Tag Archives: Camping

North Jersey’s Secret Campground

We went deeper and deeper into the forest. Tents and shelters disappeared, replaced by foxes, deer, and silence.

We pulled up to a small clearing, scarcely another human in sight.


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The road to Steam Mill

This is Steam Mill Campground in Stokes State Forest. The 16,000 acre park in northern New Jersey is popular with campers, but today we were off the beaten path.

This beautiful spot is less visited than other camping spots in Stokes. The sounds of music and conversation were replaced with bird calls.

Deer near Lake Ocquittunk

Dinner was an incredible coq au vin courtesy of our friend Jim*. A lengthy reduction of the broth left it redolent of bacon and wine.

We weren’t the only ones who loved the smell. As darkness fell, an adorable baby raccoon wandered onto our campsite!

Our friend Roscoe

He was so tame, he rubbed against my leg like a cat. My friend Tim* named him Roscoe.

As he ambled back into the forest, we heard his mother scold him with a loud shriek. I guess little raccoons can be as naughty as little humans.

Our days were for exploring.

Tillman Ravine

We hiked Tillman Ravine, a steep and dramatic landscape of rock and evergreen. It reminded me of the hills and pine forests of the Pacific Northwest.

After a short hike, our friend Victor* casually mentioned “I think the car is this way.” Some campers prefer the hot dogs to the hiking. 🙂

Towering evergreens at Tillman Ravine

Eager to go further, I took a long stroll down an abandoned fire road. The isolation and quiet does wonders for the mind.

But I wasn’t entirely alone. A huge barred owl glided across the path and landed in a tree, looking down at me.

Look closely…

In all our lives, what were the odds that we’d ever see each other? But I’m glad we did!

That night, unexpectedly heavy rain came down. I suffered a catastrophic tent failure and ran to the car.

Settling into the dry seat, I was so grateful for civilization. Sometimes you need to rough it just a bit to feel that gratitude.

Despite its remote location, Steam Mill is quite livable.

There’s delicious spring water on tap a short walk away. Many sites have platforms for tents and there’s even a bathroom…sort of.

The toilet seat is like the one you have at home, but it sits above a deep pit. 😨 It may not be the Four Seasons, but it’s serviceable.

Flush toilets and showers are a couple of miles away at the Lake Ocquittunk camping area, among others.

If you yearn for quiet and wildlife, Steam Mill is for you. It’s a bit less comfy, but the tranquil beauty makes it more than worthwhile.

Hope to see you there!

What are you favorite natural spots? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on the outdoors:

A Hidden Castle…In New Jersey?

The Real Groundhogs of New Jersey

Pine Barrens Glamping in Brendan Byrne State Forest

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*Not their real names.

A Special Weekend in Stokes State Forest

I walked up the cracked country road, wildflowers on either side. The birds sang and a rustle in the bushes made me turn my head.

A chipmunk! The little grey man stood still, awaiting my next move.

I tried to get a picture, but he was too fast!

This weekend I had the joy of visiting Stokes State Forest in northwestern New Jersey. Our state may be known for chemical plants and garbage dumps, but in these verdant woods, you’d never know it.


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The land undulates gently, slowly rising into broad, thickly wooded mountains. Tucked away in that woods was our campsite.

I returned to our temporary homestead after my stroll, dropping into my lawn chair with a groan. Burgers sizzled on the grill.

After a wonderful dinner and many laughs with friends, I retired to my tent on the edge of the forest. There’s something peaceful about making your bed in nature.

Stokes State Forest has excellent camping facilities that I’d recommend to anyone.

There are real bathrooms nearby, and they’re actually clean! The dispensers always have soap, a rare amenity in the woods.

A short drive away were the showers, and I felt like a new man after lathering up there on Saturday!

The campsites themselves are spacious and provide a good distance between you and other campers. But the water might be the best thing of all!

Stokes has an artesian well that provides some of the best-tasting mineral water you’ll ever drink! Locals who aren’t even camping drive into the forest to fill dozens of plastic bottles from this pristine spring.

When we’re camping, my friends and I don’t have to worry about getting home. Home is a tent just a few feet away!

There is no other time in this hectic modern world where I get to spend days at a time with some of my favorite people. That’s why camping is special.

If you’ve never camped, give it a try! Stokes is just over an hour from New York City and its natural beauty is more than worth the trip!

What are some of your favorite experiences in nature? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on the outdoors:

How Camping Is Improving My Life

Pine Barrens Glamping in Brendan Byrne State Forest

My Camping Essentials: The Basics, The Wishlist, And The Things I Never Thought I’d Need But Can’t Live Without

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Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 with great returns.

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Misfits Market

I’ve used Misfits for years, and it never disappoints! Every fruit and vegetable is organic, super fresh, and packed with flavor!

I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $15 on your first order. 

Pine Barrens Glamping in Brendan Byrne State Forest

We opened the door to the cabin and stood silently, our mouths agape. In years visiting the woods, we’d never seen anything like this.

A beautiful brand new cabin!

The bunks were feathery soft. The carpentry was stunning, each board fitting together perfectly.

No sleeping on a bare floor tonight!

This is Brendan Bryne State Forest in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. This unusual ecosystem of pine trees and sandy soil is home to many rare plant and animal species, including 274 kinds of moss!

My friends and I unpacked our gear and started a fire, grilling up steaks and salmon burgers. Sitting around that fire, the concerns of daily life faded away like the smoke.

After a fine night’s sleep in the cushy bunks, we wolfed down ham and eggs and set off for a hike. The hiking is easy in the Pine Barrens, with flat terrain and well groomed trails.

We wondered at the beautiful conifers and placid ponds, often content with saying little.

As we made it back to camp, our friend Victor* pulled up! He had been tied up Friday but didn’t want to miss this wonderful weekend entirely.

Together, we cooked burgers, apple gouda sausages, and even a savory chili over the flames. We joked and laughed, untroubled by the need to get home at the end of the night.

Come Sunday morning, we all sat around after breakfast, reluctant to begin packing. It would mean the trip was over.

But pack we did, already planning our next visit.

Brendan Byrne has both cabins (with plumbing and electricity) and “shelters,” which was the simpler cabin we stayed in. I found it more than adequate, and at about $50 a night for Jersey residents, it’s a steal!

Now is the perfect time to visit the Pine Barrens!

The weather’s getting warmer but the ticks have yet to emerge. Enjoy this unique world while you can!

More on New Jersey:

Is this NJ’s Most Beautiful Spot?

The Mafia’s Hoboken Fortress

New Jersey’s Jelly Donut Heaven

*not his real name

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More on Fundrise in this post.

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Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me.

Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor.

I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy!

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Is this NJ’s Most Beautiful Spot?

Our car wound into the hills along deserted roads. The scenery went from small towns to vast woods. We crunched down a gravel path to a secluded camp site along a lake. This was Stokes State Forest.

This weekend, I went camping with some friends in this beautiful spot in northwestern New Jersey. I can heartily recommend it for its varied scenery and peaceful ambience. Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect if you visit:

Location: About 70 miles northwest of New York City in the beautfiul Delaware Water Gap, just a few miles from the Pennsylvania border. If you’re in the NYC area, this is one of the more convenient campgrounds to visit.

Scenery: The most varied I’ve seen yet, after having been to Harriman State Park and the Catskills in New York and the Pine Barrens in South Jersey. We saw small mountains, ponds, lakes, marshes, and plains all within a 5 mile hike!

Wildlife: We saw squirrels, a beaver dam, and even a bald eagle circling above us! You’ll see a lot of signs warning about bears. Be sure not only food but anything aromatic like lotion, toothpaste etc. is inside your car or in a bear bag when you go to sleep. Don’t take chances.

Amenities: There are water spigots with fresh, cold H2O everywhere. The nearest was about 50 feet from our camp site. There were also nice, clean bathrooms just a couple hundred feet away. The only available showers, however, were in the Lake Ocquittunk area, which was so far from our campsite we had to drive. This was a definitive negative, but at least the water was hot when we got there! The fire rings and the campsites in general are beat up from heavy use, but functional.

Cost: $40 for two nights. Split between the three of us, it was negligible.

Unexpected benefit: Compared to the Pine Barrens, where we often camp, Stokes State Forest has fewer ticks, which makes it a good summer camping spot.

Watch out for: Fire bans. Because it had been windy the day we arrived, there was a fire ban that lasted most of the trip. This is a real problem: you don’t have a heat source or a way to cook. I’d strongly recommend bringing a butane camp stove. Ours is a Coleman and it’s great. It cost about $30.

We sat around the fire (once the fire ban expired) and gobbled up pork chops, sausages, and s’mores. When nature called in the morning, I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise over the nearby lake.

This is a beautiful spot! If you’re in the area, I encourage you to check it out!

For more on camping and the outdoors, check out these posts:

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What Made Me Happy in 2020

We are waving goodbye to this year, and a lot of people are saying good riddance. But I’ve been thinking to myself, how can I write off an entire year of my life? Even optimistically, it’s at least 1% of my existence. So lately I’ve been reflecting on all the great parts of 2020. These are some things I have been grateful for in this most unusual of years:

  • My dear little pet gerbil lived over 3/4ths of this year, so I can never say 2020 was bad. He passed away in October, and in 2021 I’ll be without him the entire year. So since I had the joy of being with him in 2020, I can never say 2020 was bad.
  • I made more new friends this year than in the prior 5, oddly enough. I think people are reaching out for human contact, but also trying to be safe. My relationships with my existing friends also became deeper as distractions were removed and all of us needed more of each other’s support.
  • I discovered yoga, which helped me heal from a tendon injury that made it hard to walk. I now have a great new hobby I plan to vigorously pursue in the New Year. It also provides me a community of great people to talk to.
  • I got into camping, which is something I never thought I’d enjoy but came to love. As our usual activities shut down, my friends and I went to the one thing that was open: the woods. We deepened our friendships by facing challenges together and found peace amongst nature.
  • I will truly appreciate getting to see family and non-local friends again. Normally, I would’ve seen them from time to time as a matter of course, but being deprived of that this year means I’ll relish their company all the more in 2021.
  • I’ll also really enjoy being in a crowd of friends, being able to act in TV shows and movies, volunteering at the animal shelter and other activities I can’t do now.
  • I gained real understanding that the world can change absolutely unpredictably in an instant. I had only ever seen gradual change before in my life. That will give me greater insight into the world and help me prepare for other challenges.
  • Even though unexpected changes can happen, I realized certain solid habits like exercise, a decent diet, and saving money set you up well for any eventuality.
  • I gained greater confidence in myself. I assimilated new information quickly about testing, masks, etc. and successfully kept myself and my family safe. I feel like if I can get through this, I can get through most anything, and I think the same is true of society at large.
  • This blog! I was searching for a lockdown-proof hobby and rediscovered my interest in writing. We’ve had views from countries as far away as Belgium, India, Dubai and Nigeria. What a joy to be able to connect with people from all over the world!

What did you enjoy in 2020, despite all the difficulties this year has presented? Let us know in the comments!

Happy New Year everyone!

“New Year’s Eve 2020 at Numbers” byenigmaarts is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

My Camping Essentials: The Basics, The Wishlist, And The Things I Never Thought I’d Need But Can’t Live Without

Getting involved in camping since the spring has done a lot for me. I’ve developed new skills, found greater relaxation and mental clarity, and become closer with friends. But, to get those benefits, first I needed a tent!

There are certain pieces of equipment that are non-negotiable must haves for camping. Other things are nice to have, and some things you’d never even think of as camping equipment but are extremely useful in the woods.

The Basics:

  • You need a tent. Why? The tent traps your body heat and keeps you warm. It keeps insects and rain out. Just get one. Here’s the one I have, from Ozark Trails, the Wal-Mart house brand of camping equipment. I highly recommend this brand for the new camper who isn’t sure if they’ll go often…or ever again. The cost is rock bottom and the quality is surprisingly good, better than comparable products I’ve seen from Amazon. If you wind up going often, you’ll likely replace this stuff with higher-end equipment.
  • Sleeping pad. You have to have this because it insulates you from the cold ground and provides cushioning. You’ll freeze on the lumpy ground without it. Mine is similar to this (my model is no longer sold).
  • Sleeping bag. Without a sleeping bag, you risk hypothermia and death even in relatively mild weather. A friend of mine tried to go bagless once and woke up shivering uncontrollably in what was likely a full-blown case of hypothermia. We cuffed him, dragged him to Wal-Mart, and forced him to buy a sleeping bag for the 2nd night. I started out with an Ozark Trails 40F sleeping bag, similar to this. I’m keeping it for warmer weather trips. Note that because a bag is rated to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees celsius) doesn’t mean you’ll be comfortable at 40. Overshoot some on the sleeping bag. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Safety whistle. It’s dirt cheap and you’ll need it to scare off bears, find others if you’re lost, etc. DO NOT blow it unless it’s an emergency, as it is very bad for the ears. I didn’t have this for my first few trips and I really wish I did. It would’ve given me peace of mind when a buck walked through our campsite at 4:00 am in the Catskills and I first thought it was a bear.

Recent Additions:

  • The beast of all sleeping bags: Coleman 0 degree mummy sleeping bag. Strongly recommended. Very comfortable, soft, high quality zipper. This is a mummy bag, unlike the conventional bag I linked above. The advantage is it heats up from your body heat dramatically faster. I’d recommend you just go with a bag like this from the outset if you’re going to be camping in the cold. A weak bag will make you a miserable person in the morning. This bag is heavy so it’s not good for backpacking.
  • YETI cooler. Not mine, not even my friends’, but their parents’ cooler. Shockingly expensive but incredibly effective. They kindly let us borrow it. Ice takes a long, long time to melt and you can eat tastier, fresher food on the campsite. There are certainly cheap coolers that can do a decent job.
  • Larger knife. This was an early Christmas gift from a friend and more advanced woodsman. Mine is not a Mora but it’s similar to this (I actually don’t know what brand mine is). It’s great for food prep or cutting sticks to make a firestick (used to start camp fires). Don’t walk around town with it unless your local laws allow.
  • Headlamp, much easier than a flashlight because it’s hands free. You can substitute a phone flashlight but I’d recommend this. It’s easier to use with a longer battery life. I have this one.
  • Inflatable pillow, huge help in getting a good night’s sleep at minimal cost, size, and weight. Mine is here.

  • Tent footprint. Just bought this for my most recent trip, which was last weekend. It’s a plastic painter’s drop cloth. It stops moisture from coming up out of the ground into your tent. I also found it kept me dramatically warmer despite being a mere 2 mm thick and costing almost nothing. Definitely recommended, especially if there’s rain forecasted during your trip. Here’s how to use that plastic sheet to make the tent footprint. It sounds complicated but is actually quite easy.
  • Uniqlo down jacket, a wonderful gift from my mother in law that seals in your heat like nothing else.

Things I Never Thought I’d Need But Can’t Live Without:

  • Necessaire eucalyptus body wash. Kindly provided by my wife. I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise. If this is a little too pricey, anything with essential oils like eucalpytus or tea tree oil should do nicely. There are many cheaper options but this stuff is divine, assuming you have showers at your campsite.
  • Electrolyte packets. I experienced dehydration and electrolyte depletion on a recent trip, which was a difficult experience. I strongly recommend having some kind of electrolyte supplementation on hand, just in case. Pedialyte might be an even better choice.
  • Weekender bag, another lovely gift from the missus. The rectangular shape makes it easier to find things in the weekender than in a backpack, and the extra pockets are handy. My electrolyte packets go in the tiny one.

Wishlist:

  • Warbonnet hammock. Expensive but awesome and the one exception to the “you need a tent” rule. Should last many years. The experienced camper I mentioned above has it and swears by it. This is made in America by a small company and the quality is very high.

What items do you guys love for camping? What questions do you have about camping gear or camping in general? Let me know in the comments!

How Camping Is Improving My Life

In April 2020, I did something I never thought I’d do: leave my warm, comfortable apartment and sleep in a bag in the woods.

When I found out friends of mine were organizing a camping trip, my brain immediately started manufacturing excuses why I couldn’t go: too cold, the gear’s too expensive, etc. But with lockdowns removing most of the things I normally did, it occurred to me it might be time to try something new.

So I bought the essential camping equipment and we rode up to the Catskill Mountains, which I see have 255 Google Reviews with a 4.5 star average. (Who reviews a mountain range like it’s a 7-11?) I expected the trip to be something I’d simply endure. Instead, I took to the woods almost right away.

Since then, we’ve gone six more times plus numerous day hikes, and I’ve become a Junior Woodsman. I almost had an attack the first time I had to put up my tent, and a kind friend wound up basically doing the entire thing for me. But I learned, bit by bit. Last Friday, when we went here (highly recommended although closing for the season tomorrow) I had my tent up in about 5 minutes.

What do I get from being in the woods? The removal of the typical stimuli lets my brain work better. I see things more clearly and come to certain realizations. For example, this weekend, it became clearer to me that the next step for my investment business in 2021 may be to rebalance from stocks into more commercial real estate, given the relative valuations of the two asset classes.

Being with friends all day, every day, solving problems and undergoing challenges together is very different from just hanging out for a few hours on the weekend. You get closer as a group and come to know each other better. Some times, you barely need to speak anymore, because you know you’re already understood.

Your existence in the woods is very simple. You need water, a fire, some food, a basic shelter and your friends. And not much else. That time can inform the rest of your life once you’re back home.

With many campgrounds closing for the season, we will likely be transitioning to more day hikes and trying to find some cabins for rent from time to time. However we do it, more time in nature is bound to be a positive for us.

Give it a try!