Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sourland Mountain Preserve "Ridge Trail" 4.9 Miles

I woke up this morning and thought I might take a walk around the park because it was such a nice day (Mostly sunny in the 80's)--thank God I changed my mind!  For whatever reason, I decided to check out some of the local hikes I have bookmarked but never got around to going on (when I say local I mean within an hour or so away--Sourland is about an hour and 20 minutes away from my hometown).  The trip was well worth it, and Sourland Mountain Preserve far exceeded my expectations--not that I really had any, since it was so spur-of-the-moment.

Anyway, the drive in was lovely once I got off 295.  I drove through the Princeton area briefly and then onto rolling hills and sleepy farms, which were the perfect setting for my Kenny Rogers, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings soundtrack.  My excitement grew as I saw a high, green ridge in the distance.

Based on the recommendations of NJ Hiking, I opted for the "Ridge Trail," a 4.9 mile trail that's well marked with white, square blazes.  The trail was rocky in almost all places, and after some spring rains, it was a bit muddy and even swampy in some parts--my boots proved to be waterproof on many occasions today!  There are a few steep sections--some true huffer, puffers--but no actual scrambling is necessary.  Boarded areas and small bridges are provided in some sections, but many times I was walking through muck.  I came home rather splattered in dirt.

When I got about a half a mile in, I was greeted by a fellow hiker headed in the other direction.  We exchanged salutations, and I could tell he wanted to tell me something.  He eventually announced he'd just seen a bear at the upcoming connector trail.  He said the bear took one look at him and ran away (as bears usually do), but I have to admit, this information had me scanning my surroundings a bit more often than I usually do.  I'm not very scared of black bears, as bear attacks in New Jersey are almost non-existent.  Apparently, all you have to do is make some noise and they head in the other direction.  However, I'm positive if I ever see one, my heart will stop.  Surprisingly, I've never seen a wild bear--even when an old boyfriend and I went looking for them during the 11 days we spent in the Adirondacks.  Despite their startling effect, I definitely hope to see one someday.

However, I did see a snake!  For whatever reason, I've never in all my life seen a wild snake.  When I got home, I looked up wild snakes in New Jersey, and I believe what I saw was a black rat snake (the picture below was not taken by me).  Snakes give me the creeps--I wasn't scared necessarily because I knew it wasn't venomous (and even the few venomous snakes in New Jersey are rarely, if ever, deadly).  However, this guy (probably about a foot and a half long) was right ahead of me on a rock that I had to pass by.  But upon hearing me coming, he slithered under the rock.  Nonetheless, I made a lot of noise as I stomped pass in hopes he would stay in his hiding place.  Once I was well passed him, I was actually glad to have caught a glimpse.  (UPDATE: I've since learned that snakes cannot hear.  So much for that approach.)

I saw lots of wild flowers, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, and a ton of bugs (many of them bees).  I checked myself diligently for ticks when I got home because I forgot to wear bug spray.  Fortunately, insects don't seem to fond of my blood.  I generally go the whole summer with only one or two mosquito bites.

One thing that is not noted on the NJ Hiking website (and believe me I intend to tell them) is one view that is just too stunning to miss.  You have to break from the Ridge Trail when you get to the first grassy area where the pipeline runs.  Make a left up to the top of the hill, and you will see a surprisingly awesome view.  I'm not sure why they didn't have the trail go that way, because if you're not a curious hiker like myself, you're likely to miss it.

Like I said the trail is easy to follow and for the most part easy to moderate in level of difficulty.  As long as you're following the square, white blazes you are on the right trail, but there are some side trails, so you have to watch the blazes.  At one point I thought I'd lost the Ridge Trail when I became distracted by two shirtless rock climbers (who laughed at me when I mentioned the bear, saying that if I see the bear I should scream and they'll know to run the other way).  When I bumped into these two fine specimens, it was right at an intersection and I didn't want to seem unskilled by pulling out my map or God forbid asking them for the way.  Fortunately, I stayed on the Ridge Trail despite the rather serendipitous meeting.

(The end of the Ridge Trail)

This was a phenomenal way to start the spring hiking season, and since I forgot my camera (these pictures were taken by iPhone), I'll just have to go back sometime!

Happy Trails!


  1. I've never seen a bear at Sourland Mountain Preserve even though I've been their many times. But I hopefully will at some point in time!

  2. I've never seen a bear at Sourland Mountain Preserve even though I've been their many times. But I hopefully will at some point in time!