This past weekend, Morgan, Zelda the dog, and I took a quick weekend getaway to Wharton State Forest in Central/Southern New Jersey. The main reason was because Morgan had some days off but we also just wanted to get away for a few days to relax.
This time around, we would forgo the packs and go “car camping,” which allowed us to bring along some lavish items that are normally left at home due to their bulk, weight, or both. Things like a full sized tent, full sized stove, and a cooler – often the bare necessities for many are considered luxurious in the eyes of a backpacker. Instead of backpacks, the crosstrek would do the bulk of the work, carrying all the equipment in the back seat, or in the yakima top case, which has served us pretty well in the past. As usual, the dog would have plenty of comfortable blankets in the trunk (the subaru crosstrek is a hatchback, FYI)
I had made online reservations to stay at Godfrey Bridge Campground, about 35 primitive sites some 6 miles from Batsto, NJ in the heart of the Pine Barrens for two nights. The total cost was around $35, which is pretty good for a campground in the middle of the forest and only about an hour and half away from Philly. Other than finding it online, there isn’t a whole lot of information out there about these campgrounds, apart from knowing ahead of time that they are dog friendly and still open later in the season. The campgrounds don’t have an office or host, so check-in is done at one of two main offices in Batsto Village and the other in Atsion, which close at 4pm. We knew we wouldn’t make it in time on Friday, so we’d have to retroactively check-in on Saturday.
Friday, we set off from our house in northwest Philly at around 4pm, fighting the afternoon traffic for much of the drive, before it opened up on the Atlantic City Expressway. We made a quick stop in Williamstown, NJ at the ShopRite to pick up food for dinner before making the final 32 mile drive to the campground. Because there is no camp office or store, we needed to pick up firewood for the next two nights. I have learned that most campgrounds are heavily picked through, leaving almost nothing to fuel the fire, making it a necessity to buy in advance.
Now, there is a privately run campground called Wading Pines Camping Resort, located adjacent to the public one we would be staying at. I don’t have much against private campgrounds, but they tend to be catered towards families with large RVs and not towards young couples with tents (or anybody with tents, really). Due to its convenience, we stopped in their general store to pick up fire wood, which was stacked inside for about 6 dollars a bundle, containing enough logs to last a night – we bought two. We made our way to the campground, the road deteriorating as we went, metaphorically representing our departure away from civilization.
The sites were simply marked and were well laid out, with a combination fire pit and grill as well as a picnic table. Due to the type of soil of the pine barrens, there are some large
trees that rise above a carpet of thickets and brush. It was getting dark, so we divided and conquered setting up the tent, getting a fire going, and making dinner. Except Zelda, she just moped around wondering when we would be going home. We went to bed to the overwhelming screams and shouts of the campground across the river with the staccato of “marco!…..polo!……marco!…..” which could be heard for several hours into the night. Despite our campsite being about half a mile as the crow flies from their campground, the sound carried very well. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for other campers who were located adjacent to the river and this the private campground. Luckily, I had stashed a pair
of earplugs away in my sleeping bag and was able to block out the noise and get some shut eye.
We awoke to…silence! Making breakfast with the chill of the morning still making fog of our breath, we made a plan of what to do for the day. The first task was to go to the main office in Batsto Village to check-in. We then looked over a loop-trail that starts and ends in Batsto Village itself, a historic 16th century village open for tours. Called the Batsto Lake Trail, it consists of 3 increasing loops of red, blue, and white of 1, 2, and 4 miles respectively that takes you along Batsto Lake and then through the pine barrens. A map of the trail can be found here. With as much of a plan as that, we set off for the 6 mile drive to the village. After checking in, we thought it would be a good idea to head back to camp to put our slip on the post at our campground to signify our reservation. On the way back we stopped at the water pump for water (I am pretty sure I had never used a legitimate hand pump for water before in my life) and stopped at the outhouse for a bathroom break.
We saddled up again to go back to the village to hike. As we exited the campground, to get to the main road, you can make a right hand turn, which leads to the paved road. However, we wondered what would happen if you took a left instead, especially since there was signage for another campground down the road, and we were curious. Although the road narrowed in some spots, it was still doable with the all wheel drive crosstrek. We passed by another campground, Hawkins bridge campground, which is managed in a similar fashion to Godfrey bridge. It did seem that this was more catered to group camping, with a large open area, trees spread thinly throughout. We pressed on, with the GPS displaying thin, almost indiscriminate lines to mark the roads. All told, we drove about 8 miles through the center of Wharton Forest and made for an interesting little adventure. I might have to come back here with the motorcycle for a little off-roading.
We arrived once again at the village, leashed up the dog and filled our water bottles. We meandered around the village, but all the people and other dogs got zelda a little more riled up than we liked so we made our way to the trail head. The trail is sandy, little to no rocks, and very flat. We hiked the white trail, which is 4 miles in total and once you get out past the red and blue trails, is only lightly trafficked. It was a beautiful day, with clear skies which made the hike a breeze and we finished in about an hour to an hour and a half. Once back at the car, we saddled up, got a few more groceries, and then went back to camp. This time, prepared with a fuel log to get the fire going since there was slim pickins for kindling around the camp site.
Sitting around the warm fire, as the sun went down, the temperature dropped, and the noise intensified again. Once we ran out of firewood, we bundled up in the tent and used the heat from the propane lamp to heat the (well ventilated) tent.
The next morning, we packed up, ate breakfast, and made our way to our final destination – Flying Fish Brewery in Somerdale, NJ, which was on the way back to Philly. We sat outside with the dog and had a final beer before getting back to the real world, toasting to a successful a relaxing weekend. Until next time!