Today’s post is not by me but by my lovely husband, John, with whom I hiked the tallest mountain in New Jersey last weekend.
My wife and I set out from the Appalachian Trail parking lot in Wantage, NJ at about 9:40am. The parking lot is tricky to find as it is just a lot and doesn’t have an address you can put into a GPS. Your best bet is just to set your GPS for High Point State Park, then continue down the main drag until you see the sign for the lot.
The hiking route we chose to take was like a giant lollipop, we’d first shoot north, all the way past the giant obelisk monument at the peak of the mountain, nearly to the New York/New Jersey border before taking a sharp right angle turn down the mountain to nearby Lake Marcia, then cut across a campground to the area just before the final monument ascent and from there, back down the path we took in to the parking lot.
The first part of the hike is about half a mile and is an easy going, level walk through the woods until you reach a clearing. At the clearing is a visitor center (with restrooms and maps).
You have to cross a main public road, then a grassy field, before reaching a plain brown sign at the tree-line marked Appalachian Trail.
From there it’s about a mile uphill over some very rocky and steep terrain at times to reach the next checkpoint. Some of the rocks we stepped on were loose; also the trail is narrow and doesn’t leave much room for passing. Fortunately we saw very few hiking groups all day, 4 or 5 at maximum. The day we went was also clear, sunny, and hot, however the trail provides ample shade from the blazing sun. Sunscreen is definitely recommended though. The steep rocky terrain can be a bit taxing on beginners (this was my wife’s first time hiking a mountain, so proud of her) and of those advanced in age or otherwise enfeebled condition. At the apex of the various rises you climb making your way to the top at this part are small pillbox like stone structures for some reason. After about a mile you come to a raised wooden viewing platform which provides you with amazing views of the surrounding areas (NJ, NY, PA). Since it was a clear day, we could see dozens of miles into the distance without visual aid. From the platform you can also see the monument in all its glory. Later we spotted the viewing platform from the base of the monument. From this platform it is about a half mile more of steep uphill hiking to reach the monument. Of note before we reached the monument was a fork in the trail where our route (red/green) and the Appalachian Trail route branched off in different directions. This would be the intersection we’d have to take later on to get back on the trail eventually leading to the parking lot.
The top of the mountain is astounding; we made it there in the first half of the hour of 11. We saw an airport for sky diving tours on the drive in and some planes from it were flying around lower than the height of the monument. There is a parking lot there and many choose to just drive up to the peak. This is where we saw the most people that day.
We had lunch in the shade of the monument. We had packed submarine sandwiches, two granola bars, six water bottles, and two sodas. Throughout our hike we’d consume most of this. Given the hot weather, I’d even recommend taking more water, we were soaked through with sweat by the time we reached the monument.
We continued on after lunch taking the trail at the back of the monument’s parking lot. This part of the hike was my favorite, level, easy, calm, a good reprieve from the wrenching uphill climb to the monument. There were also small paths leading off the main one to offer more views of the surrounding areas. We walked along this way for over a mile till we reached a small wooden bridge. Crossing this bridge we continued on for about a half mile till we came to another fork in the trail.
Continuing straight would keep us on our path, going left would take us on a 1.3 mile circuit of the nearby Cedar Swamp. We elected to skip this part of the trail that our instructions had listed and just continued straight (we had decided on this at the start of the hike as avoiding an unnecessary complication).
The trail then started back uphill in a fashion similar to that of the ascent. Further to compound this situation was the narrowness of the trail which at times saw the shrubbery on either side of the trail nearly touching each other. My wife and I were in shorts that day, but looking back we definitely should have worn pants. I later pulled two ticks off myself. Bug repellant is another must, the trail at this part is very buggy. We continued on this way for a long while, often you could see the horizon out on your right and for a bit it looked like we were making no progress. We crossed a second wooden bridge over a stream, completed another arduous uphill climb over a long flight of stone steps, and finally came to a main public road. Across the street was an old stone building of some kind. As you can imagine we were quite happy to make it out of that section of the woods.
After that we went down the public road across a bustling campground and uphill again looking for the path we came in on during our final ascent to the monument earlier today. We found that easily enough and made our way backwards over the rocky terrain, past the viewing platform and down the mountain again. Here it seemed the hike was longer than it actually was, perhaps it was the heat or just the longing to get back to the car and finally rest, but the way down certainly seemed to take longer than the way up. On the way down we started seeing more and more people too. Some asked for directions, although I must say, this trail was pretty clearly marked the whole way even in the most remote spots. We finally reached the parking lot around 2:45pm, so it took in total slightly over five hours, though that does count are extended lunch break at the top (30 to 40 minutes).
Our total distance covered was around 6.6 miles, I got this figure from our instructions which listed the route as 6.3 miles + 1.6 miles, but included a 1.3 miles Cedar Swamp detour (which just loops back to the main route anyway). So that is how I arrived at 6.6 miles as my estimate. Overall, it was a good hike, plenty of spectacular views, the trail was clearly marked, and the climbing, while difficult at times would be manageable for most people.