Who doesn’t spend part of the hike anticipating the treat that comes at the end? An order of French fries is usually enough for me, but when you’re in the mood to do something special, head to one of these New Jersey state parks in close proximity to local wineries. Start off by exploring trails that wend through historic sites or unique ecosystems, and end your day by relaxing at a winery that features sustainable viniculture, live music, or even yoga classes. Featured wineries rank among New Jersey’s top ten, according to NY Wine Events (make sure to check availability or book a tasting before you go). Work hard, play hard!
Brendan Byrne State Forest
The Work: This state park is situated in the heart of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, a unique ecological region known for its sandy soil and (of course) pine trees. Because its land is inhospitable to agriculture, the Pine Barrens have remained rural and unspoiled. Check out Mt. Misery Trail, which despite its name is a moderate loop, with beautiful trailside wildflowers in the spring. Park at Pakim Pond. Mileage: 9. Elevation: 134 feet.
The Reward: Laurita Winery hosts tastings in an airy building overlooking the grape vines. Before you go check the schedule, which is packed with events from girls’ nights to 80’s dance parties. (Picture courtesy of Adam Polinger).
Wharton State Forest
The Work: The largest state park in New Jersey, Wharton is home to the historic Batsto Village, once a major producer of glass and bog iron. A hike here isn’t just an afternoon in the outdoors but a look into the area’s cultural history. In such a spacious park there are many trails to choose from, but first-time visitors might enjoy the Batsto Lake Trail, a moderate loop with generous views of the lake. In the summer, paddle sports are available at the nearby Harrisville Pond. Park at the Batsto Visitor’s Center. Mileage: 4.1. Elevation: 131 feet.
The Reward: Two vineyards in the area are vying for your attention. One of the oldest in the state, Tomasello Winery was opened right after the end of Prohibition; its long history is reflected in its eclectic and charming décor. Nearby Sharrott Winery is powered entirely by solar energy and uses only manure to fertilize its grapes. A tour of their environmentally-friendly facilities will be intriguing for many outdoor adventurers! (Picture courtesy of Steve Greer at New Jersey Monthly).
Sourlands Mountain Preserve
The Work: Leafy and green, the Sourlands Mountain Preserve makes for shady hiking even in the heart of summer and boasts a network of interconnected paths. From the parking lot at the entrance, you can opt for the short and sweet Maple Flats Loop or embark on the Ridge Trail, which across the park’s many boulder formations. Mileage: 1.4 or 5. Elevation: 698 feet.
The Reward: At Old York Cellars, the tasting room looks over the Sourlands Mountain Range, so you can survey the day’s accomplishments with pride. If you’re not tired yet, this vineyard also offers yoga classes. (Picture courtesy of Skylands Visitor).
Nockamixon State Park
The Work: Just across the border in Pennsylvania, Nockamixon is popular and visitor-friendly. Of the many hikes on offer, one standout is the Lake Nockamixon Area Trail, a moderate loop that wends along the lake. It’s a great path for birdwatchers, and wildflowers are bountiful in the spring. Park near Lake Nockamixon on Deerwood Lane. Mileage: 5. Elevation: 383 feet.
The Reward: A short drive away, Alba Winery is impressive for its focus on low-impact, sustainable agriculture – a philosophy that makes sense given that its land has been in continuous use since the 1800s. (Picture courtesy of Alba Vineyard).
Washington Crossing State Park or Delaware River Water Sports
The Work: One of the most historic parks in the country, Washington Crossing is situated near the site of George Washington’s perilous journey across the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War. Although each of the individual trails are pretty short, by combining the red, blue, and yellow trails you can spend an afternoon rambling across the park’s many brooks and take in a scenic view of the river. This is a childhood favorite of mine and the site of many weekend rambles; since most of the trails are very gentle, this park is great for expeditions with little hikers. (Photo courtesy of William Jobes from Fine Art America).
If you’re feeling inspired by Washington’s exploits, skip the park and rent canoes, kayaks, or tubes from one of the many water sports companies serving the area. The Delaware is bordered by beautiful wooded hills, and drifting downstream is a lovely way to spend the afternoon.
The Reward: Dock your watercraft or drive upriver from Washington Park to Lambertville, where Tomasello Winery (mentioned above) operates a tasting room. You can sample a variety of wines while browsing through the antique furniture on display. An quaint town sprawling along the riverbank, Lambertville is perfect for an evening stroll to wrap up your day.