Jockey Hollow

Wick Farm, main house.

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.

Getting there
Take exit 30B off I-287 and turn west. On the first lights, turn right. On the next traffic lights, about two miles farther, turn left. You will see large signs pointing to the parking lot. There are signs all along the way. Please be aware that there is a $4 entrance fee to the park, which, unlike elsewhere in New Jersey, is in effect all year long. This fee will grant you a seven-day pass to Jockey Hollow and to Washington's Headquarters in Morristown. For $15, you get an annual pass.

The following hike uses the three main trails in the park, as well as a few connecting trails. The terrain will be relatively gentle, with only one or two potentially strenuous ascents, both a little short, though. Considering that the whole park is only around 1000 acres large, the 4.5-mile hike will take you to nearly every corner of Jockey Hollow.

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.

The trail is usually wide and flat.
The Grand Loop Trail follows the gentle rolling hills of the area, without any steep ups and downs. While quite obvious in summer, the trail disappears under the leaves in late fall, and the trail markers are too wide spread for comfort. Still, it's hard to get lost here. As the trail descends, notice the forest around you. The trees are much older than those you will normally encounter in this section of New Jersey, leaving a lot of open space between the ground and their lowest branches. In late spring, this area is completely shielded from the sun. Deer seem to keep the undergrowth in check, and only wines, strangling the trees, seem to survive. Watch for other animals as well: according to a park ranger I talked to, there is a coyote stalking around, and the residents have reported a black bear as well. In the morning hours, however, all animals tend to be scared off by the many dog walkers who come here.

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 officers' house at the soldier's hut.
Once you decide to continue, make your way down to the parking lot. The trail you are about to take starts right at the parking lot entrance. From here, you will be taking the Grand Loop Trail again, but there will be very little to see. If you are tired, just follow the Yellow trail. If you decide to take the white-marked trail, you will rejoin the yellow trail in about twenty minutes.

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.

Difficulty: 3 out of 10. A very easy hike with few gentle ups and downs.
Orientation: 6 out of 10. The trail is obnvious, but there are very few markers to reassure you.
Beauty: 5 out of 10. Unless you love detail (especially on trees), you will find too little to entertain you.

Additional resources
Morristown National Historical Park Official Site
Park profile at New Jersey Skylands
Hike description at 25 Great Walks in Morris County
Park pictures at Webshots

Time table
Net time Total time Notes
15 - 20 min 15 - 20 min This section leads you from the Wick farm to the crossroads with the blue trail. The hike is very gentle all the way.
30 - 45 min 45 - 65 min This section covers the entire blue trail (the part you will be on). After an initial ascent, the trail levels off and then descends a little.
25 - 35 min 70 - 100 min The trail climbs first, only to descend after you cross the road. After a series of short climbs, you will arrive to the soldier's huts.
30 - 60 min 100 - 160 min Assuming you took the white trail, you are up for a long, steady ascent that may be tiring for some. After getting back to the yellow trail, the terrain slowly levels off and the rest is an easy walk.
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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