|Our 15-mile loop in Wharton State Forest.|
The Batona Trail, short for (BAck TO NAture), is a flat, meandering 49.5 mile hiking path winding through three New Jersey state forests. It was built in 1961 by the Philadelphia-based Back To Nature Hiking Club to connect Brendan T. Byrne (formerly Lebanon) and Wharton State Forests.(Visit Wikipedia and NJPineBarrens.com for more history.)
With only two of us in one car on this trip, we didn't hike the trail end to end as a shuttle trip, but came up with a low key 15 mile loop, pictured left. Our itinerary also involved an overnight at the only primitive campsite without any other registered campers.
We started from Batsto Village after picking up a $4 camping permit for Lower Forge. They're required if you want to spend the night in a state forest. The forest sees numerous boy scout troops and other groups during warmer months, and we were told we'd picked a great time to come. Batona Camp, our original destination, had over 40 registered campers while Lower Forge didn't have any.
|Dan at the Batsto Batona Trail sign.|
The Batona Trail and most of the trails in Wharton State Forest are flat and easy, which was part of the appeal for this weekend. If you're looking for spectacular vistas and elevation change, this area isn't for you. But my goal was to drive less than an hour and spend the weekend walking around a beautiful place I'd never explored before. I wanted to stretch my legs, warm up for backpacking season, and just get out there.
|Most of our hike looked like this.|
The Pinelands are a pretty amazing place in general, another reason for our choice of trail this weekend. The area is nicknamed the Pine Barrens because of the barren soil; crops are difficult to grow there. The soil is so full of minerals, particularly iron ore, that some of the water appears rust colored. (Though some will tell you the rivers run red with the blood of the Jersey Devil's victims! We escaped unscathed, thank goodness.)
|Red water near Quaker Bridge on the Batona Trail. (D. Herscovitch)|
We reached Quaker Bridge around lunch time. I knew the trail would be flat and the scenery wouldn't change much, but it was still great to have a break from the sand and pine trees! We stopped for a snack, then continued on to Lower Forge Camp.
|Happy after a snack at Quaker Bridge! (D. Herscovitch)|
We arrived at Lower Forge after crisscrossing dirt roads and found the connector trail to Lower Forge Camp. Thankfully, no motor vehicles are allowed within 1/4 mile of camp. A group of boy scouts had stopped for lunch, but after they moved on, we had the entire giant site to ourselves! We'd talked about dropping our packs and hiking up to Batona Camp (six miles away) for fun, but we'd both tired of the flat trail and spent the afternoon relaxing at camp. One of my favorite things in the world is taking the tent out on my first trip of the season.
|Evening descends on our camp at Lower Forge.|
Dan got a great fire going after he took care to rake pine needles and other debris from around our little fire pit. The Pinelands are particularly susceptible to forest fires, and taking caution is important. We brought along some of my favorite backpacking foods, including a few Kielbasa sausages. Extra time at camp meant extra time to eat!
|Dan's hands-free sausage roasting setup. Ingenious!|
Thanks to REI's blog, we knew we were in for a treat that night - the largest full moon in 20 years. But I fell asleep long before the moon rose high enough for photos and snapped this one of the Batsto River, which looked more like a swamp, at dusk.
|Sun sets on the Batsto River.|
We set out the next morning back down the Batona Trail from Lower Forge to Quaker Bridge. After crossing Quaker Bridge, we picked up a green blazed connector trail. We decided green blazes should be prohibited on hiking trails in forests. And if they're allowed, they should be a different shade of green than the forest! As the trail wound through the woods, we came to an area with an above average collection of living underbrush. Most of the area was devoid of small plants and shrubs. It looked like the forest had burned and was beginning to recover.
|Dan moving into a burned section of forest.|
The green blazed connector trail led us to the Mullica River Trail, which would take us back to Batsto Village and our car. The yellow blazes were definitely easier to see than green!
|Presenting... a brand new looking trail sign!|
Most of the Mullica River Trail looked like the shot below...wide and a little boring! It was nice to walk side by side along the river, though. Normally, you'll spend miles just staring at the heels of your hiking companions. The highlight was passing Mullica River Camp and the canoe/kayak launches. The trail crosses over roads used by Jeep clubs and off road vehicles, and we ran into a long line of Jeeps not far from Batsto.
|Batsto Historic Village|
What are some of your favorite easy, low key backpacking trips? Have you been on the Batona Trail?