Way Up North When the Air Gets Cold: High Point State Park

Before launching off into posts about my local traveling adventures, I think a little background will help set the scene for what is about to transpire:  Prior to moving to the East Coast I lived in Boulder, Colorado for nearly eight years, but was not an avid outdoorsman (outdoorswoman to be gender correct, yes, but it just looks and sounds odd). Despite being a nature lover at an early age, which was cultivated by summer vacations spent at the beach and at national parks, I think my pseudo-riotgrrl college days were partially to blame. A time when I believed I was so tragically hip and wouldn’t participate in anything mainstream for fear it would hurt my carefully crafted image of fake fur coats and vintage JC Penney polyester pants, faithfully worn with combat boots…natch.

So now I find myself, at the tender age of 34, making up for lost time. Which leads me to High Point State Park in Northern New Jersey on a chilly, winter day to take part in a Winter Festival put on by Friends of High Point State Park (FoHP). This free, get-to-know-your-state-park event, allowed budding outdoor enthusiasts, such as myself, to try their hand at a variety of frostbite-inducing activities, from cross-country skiing and snowshoeing to ice-fishing.

Confession: I had my doubts at first. Could this rival the local parks I was used to from California or Colorado? Being new to the New Jersey, and my New Year’s Resolution is to spend time exploring my own backyard, I’ll admit I did harbor some stereotypes about the Garden State. However, at nearly six months in, the natural beauty and wonder of each new adventure captivates me in a way that I find myself repeating, “I can’t believe I’m in New Jersey.” I honestly think that’s why you find so many people who are true to their NJ roots, and with good reason. But I digress…

Back to the Festival — walking into the Interpretive Center, we encountered a small cluster of families listening to wintry tales and swilling cups of apple cider, while kids slathered peanut butter on enormous pine cones for the standard summer camp arts ‘n crafts – bird feeders.

Our FoHP Snowshoe Rentals

But DIY feeders weren’t on our agenda for the day. Marc and I were going to try our hands, or feet rather, at snowshoeing. It seemed simple enough, strap contraptions on your feet that looked like tennis rackets (at least they did in the cartoons I remember from my childhood) and traipse through the countryside to take in the quiet solitude of a snowy meadow. Well, it seems snowshoes have come a long way from the Looney Tunes interpretation. The basic models, courtesy of the FoHP, kitted us out with weren’t high-tech, but they did the trick. So off we went to explore the great outdoors…

Walking down trails deeply worn with cross-country ski tracks and taking in the landscape, blanketed with thick snow drifts, it dawned on me that while I enjoyed the peaceful splendor of looking out at snow softly falling, I had never fully appreciated being outdoors during the dead of winter. Sure, snowboarding counts, but I find I’m often so engaged in the task at hand (a.k.a., getting down the mountain in one piece without a massive wipeout or head trauma) that I don’t often stop to enjoy my surroundings.

Skiers in the Zone

Snowshoeing gives you an opportunity to do just that. The mechanics behind how it works are beyond me, but to be able to trudge through snowdrifts that were knee-high and not get bogged down made the experience that much more enjoyable. You can take in the beautiful surroundings of bare tree branches against the stark white incline of the hillside, while cross-country skiers shush past you, along one of the many cross-country skiing trails.

By the end of the day, Marc and I were sufficiently wiped out from our hour plus snowshoeing adventure. Saying good-bye to the FoHP, we started back on the long trip back home. Just as we thought the day couldn’t get any better, we spied a vintage wooden sled at a local consignment/gun/taxidermy shop for the bargain price of $25. Sure it would take a little sandpaper and paint to make her shine, but where else can you find a pre-1950, safety-rail free sled?

Marveling at our good find while we filled up and grabbed a cup of hot chocolate at the Quick Chek that had a distinctly Swiss Miss chocolate packet flavor, I did it again. Turning to Marc, I grinned, “I can’t believe we’re in New Jersey.” To which he smiled and said, “I told you,” as we turned onto the Garden State Parkway South, to make our way back home.

Know & Go: High Point State Park

  • Located in Sussex County, it is the highest point in the State, marked by a Washington Monument-esque obelisk that sits atop the summit
  • It has ties to Central Park. How so you may ask? It was designed by the Olmstead Brothers, whose father was Frederick Law Olmstead (of Central Park fame)
  • You can take in panoramic views of three states at once:  New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, making it an East Coast, visual version of the Four Corners. Not only breathtaking vistas as far as the eye can see, but a nifty geography/orientation lesson at the same time
  • The Appalachian Trail passes through the Park. That’s right! Perhaps it’s more than 2,100 miles of trail or the fact that it takes the average through hiker 6 months to complete, but I’m in awe of the “hiking trail to end all trails” aura that surrounds it
  • During the winter months, it is a cross-country skiers paradise. According to High Point XC Ski Center, there are more than 15 kilometers of trails to accommodate any level of skier

View from the Highest Point in NJ

NB: Photos were taken by Marc Steiner. If you like what you see and are curious about the photographer, head over to www.marcsteiner.com.

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