When I was in college, many moons ago, I ferried hot wings to hungry co-eds as fellow waiters planned a post-graduation hike following the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail from West Virginia to New Hampshire. “You should come,” they said. “At least meet us in New Jersey and hike that stretch with us.” For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to walk in the woods. I said no. Looking back, I wish I had joined them. As an adult, I’ve been slowly making my way through stretches of the stunning hiking trails that cross through New Jersey and into Orange County, New York. What seemed daunting in my early 20s is now a welcome vacation from the blinking lights and constant trilling of smart phones, laptops, and devices.
Kids are always welcome in the woods, as are dogs, and the New Jersey sections of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) have proven to be as user friendly as tying the laces on your sneakers.
I’m not the only one who thinks that getting out on a forest trail is a good idea. The U.S. Forest Service is promoting National Public Lands Day, September 26, as a day to Discover the Forest (#Naturehood). According to the USFD, children who play outside are more creative, have lower stress levels, and have more active imaginations. They also become fitter and leaner, develop stronger immune systems, and have greater respect for themselves and others as well as the environment. So basically it’s a no brainer to get outside with your family.
To explore more of the Appalachian Trail visit the AT Conservancy site or the National Parks site. Below are a few easy trails my family have tried in New Jersey; but even if you don’t hike these sections, just get outside, Discover the Forest, and take a walk in the woods. Your kids will thank you.
Some of the best family hiking I’ve encountered is right in Vernon, NJ. Sections of the A.T. trail here are well maintained by volunteers, and there’s a 1.5 mile flat boardwalk that’s both wheelchair and stroller accessible. Further along the trail meanders along a canal and travels past a cow pasture on it’s way to the poetically named Stairway to Heaven trail. That section is a pretty steep climb, best saved for when your kids are used to hiking (and you feel energetic).
This park is the highest point in New Jersey, 1,800 feet, and has glorious views of the 1,800 Kittatinny Mountains, especially from the top of High Point Monument (warning, it’s a 220 stair climb to the top). There are also 50 miles of hiking trails here, including large sections of the A.T. — stop by the visitor’s center for maps.
This NJ State Park actually straddles the border of NY and NJ, right near charming Warwick, NY (which is a good post hike refueling stop). Stop at the rangers station for well-marked maps and loop trail suggestions which range from 1 to 5 miles, covering sections of the park and small pieces of the A.T. Parking in the lot by the rangers station is free. Or pay the park fee to check out the crystal lake and rent a paddleboat to extend your outdoor time.