Exit 28 from the Atlantic City Expressway onto Rt. 206 north. Wharton State Forest has two offices - one at Batsto Village and one at Atsion Recreation Area. Batsto Village is located on Route 542, eight miles east of Hammonton. Atsion is on Route 206, eight miles north of Hammonton.
Wharton State Forest situated within the heart of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, in southern New Jersey is the largest single tract of wilderness within the New Jersey State Park System. The cedar swamps, bogs and heath plains of short stunted pines along with remnants of old settlements and ghost towns give the Jersey Pine Barrens an air of mystery. According to local legend, a creature known as the Jersey Devil haunts the area, feeding on livestock and unwary mountain bikers!
A 500+ mile network of hiking trails (including a major section of the 50.2 mile Batona Trail) and unpaved logging roads and trails for mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding wind through a range of habitat from pine-oak forest with dense thickets of brush and understory of scrub oak and pine to savanna-like grasslands and open woods.
More than 155 miles of pristine rivers and streams wind through the serene landscape providing a wealth of canoeing and fishing opportunities. The Mullica (most popular), Batsto, Wading and Oswego Rivers are all ideal for a recreational canoe or kayak trip.
The Wharton State Forest and surrounding areas are home to an incredible variety of flora and fauna, including many rare and threatened species. Numerous lakes, ponds and fields throughout the forest are ideal for birdwatching. Bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, marsh hawks, ospreys, great blue herons, swans, screech owls, great-horned owls, bluebirds, hummingbirds, purple martins, turkeys, beavers, river otters, fox, deer and the beautiful little Pine Barrens treefrog are some of the wildlife alert visitors may see. Several species of orchids and carnivorous plants are also found here.
The spring and summer months can be quite hot, muggy and buggy. The best time to ride is in the fall when the air is crisp, the sand roads are more hard-packed and the ground is blanketed in brilliant fall hues of red and deep maroon interspersed with ochre yellow and pine green. It is one of the most bewitchingly beautiful and interesting landscapes we have ever ridden and hiked through. It calls us back again and again like a siren song. (I'm a poet and don't know it).
There are miles of trails and unimproved logging roads open year-round to mountain bikes. These roads may be flat and wide, but due to the soft, sugary sand you can expect quite a workout and some routes are impossible to ride. Stick to the main routes that are known to support off-road vehicles and bikes for the best experience. During the fall or winter months, the road surface is more hard-packed.
Three of these are:
Batsto to Washington Road : approximately 6.5 miles to the Wading River.
Quaker Bridge Hampton Furnace Loop Trail : 16.6 miles
This 16.6 mile mountain bike loop ride is blazed with Blue Dots and travels on unimproved sand roads. The trail starts at the Atsion Ranger Headquarters located about 8 miles north of Hammonton, NJ on Route 206 at the site of the old Atsion Ironworks Village (see Historical Notes below). The village is listed on the National Register of Historic places. At it's peak, around 1880, Atsion was a thriving community of over 300 people. The Ranger Station was built in 1827 and rehabilitated in the 40's. It once served as the Atsion Village general store. Before your ride, take the time to stop in and learn more about the route ahead, pick up a trail map or buy one of the fascinating books detailing the history of the area. We did.
Start your mountain bike ride by heading out on the Quaker Bridge Road from the "Old General Store". You'll pedal past Quaker Bridge, High Crossing and the Hampton Furnace ruins before looping back to route 206 a few hundred feet north of the Atsion Ranger Station.
Batso Area Designated Bicycle Trails
The Jersey Action Riders - JORBA (Jersey Offroad Bicycle Association), a mountain bike club based in Southern New Jersey, has been and is currently working with representatives from the New Jersey DEC to develop and maintain several mountain bike trails at Wharton State Forest. On April 22, 2007, Park officials joined the volunteers for the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and opening of a new 5.5 mile Firetower Loop Trail and a 0.5 mile Short Bicycle Loop Trail for children and beginners. Since then, several more trails have been routed including the 16 mile Quaker Bridge Hampton Furnace Loop Trail and the Penn Branch Trail, an 19 mile epic loop ride. A series of shorter connector trails link the trail system and provide interesting shortcuts.
The new mountain bike trails utilize parts of the existing trail network. Work is still underway and a little help would go a long way. Literally.
The designated bike loop trails all begin at the back of the Batsto Village Visitor Center parking lot. The Short Loop trailhead is towards the right, the Bicycle Firetower Trail is located in the far left corner, between the gravel service road gate post and and the stockade fence. Other trails in the system branch off of the Firetower Trail.
Note: Please do not ride down the gravel service road near the trailhead or on any of the designated hiking trails that may intersect these trails.
All Terrain Bicycle Short Loop : 0.5 miles. Blazed with yellow circles. (motorized vehicles and equestrians are not permitted)
A short loop for kids and new knobbies (first timers) that travels in a short loop just off the picnic area. Avoid bicycling through the picnic area or onto the hiking trails.
All Terrain Firetower Bicycle Loop Trail : 5.5 miles. Blazed with green circles. (motorized vehicles and equestrians not permitted on singletrack sections)
This is the first trail we rode at Wharton State Forest. It's a great beginner or intermediate level ride. The route is mostly flat and there is nothing technical about it except for some sandy sections, fun tight and twisty singletrack, a few rolling hills and the occasional log.
The trail begins and ends in historic Batsto Village. Don't miss exploring the village before or after your ride (see Historical Notes below). More than half the trail is over firm singletrack and the rest on hard-packed wagon roads. The beginning of the trail travels alongside the existing Batsto Washington Road. The route then utilizes sections of existing multi-use wagon roads. The last leg of singletrack twists and turns alongside the Batsto Village to Washington Road, through dense pine-oak shrub before crossing a creek and finally passing the Batsto Fire Tower on the way back to the parking lot.
As an alternative you can take the Batsto Washington Road for the first leg and connect back into the lFiretower loop by taking the first left turn onto the hard-packed wagon road.
Batsto Penn Creek Branch Bicycle Trail : 19 miles. Blazed with Orange circles.
This trail runs in conjunction with and extends the Firetower trail to a 19 mile epic mountain bike ride through diverse pine barren habitat. Because of it's length, it is recommended that experienced riders in good physical condition attempt the entire loop.
The trail makes a huge circuit starting out on the Firetower Trail and travels past the Wagon Road #1 intersection on the left. It becomes the Penn Creek Branch Trail and eventually circles around the northern end of Pine Swamp Pond and Pine Swamp and follows the Batsto River back down to link back up with the last leg of the Firetower Trail back to Batsto Village.
There are several connector trails like the .75 mile Red Blazed Teaberry Trail, the 2 mile White Blazed Oak Hill Trail and the Blue Blazed Huckleberry Trail that branch off of both the Firetower and Penn Branch Loops for shorter and more varied ride options.
Note: If you go the distance be prepared with plenty of water, snacks for energy and time it so you don't get caught unexpectedly after dark. Let someone know where you are planning to ride.
Other Things To See And Do include:
Atsion Recreation Area: Family Camping
Located in the Western section of Wharton State Forest, Atsion Recreation Area offers a beach and swimming at Lake Atsion. Across from the lake, Atsion Family Campground is the most developed and accessible. It offers lovely wooded tent and trailer sites, fire rings and picnic tables, showers and other amenities. Cabins are also available.
(See our Bikes & Beaches feature article for more detail).
Historic Batsto Village
Listed on the New Jersey and National Register of Historic Places. A former bog iron and glassmaking industrial center from 1766 to 1867 that currently reflects the agricultural and commercial enterprises that existed here during the late 19th century. This site is noted for its historical significance and beauty. The Pine Barrens village consists of thirty-three historic buildings and structures including the Batsto Mansion, a 19th century ore boat, gristmill, sawmill, blacksmith and wheelwright shop, charcoal kiln, ice and milk houses, general store, workers' homes and post office with the Pinelands environment as a scenic backdrop. The mansion is now open for tours.
For hours of operation and tour dates and times visit the Batsto Village website.
Historic Atsion Village
Listed on the New Jersey and National Register of Historic Places. Behind the Ranger Station is the mansion built in 1826 by ironworks owner Samuel Richards. It is now open for tours for the first time in it's history. A few other interesting buildings still remain including a charming Quaker church (circa 1828) built by Samuel Richard, the Atsion schoolhouse, Atsion cottonmill, an old barn and a cottage believed to be the oldest structure left standing. You can also see Andrew Etheridge's House. When Joseph Wharton purchased the land in 1892, Andrew Etheridge was appointed caretaker and ran the general store. After his death the family continued to live there until the State purchased the land in 1954.
For information on tours: Atsion camping Office: 609.268.04444
Hiking The Batona Trail
Hiking the Batona Trail at Wharton State Forest between the Carranza Memorial to Apple Pie Hill is an easy and pleasant hike eastward past cedar swamps and through pine woods to two low hills. The higher of the two hills is Apple Pie Hill.
From the fire tower on the summit of Apple Pie Hill, the 120-foot high-point of Wharton State Forest, there is a view that will catch you by surprise. As you gaze over the tops of all the trees, miles of pristine wilderness stretch before you. Forests of oak and pine, punctuated by cranberry bogs to southeast and a few dark stands of rare Atlantic White Cedar, cover the flat sand plains in all directions. The only signs of civilization are way off in the distance. You can see the tops of skyscrapers in Philadelphia to the west and towers in Atlantic City to the east.
The forest is named for Joseph Wharton, who purchased the land which is now Wharton State Forest because he wanted to tap the vast ground water aquifer under the Pine Barrens as a source of pure drinking water for Philadelphia. Fortunately, the New Jersey Legislature prevented this by passing a law banning the export of water from the state. The state bought the vast tract from Wharton's heirs in the 1950s.
For more information:
Wharton State Forest