Trailhead address: 119 Hacklebarney Rd, Long Valley, NJ 07853-9525
Trailhead coordinates: 40°45′5.04″N 74°44′9.63″W Coordinates: 40°45′5.04″N 74°44′9.63″W
Destination: Hacklebarney State Park
Round Trip Distance: 6 Miles
Elevation Gain: 804 Ft.
Time Needed On Trail: 2 hours
The first weekend in October saw temperatures dip and humidity evaporate which means that New Jersey leaf peeping season is here. And for the New York City Metro areas, Hacklebarney State Park sits at the top of the list as one of the best parks to do so.
Once a 19th century iron ore site, the New Jersey State park is now a favorite among novice hikers, anglers and nature photographers for the green hemlocks, cascading waterfalls and rushing Black River that cuts through the glacial valley. Nine short, winding trails criss cross the 456 acres available to the public, with a 250 foot descent down into the glacial valley over rocky and leaf covered trails.
If visiting on a weekend, plan to either arrive early morning or late afternoon as the parking lot, though a generous size, fills up quick with families during late morning and early afternoon. Hacklebarney Farms Cider Mill, pick your own pumpkin and farm store is just up the road, so most families will make a day on the trails and reward themselves with some cider and donuts.
The trails, a mixture of paved, gravel and uneven terrain are bordered by the black river, farmlands and forest, with only one entrance in and out of the park. The Lamington River creates a hard border between Hacklebarney and two other outdoor recreation areas (Black River Park and Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center, both healthy additions to Hacklebarney if you’re trying to pack in several miles
Starting from the parking lot, you’ll pass a moss covered outdoor center kept company by a lonely vending machine. Bathrooms are on the right fifty feet farther down. With 6 miles of overlapping trails, do not expect to spend less than one to two hours doing the outer loop as sections become steep and uneven, as well as narrow when the path hugs the river.
Following the Red/Riverside trail (1.8 miles and the most popular) you first descend from the main entrance down some old, waterlogged stairs - often covered with fallen leaves. It's easy to slip, especially after recent rain or a particularly dry few months so keep your balance as you head down. From that point, the trail remains relatively flat with some unused and overgrown picnic areas on either side asTrout Brook, one of the streams that feeds the Lamington River and creates the tiers of waterfalls farther down in the trail, bubbles nearby. There will be groups of hikers that abandon the marked trail and hop along the rocks and boulders to reach the waterfalls, but these sections are unmarked, uneven and an easy place to roll an ankle if you aren’t careful.
Continuing along the Riverside trail you’re engulfed by eastern hemlock towering above and the crinkle of fallen leaves below. Patches of pavement peak from beneath the layer of fallen leaves as the path ascends around a slope. On the right handside, before cresting up and over, makeshift stairs lead away from the Riverside Trail down to the craggy banks of Trout Brook and unobstructed views of the waterfalls. From there you can hopscotch across the boulders down to the main river, or turn around back to continue along the marked trail, which slopes back down running parallel with the Lamington River, often times less than two feet from the water.
The trail slims as it follows the river and becomes an obstacle course of tree branches, roots and sticky mud. Bordered by sheer ravine sides and the river, with no more than a couple feet of trail space at a time so make sure you can always accommodate for one person to pause and another to pass by. While the river is neither dangerously fast nor deep it is rocky, so take care on your landing if you end up taking a dive in. Large and flat boulders can be reached from the banks my some careful foot work, making for a nice spot to relax and enjoy the view and river sounds.
The trail eventually spits you back out a flat clearing with picnic tables and anglers dotted along the shore. NJ Fish and Wildlife stock the river with brown, rainbow and brook trout, so fishing is available, though restrictions apply..
From this point there are a few options. You can follow the Wintershine Trail for .35 miles back toward the crest of the Riverside trail or follow the Haki/Main Trails back toward the parking lot. The third and most scenic option is continuing along the Riverside Trail, which will have you cross Rhinehart Brook, walking along a trail sloping upwards. A T-intersection appears, butt the only real direction you can is right, onto the Windy Ridge Trail due to a boundary monument and dead end should you turn left. Following the Windy Ridge brings you 300 feet back up the ravine in a gradual slope with views of the treeline making your way back to the main entrance.
Hacklebarney is not a challenging hike, but the constant change of terrain and uneven trails keep you on your toes. As well, it is a popular destination for families on weekends, in part because of its close proximity to many of the farms, pumpkin patches and apple orchards in the surrounding area. For more solitary and relaxed stroll through the woods, be sure to check out Cooper Grist Mill, a flat trailway that follows the Black River from the other side and is a straightforward in and back hike, but much less crowded.