dear new jersey. you are beautiful.

I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods this week, which chronicles the author’s hike through portions of the Appalachian Trail. Despite Bryson’s horrific tales of black bears, drifting murderers, and life-threatening mountain passes (all of which have troubled people other than him, of course), the book contains charming passages about deep forests, gorgeous ridges, and stunning summits.

And it’s had me itching to hike since I turned the first page.

I climbed Mt. Katahdin in Maine with my brother last summer, and if all goes well I’m hoping to bag two other modest state high points this summer: Mt. Marcy, NY and the oh-so-creatively dubbed High Point, NJ. But as neither of those peaks (or mounds, in the latter’s case) were in reach this past Sunday, I headed for Hacklebarney State Park, an out-of-the-way little plot of forest outside of Chester, NJ.

My favorite is the advertisement for a "Rock Grove." Which happens to be, yes, a pile of rocks much like every other in the park.

The park had everything I wanted for the day – trails, no parking fee, and the opportunity to stop at Alstede Farms (where I’m a CSA member) for homemade ice cream on the way home. And not a single bear to be found. Besides, why would a bear go for my plain ol’ Larabar when he could have all the  hotdogs, side dishes, and s’mores from the numerous picnickers instead?

The "Windy Ridge Trail" via which I avoided numerous small, inevitably whining children, cantankerous fishermen, and one prolific Pakistani family reunion.

One of Hacklebarney's six simple, picturesque bridges.

Why do people always want to leave their mark in the woods?

The walk was lovely, moderate, and just long enough to get the hiking impulse out of my system for a moment. Hacklebarney’s 3 or so miles of trail can’t boast beautiful views or challenging hikes or even rugged charm, but it has a river, a brook or two, six bridges, and plenty of benches for taking in the scenery. All in all very pleasant and a lovely way to kick off the summer.

A flowering tree, smooth rocks and a babbling brook. The best of the forest at Hacklebarney.

One happy hiker on the trail.