Tent Camping in New Jersey
This fall I began working on my next guidebook project, a second edition of Best Tent Camping: NJ. The first edition of the book was written by Marie Javins, who no longer lives in the northeast. Given my close proximity to New Jersey, Menasha Ridge asked if I would be interested in doing the second edition. I happily agreed. I had already done a some exploring around New Jersey in my work on the forthcoming Best Hikes of the Appalachian Trail: Mid-Atlantic, and knew that, in spite of its population density, there are some nice places to get outdoors and to get away from the crowds.
Revising a guidebook involves a lot of leg work that entails, among other things, updating information about fees, dates, seasons, reservation procedures, campground and site amenities (such as the availability of showers, ADA accessible facilities and so forth), campground layouts (campsites are often renumbered, new sites added or some sites are removed), and the availability of activities in the area. It is amazing the extent to which things change even over a short period of time. The first edition of the book was published in 2005, and so I have a lot to look into. Additionally, the new Best Tent Camping series will include illustrations in the form of photographs in addition to the campground maps that accompanied the profiles in the first editions. So an interesting part of the work involved with creating the second edition is figuring out what sort of photographs can best illustrate a camping experience. All of this means that I am making regular drives over to New Jersey to do the field work for the book.
High Point State Park
I did my first bit of field work on the drive down from Canada earlier this fall. As long as I was driving across I-84, I thought I would make a stop at one of my favorite hiking places in New Jersey: High Point State Park. I spent some time there earlier in the year while working on the Appalachian Trail book, and was amazed by the array of trails and great scenery. In addition to hiking, the park has excellent tent camping facilities at the Sawmill Lake Camping Area, located a couple of miles from the park office. It consists of 50 tent and and tent-trailer sites distributed around a small man-made lake. Although most of the sites are situated among the forest, some of the sites are located right on the edge of the lake. These offer a nice feeling of spaciousness.
Two things really stood out to me about the campground: 1) Overall the sites are quite large and offer a fair amount of privacy, and 2) of the 50 sites 20 of them have nice wooden tent platforms, which make for a very even sleeping surface. I visited the campground on a Monday, and a couple of the sites were occupied. It was pretty clear, however, by virtue of all of the reservation tags still hanging from the site posts that the campground was full the previous weekend. That’s good to keep in mind if you are planning a weekend trip to the park. High Point State Park has a whole network of trails that provide excellent hiking opportunities, a lake with a swimming beach, opportunities for boating. And it is (as the name indicates) home to the New Jersey High Point Monument, which is not to be missed.
Worthington State Forest
After visiting High Point, I made my way across Kittatiny Mountain, a long ridge that runs southwest from High Point State Park to the Delaware Water Gap at I-80. A fair portion of the ridge is in the Stokes State Forest, which has three very nice and secluded campgrounds that are all quite suitable for tent camping. From the state forest office in Branchville, NJ, I followed the ridge southwest paralleling the Delaware River on a very small and at times quite rugged National Park Service road, to check out the campground along the river in Worthington State Forest.
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DWGNRA) has always been a bit of an enigma to me. In spite of its size (it spans over 70,000 acres in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania along the Delaware River), its extensive natural scenery, and its vast array of outdoor activities, the availability of public campgrounds around the gap is pretty much limited to two, one on each side of the river. Both of them are good for allowing you to get away from the RV crowd you’ll find at nearby private campgrounds. In Pennsylvania, you’ll find Dingman’s Campground on US 209 just south of Dingmans Ferry (see Best Tent Camping: PA).
On the New Jersey side of the river, you’ll find the Worthington State Forest Campground. Although technically not part of the DWGNRA, Worthington State Forest is bordered to the north and south by the DWGNRA and to the west by the Delaware River (technically also part of the recreation area). So camping at the Worthington State Forest Campground provides easy access to many of the natural and historical sites in the DWGNRA on the New Jersey side of the river. I visited the campground just a couple of weeks ago, at the height of the fall colors, and I was really impressed by what I found there.
At 82 sites, the campground is not massive. It does, however, cover quite a bit of terrain along the banks of the Delaware. I would estimate a couple of miles at least. The campground is divided into two main family camping areas in addition to an area of three group sites. The sites that are most suitable for tent camping are numbers 1 to 23, which are designated as tent only. These are located along the campground access road south from the Worthington Forest Office where you’ll register for the sites. With little exception, these sites are huge and quite private. Many are located riverside. With the exception of sites 1-4, which open on the second Friday in May, the rest of the sites open on the second Friday in April. All of them close on October 31.
It is worth noting that northern New Jersey, the Kittatiny Mountain area in particular, is home quite a large Black Bear population. All of the campgrounds I visited had several metal bear boxes for storing food, and plenty of signs warning that you are indeed camping in bear country. I do recommend heeding the guidelines they offer (especially the one about not cooking or keeping food in your tent).