5 reasons South Jersey is an unexpected outdoor destination

New Jersey has gotten a bad rap over the years. As a New Jersey native, I can attest that it is quite possibly one of the most misunderstood states in America.

I’m not going to deny that the beaches were toxic in the ’80s. Or the fact that “The Sopranos” is probably basically true of North Jersey. But cross that threshold from North Jersey into South Jersey and it’s like stepping into a different world.

The nickname “The Garden State” points directly to the abundance of farmland in South Jersey, where lots of the Northeast’s local produce comes from. And wedged in between two of the biggest metropolitan areas in the country (New York City and Philadelphia) lies the untouched 1.1 million acres of the Pinelands National Reserve — America’s first-ever national reserve.

With some of the freshest drinking water around, untapped nature and an abundance of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, here are five reasons South Jersey is an unexpected outdoor destination that you should put on your radar.

Hiking

Atop Apple Pie Hill’s fire tower, offering an unadulterated view of the Pine Barrens. Photo: Ryan Brower

The Pine Barrens (what New Jerseyans refer to the Pinelands National Reserve as) is chock full of all kinds of hikes: day hikes, thru-hikes, beach hikes, state park loops, you name it. While western North Jersey might house a chunk of the Appalachian Trail, it’s South Jersey that offers some of the better under-the-radar hikes.

Apple Pie Hill offers the highest elevation in the Pine Barrens, with a fire tower that you can still access at the end of the hike. And the 53-mile Batona Trail offers a multi-day hike for camping, kayaking, investigating rare species or even some of the old forgotten towns of the early iron-ore era.

Surfing

Patience and dedication are keys to being a committed New Jersey surfer. Fall and winter are best and typically offer up top-notch, hollow beachbreak on their best days. But flat summers and short windows for winds, swell, tides and timing can often throw wrenches into the best-laid plans.

What winter in New Jersey is all about for a surfer. Photo: Courtesy of Jonathan Hoover/Just Beneath the Surface

Add in the fact that winter sees ocean and air temperatures dropping into the 30s and it can leave a lot to be desired for the faint of heart. Summer will still offer the occasional swells and is a good time for beginners and intermediates to hone their skills during the tamer days on the Atlantic Ocean.

Camping

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There are plenty of state parks and forests in South Jersey that offer some pristine, secluded camping options. Yurts, lean-tos, cabins, traditional campsites and more are all at your fingertips.

There are also plenty of commercial campsites and RV parks throughout South Jersey. Do keep in mind that all state parks and forests have a strict no-alcohol policy.

Boating and paddling

Lakes, rivers, marshes and back bays are the backbone of South Jersey. Without them, wildlife and fauna could not flourish and life for humans would be quite difficult. Did you know that South Jersey has some of the cleanest drinking water in the world thanks to the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer system, which contains an estimated 17 trillion gallons of water?

Canoe trips often weave through the marshes of South Jersey. Photo: Ryan Brower

All of this allows for ample opportunity for boating, kayaking, canoeing, standup paddleboarding and any other water sport you can think of. Most South Jersey residents spend time on some sort of body of water doing something.

Fishing

New Jersey’s fishery and aquaculture resources contribute more than $1 billion annually to the state’s economy. Simply put, fishing is a way of life for many people in South Jersey. And if so many people are able to sustain livelihoods on fishing alone, that should tell you just how good fishing can be here.

A striped bass like this one is typically on offer for those who fish. Photo: Courtesy of Just Beneath the Surface

Striped bass, bluefish, crabs, clams, oysters and more are all in abundance to satiate any desire you have. Spring and fall offer some of the best times to haul in a day’s catch worth writing home about.

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