SJ’s Great Outdoors
State parks you need to visit
By Madison Russ

Whether it’s deep in the Pine Barrens, along the Delaware River or down the Shore, these New Jersey State Parks are brimming with adventures to be had. 


Wharton State Forest

Location: Atlantic, Burlington and Camden counties 
Size: 122,880 acres  
Can’t-miss: Batsto Village, Batona Trail, Atsion Lake, abandoned town and kayaking 

Wharton State Forest is the largest single tract of land within the New Jersey State Park System, which means there’s plenty of trails, rivers and lakes for hiking or biking. The forest is also a birders’ paradise, as it’s home to species like bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, owls and great blue herons. While hiking one of the park’s many trails, including the 50-mile Batona Trail connecting the Brendan T. Byrne, Wharton and Bass River State Forests, visitors also might spot river otters, beavers or foxes, which also call the forest home.  

During the summer, take a dip in Atsion Lake or explore the Mullica River by kayak. Visitors to the state park can also travel back in time at Batsto Village, a former bog iron and glass-making industrial center that thrived from 1766 to 1867. Or, head off the beaten path to discover the remains of Harrisville Village, a town abandoned in the late 1800s. 


Rancocas State Park 

Location: Burlington County
Size: 1,252 acres 
Can’t miss: Rancocas Nature Center, hiking and jogging trails 

No trip to Rancocas State Park is complete without visiting Rancocas Nature Center, an environmental center within the state park that offers a variety of wildlife programs. The center also houses a natural history museum, gardens and a dragonfly pond, and naturalists often host guided hikes for all ages. The park’s many trails weave through hardwood forests along the Rancocas Creek and an extensive freshwater tidal marsh. 


Bass River State Forest  

Location: Burlington and Ocean counties
Size: 29,147 acres
Can’t-miss: Lake Absegami, Warren Grove 

As the first forest ever acquired by the state of New Jersey for public recreation, Bass River offers plenty of family-friendly activities. Guests can canoe or kayak around Lake Absegami, a 67-acre lake created in the 1930s, or wander through the park on nature trails that loop through the wetland forest in the Absegami Natural Area. You can also visit Warren Grove, often referred to as the Pygmy Forest, a rare forest of stunted oak and pine trees that grow no taller than four feet. 

Bass River State Forest also contains plenty of history – it was once a conservation camp created through the efforts of Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. The camp operated from 1933 to 1943 and put unemployed men to work conserving protected land and developing Lake Absegami. Visitors are even welcome to swing by the park’s office and check the records to see if any of their relatives were employed by the camp. 


Double Trouble State Park 

Location: Lacey and Berkeley Townships
Size: 8,495 acres
Can’t-miss: Double Trouble Village, Cedar Creek and cranberry bogs 

Located on the eastern edge of the Pine Barrens, Double Trouble State Park provides a window into the area’s rich agricultural history. During the Civil War, the forest’s cedar swamps were cleared and converted into cranberry bogs while a sawmill and cranberry sorting and packing house were built. Visitors to the once-thriving village will also find a 19th-century schoolhouse and an interpretive center that offers a display room, guided tours and more.  

Visitors can wander through the historic village on a 1.5-mile trail, wander along trails alongside the cranberry bogs or set off on one of the many trails weaving through the forest. If you’d prefer to go off the beaten track, launch your kayak onto Cedar Creek. The winding waterway, which opens into Barnegat Bay, once supplied power to the village’s lumber mills, iron furnaces, and sorting and packing house. 


Corson’s Inlet State Park 

Location: Cape May County 
Size: 341 acres 
Can’t-miss: Fishing, swimming, hiking and sunbathing 

New Jersey is home to numerous beautiful beaches, and Corson’s Inlet State Park is no exception. It was established in 1969 in an effort to protect one of the last undeveloped tracts of land along the Shore coastline. Visitors to this pristine beach can spend the day fishing, crabbing, swimming, relaxing in the sand or keeping their eyes peeled for wildlife. Bring binoculars (and sunscreen), as the area is home to several migratory birds and is the nesting site for the endangered Piping Plover, the Least Tern and Black skimmers. 


Barnegat Lighthouse State Park 

Location: Ocean County 
Size: 32 acres 
Can’t-miss: Lighthouse, nature trails, fishing and picnic area 

Situated at the northern tip of Long Beach Island, Barnegat Lighthouse has been guiding sailors since it was first lit in 1859. At that time, the lighthouse was once considered a critical resource for New York-bound ships along the New Jersey coastline. Visitors today might want to do some light stretching before tackling the lighthouse’s 217 steps to the top, which sits 172 feet above sea level and provides stunning views of Island Beach, Barnegat Bay and Long Beach Island. 

Fishing is permitted on the bulkhead along the picnic area, where guests can try to reel in striped bass, bluefish, summer flounder, black bass and other native species. Visitors can also hike along the nature trail that winds through the small maritime forest or stroll along the inlet walkway extending from the lighthouse into southern Barnegat Inlet. 


Belleplain State Forest 

Location: Cape May and Cumberland counties 
Size: 21,254 acres 
Can’t-miss: Lake Nummy, Interpretive Center 

Spanning over a stunning 21,000 acres, Belleplain State Forest was founded as a recreation, wildlife management, timber production and water conservation site. Three conservation camps were also set up in the area, which led to the Meisle Cranberry Bog’s transformation into Lake Nummy. The now-popular spot is  open to swimmers from Memorial Day to Labor Day while lifeguards are on duty, and visitors can also boat and fish on the lake. 

At the lake, visitors can find a beach complex with convenient changing rooms, restrooms, a first-aid station and a concession stand offering refreshments, novelties and beach supplies. The park also has several hiking trails, picnic areas, playgrounds and an Interpretive Center that offers a variety of nature and historical programs throughout the year. 


Fort Mott State Park 

Location: Salem County 
Size: 124 Acres 
Can’t-miss: River fortifications, artillery batteries 

SJ history and war buffs need to make a visit to Fort Mott State Park, which was part of the coastal defense system designed for the Delaware River in the late 1800s. As the United States was gripped by the Spanish-American War, fortifications were built along the river in 1896 in anticipation of invaders. Visitors can see the old batteries, check out the Hancock House, which was built in 1734 and is the site of a British-led massacre during the Revolutionary War, and then enjoy a leisurely meal at one of the scenic picnic areas.  


Brendan T. Byrne State Forest 

Location: New Lisbon 

Size: 37,242 acres  

Can’t-miss: Whitesbog Village, Mount Misery Trail 

Brendan T. Byrne State Forest offers visitors the perfect blend of history and nature. The park boasts more than 25 miles of marked trails, including Mount Misery, a trail that’s ideal for mountain bikers. Guests can also explore the sandy, wooded trails that wind past the stone and brick remains of the former Lebanon Glassworks, which was built in 1851 but became defunct after depleting its source of wood for the furnace.  

The state park is also home to the once-bustling village of Whitesbog, a cranberry and blueberry-producing community that operated during the 19th and 20th centuries. Be sure to take a guided tour hosted by the Whitesbog Preservation Trust, which offers tours to the park’s historic sites, village museums and gardens. 

July 2018
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