Tag Archives: Forest

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.

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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