Ring in 2023 on foot: Dozens of free First Day Hikes in NJ
Start off 2023 on the right foot by taking part in the annual First Day Hike in New Jersey’s state parks, forests, and historic sites on Jan. 1.
There are more than 40 First Day hikes scheduled for New Year’s Day, a record number, said Caryn Shinske, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
In 2022, there were only 28 hikes where more than 248 hikers traveled 952 miles on First Day Hikes throughout the state’s vast network of trails.
“Last year was the first year that we came back from the pandemic with the hikes. So, to see such a big jump in the number of hikes from 2022 to 2023 is great and we’re hoping the public will really take advantage of getting outdoors and enjoying our state parks, forests, and historic sites through the First Day Hike program,” Shinske said.
When did the First Day Hike begin?
The State Park Service began participating in First Day Hikes after the program became a nationwide event in 2012, Shinske said. But First Day Hikes actually began more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Massachusetts. The program was launched to promote healthy lifestyles and year-round recreation at state parks.
She said the First Day Hike is popular because it is a reminder here in New Jersey to the public that the state parks, forests, and historic sites are open all year round.
It’s not just during Shore season, it’s not just during fall foliage and it’s not just during the spring, Shinske explained. Most days of the year, residents can find something to see and do at a New Jersey state park, forest, or historic site.
The best part is that all the hikes during the First Day Hike are free.
What is special about these hikes is that they cover multiple difficulty levels. Some hikes are either beginner, moderate or strenuous levels, Shinske said.
Where are some of the beginner hikes?
Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park (Mercer County)
Hikers will explore the history of the canal and consider the significance of this trail through modern-day Trenton. The two-mile loop hike begins at 10 a.m. at the Trenton Battle Monument, 350 N. Warren Street.
Monmouth Battlefield State Park (Monmouth County)
There is a guided 2.5-mile hike planned through the farm fields where General George Washington commanded the Continental Army and Molly Pitcher fought during the Battle of Monmouth.
Hikers will be able to view the park’s natural beauty while learning about the people and events of the Revolutionary War battle that took place there in June 1778. Hikers will meet at 11 a.m. at the Monmouth Battlefield State Park Visitor Center, 20 Business Route 33, in Manalapan.
Where are some of the moderate hikes?
Belleplain State Forest (Cape May County)
Humans and dogs can join Megan and her “Furry Friends” for the state forest’s six-mile first-day dog hike. Shinske said after the hike, tea, hot cocoa, and homemade treats will be offered to people and their pets around a campfire. Hikers will meet at 9:30 a.m. at the Belleplain State Forest office parking lot, 1 Henkinsifkin Road in Woodbine.
Wharton State Forest (Burlington County)
The history of fires and fire prevention will be explored during a guided hike at Batsto Village that will span from the Batsto Mansion to the Batsto Fire Tower. Historical interpretation will focus on both the industrial use and destructive power of fire in the Pinelands.
The hike will be offered at 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 1:30 p.m. Hikers will meet behind the visitor center at 31 Batsto Road in Hammonton.
Where are some of the strenuous hikes?
High Point State Park (Sussex County)
The sixth annual High Point First Day Challenge is along a rugged section of the Appalachian Trail, featuring numerous scenic views along the ridge. Hikers will meet at 10 a.m. at the Appalachian Trail parking lot on Route 23 in Montague.
Warren Highlands Trail (Warren County)
This rugged 15-mile hike features beautiful views along Harmony Ridge, historic logging roads, and a visit to the former iron mines of Marble Hill. Hikers will meet at 8 a.m. at the Marble Hill Natural Resource Area River Road parking lot in Lopatcong.
A complete list of hikes, pre-registration, advice about what to wear, and who to contact in case of inclement weather can be found here.
This is a great opportunity to get outside, get some fresh air, get some exercise, and see all the nature New Jersey has to offer, Shinske said.
Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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