Hiking the Batona Trail in NJ

Batona stands for BAck TO NAture. Cute right?

The trail is about 55 miles long through Southern New Jersey’s Pine Barrons & the Wharton State Forrest. Like the Loyalsock Trail, it’s a thru-hike that’s challenging but very doable. In fact, the Batona Trail is pretty easy hiking. It’s very flat, and the sandy soil and pine needles create a spongey ground that’s easy on the joints.

The trail is a little swampy and very humid. The pine trees make the water red with acidity, but it’s still drinkable (after you treat it, of course!). The Trail is home to lots of unique wildlife, some even unique to the Pine Barrons!

I’ve only thru-hiked the Batona Trail once. In spring and fall, it’s one of my favorite places to visit for car camping. This is a must visit for those in the Philly Metro, or if you’re visiting the area.

Day Hikes

If you’re not in for a thru-hike, there are lots of places to park your car for a shorter one. Check out these options:

  • Paki Pond Trail: This is a 13.5 Mile Loop.
  • Wharton State Forrest Parking Area to Lower Forge Campground: This is a fun 5.5 mile hike if you’re up for a *slight* challenge. It’s ideal for your slightly squeamish friend who’s new to hiking/backpacking! Park at the Wharton Parking area and hike to the Lower Forge Campground and stay the night (make sure you get a camping permit in advance, you can’t do it at the campsite). You can also just park at Lower Forge if you don’t want to do a hike. Also, there is no potable water at this campground, so bring drinking water, treatment tools or plan on boiling water, even if you’re car camping.
  • Carrenza Memorial to Apple Pie Hill: You can park your car at Carranza Memorial and hike to Apple Pie Hill and back, which is an 8.4 mile out-and-back hike. Located in Tabernacle, NJ, Apple Pie Hill is the highest point on the Batona Trail. It’s still pretty low, though (an impressive 209 feet above sea level)! The fun thing is that they have a 60-foot high observation tower you can climb, according to NJHiking.com. However, when I went to the tower, it was roped off. It says that if there’s someone in the tower, you are allowed to climb it, but that’s only during fire season. It’s recommended that you call NJ Forest Fire Service Division B Headquarters at (609)726-9010 to check ahead of time. If you climb the tower, send me pics please! I hope you can see the ocean!

Time of Year to Backpack the Batona Trail

NOT SUMMER.

We made the mistake of hiking the trial in July. Not only was it super hot, but oh my goodness, the ticks!

I have never seen anything like this. I could feel ticks crawling around my body. Every time we took a break, we had to pull down our pants and our shirts and pluck them off. Dozens and dozens of ticks were always crawling around my skin.

When we turned in for the night, we did our thorough tick check, stripping down to nothing and pulling them off and flicking them outside. Then, we’d zip up the tent and wait for them to smell our blood and crawl out of the crevices in our gear (yikes). Then, we’d do 1 final tick check before bed.

Creepy! But this technique worked. Our tent seemed to keep out the ticks while we slept, as long as we did this double check. The two checks are crucial, by the way. We always found just as many on us the second time.

Don’t let my gross tick experience keep you off the trail! There should be far fewer ticks if evening temperatures have been consistently below 60 degrees F, or 15 Degrees C, so the ticks shouldn’t be a huge problem unless it’s summer. The trail is quite lovely in Spring!

Toading it Up on the Trail

We spotted many toads on our journey. At one point, we came upon a section of trail that was lined with hundreds of baby toads. Each time we took a step, they jumped out from under our shoes. Bart rounded them up and poured them into my hands for a photo op.

Where to Park Your Car

To do this thru-hike, you’ll want to park a car at either end of the trail. We parked ours at the following locations:

Camping Along the Trail

According to SouthJerseyTrails.com, you can only camp at these designated places. They all require booking ahead of time, so be sure to plan ahead!

  • Godfrey Bridge Campground: 10 miles from the start, 9 miles to the next campground, 43 miles from the end
  • Buttonwood Hill Camp: 15.7 miles from the start, 10.3 miles to the next campground, 37 miles from the end
  • Lower Forge Campground: 26 miles from the start, 5.8 miles to next campground, 31.2 miles from the end
  • Batona Campground: 31.8 miles from the start, 12.9 miles to next campground, 20.9 from the end
  • Brendan Bryne Campground: 44.7 miles from the start, 8 miles from the end. This is the last campground!

Camping Schedule We Followed (Strenuous 3.5 Day Hike)

All my estimated arrival times assume you hike at a rate of about 30 minutes per mile and (unless stated otherwise) take plenty of breaks.

  • Day .5: Arrive at the Bass River trailhead around 5 (we had to work!). I drove my car to the Ongs Hat Trail head with Bart following me. Then, we both got in his car and drive back to Bass River. We hike 10 miles to Godfrey Bridge Campground, take no breaks, and arrive around midnight.
  • Day 1: Hit the trail around 9 AM. Hike the 14.8 miles to Lower Forge Campground, arriving around 7 PM.
  • Day 2: Hit the trail around 7 AM. Hike the 18.7 miles to Brendan Bryne Campground, arriving around 7 PM.
  • Day 3: Finish the last 8 miles and drive home!

Obviously with this schedule, day 3 is a doozy, and day 1 is quite long. This schedule is, of course, not your only option. For a much more enjoyable hike, I would recommend doing this in 5 days (4 full days and 1 half day) but 3.5 is possible, as you can see.

Here’s a much nicer-sounding way to do it.

Recommended Schedule for Thru-Hiking the Batona Trail (Challenging but Enjoyable 4.5 Day Hike)

It would be much more pleasant to hike this over 4.5 days. Here’s how I would do it if I could do it again.

All my estimated arrival times assume you hike at a rate of about 30 minutes per mile and take plenty of breaks.

  • Day .5: Arrive at the Bass River Trailhead around noon. Take two cars to the Ongs Hat Trail head, then car pool back to Bass River (so you have 1 car on each end). Click here for a Map. It should take a little more than an hour to get the cars situated, so you’ll probably hit the trail at around 1:30 PM. From there, hike the 10 miles to Godfrey Bridge Campground, arriving around 7:30 PM.
  • Day 1: Hit the trail around 8 AM. Hike the 14.8 miles to Lower Forge Campground, arriving around 6 PM.
  • Day 2: Hit the trail around 9 AM. Hike the 5.8 miles to Batona Campground, arrive around 2 PM. You’re early! So you can have a nice, relaxing evening at camp. This camp is about 2.2 miles from Apple Pie Hill, so you could take an excursion out there after you set up, if you’re into that idea!
  • Day 3: Hit the trail around 8 AM. Hike the 12.9 miles to Brendan Bryne Campground, arriving around 6:30 PM.
  • Day 4: Hit the trail around 9 AM. Hike the 8 miles to Bass River and finish your hike by 2 PM.

That sounds like so much fun, and makes me want to go back and do the hike the sane person way! I am hoping to do the 5.5 mile hike from Wharton Forrest to Lower Forge this spring.

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