Tag Archives: Hiking

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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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. 

Why Are There Cars Full of Bulletholes in Ringwood State Park?

As I walked up the beginning of a trail covered in red and orange leaves last fall, I saw a dark form to my left. What is that, a rock, a downed tree? As I got closer, I realized it was the shell of a vintage automobile.

Coming closer, I realized this was not your average junker. The car appeared to be from the 40’s or 50’s, and it had more than mechanical trouble. Along the side was a series of large holes that appeared to have been made by a powerful firearm.

Did the car belong to an old time mobster, perhaps rubbed out in some gangland dispute and then dumped in the woods? If so, was there also a body nearby? And are there more cars in this woods?

This interesting find occurred to me again last night, so I did some Googling this morning but was unable to find any information about junked cars or dumped bodies in Ringwood State Park. The park is under an hour from New York City, so it seems entirely possible that it could be a mob graveyard. But the secret may have died with whoever was in that car many years ago.

Mysteries aside, Ringwood State Park is a beautiful and accessible spot that I highly recommend. Its undulating terrain affords beautiful views any time of year but especially in fall. Despite its proximity to New York City, I’ve found it to be generally uncrowded and quiet. The trails are not always marked well, so I’d suggest bringing a GPS unit if possible, although we were able to manage without one.

If anyone knows anything about the history of this area and what’s going on with that car, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Dig into these posts for more on the outdoors in New Jersey:

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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! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

A Hidden Castle…In New Jersey?

As you round a clear blue lake, a second, smaller path winds away from the main trail. Up this path, on a peak covered with flowers, lie the remains of a vast stone edifice.

This is Van Slyke Castle in Ramapo State Forest in Oakland, NJ, just 30 miles from midtown Manhattan. I visited with a friend last week and was mesmerized by the spooky ruins and the beautiful natural setting.

Van Slyke Castle was built by a wealthy stockbroker named William Porter at the beginning of the 20th century. After his death in a car crash, his widow Ruth married attorney Warren Van Slyke, who lent his name to the manse.

After Ruth’s death, the castle fell into disrepair, and burned down in 1959:

Ruth died in 1940, leaving the castle without an owner for nine years. It was finally purchased in 1949 by a couple who subsequently resold the property two years later to Suzanne S. Christie. She abandoned it shortly after. No one knows why she left the place, though it’s suspected it could have been the result of a bitter divorce.

After years of desertion, the mansion met its fiery demise when vandals broke in and set the place ablaze.

More on the history of the castle here.

The stone ruins are expansive. Though the structure is overgrown, the pipes are still visible and behind the house is the remains of a large swimming pool.

Beautiful flowers are everywhere. Perhaps Ruth Van Slyke planted them? From the peak, you can see the New York City skyline in silhouette in the distance, a marked contrast to the woodsy surroundings.

My friend and I lied on a rock near the castle and enjoyed the sun, flowers, and beautiful lake view. As we descended, I reflected on how amazing it is that inside this beautiful woods was a grand castle we could’ve easily missed.

If you haven’t been to Ramapo State Forest, I strongly recommend it! The scenery is beautiful and the hiking is easy. Add great views and the odd chipmunk, and it’s hard to beat!

Dig into these posts for more on the outdoors in New Jersey:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

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 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

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! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

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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