Winter Vistas

Story & Photos by Mike Helbing

After all the leaves have fallen, many retire to the warmth of their homes not to emerge in search of natural adventure until spring. But the Winter season has it's own wonders that merit braving the cold. In fact there are intrepid hikers that don't take to the trails until the branches are bare, in search of vistas from ice formations to sun glistening on a freshly fallen snow. When the deciduous trees have dropped their leaves, the many rolling hills of the Skylands offer an abundance of viewpoints not otherwise be visible in other seasons. Here are a few places worth the walk.

Hamburg Mountain Wildlife Management Area

In the winter, even little waterfalls like these in the Hamburg Mountain Wildlife Management Area become a stockade of ice formations.

In Ogdensburg a rail trail in Hamburg Mountain Wildlife Management Area offers a good view from a power line cut, most visible in the winter. It can be accessed by a small dirt parking area on Route 517, a few feet north of Ogden Way. After walking 1.1 miles, the powerline cut offers views where, on a clear day, you can see the High Point Monument!

Jenny Jump State Forest

From Jenny Jump State Forest, some of the finest views of the beautiful sod fields of the Alphano Flats become more broad and sweeping.

And there are great views from Ghost Lake Trail, accessed from a parking area on Shades of Death Road. Follow the trail uphill until you reach the old cabin on the left of the trail. From here, it is possible to see Ghost Lake below, as well as nearby Allamuchy Mountain and I-80.

Photo: Ledge Road Quarry in White Township

Beaver Brook Wildlife Management Area

In Beaver Brook Wildlife Management Area, off Upper Sarepta Road in White Township near Belvidere, parking is available along Ledge Road. Follow the old Warren Railroad bed onto a farm road paralleling it. Soon, another farm road ascends to the right. There is a nice view from here. There is another year round view along the road if you were to continue uphill on Upper Sarepta Road to the Beaver Brook sign. Pequest Wildlife Management area has a small collection of trails that begin at their trout hatchery off Pequest Road. The upper trail offers a nice view over the Pequest Valley, another year round view, this one, but greater after the leaves have fallen. There is a map for the trail available in the visitor center.

Rich Pace, Robert Moss, who oversees works on the Highlands Trail, and Scott Helbing on the Trail in Allamuchy State Park.
Mike Helbing on a new section of the Highlands Trail on Sparta Mountain in Sussex County.

The Highlands Trail

Much of Allamuchy Mountain State Park offers great winter views. My favorite, however, is in the lesser-used east section of the park along the teal diamond blazed Highlands Trail. From Waterloo Road, just east of the Route 80 underpass, there is a grassy area to pull off on the right. The trail ascends a rocky slope on the left side of the road to a view over Waterloo Village and lake, the Musconetcong River and valley, and the International Trade Center. While there is a view here year round, the view becomes all the more spectacular after the leaves have fallen. There are other winter vistas in the park along many trails. Pick up a trail map from the Stephens State Park office before you plan your trip.

Above: Hikers Eric and Rich Pace on Patriot's Path overlooking Mansfield Township near Hackettstown.
Below: Hiker Matt Fenimore on Cataract Trail, Cataract Park on Schooleys Mountain

Schooleys Mountain

Cataract Park, a new park in Washington Township, offers some of my favorite winter views, as well as a waterfall and an accessible abandoned iron mine. From Route 57 east toward Hackettstown, turn right on Schooleys Mountain Road. There is a pull off parking lot on the left hand side while the road ascends. Blue blazes lead very steeply uphill to a seasonal view of Mansfield village.

At a trail junction, a left hand turn and orange blazes lead a short distance to the abandoned mine, while following blue blazes downhill to the left lead to Cataract Falls, a beautiful little waterfall nestled in this hidden gorge. In the winter, the falls freeze over in a breathtaking ice formation.

Also on Schooleys Mountain, there is a broad viewpoint on the temporary end of Patriot's Path. From Flocktown Kossman School, on Flocktown Road, follow the while blazed trail on the left side of the schoolyard through a small section of woods to a power line. The trail follows the power line gradually downhill crossing two more roads on the way. 1/4 mile after the trail breaks to the right of the power line, and there is a good view over Mansfield Twp. and the town of Hackettstown.

After witnessing the beauty of the vistas of winter, there is no question that braving the cold is well worth it. Perhaps one day this dreaded season will find the appreciation it deserves!

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