Step Outside! Our Favorite Sweet Spots in New Jersey for Hiking, Biking and Forest Bathing.

Why does it feel so good to be outside? Nature can have such a calming and enlightening effect. It can tune us in to the idea that there is something greater than ourselves; bring us into the present moment and remind us that another world exists outside of our everyday lives.  What better way to enjoy this time of year than step outside- whether its a leisurely stroll with family, a challenging climb or a nice afternoon of forest bathing. New Jersey has many sweet spots.

What is Forest Bathing you ask? The Atlantic has a great article about this relatively new practice that is about allowing the journey to be the destination, not the other way around. A particularly interesting thing to consider in today’s fast- paced existence.

We have made a list of some of our favorite local trails and woods in NJ where you could spend a little time indulging in everything that nature has to offer. Let us know what your favorite spot is and if you forest bathe, we want to hear!

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” – John Muir

HACKLEBARNEY STATE PARK-

Located on the border of Chester and Long Valley, the hiking trails of this scenic park vary from easy to moderate.  Use the main parking lot off Hacklebarney Road, and then follow the path down the stone steps on the left.  Just after a bridge on your right marked with blue blazes, the Trout Brook runs into the first of a series of small waterfalls. Hang out there for a bit and take in the beauty or “forest bath” if you can.  Then follow the red trail up the hill; it eventually reaches the Black River and follows the water’s edge for roughly one mile.  After passing several benches—ideally positioned for enjoying the rushing waters below—the red trail merges with the white-blazed Main Trail, which loops back to the parking lot.  Enjoy!
(Bonus! Stop at Hacklebarney Farm Cider Mill on your way out to get some delicious wood pressed apple cider.)  119 Hacklebarney Road, Long Valley

WATCHUNG RESERVATION-

Watchung Reservation in Union County is a 2,000-acre wooded tract where animal and plant life are protected.  Highlights of the park include Lake Surprise, the Deserted Village of Feltvile/Glenside Park, the Trailside Nature and Science Center, Seeley’s Pond and the Watchung Stables.  Opened in 1941, The Trailside Museum was New Jersey’s first nature museum.  Four short nature trails, ranging from 0.2 to 0.9 mile, are near the Trailside Nature & Science Center.  The Sierra Trail (white square blaze; 10.8 miles) forms a loop that encircles the reservation.  Various connecting trails can be used to fashion shorter loop hikes.  Located within the Reservation, the Deserted Village of Feltville features 10 surviving historic buildings, some still occupied.   Historic Trail, Mountainside (Close to Berkeley Heights)

PYRAMID MOUNTAIN NATURAL HISTORIC AREA-

Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area encompasses Pyramid and Turkey mountains in Kinnelon, Boonton and Montville.  Its features include unusual glacial erratics, dramatic rock outcrops, extensive wetlands and waterfalls.  The two most remarkable erratics in the area are Bear Rock, one of the largest in the state, and Tripod Rock, a 160-ton boulder perched atop three smaller boulders.    The Visitors Center is a starting point for loop hikes.  There are more than a dozen trails in Pyramid Mountain and (just across Boonton Ave, County 511) in Turkey Mountain, ranging from 0.7 to 7.3 miles.  Several new trails were added to the park in 2008/09, including a 1.2-mile white-blazed trail, plus a black-dot trail and yellow-blazed trail, with a combined length of 2.8 miles.  The longer of these two runs from Powerville Road in Boonton Township to Bear Rock at Pyramid Mountain. 472 Boonton Avenue, Boonton

NATIRAR-

This is the perfect place for a walk for every family member.  Bring your toddler, bring grandma and definably bring Spot.  The 1.3 mile paved loop wraps around a splendid meadow.  Feel free to take a rest along the way on a bench or stop to stare at the meandering Raritan River.  The walking trail sits among the 404 acre property rich with history and awe-inspiring beauty.  For the slightly more adventurous, there is an additional 1 mile Upper Field Nature Trail. While certainly not the most challenging of hikes on this list, it is one of our favorites. 2 Main Street, Peapack

BLACK RIVER PARK-

Park at the Cooper Gristmill visitor center on Route 24 and walk down the wooden steps on the side of the historic water-powered 1826 mill, which offers seasonal tours and flour milling demonstrations. Follow the blue-blazed Black River Trail, also part of Patriot’s Path, into the woods, which follows the stream past the man-made Kay Pond and damn. The trail eventually forks: the blue-blazed trail continues to the left and reaches the Kay Environmental Center; the unmarked trail to the right continues to follow along the Black River. Take the unmarked right-hand trail; continue straight down the ravine towards the river, cross a wide wooden bridge and continue along the unmarked trail back up the other side of the ravine. After walking for five minutes or so, you’ll spot a steep stone staircase on your left that leads to a scenic riverside ruin known as Kay’s Cottage.  66 Route 24, Chester

There is no admission charge for any of these parks.  Get out there and enjoy our local treasures.  Happy Trails!

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