Serving as the winter encampments of George Washington's troops in 1779-1780, Jockey Hollow merges history with some decent hiking. In addition to the trails, the following hike will allow you to take a guided tour through a mid-1700s farmhouse and the reconstruction of the soldiers' barracks.
Park the car on the main parking lot and walk to the visitor center, where you will pay the fee. You can also pick a map here, as well as check a few exhibits and buy books dealing with the local history. From the visitor center, walk straight ahead for a minute or two, across a wide gravel road. You will arrive to the Wick Farm. The red building to your left is open for the most part of the day, with the exception of a lunch break. The farm has been build by Henry Wick in the middle of the 18th century. Wick has made his fortune by planting apple trees, some of which have been reconstructed in a park next to the house, which currently holds a few horses as well. Putting all his money into the apple farm, Wick's house is a little smaller than it would have suited his status, yet it offered enough comfort to house Major General Arthur St. Clair during the winter encampment. If you arrive early, you will have the house and the guide all to yourself.
After spending some time here, head back to the signpost in front of the Wick Farm where you came to from the visitor center. Walk along the fence, away from the house and cross the Jockey Hollow road. After about five minutes, you will come to a crossroads with the white-marked Grand Loop Trail. Turn left here onto the trail.
About fifteen minutes into the trail, you will cross two wooden bridges and come to a crossroads with the blue-marked Mt. Kemble Loop Trail, just before crossing another bridge. Don't cross it and instead turn right here. The trail gently ascents and soon turns sharply left. After another short ascent, the trail turns again, sharply right. Follow the trail, and within fifteen to twenty minutes, you will arrive at the overlook at Mount Kemble. From here, you will distinctly hear the I-287 noises, and see the Watchung Hills in front of you. On a good day, you are supposed to see the top of the Empire State Building over them, but I have yet to have such luck. If you don't mind the car noise, the grassy area below the trail is a nice spot to rest a while.
After five more minutes on the trail, you will come to a metal gate that prevents cars from entering the trail. Cross the gate and continue straight on the gravel road. For a moment here, you will be outside the park, as you will notice by the signs posted to your left. Keep the house you see to your right, and as you pass it, notice another iron gate to your left. Turn here, pass the gate and continue on the blue trail. Within five more minutes, you will cross a stream and get to the crossroads with the white trail again. Go straight here, gently traversing the hillside. Note the small lake down to your left; if the weather is right, the reflections on the lake are awesome.
After a few minutes of climbing, the trail levels off and crosses the Jockey Hollow road again. After that, the trail narrows down and descents for a while. This section can be a little slippery and very muddy after a rain, so be careful here. A few minutes later, the trail levels off and then starts a short, but steep climb. I found this section to be the only strenuous one. Once the trail markers tell you to turn sharply to the right, notice a small trail to your left. There is a sign pointing in that direction towards the soldier's huts. Take this trail, which first descends a little, and then ascends. As you come to the top to the hill, follow the signs and trail markers carefully. You will see a large open grassy area in front of you, as the trail leads around a sign describing the fireplaces the Pennsylvania soldiers built. Without knowing it, you are right on the top of the huts. A few more yards on the trail, and you notice them. These huts could house up to a dozen of soldiers, but they look so small it's hard to imagine. There are four huts for the soldiers and one for the officers, behind them. A guide dressed as a revolutionary soldier gives tours here, and was knowledgeable enough to answer all my nosy questions.
The trail climbs sharply, and then levels off, only to climb some more later. This ascent is relatively long and steady, and may be a little difficult, especially for people who are out of shape and tired after walking over three miles. There is no good view to enjoy, and the forest gets a little dull after the first ten minutes of the hike. However, if you like to enjoy the small details, you will be thrilled. Every tree in this section is somehow unique, and you can spend half a day here just to walk from one tree to the next, circle them to get the best view, and waste entire rolls of film. The trail makes a wide left turn and approaches the road again. Soon, you will come to a crossroads, with the Grand Loop Trail going straight, and another trail leaving to your left and crossing the road. Take this trail, and as soon as you cross the road turn right. You are now back on the gravel-surfaced yellow trail, which after an initial gentle ascent levels off. Within a few short minutes, you will reach the road and walk alongside of it. As you pass the stables, take the steps to your left and you will find yourself in front of the Wick house again. A few minutes more, and you will be back in the visitor center.
© Jozef Purdes, 2002-2003