Though New Jersey is often marketed for its proximity to cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C., true New Jerseyans know it’s the spectacular countryside that sets the state apart. And the best way to explore those wild frontiers is on horseback.
Horses have played a key role in the development and economy of the state for years. In fact, the state animal of New Jersey is the horse (Equus caballus); the U.S. Equestrian Team headquarters is located in Gladstone; and the Horse Park of New Jersey, a 147-acre facility in Stone Tavern, Monmouth County, has hosted Olympic Game trials.
And trail riding isn’t just for the pros. Here are 11 Designated Wildlife Management Areas (a.k.a. “wammas”), where horseback riding is allowed with a permit ($25 per person, per calendar year, plus $2.00 application fee) purchased from the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s license website.
1.Flatbrook, Paulinskill River, and Whittingham, Sussex County
Fishing fans will feel right at home since this trio of WMAs features plenty of rivers, streams, ponds and creeks. Flatbrook is known for its trout streams; Paulinskill for the egrets, herons, and swans inhabiting its namesake; and Whittingham for its unspoiled glens and Big Spring freshwater tributary. Bring the bug spray.
2. Black River and Wildcat Ridge, Morris County
Black River WMA is 3,078 acres made up of river bottom, swamps, marshes, fields, and woods. The area is well known for birding, so be sure to bring your binoculars. The most commonly followed path is the Patriots’ Path which follows four miles of the now abandoned Chester Branch of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad.
Wildcat Ridge WMA contains nearly 4,000 acres in Morris County. There are plenty of opportunities to see wildlife, including deer, chipmunks, squirrels, porcupines, bobcats, and foxes. The trails here are both blazed and overgrown so folks with an adventurous streak will enjoy themselves. Riders can pass through an old mining town, a forgotten cemetery and a bat cave.
3. South Branch, Morris/Hunterdon counties
The South Branch WMA is 537 acres of mostly grassland and open fields. Grassland habitats in the state have been steadily declining over the years, and according to the Division of Fish and Wildlife, are at their lowest levels in 13,000 years. A new state management project is looking to change that, and preservation efforts are focused on the Merck tract in Raritan, Reading, and Hillsborough. The WMA includes Clover Hill County Park.
4. Alexauken Creek and Capoolong Creek, Hunterdon County
Tree enthusiast rejoice, these WMAs feature a mature hardwood riparian forest that includes American sycamore and red and silver maples. The trail follows the old Lehigh Valley Railroad spur, where keen-eyed explorers can see the old train station (soon to be restored).
5. Assunpink, Monmouth County
According to the New Jersey Audobon website, Assunpink came to be as a result of several dams erected to prevent Trenton from flooding. The more than 6,000-acre watershed is mostly shrub-scrub, mixed upland forest, and three open water lakes.
6. Colliers Mills and Greenwood, Ocean County
A classic Pine Barrens trail, Colliers Mills features 12,000 acres of white cedar swamps, sand roads, and scrub oak forests perfect for those looking for some alone time. It’s also a favored spot for hunting so it’s best to be careful during the hunting seasons. A New York Times article from 1985 put it this way, “for those willing to brave the thickets and barren roads of this place … however, there are plenty of rewards.”
7. Medford, Burlington County
A rich floodplain and mixed forest of hardwood trees, Medford WMA is a great spot for birders looking to catch a glimpse of species such as Gray Catbirds, singing Chipping Sparrows, Field Sparrows, and Pine Warblers according to the NJ Audubon birding and wildlife website. They also recommend you “check shaded pools and deeper puddles in the trails for tadpoles.” Careful where you step!
8. Glassboro, Gloucester County
With 2,341 acres of forests, fields, and swamps, Glassboro Woods is the perfect place to tackle the trails. Plus, at only a 40-minute drive from Philly, you can do the city and the woods in a single day trip.
9. Winslow, Camden County
According to NJ Audubon, Winslow WMA is the second-largest contiguous piece of preserved land in Camden County after Wharton State Forest. Winslow features trails, forests, grassy fields, and part of the Great Egg Harbor River. Something to look for? The mysterious “Blue Hole,” in the middle of the forest that urban legends name as a hotspot for the infamous Jersey Devil.
10. Bevans, Union Lake, and Peaslee, Cumberland County
Cumberland County WMAs have it all. Bevans has the wetlands, Union’s got the boating spot, and Peaslee is mostly Pine Barrens. Keep a lookout for bald eagles nesting across from the Maurice River and the Red-headed Woodpecker in the forests. Peaslee in particular is known for its beautiful foliage in the fall.
11. Higbee Beach and Tuckahoe (MacNamara), Cape May County
A 2007 article in Cape May Magazine had this to say about Higbee beach: “This one-and-one-half mile stretch of beach at the tip of Cape Island, along the Delaware Bay, draws people passionate about all sorts of natural pursuits: bird watching, sunbathing in the nude, picking beach plums, picnicking with the family, hunting for Cape May diamonds, taking the dogs for a run, fishing and hunting.” Now, you can add horseback riding to their list. But we recommend you remain clothed for that.
Tuckahoe trails follow 17,000 acres of salt marshes, ponds and freshwater rivers meandering through the Pine Barrens at some points. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) designated this WMA as one of the state’s most significant natural areas.