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Are you searching for an easy and scenic hiking trail in South Jersey? Look no further – as a solo traveler and lifelong NJ resident, I’m here to guide you through the best kept hiking secret in Wharton State Forest. It’s called the Mullica Trail.

As someone who’s explored the Mullica Trail dozens of times, I understand the frustration of hiking in NJ. In the summer there’s stifling humidity, ticks, and overcrowded trails. However, imagine finding a trail that caters to your desire for seclusion and scenic wonders. The Mullica Trail does just that, offering mindful moments in nature and self-healing opportunities.

 Wharton State Forest is within the New Jersey Pinelands, a more than 1 million acre region. This is the largest publicly owned tract in the state. There are miles and miles of unmarked sand roads that criss-cross the park, which today are being threatened by ATV use and conservation efforts are underway to reverse these effects.

Mullica River Trail At A Glance

  • Regions: Atsion in Shamong, Burlington County; Batsto in Hammonton, Atlantic County
  • Distance: 9.5 miles (can be done as a one night backpacking trip or as a day hike)
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Terrain: forest, swamps, meadows, sand

The Mullica River Trail

The Mullica Trail at Batsto State Park is a real hidden gem nestled in the New Jersey Pine Barens. Named for the unique, tea-colored, amber-brown water, the Mullica River will be hiking companion throughout your trek. 

If you followed the hike though its duration, the length is about 9 1/2 miles. However, since it’s out and back, you can tailor the distance to whatever suits your needs. For this guide, the trail details starting at Batsto and hiking til you reach the campsites at Mullica River Campground, a distance of approximately 4 miles. Upon return you’ll have hiked a total distance of a little over 8 miles. This description starts you and returns you to Batsto.

Depending on how fast you hike, it should probably take you at least 3-4 hours to complete. Because I hike slowly and always pack a lunch to enjoy while gazing at the beautiful Mullica River, it takes me more like 4 hours. Good to know is that water is available by pump at Mullica campground.

Features Of The Trail

The Mullica Trail is an enigma. It offers the rare quality of quiet hiking, which can be hard to come by in New Jersey. In addition, the forest seems to hold a quiet wisdom usually attributed to the likes of old growth forests. Again, another anomaly in NJ. 

Biodiversity

Another thing you’ll notice when hiking this trail is the biodiversity. Wharton State Forest proudly boasts some 575 species of plants, including wild orchids, sedges, grasses and insect-eating plants. The predominant trees are the pitch pine, various oak species, and Atlantic white cedar. Hike during the summer months and the forest will be sweet with the smell of NJ pine sap.

River Water

The river’s watershed is surrounded by extensive pine forests. As rain water filters through the acidic pine needles and decaying vegetation, it picks up tannins. This gives the water its characteristic brownish hue. As kids, we called it “iced tea”.

Batsto Village

Set adjacent to Batsto Village, a former bog iron and glass making industrial center from 1766 to 1867, Mullica River Trail hike could be combined with a stop in the visitor Center to learn more, chat with the rangers, or use the restroom.

Parking

Park your car in the makeshift dirt parking lot off route 542. This lot borders the Batsto Village fence.

Dirt parking lot adjacent to Batsto Village, starting point for Mullica River Trail hikes.
This lot is right off Route. Alternatively, you can park your car inside the park perimeters.

Then head down the sand road about 200 feet, when you’ll see an opening at Batsto fence on your right and a trail sign on your left. 

Getting To The Trailhead

Dirt road for Mullica River Trail, welcoming hikers to a peaceful backpacking experience
Short walk from your car to the trail head.

Sign Marker

Placard sign for Mullica River Trail, welcoming hikers to a peaceful backpacking experience
This placard will be on your right, leading to Batsto Village and restrooms if you need to go before your hike.

The Hike Begins

Entrance to Mullica Trail with yellow blazes at Batsto
The trail head is on your left, immediately across the dirt road from the Batsto village placard.

Sections of the Hike

This hike is  marked with yellow blazes throughout. It will take you past some idyllic views of the Mullica River, deep into the forest and back again. 

In the first half mile, you will pass through an Atlantic White Cedar swamp. Most of the time this area is passable with wood planks used as small bridges.

When the land is dry, you’ll use the footbridge / planks to pass through this swampland.

Wooden planks providing a path through a swampy section of Mullica River Trail
Walk the plank – a fun section through Pine Barren swamp

However, if it has been particularly rainy, you may need to take follow the sand road and pick up the trail in a mile or so in.

Flooded Atlantic White Cedar swamp section along Mullica River Trail after heavy rain
This is what the Atlantic White Cedar section looks like when too much rain and flooding. Notice the wood plank in the far background. To still hike the trail, continue straight down the sand road and pick up along Batsto River.

First Bridge

Once you’re through the short Atlantic White Cedar section, you’ll pass a lovely bridge with the river steadily following beneath you. This is a wonderful photo opportunity, particularly when the sun is high in the sky. 

Rustic wooden bridge crossing over serene waters of Mullica River on the trail.
Bridge across quiet dark waters
Picturesque view of Mullica River from a bridge, showcasing tranquil waters and lush forest
View from the first bridge.

Continuing along the trail, a beautiful carpet of pine needles and softly flowing hills awaits. Dappled light from the sun through pitch pines makes for an enchanting landscape.

Trail carpeted with pine needles, offering a soft path through the Mullica River Trail.

Occasionally, you’ll see wide open spaces of sand surrounding by a grove of trees that creates the perfect picnic spot.

Secluded sandy area under the shade, perfect for picnicking along Mullica River Trail
Take a short detour to picnic in the soft sand and shade

At about a mile in, you will get your first glimpse of the Mullica River that gives the trail its name. If hiking in the hot and humid Jersey summer, feel free to cool off with a quick dip. I highly recommend it.

The Second Bridge

Continuing to follow the yellow blazes, the trail takes you through a thinly forested turn which leads to a narrower flow of the river.

You’ll come to your second river crossing at this brand new steel bridge. Before the bridge we built small log walkways to cross.

New steel bridge facilitating river crossing on Mullica River Trail, enhancing access and safety.

Sandy Beach On Hill

Along this stretch, the trail bends toward the river, which up til now has been on your right. Here you’ll be in for a picturesque view of sandy river shore. This angle will offer a real glimpse of the reddish-brown tannins and other organic molecules that are leached out of dead leaves and pine needles by the acidic waters. The iron molecules abundant in the soils form thick mats of “bog iron”.

First view of the Mullica River along the trail, inviting hikers to cool off.
The river is high in this picture, as usual flow is about half this amount.

This section is a quiet spot to pause by the river’s edge. Or perhaps swim, let your dog get a cool drink, or watch canoes and kayaks pass by.

Sandy beach on Mullica River Trail with simple wooden railing, ideal for rest and river views.
A simple railing for a simple resting place

This enchanting and beautiful setting is perfect for meditation, picnics, or journal.   

Wooden bench for two, perfectly placed for enjoying views of Mullica River on the trail.
So perfect a sight, even complete with a small wooden bench for two

Tiny Footbridge

Still following the yellow blazes, you’ll see a switchback crossing a trickle of stream. After the small foot bridge, turn left and follow the trail and at this point the river will be on your left. turn right.

There’s another secluded Sandy Beach if you want to take a quick dip. Follow this cozy section for your last leg before it opens up to the culvert.

what I love about this section is the thick bed of Pineneedles, and when the river is flowing, the gentle sound of water in the silence. when you and that cozy section, you will come to dead end you have to go left or right. If you went left, it’s where you would enter or exit for the other entrance. Going right will follow you along. from the Batsto gate to the culvert, you will hike about 1.5 miles.

Tiny wooden footbridge over a stream, adding charm to Mullica River Trail's diverse landscape.
A great bridge for kids to peer over and spot creatures

Small Recreation Area

The trail dead ends, and you must turn left or right. Go right. Turning left takes you back to Batsto on the alternate entrance of the Mullica Trail.

Sign directing to recreation areas along Mullica River Trail, enhancing the hiking experience.
This is the view to your left. If you were flooded at the main trail entrance, and entered along Batsto Lake, this is where you’d eventually reconnect.

Follow the arrow and turn right to continue on the Mullica Trail.

View of the small recreation area on Mullica River Trail
This is the view to your right, the direction to go.

Once you make your turn, the trail opens up to a wide, sandy road with a large culvert type of bridge. Cross that and within a 100 feet, you’ll pick up the trail on the left. You do have a choice to walk within the tree line following the yellow blazes or along the sandy path. Both run parallel and take you to the same place.

View from the small recreation area on Mullica River Trail, showing the path's natural beauty
Since this section has road access, it can be used by many more people, especially in the summer

Last Section Til Mullica River Campground

At this point, there are no more turns on the hike. Instead it’s a long straightaway that predominantly follows the Mullica River, now on your left. This is probably the busier section where you’ll see other hikers, but also has the potential for the most wildlife sightings. I once spotted a fox. There are very few features to distinguish this section, except for this small hill overlooking the river.

Evidence of controlled burn and new growth along Mullica River Trail, demonstrating forest regeneration.
Evidence of charred bark from controlled burn offset by new growth

When the weather’s warm you will see people paddling in  the river in kayaks and canoes. It is a quite beloved NJ pastime, as I remember doing so with my family in inner tubes as a little girl. 

Idyllic rest spot on Mullica River Trail with views of kayakers on the river. Mullica Trail NJ
Great spot for a snack and a rest

The trail follows the river fairly closely, and you’ll eventually arrive at an area where the river widens and you’ll see evidence of beaver activity.

At about mile 4, there will be an open area and fire rings. Now you’ve reached the campground hosting ten individual sites. There is a hand pump for water and 2 outhouses for campers use. The water is refreshingly cold and rewarding on a hot day of hiking. It’s the perfect turn around point for picnics, journaling, or other mindful activities.

Alternative Entrance

If you were not able to cross the main entrance due to swamp water, this is where you pick up the trail. It is at the end of the dirt road.

Alternate entrance to the trail if there's flooding

The forest is also home to Atsion Recreation Area, which is a popular destination for picnicking, swimming and exploring. Wharton State Forest contains multiple rivers and streams for 

The hike encompasses a vast section of Wharton State Forest, and there are two ways to hike it. Depending on your starting point. You can start in Batsto or Atsion. The trail itself is a connector to the two parks. If your starting point is from the Hammonton area, you hike North toward Atison. Another option is to enter from Atsion.

Final Thoughts On The Mullica River Trail

Let’s be honest. Nobody ever said the words, “New Jersey is a hiker’s paradise.” There is a reason for that. I can attest to the reason since I have had hiked in Oregon, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, California, Maine, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Ireland. However, I can also attest to the profound healing forests in the Pine Barrens. I’ve literally spent hundreds of hours hiking these trails to heal trauma. And it worked, because I’m proof that New Jersey hiking has worth, healing, and quiet beauty.

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