Saturday, May 31, 2014

Penn State Forest, NJ (pine barrens)

May 31, 2014

Miles 7.9
Time: 2 hours 45 minutes

Year to date miles:   157.7

Parking: Lake Oswego Road and Jenkins Road, Chatsworth, NJ

Rest rooms: Pit toilet at the trailhead

Hike directions:
From Oswego Lake parking lot, turn right on Jenkins Road.
Turn left on Lost Lane Road.
Turn right on Sooy Road.
Pass intersections with Deer Run Road, Penn Place, Cabin Road.
Turn right to Bear Swamp Hill.
Hike to top of hill and retrace steps back to Sooy Road.
Turn right on Sooy Road.
Turn right on Chatsworth Road.
Turn left on Stave Road.
Turn left on Lost Lane Road.
Pass intersections with Sooy Road, Chatsworth Road, Penn Place.
Continue to right where Sooy and Lost Lane Road meet.
Pass Jenkins Road.
Arrive at Oswego Lake parking area.

Map: Penn State Forest Map or Hiking New Jersey

Hike description:
We were originally planning on doing a 5 mile hike described in Hiking New Jersey, which starts at the Bear Swamp Hill parking area. A bad idea! We passed by the Lake Oswego parking area, and the roads became sand/gravel. The park roads are pretty rutted in places, including our drive down Sooy Road, trying to get to the parking area. Some of the ruts were as deep as Trek is tall (21"), and we had to maneuver very carefully around them in our minivan. We turned onto the road for Bear Swamp Hill parking area, and quickly realized we wouldn't be able to reach the parking area due to the road condition. We hiked there later, and the road was washed out/collapsed. So, that really isn't an available parking area unless you have a super high clearance vehicle. The whole hike is on sand roads (not trails), and we only saw 3 vehicles (other than ours) on the trails. One was a super high vehicle - I think you would need a ladder to get inside! We're not talking a suburbanite's SUV. This thing was tall! Like an elevated tank. It reminded me of some of the crazy vehicles we saw in Iceland. We also saw two high clearance vehicles with dirt bikes. Glen wanted to know the make & model of them :) The roads aren't really designed for Better to park at Lake Oswego. We ended up turning around and carefully making our way back to the Lake Oswego Parking area.

Since we were using a different parking area, we had to revise our original hike plan that was described in Hiking New Jersey. I read someone's blog that they didn't care for this hike. I guess you need to know what to expect and decide if it's for you. I was looking for a hike with very smooth footing (still recovering from the sprained ankle). This hike is very flat, and is almost completely smooth footing (except for some ruts in spots). So, it was just what I was looking for today. The hike is completely on sand roads - no trails. The sand roads are about 8 feet wide, and yes, you may see an occasional vehicle (we saw 3 total). The roads have no signs, and there are no blazes. Besides having the trail map, a GPS is very, very handy for this hike. There are roads that are NOT on the map, so it might be easy to get confused. And a lot of the roads look very similar. So, the GPS gives you some level of comfort about where exactly you are (ours showed the road names).

We saw no other hikers on this hike. There were a few people at Lake Oswego when we arrived - they were kayaking/canoeing/fishing. It looks like a fabulous place to kayak/canoe. The book said this is a very ticky hike, but we found none on us, and none on the dogs so far. Plus, it is really an easy hike to avoid ticks on due to road width. We had some black flies in the beginning (have a nice welt on my chin), but after 1/2 a mile, they disappeared. This hike has a lot of sun exposure, so it wouldn't be nice on a hot day. Bring sunscreen and a hat and sunglasses - as there often is no shade. Also, bring plenty of water for dogs, as there really is no water (except for puddles in ruts in the road - gross, and a couple places with skanky puddles next to the trail).

Having Lake Oswego be the start and end of the hike is great! We let the dogs go for a quick swim right before we started the hike, and when we finished, we let them do a lot more swimming before heading home. This was a long drive for us (made longer by accidents/traffic), and our drive to the hike ended up being longer than our hike, but ended up being the perfect hike for our needs today.

Deep ruts in the road. Too deep for the mini van. We had to straddle them.

Standing in a rut

The whole hike pretty much looks like this - a sandy road with pines on both sides.

The unreachable by car parking area

We believe this is the site of the former fire tower that was destroyed by a plane:
Bear Swamp Hill Airplane Crash

The park website talked about pygmy pines that mature at 4 feet, and that from a standing position, you could view over them. We did see short pines, but no such area where they maxed out at 4 feet.

Kayak launch area at Lake Oswego parking lot.

After a hot hike, the perfect way to end the day!

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