Exploring New Jersey’s Pinelands in Winter
Even in winter, the New Jersey Pinelands promises a wealth of possibilities for fun, whether alfresco, cozied up indoors or simply out for a scenic drive. This spectacular area blankets the Southern Shore Region and surrounding counties, and that’s where we’re headed right now!
A Natural Year-Round State, National and Global Treasure
The New Jersey Pinelands encompasses an amazing 1.1 million acres and is part of The Pinelands National Reserve, the largest forested area on the Eastern Seaboard between Maine and the Florida Everglades, and a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve. It’s legally protected and comprises most of the Pine Barrens, New Jersey’s truly unique ecosystem.
In this fascinating region, a refuge for rare wildlife and plants, find a surprising array of scenery, habitats and species. Also dwelling here are a singular culture, distinctive towns (and ghost towns!), historic sites and mysterious legends.
Unearth the NJ Pinelands This Winter
With such a huge area to navigate, and a landscape that changes with each season, where can you delve into the possibilities? Start at the New Jersey Pinelands Commission, which provides an extensive, online guide to recreational opportunities.
Another great resource is the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, which recommends these 14 “gateways," a diverse assortment of county and state parks, forests and preserves. Head to its Pinelands Visitors Center, housed at the historic Bishop Farmstead in Southampton, for info about Pinelands attractions, recreation and conservation, as well as maps, brochures and a bookstore. The PPA initiative, Pinelands Adventures, provides guided trips and outings spanning a variety of interests.
Invigorating Activities For Outdoor Enthusiasts
All year long, the area’s terrain invites myriad sports and activities. In winter, the Pinelands transforms to host sledding and snowmobiling, in addition to hiking, cross-country skiing, camping and more. Chill at New Jersey’s state parks and forests, like Belleplain State Forest (Woodbine), Parvin State Park (Pittsgrove), Bass River State Forest (Tuckerton), Wharton State Forest (Hammonton) and Brendan T. Byrne State Forest (Woodland Township).
Into birding? Bird watching can be exciting—even world-class—in the Pine Barrens. The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (Galloway) spreads across 47,000 acres of coastal habitats along one of the Atlantic Flyway’s most active flight paths.
In winter, thousands of black ducks and Atlantic brant call it home. Peep bald eagles, short-eared owls, buffleheads, common goldeneyes, horned grebes and red-breasted mergansers, plus diving waterfowl in the back bays and songbirds along hiking trails. Free, two-hour bird and nature walks are offered on Fridays at 8:00 am, weather permitting.
So Delightful From an Indoor POV Too
If outdoor sports just aren’t your thing, or you’re seeking shelter or a change of pace, the Pinelands delivers. Embark on a trip along the Pine Barrens Scenic Byway, traversing 130 miles of roadways. The New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail stretches nearly 300 miles along New Jersey’s Shore and bays, including Pinelands areas.
A number of excellent museums and interpretive centers showcase this intriguing part of the Garden State. Among them is the gallery at The Museum of Cape May County (Cape May Court House), featuring rotating exhibits about county history.
Visit Batsto Village (Hammonton), a former bog iron and glassmaking industrial center from 1766 to 1867, composed of 33 buildings and structures. Whitesbog Historic Village (Browns Mills), founded in 1857, is now a restored 1900s village, site of cranberry and blueberry farms and the birthplace of the first cultivated highbush blueberry.
This is a great chance to sample South Jersey’s dining. Try this selection from our Anthony Bourdain Food Trail: Throwback Lucille’s Country Cooking (Barnegat) serves homestyle food, generous breakfasts and delicious pies. Be sure to peruse its Jersey Devil memorabilia—souvenirs of the state’s very own legendary creature.
At Pinelands Brewing Company (Little Egg Harbor), sip hand-crafted beer made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients and boasting “historic character right from the edge of the Pines.” Check out the tours and tastings, and feel free to BYOF (bring your own food) to complement your brews. Not a beer drinker? Order the homemade birch beer and vanilla cream soda.
See the Inspiring Pinelands—Within Museum Walls
Now through June 28, 2020, the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton presents a special exhibit called Preserving the Pinelands: Albert Horner’s Portraits of a National Treasure. Admire breathtaking images snapped by photographer and Medford Lakes resident Albert Horner, paired with artifacts from Museum collections.
It’s a captivating way to witness the Pinelands’ scenery and stories and pay homage to the Pinelands Protection Act’s 40th anniversary. Beyond the exhibit, dig in to the Museum’s art, history and science exhibits, family-friendly programs and impressive Planetarium.
Whatever your type of fun, and whenever you come, consult the events calendar and stay overnight in Southern Shore destinations like Cape May or the Wildwoods to savor as much as you can.