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.
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.
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.
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.
© Jozef Purdes, 2002-2003