Tag Archives: rancocas state park

Best Hikes in the Pine Barrens

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So today marks FOUR YEARS of this ridiculous blog.  I’ll type that again for dramatic effect- FOUR YEARS.

Four is an important number for this blog, because, when I started, I figured that was about top end estimate for how many people would ever look that this big, dumb prestigious project of mine (and that was counting on my mother being able to find it on the Internet to see cute pictures of her grandson). But my, oh, my, how we’ve grown up.  In the past four years, nearly EIGHT PEOPLE have read this blog.

Okay, it’s a few more than that, and sometimes I worry about you folks because of that.  But thanks just the same for coming along for the ride.

In celebration, I highlight an area I’ve been blessed enough to spend the last 24 years exploring – the Pine Barrens.  Sure, the pine barrens aren’t as sexy as some natural areas in North Jersey.  You won’t find many clear flowing rivers (just iced tea colored), mama bears followed by lines of cubs, or breathtaking vistas.

Instead, it’s hundreds of square miles of pine trees, the more subtle beauty of a pitch pine, the reclaimed cranberry bog, the carnivorous plant, the nearly forgotten ruins of a once prosperous town.  It’s the wild flowers at Friendship, the collapsing packing house at Whitesbog, the abandoned tracks of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and the sweeping views from Apple Pie Hill.  It’s the cedar water of the Wading River, the iron slag along the trail at Martha, the cedar swamps at Wells Mills (oh, how I love cedar swamps), and the pine snakes by Bricksbrae.  It’s hearing coyotes howling while camping at Bodine, a dip in the river while backpacking through Lower Forge, watching the American Legion Post carry Emilio Carranza’s body from the woods yet another July day, the beautiful stars in winter above Goshen Pond, looking at the raccoon prints in the fireplace bricks at Buzbys General Store, or the peeping of the frogs in the Spring.

If you haven’t spent time here, or haven’t spent enough time here, or simply are looking for some places you haven’t explored, I’m offering a series of three posts on the pines, starting with ten fourteen trails to get you started (it was really hard to narrow them down)…

I have, of course, ranked them (for fighting with each other on the Internet’s sake), cutting down a list of 46 hikes I’ve done out in Jersey Devil country, but these are all winners!

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Filed under Backpacking, Hiking, History, Outdoors., pine barrens, South Jersey

Rancocas Nature Center/State Park – Westampton, NJ

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Rancocas State Park (including Rancocas Nature Center) – Westampton, Burlington County, NJ

Distance: 0.2 is the shortest (the Nature Trail) to many, many miles if combined with the trails in the rest of the park. There are three miles of trails in the Nature Center, and an undetermined number of miles of trails in the State Park. The Pres and I did a bit more than 2 1/2 miles.

Difficulty: 4 of 10
Total Score: 7 of 10

Terrain: hills, meadows, forests, swamps, Rancocas Creek… pretty much a bit of everything.

Map: Click here for an interactive map of the area.  It doesn’t have all the trails we hiked once we left the nature center (they were blazed, just not on this map), but it has a ton of great info.

GPS track of our adventure.

GPS track of our adventure.

Website: http://www.rancocasnaturecenter.org/ and http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/rancocas.html

Trailheads: Multiple.  We used what seems to be the easiest to find, the Rancocas Nature Center at 794 Rancocas Road
Westampton, NJ 08060 or  40° 0’11.84″N,  74°49’15.17″W.  They have a parking lot there.

Entrance from Rancocas -Mt Holly Road.

Entrance from Rancocas -Mt Holly Road.

Standouts: Outstanding meadow walks, lovely mature forests, very nice views of Rancocas Creek.

Markings: Many blazed trails.  Inside the Nature Center section of the park, we used the yellow, red, blue, and orange trails.  We also took the side trail off of the blue trail that crosses the footbridge into another section of the state park.  We had no map here, but did parts of the yellow and brown trails.  We had to turn around before reaching the end of the yellow trail, so I’m not sure where it ends up.

Sample trail marker.  Also marked on trees.

Sample trail marker. Also marked on trees.

Description: The Pres and I started off our summer right last week by taking a trip to Rancocas State Park, a place neither of us had ever been.  We did this upon the recommendation of Kevin and jerzger, we set out to explore this park located on the very edge of the pine barrens.

We were told that a great place to start is the Rancocas Nature Center (formerly run by the Audubon Society, now on its own), so we decided to park our car there.  We went into the center and the friendly guy behind the desk gave us a map of the trails within the nature center part of the park and explained our options.  Make sure to stop in, and leave a donation in the box for the good work that they do there.

Nature Center building from the parking lot.

Nature Center building from the parking lot.

There is another great reason to walk over to the nature center: the trails start there off of their porch.

Skulls = always a great start for a trail.

Skulls = always a great start for a trail.

The yellow trails (which you start on) is a very short nature trail.  Don’t get attached, because you’ll soon be at an intersection where you will turn left onto the red trail.  The red trail, which is really just a mown path, loops for 0.4 of a mile through a lovely, sunny meadow.  Some of the trails were a little wet from the large amounts of rain last week, but the puddles were able to be detoured around.  Keep an eye out for birds, flowers, and insects.

Yellow trail.

Yellow trail.

Onto the red trail.

Onto the red trail.

Someone thinks its funny to steal Daddy's hat.

Someone thinks its funny to steal Daddy’s hat.

The is what the red trail looks like.

This is what the red trail looks like.

The red trail eventually comes to a T intersection with the blue trail.  Right will head back toward the nature center.  Left will take you deeper into the woods.  Needless to say, we went left.  The blue trail is heavily wooded and shaded with lots of huge trees, a welcome break after the heat of the meadows.

Blue Trail.

Blue Trail.

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After being on the blue trail a short time, the orange trail splits off to the left.  This is a 0.25 mile (one way) out-and-back-spur to Rancocas Creek.  We had been warmed it was too muddy to hike after the rain, and I had opted for sneakers rather than boots.  So, of course, we took it anyway.  The mud was bad, but there were options to get around it the whole way, and the view of the river was well worth the dirt.

Rancocas Creek.

Rancocas Creek.

Helping keep my feet dry.

Helping keep my feet dry.

A new angle.

A new angle.

A way over a flooded out section of trail.

A way over a flooded out section of trail.

Final view of the creek.

Final view of the creek.

At the end of the orange trail, you need to backtrack down the trail to the blue trail.  Head left on the blue trail to continue on to where you haven’t seen.  There are some tricky little bits of trail here, including a duck down that The Pres almost didn’t make it under.

Blue trail.

Blue trail.

Almost didn't make it under this one together.

Almost didn’t make it under this one together.

Just after nature marker #13 on the blue trail, another trail splits left and crosses a stream.  This takes you out of the nature center section of the park.  We didn’t have a map of this spot, but we decided we needed a bit more hiking, so we crossed the bridge into uncharted territory.  The trails immediately goes three ways.  Right is the Brown Trail (which we walked a few hundred feet on), straight is a non-marked trail, and left is a different yellow trail.  We decided to head left on the yellow trail and try to get some more glimpses of Rancocas Creek.

Yellow Trail.

Yellow Trail.

Rancocas Creek (again)

Rancocas Creek (again)

This section of trail goes up and down a bunch of small quick hills, emerges at the creek, and then more or less parallels it for a while.  At this point, The Pres began to be viciously assaulted by some biting insects, so we decided to turn around and backtrack to the bridge.  We’ll be back when it’s less buggy.

Also, we saw a spider.

Also, we saw a spider.

Back on the blue trail, we pressed forward.  I let The Pres down to get some hiking in himself, and we walked the 1/4 mile or so back to the parking lot.  Our journey was only interrupted by what I think was a turkey, which had a bunch of babies following close behind.

Bad picture of the bird.

Bad picture of the mystery bird.

The Pres walking down the blue trail.

The Pres walking down the blue trail.

We ended up coming into the back end of the parking lot, where we headed home for ice cream and cat cookies.

Overall: Great set of trails!  Lots of secluded woodlands with a variety of areas to explore, and potentially miles of trails that we haven’t walked yet.  There is also the greatly reduced Rankokas Indian Reservation that I have never visited.  We will absolutely be back to do some more hiking.

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Filed under Hiking