Waretown, in Ocean County
Summary: A great intro to the terrain of the Pine Barrens at a very nicely kept park. The well-marked WHITE trail is the longest loop in the park and travels through Atlantic white cedar swamps as well as the typical pine and sandy trails of the area. There are some rolling hills – not usually found in the Pine Barrens.
*There is no-hunting at this park, but it can be closed sometimes due to hunting in the private land that surrounds the park.
Updated 1/9/14 – Hike description updated, GPS file added, photos added. There is a newer park map now, and this lists the WHITE trail as the “Macri” trail, which used to be called “Penns Hill” trail. It’s been simplified to WHITE in the description below.
8.4 miles roundtrip. Easy trail surface of pine and sand, some boardwalks over wet areas, minor rolling hills (really minor – the elevation of Laurel Hill is only 130′!!!). The boardwalks can be slippery in wet or icy conditions.
- Shorter options: 3.5 mile GREEN loop, 1.3 mile BLUE, .7 mile PINK or use the GREEN trail in conjunction with WHITE for varying loops.
Our two cents: We chose this as a ‘best hike’ not only because it’s a nicely kept park that is a good intro to hiking the pine barrens but there is something for everyone. The White trail is a long loop for avid hikers, but that route is also good for hikers trying to see if they can up their mileage since there are several bail-out points where it can be cut short if needed. For beginners or families, there are short loops from the visitor center and a nice a playground.
Sunny winter day:
Cloudy, snowy winter day:
Map: Park provides a nice trail map here. The visitor center probably has them when they are open in season (not open until 10am). Trails are VERY well blazed. There are also mileage markers along WHITE, so if you’ve started the beginning near the visitor center, the mileage will be pretty accurate as you go along.
Books: Detailed description and map for the Penns Hill trail can be found in Hiking New Jersey (the driving directions aren’t good however).
*Ticks: The Pine Barrens are notorious for ticks. We don’t use bug spray in January but it got warm enough that day that we had one on a pantleg. So if you can pick up a tick here in January, imagine what you may end up with in the summer – be prepared.
Parking: N39 47.717 W74 16.572
From the Garden State Parkway Southbound or Northbound: Exit 69 (Waretown); turn LEFT (west) onto Wells Mills Road, Route 532; proceed approx. 2.5 miles to park entrance on the LEFT.
Restrooms: Seasonal restrooms, right at the parking lot. (not sure when they are open; were closed in Jan.) There is a rest stop on the Parkway around exit 74.
Hike Directions: This route entirely follows the WHITE trail. It’s very well marked thru the entire hike, there wasn’t one instance where we questioned where to go.
To locate the trailhead, walk past the bathrooms and trail kiosk towards the visitor center. Walk around the right side of the visitor center and heads towards the lake.
0.0 – Look to your right and there is a sign with “Penns Hill 8.4 miles”. Start following the WHITE markers, which will hug the shoreline. [GPS: WHT-Trail]
Shortly, go through a cedar swamp – a very pretty, dark, wet area crossed on boardwalks.
0.2 - Pass the BLUE (Conrad) trail on your right. As you exit the swamp area, the trail veers to the right and heads away from the water. [GPS: WHT/BLUEconrad]
0.3 – Keep straight on WHITE as GREEN (Estlow) and YELLOW (Bike Trail) cross the trail. [GPS:WHT/GRNestlow]
The trail becomes more hilly and you don’t pass any other blazed trails for awhile.
3.4 - come to a wooden fence you need to step over; turn RIGHT onto a woods road. [GPS: FenceOpening]
At this point, WHITE is co-aligned with GREEN (Estlow)/YELLOW(Bike Trail) (these will lead you back to the visitor center if you’d like to cut it short)
3.5 – Turn sharply left, still following WHITE. [A barricade blocks the trail straight.]
3.8 – cross over Oyster Creek on a boardwalk.
4.0 – Follow WHITE as it turns left. [GPS:WHT/GRN-YEL1] [GREEN (Estlow)/YELLOW(Bike Trail) continue straight.]
Head over a long boardwalk. The trail loops around, going over an area called “The Island” on older park maps.
5.9 – Cross over the GREEN (Estlow)/YELLOW(Bike Trail) trail. [GPS: WHT/GRN-YEL2]
8.2 - Turn RIGHT, continue following WHITE back to the lot. [GPS: WHT/GRN-YEL3] [Trail is co-aligned with the GREEN (Estlow) trail.]