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Wharton State Forest

115,000 acres — 50 miles of trails


What’s to love

Nestled in the heart of the Pine Barrens, Wharton State Forest is home to a section of the 53 mile “Back to Nature” trail—or Batona, for short. The trail is the handiwork of the Batona Hiking Club, which was founded in the 1920’s by a group of Philadelphians who, just like you and me, probably needed a break from the smell of Philly sidewalks in August.

The Pine Barrens are nothing like your average Pennsylvania woods. As one park-goer stated, “this is not a take a paved road to a playground type of park. It’s a your car can get stuck in the deep dark woods and the Jersey Devil will eat you type of park.” You’ve been warned!

The soil is here sandy and acidic, making it poor for traditional farming, but the area is far from “barren.” Several kinds of pine and cedar trees thrive in the nutrient-poor soil, as well as cranberries, blueberries and huckleberries. Another standout feature is the area’s dark brown pools and bogs, tinged by the water’s high iron content.

There’s lots to do in Wharton State Forest, from canoeing to horseback riding to mountain biking (and even offroading on the larger paths). Our typical route is to hike a 6-mile loop down a main trail from Atsion and back up along one of the lesser-used bike paths, until we come across a set of abandoned railroad tracks that guide us back to the start.

Tips and quirks

  • Beyond Batona, the main hiking trail at Wharton State is the 9-mile Mullica trail. It takes you south to Batsto Village, the site of a historic glass making-center and ironworks where you can watch blacksmithing demonstrations and take a cell phone tour of thirty-some remaining structures. (I haven’t made it down there yet, but if you have please let me know if it’s worth the sore legs.)
  • The abandoned railroad tracks have been washed out in one area, so if you’re planning to follow their path, be forewarned: when water levels are high the only way to cross this 15-foot section is to treat it as a high-stakes balance beam. Not for the faint of heart.

Last updated: July 01 2016