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Off the turnpike: Hiking the Garden State

I am not normal. I am destined for a desk job in an air conditioned office, writing code all day, but on the other hand I love being outside in nature.  Hiking (Or short trekking, as if I had my way, the map and GPS would only be backup), rock climbing, kayaking, rafting, fishing, camping (Which I don’t get to ever do it seems) and now I’ve added geocaching to the list. I’m also damn proud of my state as I state here, the state is not everything people say, there are no toxic waste dumps, and everything is not off the turnpike, and there are hundreds of miles of hiking.

I recently moved into an apartment for college. If you follow me on twitter or know me, then you know more details about that and maybe the area. It’s in the New Jersey Skylands, or the Highlands, depending on your discipline., which is a prime spot for hiking. Just a dozen or so miles from the Appalachian trail (AT), which provides 72 miles of trails coming from New York State into New Jersey slightly North if High Point in Montague, down to Mt. Tammany, a 1526 foot peak. Across from Mt. Minsi, it ends the southern portion of the AT in New Jersey, and its a popular short day hike. Easily done in a day, even coming from points as far as Cape may, it’s one of the better hikes in New Jersey, but as I’ve come to find, not the best. I’m sure you may want maps and more info on these hikes, and I’ll list info for all hikes mentioned here at the very button of the page.

My favorite of all Hikes has been Sunfish pond. Sunfish pond is about 3.5 miles from the route 80 entrance to the water gap, totally about 7 miles if you go to the lake entrance and double back to the interstate. I’ve been there twice, and heard about it most of my life. It’s a well-known landmark, and frequented by any outdoorsy NJ residents. It may very well have been the damning piece of the Tock’s island project, after a judge involved with the case fell in love with it on a hike with his wife. It is a stunning glacial lake, and on my first trip up I found a fossil shell imprint, at over 1000 feet above sea level. Sunfish pond is rather mystical, it’s unexpected and amazing and just magical. But it’s hardly a secret.

Sunfish Pond

Sunfish Pond 5/28/11 As seen from the Southern most shore.

Back on October 28th, I may have found New Jersey’s best kept secret hike.  I was amazed and surprised. It was suggested to me by a new friend who, who is a surprise as well. After about an hour drive, through Clinton Road up to West Milford, a town on the edge of New Jersey, which contains Abram S. Hewitt State Forest, 2001 acres of Forest on the side of a highway between the two Greenwood lakes. Far up in the mountains of Hewitt State Forest, is Surprise Lake, similar in many aspects to Sunfish pond. The lake sneaks up on you, as the trail is higher than the water level, you only come to realize where the lake is, by the clearing and rocks before it. The lake itself is a pleasant surprise, and surprisingly huge. There’s an awesome rock looking upon the lake (The rock and lake and pictured below.)

Surprise Lake, Hewitt State Forest

Panorama of Surprise Lake 10/28/11, Hewitt State Forest

The round trip to the lake overlook and back (continuing on the trail, not doubling back) runs you about 6 miles. We went off trail for a white, picked up on another trail, doubled back, and then a few more short spurs off the trail, topping 9 miles total. The terrain, if you stay on trail to the lake is easy, but many puddles or stream crossings, past the lake, closer to NY or on the white blazed trail back, is rockier, but definitely more fun. Going off trail by the lake overview, we found a probably 100 foot high rocky mountain area which we free climbed til we met up with the Orange blazed trail overlooking Greenwood lake. At points on the white trail on the far end of Surprise lake, nearing West Pond and the Yellow blazed trail, the trails take you to high elevation and you can see the New York City Skyline, some 30 miles away, which seems appropriate for Hewitt State Park, named after the father of the New York City Subway system.

Greenwood Lake

Overlook on Greenwood Lake from Hewitt State Forest

Surprise lake was absolutely amazing. We hiking somewhere around 10 miles, getting back to the car just before dark. We lost the trail several times, but found the highway and walked back to the parking area, which was nothing more than a slot on the side of the highway big enough for maybe three cars. The terrain is rough at times, and was partially flooded at times. This trail is not for everyone, as climbing and jumping is required and there are rocky areas, but if you can handle it, its worth the hike, and the lake is a pleasant surprise, and a great spot for lunch. Of all the places I’ve hiked, Mt. Tammeny, High Point, Jenny Jump, pine barrens areas, areas along the Musconetcong, Hawk Mountain (PA), and many other places, the only place that compares is Sunfish pond, which is much better known and more populated with muggles. Surprise lake is a great hike if you want a quiet day with an amazing view and want more activity than just plain hiking.

Surprise Lake Hike

The author towards the start of the the Surprise Lake Hike

Hike Info

(The NY/NJ Trail conference maps are amazing, I didn’t have them at the time of the hike, but I will be using a set for every future hike.)

Sunfish Pond:
NJhiking.com trail info, review
NYNJTC Trail info
National Park Service Downloadable Trail map
NYNJTC Kittatinny Trails Map kit (Store | Amazon)

Surprise Lake:
NJhiking.com trail info, review
NYNJTC Trail info
NJHiking.com Downloadable Trail map
NYNJTC North Jersey Trails Map kit (Store | Amazon)

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About Alpha1beta

College Student & Web Designer. Gorram Geeky Sarcastic BrownCoat!, Droid rights activist, and professional code monkey.

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