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For good reason, Sunfish Pond is one of the most popular hiking locations.
This crystal clear glacial lake has rocky shores that are postcard perfect!
Go in winter or on a weekday, or get an early start for this hike. Improve your chances of spotting the shy but plentiful wildlife and you will miss the crowds.
Stop at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Information Center at Kittatinny Point, before starting out. Its books and rangers on geology, history, fauna and local flora, will improve your hike. An incredible view of the Water Gap is behind the visitor center. While the towering heights of New Jersey's Mount Tammany and Pennsylvania's Mt. Minsi rise twelve hundred feet above, the river flows by in a nice curve. Millions of years of geological history are displayed by exposed rock strata.
Delaware Water Gap
The gorge was not created by the stream forcing its way through the mountain wall from north to south, as people imagine. Opening the gap, the current accepted theory is that an aggressive mountain stream on the south side of the ridge found a weakness in the stone and cut down.
You can leave your car overnight at the Dunnfield Creek Natural Area parking area. Directions - Make a right out of the information center parking area, then a fast left through the I-80 underpass, a left at the far side of the underpass, and an immediate right into the Dunnfield Creek Natural Area parking area. At the end of the lot the Appalachian Trail goes into the woods. Water is provided by a pump.
The trail leaves the hurried, bright human world behind, within seconds of exiting the parking lot. As the Appalachian Trail crosses Dunnfield Creek on a rustic wooden bridge, highway noise is replaced by the comforting sound of a rushing mountain stream. Where I-80 traffic now roars by, it is easy to imagine the small 19th century river village of Dunnfield that once stood just behind you.
The trail ascends easily through towering hemlock trees, rhododendron, and a green grotto of ferns. It follows the creek, where native brown trout swim, which rushes down flumes into potholes and pools and pitches over waterfalls. Hung with moss and ferns, are layered ledges of sandstone and red shale, carved by fast moving water. To avoid trampling fragile vegetation, stay on the trail.
The ravine's hemlock trees are dying, sadly. Their limbs open the glen to the sky a little more each year by sheding their needles. An Asian insect that caught a ride into the United States on imported ornamental trees about fifty years ago, this is the destructive work of the hemlock woolly adelgid. Soon the Eastern hemlock may disappear entirely from our forests, and though other imported bugs that eat the adelgid are being tested, there is little money for research.
The Appalachian Trail parallels Dunnfield Creek for 0.4 mlles, then forks to the left, climbing on a woods road above a huge stone retaining wall built by the Mid Atlantic Appalachian Trail Conference work crew and volunteers in 1993. This work prevents erosion in the future. A 3.5 mile alternate route to Sunfish Pond, the green blazed Dunnfield Creek Trail continues along the stream to the site of a 19th century sawmill. Climbing in 3.1 miles and crossing the creek to your right to cliffs with stunning Water Gap vistas, the blue blazed Mt. Tammany Trail also starts at this point.
Arrow Island From Mt. Tammany Trail
The trail enters a sunny hardwood forest and leaves the dark, cool ravine behind within a few hundred yards. It probably had begun life as a Native American trail turned logging road turned carriage road, the worn, steep road that the Appalachian Trail parallels upward for the next 3.3 miles to Sunfish Pond. Model A Fords were clattering up the path, by 1930. As it ascends, the Appalachian Trail passes many other trails.
Eroded four feet below ground level in some places, the Appalachian Trail soon becomes a sunken road. Built by volunteers, rock steps and major stone water bars curb more erosion. Of all this disturbance, one beneficial effect has been to uncover artifacts.
Eastern hog nosed snakes and drowsy black racers like to sunbathe on the smooth rock beds along the climbing path. Rattlers also live in these woods. Watch your step!
The Appalachian Trail connects with the Douglas Trail, at 3.1 miles into your hike, which goes down to the left for 1.7 miles to a parking lot next to the Worthington State Forest headquarters along the Delaware River on Old Mine Road. In a 1960s crusade to save Sunfish Pond, trail namesake Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas hiked here. Under a giant artificial reservoir, New Jersey public utilities planned to bury the pond. State protection of the land resulted from public protest.
Also located here is a backpacker campsite. This area has become one of the best spots to observe black bear in New Jersey, thanks to careless campers who over the years left food scattered about. Do not leave a candybar scented bear invitation in your tent or pack, if you camp here. Using the bear poles installed for that purpose, hang food from a rope. Educating hikers about the trail, in summer, an Appalachian Trail ridgerunner tents here. From Sunfish Pond, 0.6 miles ahead, water can be retrieved and purified. A restroom is here. In summer, this site receives heavy use. Get there early campers!
Black Bear In New Jersey
The Appalachian Trail leads up to Sunfish Pond, after a steady 1,050 vertical feet and 3.7 mile ascent. Its surrounding hardwood forest, abrupt cliffs, and boulder lined shore remind many hikers of New England. On the Appalachian Trail, this is the southernmost glacial lake. The Wisconsin glacier scooped a basin in the bedrock to form this mountaintop pond, about fifteen thousand years ago.
Beaver were seen playing here, in 1992. Tree cutting evidence is visible where the Appalachian Trail makes its way among boulders along the west shore of the lake, but they have moved on since. Be careful where you step! Sunfish Pond is a popular spot for sleeping rattlesnakes. Also, a native New Jersey lizard, the little five lined skink, catches the rays here. As well, you will probably find the sun warmed stones appealing. Stop for lunch, with most of your ascending done for the day. Rangers ticket illegal swimmers, so resist the urge to dive in.
At four miles, the Appalachian Trail crosses the pond's outlet. Down to meet the Delaware River, a cascade tumbles away into the woods. The blue blazed Garvey Springs Trail comes in from the left in a few hundred feet. Next to Worthington State Forest headquarters beside the Delaware River along Old Mine Road, this pretty 1.2 mile trail goes down to the Douglas Trail parking lot. Resulting in an eight mile hike, for those who can't arrange a car shuttle, the north end of Sunfish Pond makes a good out and back turnaround point.
Delaware River From Bridge
A reminder of the glacier that scraped over this broad highland, the Appalachian Trail leaves the pond behind and past swampy depressions and passes through hardwoods. Featuring views on both sides of the ridge, at six miles, you cross an open power line. The trail crests Mt. Mohican (Raccoon Ridge), in another 0.2 miles. Named for the NY-NJTC volunteer who in the 1970s led the effort to place the entire Appalachian Trail in New Jersey on protected land, this bare rock peak, with 360 degree views, is the Herb Hiller overlook. You will see the plaque placed in his honor.
Yards Creek Resevoir From Mt. Mohican
East to the Yards Creek Reservoir, and west over Pennsylvania's Pocono Highlands and down to the Delaware River, the Hiller vista looks north to where the spine of the Kittatinny Ridge splits into several ridges. A perfect stopping point for a water break or snack, this always breezy vista is a popular gliding zone for turkey vultures and hawks.
Looking South On The Kittatinny Ridge From The Tower
Arriving at Camp Road and hike's end, at 8.8 miles, the Appalachian Trail crosses Yards Creek on a newly built bridge. Around the bend and uphill from the trail, parking for a few cars is found. About 0.4 miles up the road from this Appalachian Trail crossing is the Appalachian Mountain Club's Mohican Outdoor Center. Call (908) 362-5670 for Appalachian Mountain Club's Mohican camping reservations or for parking information. Available to the public at reasonable rates are overnight cabin space and tent sites.
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