NJ Highlands Trail – Hike 2 began at Dennis Rd. in the Musconetcong Gorge Preserve and concluded at Tunnel Rd. after hiking through the Deerpath Sanctuary (Audubon). The Highlands Trail runs from the Delaware River to the Hudson River with sections in New Jersey and New York. The trail is almost 170 miles long with over 120 miles in the state of New Jersey. Because camping on the trail is prohibited, day-hiking is the only way to complete the entire Highlands Trail. Below you will find key facts and details about the section of the Highlands Trail between Dennis Rd. and Tunnel Rd.
Key Facts: NJ Highlands Trail – Hike 2
Experience a gorge, creek crossings, wildlife, forests, farms, and fields on this section hike of the Highlands Trail in NJ, from Dennis Rd. to Tunnel Rd. in Hunterdon County. Keep reading for key facts, pictures, and a short video of this section hike on the Highlands Trail in NJ.
Mileage and time
8.71 miles from the Dennis Rd. parking lot at the Musconetcong Gorge Preserve to Tunnel Rd., where the Highlands Trail exits the Deerpath Sanctuary (Audubon). This hike lasted 3 hours and 49 minutes, including a few breaks (26:22 pace per mile).
Moderate in some areas with many many easier sections. There are a few hills to climb and rocky trail sections in the Musconetcong Gorge Preserve and the Sweethollow Preserve.
Notable trail sections
Musconetcong Gorge Preserve, scenic agriculture and farm fields, Sweet Hollow Preserve, and the Audubon’s Deerpath Sanctuary.
There is some road walking on this section of the Highlands Trail including parts of Staats Rd., Schaaf Rd., Rt. 579, and Turkey Hill Rd. The longest paved section of this hike is on Turkey Hill Rd which you will likely find lightly trafficked and very scenic. I especially like the last section of the trail on Turkey Hill Rd. where there is a very old barn, a bridge that takes you over a creek, and stone ruins of a building.
The planners, creators, and maintainers of the Highlands Trail have done a great job by connecting open, preserved spaces with mostly rural roads. One way to thank those behind the Highlands Trail is to join the NY/NJ Trail Conference by visiting their website.
NJ Highlands Trail – Hike 2 Trail Map
While this section is too long for most children, you could park at the Dennis Road Lot and do circuit hikes within the Musconetcong Gorge which includes the Highlands Trail. Another option would be to park on the side of Sweet Hollow Rd and hike out and back where you will see several stream crossings. I would avoid the Deerpath Sanctuary section, especially in summer as it can be overgrown and is not as scenic.
Click here for a map of the hiking trails within the Muconetcong Gorge Preserve.
NJ Highlands Trail – Hike 2 Parking areas
Dennis Rd. is a gravel road just of Rt. 519. The Highlands Trailhead (and the Musconetcong Gorge Loop Trailhead) are located at a curve in the road where there is a fair amount of parking on the outside of the curve. The next parking area is located where the Highlands Trail heads into the woods on Sweet Hollow Rd. This isn’t a parking lot but there is room on the side of the road for a few cars.
Several maps listed parking on the side of Rt. 579, but I didn’t see any real obvious places to park there. The final parking spot is at the end of the hike, which is convenient if you are shuttling cars with another person. Where the trail meets Tunnel Rd., there are places to park in the grass on the side of the road and even a small gravel pullover area near the Rt. 78 overpass.
- If you are starting from the Dennis Rd. parking as I did, be ready for a steady uphill climb on some rocks. It is manageable with some breaks here and there, but the climb will get your heart pumping before descending to the first creek crossing.
- Since there are a number of creek crossings and low areas that can get muddy, especially in springtime, wear your comfortable, waterproof hiking shoes. Rocks by the creek are very slippery in winter.
- Use any of the parking areas mentioned above to shuttle cars and complete shorter section hikes instead of doing all 8.7+ miles in one hike.
- There are some sections around farm fields and grassy areas so I suggest Permethrin spray on your shoes and clothes to repel ticks and avoid Lyme disease.
Begin at Dennis Rd. for NJ Highlands Trail – Hike 2
The Dennis Rd. parking area is the trailhead for the Musconetcong Gorge Loop Trail and this section of the Highlands Trail. This is where I began my trek. Park front-in towards the guard rail and the trail begins to your right (see picture above).
The trail heads directly into the woods and immediately starts an uphill climb. I had only hiked this section of the trail from the other direction and I didn’t remember how long the climb was. While manageable, you will warm right up in cold weather on this section.
NJ Highlands Trail – Hike 2: Musconetcong Gorge Preserve
The Musconetcong Gorge Preserve is one of our favorite places to hike. We especially like hiking near the creeks in winter to see a variety of ice formations. This preserve is over 500 acres of protected space and much of this park was acquired by Hunterdon County in the late 1970’s. “The trails at the park are designed for hiking only. Most of the trails range from moderate to slightly difficult. They take advantage of the smoothest grounds but are steep in some areas. This park offers beautiful vistas.” (Source: Hunterdon County Parks Department)
The trail, starting at the Dennis Rd. parking area and hiking north, is a moderately strenuous section to hike. You will be going uphill, and then down. There are rocky sections and, if you are there before the leaves are out, nice views into the valley.
I have hiked this section in the Musconetcong Gorge several times and rarely see other hikers except for the trail sections near the creeks.
Multiple creek crossings are favorite features of this section of the Highlands Trail. If you hike the Musconetcong Gorge Loop Trail, you will actually hike alongside one of the preserve’s creeks which is always fun. On this hike, I hadn’t seen anyone until arriving at the Scout Run creek crossing. As I arrived at the creek, a hiking group marched up from the trail below and took a break.
Scout Run is filled with large boulders (see the first picture in this post) and even the remains of at least one small dam built on the creek. Boulder hopping gives you an opportunity to explore a variety of sections of this waterway. Be careful of slippery rocks!
After crossing Scout Run, you ascend up a steep hill and continue into the forest. After more ups, downs, smooth footing, and rocky trails, you will arrive at the Pine Run creek crossing. The Highlands Trail is well marked on either side of the creek and you will rock-hop just below a fallen tree that spans the creek. Once on the other side of the creek, the hike takes you up some more rocky trails until you leave the Musconetcong Gorge Preserve.
Views of the Musconetcong River Valley
The NJ Highlands Trail – Hike 2 section that traverses the Musconetcong Gorge Preserve has many interesting features to enjoy. Right up there with the creek crossings are the seasonal views of the Musconetcong River Valley. Hiking north, as I did, you will often see views to your left as you progress.
One of my favorite sections has the trail located on the top of a ridge for a short distance. After taking in the views, the trail descends to eventually leave the preserve and move to the pavement for a short walk on Schaaf Rd. This is a super nice place to hike at any time of year, however, the valley views are enhanced when the leaves are on the ground.
Agriculture and Farm Fields
After a short walk on Schaaf Rd., you will see the trail marker leading you to the right and for a walk around a farm field (see picture below). Seeing the silo, barns, fields, and a view of small mountains in the distance announces to any hiker that you are on a new section of the Highlands Trail.
While the Musconetcong Gorge Preserve is my favorite section of this hike, walking through NJ agriculture was very enjoyable. As I walked next to a line of trees between farm fields, I managed to hike just below a red-tailed hawk on an outstretched tree limb. The distant views remained until I entered the woods again.
The trail enters the forest at the far end of the field and then crosses a power line. It was neat to walk under a tower and look straight up. Next came a mix of fields, forest, and small creeks. A unique feature came when the trail turned right and walked on top of an old stone wall for a while before heading downhill to another creek crossing.
Sweet Hollow Preserve
Next, you will enter my second favorite part of the hike and one that I had never experienced before. As the trail descends, you will enter Sweet Hollow Preserve. After a short downhill section of the trail, you will come to two creek crossings. I took a short snack break before the first creek and then came to the creek pictured below.
After crossing both creeks, you see some houses through the woods and will come to a short walk to the left on Sweet Hollow Rd. The trail re-enters Sweet Hollow Preserve on the left and heads up a manageable incline.
I enjoyed the hike through Sweet Hollow Preserve with its forest, creeks, and what looks like an old stone chimney base or grill right next to the trail. Unfortunately, someone placed an old toilet behind the rock structure (I can’t imagine why anyone would carry that into the woods!), but it quickly goes out of view as you walk further up the trail.
More creek crossings and a few muddy sections stand between you and the trail going under the powerlines again. Muddy hiking shoes on a trail sure beat clean shoes inside a building. If you have waterproof shoes, then you are all set. If not, then get ready for some wet feet. Cattails grow in the section of the trail under the powerlines, which made for a nice backdrop.
Road Walking on Rt. 579 and Turkey Hill Rd.
After a final section in the woods, and a short trek through more mud, you will emerge onto Rt. 579 for a very short walk before turning left on Turkey Hill Rd. This is the longest road walk on this section of the Highlands Trail. I would rather never hike on pavement, but if you have to…Turkey Hill Rd. is the place to do it. Turkey Hill is very rural and winds through the woods. Don’t miss where the trail turns off to the right over a small creek!
Deerpath Sanctuary (Audubon)
Deerpath Sanctuary has some nice preserved areas however, the Highlands Trail runs through a section that really isn’t its best. The trail by the roads (Turkey Hill and Tunnel) are nice but much of this short section can be overgrown. I was scratched a few times through jeans and a long sleeve shirt on this section of the trail. Soon you see Rt. 78 through the trees and descend to Tunnel Rd.
It’s never a bad day on the Highlands Trail and this section contains several of my favorite spots. The Musconetcong Gorge Preserve and SweetHollow Preserve top the list. Happy trails!
Please visit the NY/NJ Trail Conference website for more information about the NJ Highlands Trail – Hike 3.
A video of this hike (NJ Highlands Trail – Hike 2)
This video summarizes the sights and terrain of NJ Highlands Trail – Hike 2. See footage of the Musconetcong Gorge Preserve, Sweethollow Preserve, and Deerpath Sanctuary (Audubon).
Click here to see Highlands Trail NJ – Hike 3: the next section hike on the Highlands Trail.
Click here to see Highlands Trail NJ – Hike 1: the previous section hike on the Highlands Trail.