As a New Jersey native, born and raised, I am familiar with all the stereotypes about my home state: Reality television. Shopping malls. The Turnpike. “I’ve never explored New Jersey, but how great can it be?” people ask, speeding down the Turnpike on their way to Philadelphia or New York.
What these doubters don’t realize is that getting off the highway is the key to understanding how great the Garden State really is.
From tip to toe, New Jersey is filled with incredible recreational opportunities for walking or biking, either on rail-trails or in the forested parks and nature preserves that contain trails. Twenty minutes from the Turnpike, you can find yourself on the 68-mile Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park Trail that follows the historic towpath of the canal or on the Henry Hudson Trail that runs close to the famed Jersey shore. It is incredible how quickly the scenery can change, from a noisy, multi-lane highway with nothing but gray pavement for miles, to the lush green foliage of a state forest, carefully tucked away like a hidden gem, waiting for visitors to discover it.
I have had the great fortune of knowing where the hidden gems are—where the sights and sounds of the big city and the rush of cars fade away in favor of the babbling brook accompanied by the soprano notes of a songbird.
My favorite of these spots, located less than an hour’s drive from Manhattan, is the Ramapo Valley County Reservation, the local hiking spot I have been visiting since childhood. I have fond memories of taking walks with my family on the trail around Scarlett Oak Pond. I can remember my sister and I being excited by a frog hopping past or fascinated by the toadstools we found on the trail. Captivated by nature, it was perhaps the only time we weren’t pulling on each other’s hair.
Now that I’m older, it’s not always easy to find time to spend in nature, but when I do, I experience the same sense of joy and wonder I had when I was little. Whether it’s a leisurely stroll or a strenuous hike, I feel connected to the land where I live and to the natural world around me. My favorite hiking spot becomes a refuge from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a place that feels like home where I can rest and recharge. No doubt, readers in New Jersey have their own special outdoor place in mind.
If the Ramapo Reserve’s 20 miles of hiking trails aren’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other hidden gems throughout a small state that boasts more than 300 miles along 50 rail-trails. Whether you’re visiting the Columbia Trail in the northwest, the D & R Canal Trail in the central part of the state, the eight-mile bike path on Island State Park by the shore, or one of the many hiking trails running through the Pine Barrens in South Jersey, my home state has a trail for everyone.
Wherever you go in New Jersey, you’ll find another great spot for an outdoor adventure and another place to make memories like I have, the kind that last a lifetime—and only 20 minutes from the Turnpike!