Jenny Jump State Forest

Located in Hope, New Jersey, Jenny Jump State Forest has provided me with one of the most beautiful and soothing hikes ever. Maybe it was the weather - mid eightees, sunny, but with plenty of shade and a slight breeze. Or it was the lack of people - rarely I have seen so few hikers, all of them very quiet. Or it was the fact that Jenny Jump has some of the best marked trails in New Jersey. But probably it was a combination of all three.

You may find the state park a bit eerie, because of the names you will encounter. Jenny Jump, according to the legend, became the name of the region after a father with a daughter, Jenny, were ambushed by the Minsi tribe of the Lenni Lenape. The father yelled at his daughter to jump, in order to save her purity. However, that's not all - there is a lake called Ghost Lake (name subscribed to a massacre between two native tribes), and a local road called Shades of Death Road. No local I asked could explain the road name, however.

Getting there

Autumn in Jenny Jump.
Jenny Jump State Park is extremely easy to find, as signs are posted everywhere. Simply take the I-80 all the way to exit 12. From there, take Route 521 South, until you enter the town of Hope. From here, you will be guided by signs - on the first all-way Stop sign crossing, turn left and then go about a mile till you hit the Shiloh road to your right. Take it, and later turn right when you come onto a crossing with the State Park road. This road soon changes into a gravel road. Once you hit a crossing, go left and you will arive at the park office, where you can get a free map. From the office, follow the signs to the hiking trails. There are some parking spaces at the beginning of the trails.

The following hike will cover most of the park, and is about five miles long. Due to a relatively flat terrain, you should make it comfortably in two hours hour and a half, including several stops to rest and enjoy the view.

Start by taking the (red) Swamp Trail. This trail starts steeply, but soon levels up. Watch out for a fork, as the Swamp Trail goes to the left, while the Summit trail (yellow) to the right. You will return on that trail. The Swamp Trail certainly does not deserve its name. Most of the tile it runs to a high, but level area. The walk is very pleasant, even though the sight is not out of the ordinary. Here, however, I have encountered a couple of snakes on the trail, so want out where you step.

The trail ends abruptly, and you will be forced to take the gravel road. Ignore the Spring Trail (and later the Orchand Trail), and simply go all the way to the end of the gravel road. I personally did not like this part of the hike at all, mainly because walking on gravel was so loud. One thing I would like to point out, though. Once you pass restrooms to your left, look for a big boulder on the left of the road. It stands there all alone, about ten feet in height. And from the side of this bare rock, a tree is growing. Seldom I have seen such a powerful image; it is like David and Goliath.

Once you hit the end of the gravel road, you will see the Summit Trail starting to your right. Take it and do some uphil hiking. Soon, the terrain levels up and you come to a well-marked crossroads. Here, you can decide - either to take the Summit Trail and have an easy and short hike back, or to take the Ghost Lake Trail (blue), walk and additional 2.6 miles with an elevation differencial of 450 feet each way.

Ghost Lake on a cloudy morning.

I have taken the Ghost Like Trail. After some gentle uphill hike, I noticed a house to the right. The house was empty and appeared to be partially demolished, but from the porch I have gotten one of the best views of the surrounding area. Some say this was the place Jenny jumped down. Returning to the trail, I soon came to a steep downhill part. At this moment, I was glad I have chosen my sturdy shoes; this part of the trail is very rocky.

Almost immediately after this steep area, the trail widened and I found myself in a wide valley. The trail went steep down, but I stayed there for quite a while. This small valley is very serene - quiet, with only birds singing, and empty. Even no deer tracks to be found. If you look of a peace of mind, stay here for a while, sit down on one of the boulders and enjoy the solitude. You may be unlucky and meet here one of the few hikers, but otherwise this is one of the most peaceful areas in New Jersey.

When you've had enough, continue on the trail. It soon swings to the right, and after a short hike you come to a very eerie section. If people were right about where Jenny jumped, this is where she'd landed. The area is several degrees colder than the rest of the park, and a high humidity is making it feel very refreshing. It is very quiet, but in a more imposing way than the valley I described before. This is caused by several boulders that dwarf everything else around.

Once you decide to continue, you are up for a short hike until you reach the ghost lake. The trail goes directly between the lake and a smaller one, and ends on the other side. If you are not discouraged by the seemingly dirty water and decide to take a swim, I'd advise you against it. Both lakes are virtually overflowing with plant life, which may pose serious threat to inexperienced swimmers.

The rusty colors of November trees, as seen from the Summit Trail.

This section did not impress me too much - it is a bit dirty and way too open for my taste. Once you've had enough, hike back up the Ghost Lake Trail. You will notice that the way up is not as steep and hard as it looked when you walked down the trail.

Once you are back on the crossroads, take the Summit Trail and brace yourself for a short uphill hike. After the Ghost Lake Trail, this hike may be actually tiring. However, the surroundings are beutiful. Everything is covered in high grass, and the undergrowth tends to create a tunnel vision from time to time. The only problem is that the grass covers rocks on the trail as well, so watch out where you are stepping.

When you reach the top of the hill, you may notice short trails to your left. These lead so rock overhangs that provide great view of the area. Actually, one of the rock overhangs features a very flat rock, about 45 feet wide and 15 feet long. I was the only one here, and experienced a peace of mind once again. The sun was shining directly down on me, and the rock was very hot. I laid down, closed my eyes and opened them over an hour ago. If you want to take a short but very pleasant nap, this is the place to do so. Just watch out for the snakes.

Hiking for about ten minutes, the trail turns right and starts a descent. At this point, you will see some flat rock to your left - go there and you will find yourself on another overhang, this time facing south-west. This poit provides the best view of the whole hike. Returning to the trail, you'll descend quickly and hit the parking lot in less than ten minutes.

Other activities
The state forest offers lots of camping possibilities as well. Actually, you can rent one of numerouc cabins or camping sites that lay on the perrimeter of the park itself. When I was there, all were taken, but few people were actually hiking. Still, I'd highly recommend spending a weekend here.

Trail update
November 28, 2003 - The wet and windy summer of 2003 has left its mark on the firest: there are fallen trees and branches everywhere. While with a single exception the trees don't block the trail, the character of the hike has shifted from a clean, spring walk to a little dreary experience. That's not bad, though, the only difference is that instead of sunny summer days, I now prefer walking here on foggy mornings.
November 10, 2002 - Since my last visit, the trail markers have deteriorated a little, and the first part of the Ghost Lake Trail may be a little confusing, especially when covered with leaves.

Difficulty: 4 out of 10, mainly due to hidden rocks and a few steep sections.
Orientation: 8 out of 10; the trail is not too apparent when covered by leaves, and the markers are a little worn down.
Beauty: 8 out of 10; spoiled only by the gravel road, occasional sounds from I-80 and the slightly dissapointing Ghost Lake.

Final words
There is no park like Jenny Jump. It is very quiet, serene, and offering many retreats from other people. Unlike other parks, this one is highly enjoyable in summer and if you prefer hiking alone. This is the park I like to return to the most.

Other links
Official site - basic information, camping fees and driving directions.
Jenny Jump @ Skylands Visitor Guide - another excellent article with a few pictures.
Park description - contains basic information and a printable map.
Park reviews at Epinions
The Legends of Jenny Jump

Time table
Net time Total time Notes
15 - 20 min 15 - 20 min With the exception of the initial ascent, the trail is flat. The first half is a woods road, the second a paved road.
30 - 40 min 45 - 60 min The Ghost Lake Trail is either flat or descending, with very few short ascents. Overall, expect spending more time stopping and looking around than hiking.
35 - 60 min 80 - 120 min The way back from Ghost Lake is a little harder, and quite demanding. An almost consistent ascent over 1.3 miles turns into a climb on two places.
40 - 60 min 120 - 180 min At 1.5 miles, the Summit Trail is the longest you will take. The initial ascent is harder than it looks, and even downhill the trail is treacherous, with many rocks hidden under the leaves. Expect to stop twice for a good view.
Methodology: The lower number is how long it took me to finish each part. While I'm in mid 20s and in a relatively good shape, I tend to stop often to take pictures or simply enjoy the view. It is very likely that your time will be close to mine. The upper limit is my time adjusted to the difficulty of the trail and various distractions. I assumed a family with children in my calculation. I believe that the upper limit is rather extreme. I have not taken into account the time spent for an extended break.

© Jozef Purdes, 2002-2003

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