Whenever someone finds out that I mush dogs, their second question is always, "You do that in New Jersey?" While we usually get some snow each winter, NJ is not considered a musher's paradise.
Don't get me wrong -- New Jersey is "the garden state". We have a lot of beautiful forests packed in this diverse little state. That being said, it's also the most densely populated state in the entire country. Finding trails without bikers, hikers, hunters, horseback riders, and loose dogs is almost impossible.
To avoid trouble on the trails, I usually take the dogs out very early in the morning. It's also usually colder at dawn, which works out in our favor. I have yet to travel beyond my neighborhood trails for night runs, but I haven't really needed to.
Most of our weekly runs are between a half mile and two miles, and consist of the "trails" I have found around my neighborhood. This includes backroads, small sections of woodland, and relatively unused parks (in cold weather, anyway).
When I'm not running around the suburbs like a crazy person, there are a few spots drive to:
Six Mile Run
The Six Mile Run Reservoir site is maintained as a State Park and includes several trails that are used primarily by mountain bikers, hikers, and horseback riders. It has 8 miles (13 km) of twisting single track maintained by JORBA. Access to the park can be found at the large parking lot on Canal Road near Six Mile Run Road, from the parking lot of the private soccer club on Route 27, and from several smaller parking areas on roads that traverse the park.
This mixture of woods and farmland is roughly 30 minutes from my house. The description from Wikipedia I sourced above mentions eight miles of trail, but there are many different ways you can manipulate your distance and go further. The longest run I had was eight miles -- a full four miles out/four miles back, but it involved crossing over some streams on bridges just slightly wider than my rig (without railings), so I haven't been that eager to try it again. I normally run two to three miles out and back on the blue trail.
While the blue trail falls along the border of farmland and woods, the red trail offers a bit more diversity. It's harder to get longer distances on this side of the woods, but there are a lot more intersecting trails to keep the dogs interested. I also really love taking the sled through the dark, tightly packed pines on this part of the trail.
Six Mile Run is ideal for mountain bikers, and there are a lot of trails that aren't easy for a rig or sled to traverse. Many are narrow, steep, or involve arched bridges with no railing as I mentioned earlier. You also need to be mindful of bikers on the trail (which is why I run early), as they can silently speed around corners with little warning. Luckily, I've never had any collisions, and the bikers have been friendly and curious about my dogs and rig.
The trails that are suitable can be torn up from bikes and horses, and then freeze into choppy trenches and potholes. When thawed, expect to be completely drenched in mud.
Despite the challenges, Six Mile Run is one of my favorite places to bring the dogs in any season.
Brendan T. Byrne State Forest
The Brendan T. Byrne State Forest (formerly the Lebanon State Forest) is a 37,242 acre (139 km²) state forest in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
The Brendan T. Byrne State Forest is the state's second largest state forest (afterWharton State Forest). There are 25 miles (40 km) of hiking trails and a camping area. The park is operated and maintained by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry.
The Pine Barrens, specifically Brendan T. Byrne, will forever hold a special place in my heart. This is where it all began -- where I met the mushers of Jersey Sands Sled Dog Racing Association. Dexter and I learned the beginning steps to mushing from all the mentors I gathered on these sandy roads.
The trails around Mt. Misery (which is neither mountainous or miserable) can keep you busy for hours. We've trained, hiked, camped, and raced within the confines of this forest. It's a solid hour and a half drive, which means waking up well before dawn to enjoy solitude on the trails. Fortunately, pet-friendly campsites make this spot perfect for camping out on long weekend trips.
There are quite a few other trails around New Jersey that work for mushing. Rail trails are disused railways converted into a multi-use path, which are quite abundant throughout the state. I've mushed on the Paulinskill Valley Trail and Columbia Trail. These both offer decent mileage, but they are straight trails that don't always provide a good spot to "pull over". They're also popular with hikers, bikers, dog walkers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers. Since there are no other trails to turn off, you're stuck dealing with whoever else is also using the trail.
One of my favorite mushing experiences was at High Point. I had never used my sled on a groomed trail before, and it made such a difference. The temperature was -11°F with the wind, and my phone was too cold to stay on, so I don't have many photos or stats recorded from that day. I hope to get back there again this season.
While I tend to stick to the same trails, exploring new spots is one of the most exciting and challenging things about mushing. Everything you and your dogs learn on the familiar trails is put to the test in new places. In the future, I hope to extend my adventures across the country. But for now, yes, I do mush in New Jersey.