New Jersey is such a dump — it’s a vast wasteland of ill-maintained highways and landfills and… No, wait, that’s not right. Look at all this nature. The clear air and beautiful views. Is this really New Jersey?

Yes, yes it is. This is the Garden State that I know and grew up in. The same state that I escaped four times, only to return each time. And while I gripe about the problems in my state, there is still plenty to enjoy — hiking is one of the best ways to enjoy New Jersey.new jersey hiking

And honestly, I don’t care if you come visit New Jersey. We have enough traffic as it is without out-of-state visitors. In fact, please stay away and let us enjoy our state without you.

I’ve been getting in the habit of getting out of my Jersey City home more often — I realized how much I need a break from the city atmosphere, and there are plenty of options nearby (fortunately, I have a car, because public transportation in this state is beyond miserable). I’ve also gotten out for a few more bike rides around Jersey City, which means that I mostly go to Liberty State Park to enjoy the wonderful views of the Manhattan skyline along with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I never tire of that view.

Ramapo Valley County Reservation
The NYC skyline is off in the distance from Ramapo Valley County Reservation

But getting out into nature is rejuvenating. It’s something I’ve missed over the last year or so. I finally made an effort to explore, and was fortunate enough to find a friend to join me — while I enjoy solitude in nature for some reflection, it is more fun to go hiking with others, particularly when it means I don’t have to pay attention to the map.

This summer/early autumn, I’ve taken two hikes through New Jersey parks that aren’t far from where I grew up, but it was my first time at both. The first was to Ramapo Valley County Reservation and the second was to High Mountain Park Preserve. Both are wonderful hikes, though the second was a little longer.

ramapo valley
Along the trail at Ramapo Valley

Ramapo Valley County Reservation was the more enticing of the two hikes as it offered better views of the surrounding landscape. The location offers clear views of the New York skyline in the distance — it doesn’t even need to be a clear day to see that. And it’s farther from the city than High Mountain.

Getting to Ramapo Valley in Mahwah wasn’t as easy at it seemed. I missed the turn into the parking lot (as did a lot of other people). It’s also a popular hiking destination not far from New Jersey’s northern border, so parking was difficult. My friend and I were fortunate enough to wait about 5 minutes before someone pulled out to provide a spot. It was still crowded when we left a few hours later.

ramapo valley county reservation
Crossing the Ramapo River into the park

There are well-maintained trails through the park, with a variety of trails that hikers can choose from and combine. My friend’s friends had been there before and chose the trails to follow — they also had a hiking app to help along the way when we had difficulty finding the trail markers. We took the Loop Trail, which is a little over 7 miles. It’s a moderate hike and not too steep in any place.

While Ramapo Valley County Reservation is popular, the Loop Trail seems a bit long for a lot of the hikers (or we arrived late enough to avoid crowds). There were stretches farther from the parking lot that had few people — and some of those spots were the most picturesque.

ramapo valley county reservation
A quiet spot to relax in Ramapo Valley

One of the most surprising part of the hike was coming across cacti along the trail. I wondered who put it there. A few weeks later, I was told it’s the only cactus native to New Jersey — the Eastern prickly pear cactus. It even blooms in the summer, but we were too late for that.

new jersey cactus
The Eastern prickly pear cactus

After our hike, we drove to Morristown for a late lunch/early dinner at Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen. It’s a beautiful restaurant in the former Vail Mansion built in 1917. There was a lot on the menu that I wanted to order, especially as brunch was still available, but I settled on pork belly hash.

jockey hollow kitchen
This is a restaurant and bar in Morristown

I will likely return to Jockey Hollow — it’s not far from where I grew up, so it’s a good option to take my mom out. If it had been open when I lived at home after college, I would have gone there on weekends with my friend to enjoy the bar.

jockey hollow morristown
Pork belly hash after a hike

The hike through High Mountain Park Preserve, near William Patterson University, was an enjoyable hike but did not provide such great vistas — it was more of a rugged hike through the woods.

high mountain park
From the trail at High Mountain Park

High Mountain Park is a quieter hike than Ramapo Valley — there are a few trail heads, but we chose to start on a loop that required us to park on the street. This wasn’t much of a picturesque hike through New Jersey, but it was enjoyable.

park wayne diner
Classic diner style

We ended our hike at Park Wayne Diner — a great classic New Jersey diner. It’s been remodeled recently, but it maintained the classic art deco mirrored design that is iconic in the Garden State. They also have some interesting menu items that aren’t found at typical diners (interesting selection of milkshakes that my friend said was good).

park wayne diner
A delicious Reuben

I went with the grilled Reuben, which was not quite what I expected and I need to eat it with a knife and fork. But damn it, that was a tasty meal (also, I was starving after that hike).

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