5 miles of trails
An absolute gem of a hike. Head way, way, way down in South Jersey to find this one nestled along the Maurice River. Beautiful bluffs, more up and down than any trail in South Jersey has a right to have, a chance to see bald eagles, and even some small bridges. Oh, and views from up above the river (good place for a snack of some cheddar bunnies). Anyone who goes down to hike here won’t forget it.
1) Red Trail – Franklin Parker Preserve, Chatsworth, NJ – 6 miles
It was #1 once, and five years later it keeps its top spot. This one is short enough for (my) kids, but long enough you feel deep in the pines. The bogs are spectacular. Everyone loves the oversized Adirondack chairs. The kids love the Indiana Jones bridge over the Wading. Great trail to spot snakes, fence lizards, turtles, foxes, and pretty much any other type of wildlife the pine barrens has to offer. Any day I’ve spent on this trail is a fantastic day in my life.
That’s it! That’s our Top 25 Trails (10th Anniversary edition!) !
HUGE thank you to everyone who has been along for any part of the ride of this six month project that has managed to stretch out into 10 years and counting! Never could have imagined when we started what this big, dumb blog would grow into. It’s been a blast.
But the biggest thank you goes out to my favorite adventure buddies – Alix, The Pres, Tree Rider, Kite Flyers, the Big Fella, and the baby-who-I-really-need-a-blog-nickname-for-at-some-point.
Come celebrate our birthday this Sunday, March 12, 2023 at Lines on the Pines from 11 AM to 4 PM at Stockton University! Say hi at our table or come and get in a huge argument with me about what I’m wrong about with my lists of trails!
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