I originally planned to head out to Sussex County (10/5-10/6 2013) for Millbrook Days with my Old Man and tent overnight at Worthington but with the Fed shutdown causing the cancellation of Millbrook Days and closing down Old Mine Road we decided to check out Raccoon Ridge and Swartswood SP instead.
Hit the AT going south at Camp Road (basically the Mohican Outdoor Center) on Saturday afternoon around 11:30. Beautiful day, slightly humid, but otherwise good fall hiking weather. This was a pretty easy hike of somewhere between 2-1/2 to 3 miles to Raccoon Ridge. You’re basically on top of the Kittatinny Ridge the whole way with cool views to the East of this green (but changing) part of NJ. My father complained a lot about the rocks, so I guess that really irks some folks. There’s some small scrambles, but for any decent hiker this should be an easy 1.5 hour hike . (Actually I should come clean and admit – I hiked the entire NJAT 2 weeks ago with a 40lb pack and didn't fall once – on the hike back from Raccoon Ridge I slipped on a rock and cracked my $400 camera lens, shortly after bragging to my Dad that this was an “easy hike”! I tend to anger the hiking gods when I mock their terrain!)
My Dad at the border along the AT between the DWGNRA and Worthington.
Raccoon Ridge is 5 minutes South of here
At Raccoon Ridge a group of serious “birders” hang out and count hawks from mid-September thru December - everyday. You get a great vantage point of the raptors, and seeing things like Bald Eagles and Red Tailed Hawks is an everyday occurrence. There’s some science to how birds migrating south end up flying along the ridge because of air currents etc (don’t ask me!). But it is a great 360 degree vista whether or not the bird thing interests you with views of Upper and Lower Yards reservoir to the east and Pennsylvania and the Delaware River to the West. We caught a bad day, and didn't see lots of hawks due to an east wind, but cool outing none the less.
You get eye level views of the raptors (like this Turkey Vulture) along
the Ridge. And last shot that 70-300 lens probably ever took!
Hiked out the same way (if you have two cars you can plan more interesting hikes down the ridge) and then drove to Swartswood SP, where we tented for the night. Swartswood doesn't offer the hiking of Worthington, Stokes, or High Point, but has a nice campground area and day-use facilities (boat rentals, swimming, picnic groves). Seems very family oriented to me (everyone there has children it seems like!).
On Sunday we checked out some of Big and Little Swartswood Lake, and did some of their trails right across from the main entrance on 619. The “Bear Claw” trail is an easy ¾ mile meander through some old farm land that is now a young forest. Perfect for little kids or old people (my dad enjoyed it!). Not something to drive to for a hike by any means. That connects to a longer trail (2 miles) that takes a good hour and a half to walk though called the “Spring Lake Trail”. This goes through some old farmland and vernal pools with Spring Lake being the objective ¾ of the way in. Again easy walking, but there’s more to check out ( lakes, different terrain) than the Bear Claw trail. Good introduction to hiking if you’re taking out younger children while staying at Swartswood. The foliage was moderate and with the breeze and overcast weather, if really felt like Autumn out – I really enjoy when a quick breeze showers you and the trail ahead in golden, yellow and brown leafs!
Vernal Pond along the Spring Lake Trail
Anway, we wrapped up the hike around noon, packed up our camp and headed back to ugly Middlesex County as the rains started in the early afternoon. Two very different parts of NJ!