One of Joe and I’s favorite things to do together is hike. I think people in NYC sometimes forget that countless acres of beautiful wilderness surround the city — from upstate New York to southern Jersey and west to Pennsylvania.
We do have the luxury of a car, but many places are also accessible by public transit, or you can rent a car from Zipcar (or one of the other many car share services that have inevitably popped up in the last 10 minutes).
I figured this would be a good place to catalogue some of our hiking adventures, in case anyone is looking for some day-trip inspiration on a beautiful weekend morning. Hiking is a great way to both enjoy nature and this country’s wondrous National Park system; and a great workout, especially if, like me, you’re not a fan of running.
The Delaware Water Gap is the perfect place to mine for hikes and daylong or weekend getaways. It’s about 1-2 hours from the city (depending on where you are leaving from), close enough you could leave in the afternoon and still do a short hike. If you’re driving, you’ll want to arrive on the early side for the more popular trails since the parking areas tend to fill up on the nice summer days.
Two weekends ago we took our first major break from house projects to tackle Mt. Tammany, one of the top hikes in New Jersey. The full loop is only a couple miles, but taking the Red Dot Trail up is pretty steep, so the mile-and-some-change summit feels longer. Still, you can complete it in a couple hours.
And the views are worth it. There are a couple smaller viewpoints before you hit the big one, but trust me, you’ll know when you’ve reached the top. There is an expansive rock you can climb out on to sit down and enjoy the view and have a small picnic lunch (we like to pack protein bars, wraps from Quickcheck and apples).
When you’re ready to leave you can descend down the Blue Trail, which is much less steep than the Red Dot. It’s very rocky, though, so watch your step. The Blue Trail will then run into the Green Trail/Dunnfield Creek, which runs into the AT, which you’ll follow back out to the main parking lot.
In the week between Mt. Tammany and Sunfish, Joe and I were finalizing our plans for our short sojourn through the South this summer. Part of our route takes us through the Smokies so we couldn’t resist planning a 3-day/2-night hiking and camping expedition. Only a few weeks out, though, we realized there was a lot of gear we needed and not much time to get it together. We spent all day Saturday at REI and Wal-mart planning out our packs. Then figured we needed a practice hike to make sure we had the proper weight.
Back to the Delaware Water Gap we went! Joe found another hike that left from the same lot that the Mt. Tammany loop begins, called Sunfish Pond, another top-rated hike in New Jersey.
We did a nearly 8-mile loop with full packs. There are multiple routes you can take, and they are slightly-to-significantly more challenging than Mt. Tammany, though not as steep. Here’s the route we did, which I would highly recommend:
- Take the AT from the main parking lot up to Sunfish Pond. Once you reach the pond, continue along the AT. The trail gets a little narrow and rocky here. The blazes will be down on the rocks and they’ll remind you you’re on the right track even when it feels like you’re not. There are lots of little lookouts over the pond and places to chill and eat lunch, including near some interesting rock sculptures we saw scattered along the trail and pond.
- Once you reach the end of the pond start looking for the Blue Trail, which will be to your right. It’s not very well marked but it’s an obvious trail. You shouldn’t get too far away from the pond. If you see the Orange Trail, you’ve gone too far. (We missed both Blue and Orange and had to double back.)
- Stay on the Blue trail for a short stint until you pick up the Sunfish Pond fire road, which will also be to your right. This an easy, open, grassy road running along the pond.
- When you reach the start of the Sunfish Pond loop again, you can either take the AT back down, or follow the Green Trail (Dunnfield Creek) like we did. You won’t see the creek at first, which makes the moniker Dunnfield Creek seem like a lie. It’ll be ankle-breaker territory for a while, so watch your step. Eventually you will hit the creek, and will need to cross it a handful of times, back and forth. Pay attention to the blazes, there are a few points where it would be easy to walk off in the wrong direction instead of turning to cross the creek like you should.
- You’ll hit the AT again at the very end, and pass by all the pretty waterfalls and swimming areas as you exit to the main parking lot.
The swimming areas were quite tempting, but by this time we were ready to drop our packs and get some food. We realized our packs were probably a little too heavy for the 12+ miles per day we’ll be doing in the Smokies, but the practice hike helped clarify where we could lighten up the load a little.
We decided to start and end our Smokies route at Clingmans Dome. We’ll cover about 36 miles over the course of three days. Have you done any overnights and have some advice for us? Any advice about hiking in the Smokies specifically?
We met an AT through-hiker – trail name Stay Puft – around Sunfish who encountered a lot of rain while he was in the Smokies, but that was also in the Spring. We’re hoping the weather holds out, for us and Stay Puft, who was hitting his 1300th mile when we stopped to chat with him.
Best of luck on the rest of your journey, Stay Puft!
If you’re interested in what it’s like to hike the whole Appalachia Trail, you can follow Stay Puft’s journey on his YouTube channel, ChrisGoesOutdoors