EMS is excited to announce the opening of its third store in the Garden State! Located in the Deptford Mall, this location in Gloucester County is about six miles from the center of Philadelphia and ninety miles from NYC, making it a fantastic central hub for adventures. “We are thrilled to bring Eastern Mountain Sports to Deptford and provide a new destination for individuals seeking outdoor experiences in the area,” says Kevin Campbell, Executive Vice President of Operations at Eastern Mountain Sports. “We believe that the great outdoors has the power to transform lives, and we want to be a part of that journey for the Deptford community.” View the full press release here. Below, we review some recommended adventures on both sides of the Delaware—be sure to stop by, gear up, and talk to a guide before you go!

EMS Deptford. Photo: Darryl Solomon

1. The Pine Barrens

Forty miles southeast of Philadelphia and about an hour’s drive from the Deptford Mall are the New Jersey Pine Barrens, also known as the Pinelands—the largest remaining example of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecosystem (covering 22% of the state’s land). Marked by acidic, low-nutrient water and soils, this National Reserve (considered our country’s first) is protected by entities such as the New Jersey Pinelands Commission and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

South Jersey Trails offers up some fantastic recommendations for hiking in the Pine Barrens, one of which is found in the Brendan T. Byrne State Forest, about forty minutes from the mall. The Mount Misery Trail, a 9.75-mile loop, features pineland forest, swamps, and bogs traversing the Cranberry and Batona Trails (and has mountain biking). This state forest has more than 25 miles of marked trails with various trails and loops for all abilities; many hikes in this region are family-friendly as the variety of trail networks offer an array of options. Canoeing and kayaking spots include the Mullica River and two of its tributaries, the Batsto and Wading Rivers, and there are plenty of places to camp (along with primitive camping). Check out the Pine Barrens Scenic Byway for natural beauty and historic heritage that can be viewed from the road. Of course, with over 1.1 million acres, there are countless opportunities for adventure in the Pine Barrens and it is recommended to spend a few days to fully appreciate the ecological, recreational, and educational gems of the region. Find more recreational and hiking information here.

Aerial photograph of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and Mullica River.

2. Wharton State Forest

Located in the heart of the Pine Barrens, Wharton State Forest is the largest state forest within the New Jersey Park System (over 123,000 acres) and thus needs a category of its own. Located about 40 minutes southeast of the Deptford Mall, this is a great option for exploration with relatively low elevation. There are 19 official trails totaling over 110 miles, and about half of the 50+ mile Batona hiking trail is located within the forest’s boundaries. If you’re looking for a multi-day adventure, check out this guide for backpacking the Batona Trail from the #goEast archives, and find some recommended day hikes below.

Batsto Lake Trail (Easy)

This 4-mile loop routes along Batsto Lake and follows the Batona Trail for a stretch. To add on a mile or two, stroll through the historic Batsto village, a former bog iron and glassmaking industrial center dating back to the mid-18th century, or tack on connecting trails (like Batsto Lake White Trail and Tom’s Pond Trail to make it seven miles).

Huckleberry Trail (Moderate)

Another highly rated trail in Wharton State Forest, this 8.4-mile loop is also great for mountain biking (Batsto Huckleberry Trail/Blue).

Mullica River and Batona Trail Loop (Moderate-Strenuous)

According to the NY-NJ Trail Conference, this 12-mile loop begins from the parking lot adjacent to the Batsto Village Visitors Center and passes restored 19th-century buildings dating back to Batsto’s era as a center for iron and glassmaking. It crosses the Mullica River, running parallel for over four miles before connecting to the Batona Trail (which runs another 50 miles). Here, the Batona Trail parallels the Batsto River on your right as you turn right to begin the return back to Batsto Village. Find more detailed info here.

Find detailed Wharton State Forest trail info here.

3. Delaware Water Gap

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is an outdoor oasis in the country’s most densely populated region. Just two(ish) hours from Deptford, you can find year-round hiking and paddling opportunities accompanying beautiful scenery along 40 miles of the Delaware River. “The Delaware Water Gap area is one of the nicest places to hike in the area,” says EMS Traveling Manager and PA native Darryl Solomon. “It incorporates state forest land on both the PA and NJ sides. It also includes High Point State Park which, as the name implies, has the highest point in the state of New Jersey.” Darryl suggests giving the Mind the Gap hike a try, which is hiking Mount Tammany and Mount Minsi in the same day with the reward of amazing views of the Gap from both summits. While the 8-12 mile distance doesn’t seem that intimidating, it’s the steepness that makes this route challenging. For a shorter hike with great views, consider Council Rock and Lookout Rock, an almost 2.5-mile route following the AT with views across the Delaware River at the NJ/PA state line.

Cyclists (and e-bikes, with restrictions) can enjoy the McDade Recreational Trail (MRT), a gravel path paralleling the Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side that extends most of the park’s length. The park is a prime spot for canoers and kayakers for both single- and multi-day journeys. Nearby liveries have rental boats and equipment, and there are outfitters with guided trips as well. For those who bring their own vessel, there’s a free shuttle service provided on summer weekends.

Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area viewed at sunset from Mount Tammany.

There are three developed campgrounds in the Delaware Water Gap Recreational Area: Dingman’s Campground, Worthington State Forest Campground, and Mohican Outdoor Center, which is the only year-round option. Backcountry camping is permitted only along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and is only for hikers on multi-night, extended-mileage trips. There are first come, first served riverside spots for those exploring by boat, with a few options for reservations like the Alosa River Campsites. For more information on River Camping, visit https://www.nps.gov/dewa/planyourvisit/river-camping.htm.

As with the above recreational areas, the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area has an adventure for everyone and anyone looking for a quick step into nature or an immersive week away from the nearby hustle and bustle, and these suggestions only touch on the possibilities. Be sure to check out the National Park Service’s detailed information and up-to-date alerts on the park to help plan your visit.

4. Winslow Fish and Wildlife Management Area

Thirty-five minutes from Deptford is a 7,600+ acre nature preserve known for its diverse ecosystem and opportunities for fishing and bird watching. Here you’ll find sandy paths, grassy fields, quarries, and forest, as well as the well-known Blue Hole Pond where you can find an easy, scenic, and storied hiking route. This is a wonderful option for those looking to get outside for a stroll without a long drive or camping commitments.

5. John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum

On the Philadelphia side of the Delaware is another, smaller Wildlife Refuge Area that is home to the largest remaining freshwater tidal marsh (Tinicum Marsh) in Pennsylvania. Celebrated as the country’s First Urban Refuge, its 10+ mile network covers 1,000 acres and features low-lying trails, boardwalks, and ramps for walking, biking, and birding. Stop by the Visitor Center for maps, information, and bird checklists—binoculars and fishing rods are also available for loan, and there is a canoe ramp open from sunrise to sunset. Volunteers are invited to join every second Saturday of the month for Stewardship Saturdays to learn about the native plants at the refuge and help remove invasive ones.

The boardwalk at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.

Honorary Mention: The Nature of Reading Bookshop

We wanted to give a special shoutout to a new(ish) independent bookstore in Madison, New Jersey. If you’re coming from the north, be sure to stop here for inspiration curated for the outdoor-, nature-, and conservation-minded, with a fantastic assortment of field guides and naturalist musings. Let your mind wander off the beaten path and talk books with owner Hailey Brock, she has some fantastic recommendations!

The Nature of Reading Bookshop.

Have a favorite adventure spot in and around the NJ/PA region? Let us know in the comments below!