Got cabin fever? If you’re already stir-crazy from spending too much time indoors this winter, it’s time to get out and hike, cross-country ski or even snowshoe!
New Jersey’s parks and forests are lovely in winter, especially with a fresh coating of white fluff. Without leaves on the trees, you can enjoy views that are hidden in other seasons, and fresh snow will reveal animal tracks. All without ticks, chiggers, mosquitos or crowds!
A brisk winter hike is a great cure for the winter blues, also known as “seasonal affective disorder.” Studies show that being outdoors in nature – any time of year – increases feelings of well-being, decreases depression and even improves the ability to maintain focus and attention.
Finding places to explore this winter just got easier with Trail Tracker, a new interactive map for smart phones, developed and launched by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry in November.
Trail Tracker can help you search New Jersey’s 50 state parks, forests and recreation areas for places to hike, bike, ride horses and more. You can view trail maps, learn about points of interest, search for park activities, track your current location, and download PDF maps to your smartphone before entering areas of limited cell service.
Simply go to www.spstrailtracker.nj.gov, tap the map link and choose a park. Zoom in, and all of the park’s trails will pop up on the screen. From there, click on each trail individually to find out its length, difficulty rating, surface material, and permitted activities.
Tap the snowflake icon at the top of the screen to find out what winter activities – like cross-country skiing, sledding, ice fishing and ice boating – are permitted at each state park.
“The State Park Service gathered information on our vast network of trail over the past 10 years and now we’re excited to debut Trail Tracker and put this tool in visitors’ hands, too,” said Mark Texel, director of the Division of Parks and Forestry.
At the northern tip of the state, zoom in on High Point State Park to check out the park’s rugged trail network. Tap on the white line and you’ll learn that it’s the Appalachian Trail, rated moderate to difficult. If that sounds too strenuous, a tap on the orange trail reveals an easy to moderate hike, with horseback riding and biking also allowed.
Along the Hudson River, zoom in on Liberty State Park to learn about its trail system with views of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline. The orange line on the map is the Hudson River Walkway, an easy, paved trail that extends 4.5 miles, mostly along the water.
At Allaire State Park in the central part of the state, use the Trail Tracker to find both hiking trails and points of interest like historic buildings. You’ll find that most of the trails are easy to moderate, and allow biking, too.
At the southern tip of the state, zoom into Cape May State Park and you’ll see the Monarch Trail, a boardwalk path rated easy, which connects to the sandy Plover Trail. You’ll also see the locations of wildlife viewing platforms, as well as the famous Cape May lighthouse.
But no matter where you hike this winter, please be prepared. Here are some winter hiking tips from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference:
- Dress like an onion – in layers. Just as you don’t want to be too cold, you don’t want to sweat, either. Experts recommend moisture-wicking long underwear; a warm, insulating middle layer; and a windproof, waterproof outer layer, and a warm hat that covers your ears. Good hiking boots are a must, as well as “smart” wool socks to keep your feet warm and dry. If there’s snow on the ground, you might also want a pair of gaiters to keep snow out of your boots.
- Plan ahead, keeping in mind that you have fewer hours of daylight. Remember that if there’s snow or ice on the ground, the same trail you hiked quickly and easily last summer could take a lot longer. Allow plenty of time to get back before dark.
- Don’t hike alone. This is good advice any time of year, but especially important when venturing into the woods in winter. If you’re a novice at hiking in the snow, go with someone more experienced. Make sure someone not on the hike knows where you are.
- Pack safety gear. For hikes in the forest, you should bring a printed trail map, basic first aid kit, compass, pocket knife or multi-tool, hand warming packets, matches or lighter, whistle, extra snacks, and a headlamp. If it’s really cold out, you may want to put hot water, tea, coffee or cocoa in a thermos, since water in an uninsulated bottle can freeze.
- Extra socks, gloves and hats are also good to have.
- Consider traction aids. If trails are icy, you may want to invest in spikes, crampons or creepers to pull over your hiking books, as well as trekking poles.
In addition to the Trail Tracker tool, find great places to hike this winter by visiting the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference website at www.nynjtc.org, the New Jersey Trails Association at www.njtrails.org, or New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s trail locator map at http://njconservation.org/recr eation.htm.
If you prefer organized hikes, check out the State Park System’s calendar of events at http://www.state.nj.us/dep/par ksandforests/calendar/index. html. Click on the “Sign Up” box to get state park event listings delivered to your email. Other group hikes can be found through www.meetup.com.
And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation in Morristown.