Charles has long experience fishing, hiking, exploring, and camping in the Northeast.
A Brief History of the Historic Town of Atsion
As Old Man Winter releases his icy grip on the northeast, it's time to dust the cobwebs from that dusty gear and head out to the trail for some fantastic backpacking and hiking in the garden state. This hike is great for the beginning hiker to the seasoned pro. Weaving its way through the historic New Jersey pine barrens, the trail consists of mostly flat, pine needle-covered sandy soil making for a pleasant, cushioned hike. If you enjoy the solitude of hiking through a vast wilderness with no one to hear you but the frogs, deer, and coyotes that inhabit this area, then this is the hike for you.
The trailhead for this hike is situated in front of the historic Atsion Mansion and lies on the edge of Wharton State Forest. In 1765 Charles Read III had constructed and run a profitable iron forge in nearby Atsion, "the name was given by him." The furnace operated successfully until the 1770s when Mr. Read ran into financial trouble and was forced to sell the furnace to another owner who successfully ran the Atsion furnace, grist mill, and three sawmills until the early 1820s. In 1824, along came Samuel Richards, a successful businessman and ironmaster from nearby Philadelphia who purchased the property in Atsion and would eventually construct a church, a general store, workers' housing, and the beautiful Atsion Mansion that marks the beginning of the Mullica River Trail. Finally, in 1892, the property was purchased by Joseph Wharton, who cultivated cranberries in the area until the property was finally purchased by the State of New Jersey in 1955. The Mullica River Trail winds through the forest that surrounds the mansion. This forest is named in memory of Mr. Wharton and is known today as Wharton State Forest.
The Mullica River Trail Hike
This hike consists of an 11-mile out and back style trek starting and ending at the Atsion Mansion. You can find a detailed trail map provided by njhiking.com here. The hike begins in front of the ranger station which is in front of the mansion along route 206 and is clearly marked by yellow blazes throughout. This hike takes you through Wharton State Forest for 5.5 miles until you reach the Mullica River Wilderness Campsite. Located on the banks of the Mullica River, this primitive campsite is a remote wilderness campground with no vehicle access and very limited cell phone reception. The only access to this campsite is via hiking, kayaking, or canoeing. When starting out, pass the trailhead sign on your right and hang a left at the corner of the fence that surrounds the mansion. Follow the yellow blazes in the direction of the white church until you reach the Quaker Bridge Road. Hike the road until the trail markings take you into the forest entrance on the left side of the road. The adventure begins! You are immediately surrounded by pines and hardwoods as the pine needle-littered trail meanders along through the forest. The ground is soft and flat and allows you time to reflect on the silence and beauty of the Wharton State Forest.
Halfway to the Mullica River Wilderness Campsite
At about the 3-mile mark into the hike, you will find an intersection where two trails meet. At this junction, you will find Beaver Pond. A fantastic stopping point to grab a quick drink and adjust your pack. You might even get a chance to see the beavers at play if you are lucky. Continue on following the yellow blazes while you enjoy the solitude. The mild temperature, bright sun, and the cool spring breezes brought the fresh smells of pine, sandy soil, and water from the streams and ponds to my nostrils, invigorating me to continue onward. As you hike along the trail, you will be treated to spontaneous views of the Mullica River, providing scenic vistas for photo opportunities. The mating calls of the local frog population are all the music you'll need. Slowly winding your way through the remaining 2.5 miles are more views of the pine wilderness and remnants of past forest fires. The stillness and seclusion are breathtakingly extraordinary.
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Mullica River Wilderness Campsite
As you near the wilderness campsite, the Mullica River crowds the trail along your right side, inviting you to continue on. Up ahead, you will notice a sign warning that there are "no motorized vehicles allowed". In the distance, a white sandy beach area located in a grove of pine trees beckons. Pat yourself on the back, you have arrived and completed a moderate 5.5-mile hike.
My Favorite Site
This isolated campsite contains 10 primitive campsites that include a fire ring and grill grate. A detailed map of the campground is provided for download by the NJ Department of Parks and Forests. Several pit-type, bare-bones outhouses and a single primitive hand-pumped well for water are also located here. No picnic tables or other amenities are available. My goal for today's trip was to research this hike and campground for a future overnight trip. I found that campsite #6 was my favorite. It was located in the center of the camp and was on high ground that overlooked the river and the rest of the campsites. A $5 registration fee is required for a camping permit. You can reserve a campsite at the NJDEP website.
The Hike Back
After a short rest and quick lunch at campsite #6, I picked up my trash and headed back to the Atsion trailhead. The way back was uneventful. At the halfway mark, I placed my pack at the base of a sturdy pine tree, laid back, and listened to the forest winds whistling through the trees as I gazed out onto Beaver Pond. I took a nice break and finished the hike by following the yellow blazes back to the mansion. If you are ever in this area for a hike, do yourself a favor and search Google for "The Piccalilli Inn". A fantastic place for food and drinks and quite possibly the best wings in New Jersey....I'll save that for another article. Well folks, thanks for stopping by. Bookmark my profile as I should be pretty busy this hiking season. Have a great day!
Mullica River Trailhead at the Atsion Mansion 744 US-206, Vincentown, NJ 08088
© 2022 Charles Kikas