Ahhh, Jersey. I love my home state, but aside from a few gems in the northwestern reaches, it isn't exactly a hiker's paradise. This past weekend I set out on the Batona Trail, a 50-mile path through the heart of the Pinelands National Preserve. There is little written about this trail which I stumbled upon during a day hike a few years back. Finally catching a window of opportunity, I decided to give it a go and see what it had to offer.
I set out this past Sunday evening from Bass River State Park. The first six miles of trail mostly followed dirt roads through dense forest passing the occasional stream or pond.
As the sun got low I found a spot to stealth for the night near the border of Wharton State Forest. Officially, the trip requires a permit and camping is only allowed at designated campsites. However, with the park office closed on Sundays in the off-season and with the designated campsites situated more than 25 miles from the southern trailhead, I decided to take my chances.
I slept the first night under the stars as the forecast was clear. Night time lows were in the upper 20s and I awoke to ice in my platys. I stayed pleasantly warm in a silk baselayer, WM Megalite, and Vapr bivy. I was happy to see only slight condensation near the inside top of the bivy where I had presumably been exhaling all night. The rest of the bivy and my bag stayed perfectly dry.
Not much change in scenery during day two. The trail is incredibly flat with only a few hundred feet of elevation gain along its length. The trail itself is mostly wide and sandy and makes for easy miles. I'd estimate that 50% of the trail is designated "footpath only" and is connected together by a loose network of dirt roads, motor bike trails, fire breaks, and paved roadways.
Daytime highs were in the upper 40s and low 50s. I found walking in my BPL merino hoody and Houdini to be the most comfortable combo and provided great temperature regulation as I hiked in and out of shade and as the breeze came and went. After the easiest 24-mile day of my life, I found another nice spot to set up camp for night two. The wind had picked up so I set up my BMW Stealth Nano for a little added protection. Temps again dipped into the 20s. A small length of dental floss helped lift the bivy away from my face and eliminated the condensation observed during the first night.
After a quick few miles the next morning, I reached the Apple Pie Hill fire tower, the only vista on the trip. Unfortunately the tower was locked but great views could be had from the upper staircase landings. Pitch Pines as far as the eye could see.
The remaining fifteen miles included lots of road crossings, hiking adjacent to residential backyards, and a few miles of road walk.
However, among these unfortunately inescapable Jersey trail features were a few peaceful little ponds and some nice sections of trail in Brendan Byrne SF.
I reached my car at the northern terminus Tuesday afternoon. Fifty miles of Pinelands in under 48 hours. You can make that kind of time when the walking is easy and there aren't too many things to stop and see. It was nice little escape from everyday suburbia. The weather was good, the insects were few, and the omnipresent hum of tractor trailers faded out at times. What else could you ask for in Jersey?
Overall, the trail is what it is. The brochure boasts that "The Batona Trail was planned as a wilderness trail, and it is exactly that." Sure, at times you feel like you're alone in the woods, but I would hardly consider this a wilderness experience. I wouldn't expect anyone to hop the next flight to ACY and hit the trailhead, but I can see a few practical uses for anyone living nearby:
1) Dayhiking. The wide and level trails would make for nice day trips with the kids or others not looking to stray too far from civilization. The sections around Batsto Village in Wharton SF would be ideal for this as you could make several loops with other side trails.
2) Shakedowns. This would be a great weekend trip for an ULer to test their gear and stretch their legs without burning oneself out prior to a long trip.
3) Winter. The wide flat trail would be ideal for an extended snowshoe or cross country ski trips (well, if it ever snowed that is). Several inches of snow would also help to cover up the tire tracks and random litter that take away some of the enjoyment of the trail.