Pennsylvania’s and New Jersey’s history is written in its landscape. Millions of years ago, rivers, erosion and glaciers formed the valleys, ridges, marshes and plains that make this area a great place to hike and camp. Here’s a list of the five best places in or near Philly to get your backpacking fix this summer.
Mile Marker 1
New Jersey Highway Route 72 E.
Woodland Township, NJ 08088
The Pine Barren’s best-known trail, the 50-mile-long Batona Trail, begins its lengthy route at Brendan T. Byrne State Forest. Marked in pink paint blazes, the trail runs parallel to New Jersey Route 72 through a mixed oak and pine forest, and crosses several sand roads. You’ll hike through stands of scrub oak, blueberry bushes, pitch pine and pink and white mountain laurel before heading into the Cedar Swamp Natural Area and Pakim Pond. After passing several campgrounds and backcountry sites along the way, the trail ends in the Bass River State Forest. Despite a few challenges, including mosquitoes, ticks, wetlands and low hills, the Batona Trail is fairly easy and offers a great place to spot deer, waterfowl and raptors.
Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park
145 Mapleton Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park Trail is more than 70 miles in length. But if time is a factor, you can simply enjoy the Belvidere and Delaware Railroad towpath, a 17-mile trail, or the shorter three-mile section from Bull’s Island to Prallsville Mill. Camping in 2014 is closed at Bull’s Island due to tree removal, so a day trip is just the ticket. Much of the railroad bed — a flat, straight towpath covered with fine gravel — lies between the river and the canal through a mixture of fields and woods. Farther along, the trail gets shadier and is hemmed in with honeysuckle vines until the stone Stockton Formation and a picturesque bridge and mill appear.
French Creek State Park
843 Park Road
Elverson, PA 19520
About an hour outside of Philly, French Creek State Park has more than 35 miles of trails that wind through 7,730 acres. An eight-mile section of the Horseshoe Trail, a 130-mile run from Valley Forge to the Appalachian Trail, lies within the park and is marked with yellow paint blazes. You’ll have to share the difficult route with equestrians, but the views of Hopewell Lake and Scotts Run Lake are well worth the effort. Year-round campsites with flush toilets and warm showers are provided, as well as yurts and cabins.
Related: Top Hiking Trails In Philadelphia
Parvin State Park
701 Almond Road
Pittsgrove, NJ 08318
Parvin State Park has over 2,000 acres filled with pine and hardwood forests, more than 200 flowering plant species, two glistening lakes, several campgrounds and 15 miles of hiking trails. An easy to moderate five-mile hike with flat terrain begins just outside of the park office. Marked with occasional green paint blazes, you’ll cross a small stone bridge over a babbling brook and a series of plank bridges before reaching an area known as Second Landing. From here, the path enters the heart of the forever wild area, so expect blowdowns and mud as you proceed over two wooden bridges and more plank bridges through marshland, forest, twists and turns to the waters of Muddy Run and Thundergust Brook. Here, rental cabins are available with electricity, toilets and showers.
Wharton State Forest
31 Batso Road
Hammonston, NJ 08037
Backpacking in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens is a different sort of hiking, especially for those used to mountainous areas. A short 3.5-mile yellow and orange trail from Batso Village, part of the Wharton State Forest, is a good place to experience the soft sand paths, tall dark trees and stunted pines of the region. The moderately strenuous trail has minimal rise and takes about four to five hours to complete. Hikers crisscross Mullica River over three wooden bridges and follow the banks of the waterway through a forest dotted with posts bearing ample botanical information. Sandy stretches open up to the sky and an overlook of the river leads to the Mullica River Wilderness campsite, a primitive campground in the forest with a pit toilet and water pump. If you feel more adventurous, the trail extends well beyond the tent sites all the way to Atsion Village.
Susan DeFeo has been a professional writer since 1997. She served as a community events columnist for New Jersey’s “Cape May County Herald” for more than a decade. A writer for numerous online publications, Susan has covered health, fitness, beauty and travel, all subjects that are near and dear to her as a married mother of seven children. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.