By Tom Gilbert, Co-Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to get outside and exercise more, here’s a great way to start 2023 on the right foot: Join a “First Day” hike on Jan. 1.
Across New Jersey, guided New Year’s Day hikes are being organized to help residents get a jump start on a healthy habit, all while enjoying beautiful scenery in the company of others.
What’s so great about hiking? For starters, walking is one of the best things people of all ages can do to boost their overall health. Regular walking packs a bunch of benefits, including toned muscles, a stronger heart, lower blood pressure, better digestion, less joint pain and fewer bouts of insomnia.
Walking outdoors in nature multiplies those benefits. While any walking is good, studies have shown that walking in a natural setting makes people feel calmer and more focused. Winter is a fantastic time for hiking, since scenic vistas are more open without leaves on the trees – and you don’t have to deal with heat and humidity.
The New Jersey Division of Parks and Forests is offering 14 First Day hikes at state parks, all free of charge. They range from easy strolls along flat terrain to strenuous hikes up and down hills. There’s something for everyone – including your dog!
Here are the hikes, from north to south:
High Point State Park, Sussex County – The 6th annual High Point First Day Challenge Hike covers about six scenic miles and is meant for experienced hikers. The first, more rugged half of the hike will be on the Appalachian Trail, while the return will be on the easier Iris Trail, a well-graded former wagon road. Leashed dogs are welcome.
Paulinskill Valley Rail Trail, Kittatinny State Park, Warren County – The Paulinskill Valley Trail Committee invites the public to join them for the 38th Annual New Year’s Day Hike, starting at Footbridge Park in Blairstown. This easy hike covers about four miles, and the cinder-based trail provides easy, level walking. Leashed dogs are welcome.
Liberty State Park, Hudson County – This easy hike at New Jersey’s most-visited state park features a three-mile, leisurely walk to Caven Point Beach and back. Hikers will explore the urban and natural shoreline of the Upper New York Bay, and enjoy fabulous views of the Statue of Liberty and New York skyline. Dogs are prohibited, except for service dogs.
Cheesequake State Park, Middlesex County – Begin the New Year with a moderate, two-mile naturalist-led hike suitable for walkers ages 8 and up. Participants will learn about the history and environmental highlights of the park. Dogs on leash are welcome.
Twin Lights Historic Site, Monmouth County – Okay, this one isn’t exactly a hike. Ring in the New Year by climbing the 64 steps to the top of the lighthouse’s North Tower to see a sweeping vista, including Sandy Hook. Once you’re back down, enjoy the Twin Lights Museum exhibits.
Mapleton Preserve, D&R Canal State Park, Mercer County – The Friends of Princeton Nursery Lands will kick off 2023 with an easy, 1.5-mile First Day Hike. The hike will begin and end at the Mapleton Preserve/D&R Canal State Park Headquarters. Hikers are invited to warm up afterward with a cup of cocoa.
Monmouth Battlefield State Park, Monmouth County – Enjoy the natural beauty of the park while learning about the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Monmouth during this easy 2.5-mile hike. You’ll walk through farm fields where George Washington commanded the Continental Army and where Molly Pitcher fought. Dogs are not allowed, except for service dogs.
Abbott Marshlands, D&R Canal State Park – Start 2023 on an active note by walking the D&R Canal’s southernmost towpath on a six-mile hike. Nestled within the Abbott Marshlands, the trail explores the area around Crosswicks Creek. Leashed dogs are welcome.
Island Beach State Park, Ocean County – Kick off the New Year by spending the afternoon on the beach! Join the Friends of IBSP for a scenic one-mile walk along the ocean and enjoy the park’s natural beauty in winter. A bonfire and s’mores will follow.
Double Trouble State Park, Ocean County – Welcome the New Year by getting into a little “Trouble.” Enjoy a leisurely 1.5-mile jaunt along the Mill Pond Trail and admire the picturesque clear waters of Cedar Creek. The event will wrap up with a guided walk through the historic village.
Bass River State Forest, Burlington County – Kick off the First Day with an easy two-mile hike at New Jersey’s first state forest. Snap photos at scenic Lake Absegami and visit the remains of a historic Civilian Conservation Corps camp. Afterward, stay for hot chocolate or tea. If you have enough energy, climb up the Bass River fire tower!
Parvin State Park, Salem County – After a busy holiday season, recharge your energy during an easy three-mile “First of the Year Nature Walk.” Hikers will be guided along the park’s Green Trail. Dogs on leashes are welcome.
Belleplain State Forest, Cape May County – It’s a dog’s life on this First Day hike! Join Megan Ritter and her furry friends for a moderate six-mile hike. Megan will lead hikers along a few different trail systems to highlight Cape May County’s diverse forest landscape. Afterward, enjoy tea, hot cocoa and homemade treats around a campfire.
Belleplain State Forest, Cape May County – Those interested in learning about nature at Belleplain are invited to join Naturalist Matthew Pelligrine on a leisurely three-mile hike along the East Creek Trail. Dogs on leashes are welcome.
For a list of First Day hikes – including detailed descriptions, registration information and meeting places– go to https://nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/firstdayhikes/. Other groups may be adding New Year’s Day hikes, so check the websites of parks and preserves near you.
Get outside on New Year’s Day, enjoy nature and learn some local history! It’s a fantastic way to start a happy and healthy 2023 and explore New Jersey’s beautiful, open spaces.
For more information about preserving land and natural resources in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Gilbert is a co-executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills.