Charles has long experience fishing, hiking, exploring, and camping in the Northeast.
New Jersey Mountain Hiking and Climbing Areas
Having lived in Southern New Jersey all my life, I have found there aren't a lot of mountains south of Trenton. If you live in the Philadelphia Metro area, the best place to find decent mountains is north and west of the city.
In New Jersey, you must travel north of Trenton before you begin to find the first hike-able and climbable mountains. This is mostly due to the geography and topography of the different regions of New Jersey. To the South and East of Trenton, New Jersey, you will find mostly flat terrain. These areas are known as the inner and outer coastal plain. Many millions of years ago, this lowland area was inundated by the Atlantic Ocean and is comprised of mostly flat, sandy terrain.
A short drive to the north of Trenton, you will find the Piedmont Province. In this region, you will find hilly, rocky, and mountainous terrain. It isn’t too far of a drive from the South Jersey Coastal Plain.
As you travel further north, you will start to see larger mountains and notice that the horizon to the North and West contain some very tall mountains. These areas are called the Highland and Ridge and Valley Province. These regions span the entire northern section of the state and contain the highest points in New Jersey. If you are looking for some serious hiking and climbing in New Jersey, this is a great region to explore. I have provided some photos and an example from one of my recent New Jersey mountain hikes below.
Pennsylvania Mountain Hiking and Climbing Areas
As you travel northwest of Philadelphia and The Delaware River, you will begin to leave behind the flatlands of the city and South Jersey. As you travel north, you will begin to see the terrain change and become hillier and more mountainous. This is considered to be the Piedmont Province and contains smaller hills and mountains than you will find further to the north.
Foothills and the Pocono Mountains
Continue traveling north and you will begin to see a large ridgeline that fills the horizon in front of you, this area is the Ridge and Valley Province and those large mountains in the distance are in the Appalachian Plateaus Province and contain mountains like Blue Mountain and Camelback Mountain. All of these northern regions contain endless amounts of climbing and hiking opportunities for the beginner to the pro. A short 30-minute drive from the city of Philadelphia will provide access to tons of climbing, hiking, sightseeing, and other activities that are either inexpensive or free.
Hiking and Climbing Gear
This article is mostly geared toward the everyday hiking enthusiast so I will keep the gear list simple and straightforward. A minimal packing list is all that is required to have a wonderful, casual hike and climb in the east coast mountains. We will work our way up from the bottom starting with footwear.
In my opinion, footwear is an important part of your gear, you will be hiking on flat and uneven terrain with some elevation change thrown in for good measure. Don’t skimp on your footwear. A quality hiking boot or shoe is recommended. I have seen people on the trail with sneakers, they would probably work in a pinch, but I suggest finding at least a trail running sneaker that is a bit more rugged than a typical sneaker.
Next up are socks. From my experience in the military, it was common sense that you must take care of your feet on the trail! Without your feet, you were no good to the mission. Look for wool or synthetic cushioned hiking socks, they should be moisture-wicking and the thickness should match the season you are hiking in. I.E, thicker socks in colder weather, and thinner socks in warmer weather. Try not to double up your socks as this causes friction which leads to blisters. Avoid cotton socks at all cost!
Tops and Bottoms
Depending on the season, you will need either shorts or pants. Look for flexible fabric that is breathable and durable. You will encounter snags from branches and bushes that could potentially tear your pants or shorts. Look for something designed for hiking. You’ll thank me later.
When it comes to the top, we need to consider temperatures when we select our base layers and outerwear. For colder hikes, it is best to dress in layers to trap your body heat and it makes it possible to remove these layers as your body heats up. Look for wool or synthetic, moisture-wicking fabrics that are soft and won’t chafe your skin. Try to avoid cotton, this material absorbs moisture and doesn't like to let it evaporate easily.
For your head, I recommend bringing along a neck gaiter/headband to keep the sweat out of your eyes, cover your head, or use it around your neck to help keep you warm and cool on the trail. A brimmed hat definitely helps in the heat of the summer, it will protect your head and keep the sun out of your eyes. In cold weather, don't forget a nice wool or synthetic cap.
Depending on the length of your hike or climb, you’ll want a small pack to carry your water, base layers, miscellaneous gear, and snacks. Look for a small hydration pack, 2.0-3.0L, this would be ideal for a day-trip hike, it will provide enough water storage and have plenty of extra space for gear. I like my pack to have a chest strap and waist strap, I feel that the pack seems to be lighter when supported like this.
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Miscellaneous gear would be a flashlight, map of the area, cellphone, small pocketknife, bears spray if in bear country, handheld GPS, rain poncho, extra socks, moleskin tape for blisters, small first aid kit with bee sting treatment. I have included a packing list below to help organize everything. Feel free to comment below if you think I missed something!
Day Hiking Packing List
- Hiking Boots/Shoes
- Trail Runner Sneakers
- Hiking Socks 2 Pairs
- Hiking Shorts or Pants (Rugged and Flexible)
- Moisture Wicking T-shirt
- Wool or synthetic long sleeve base layer shirt, crew neck, or ¼ zip layer as necessary
- Neck Gaiter/Headband/Scarf
- Hat/Head covering
- Backpack/Hydration Pack
- Map of the hiking area
- Handheld GPS
- Cell Phone
- Pocket Knife
- Bear Spray
- Rain Poncho
- Emergency Blanket
- First aid kit
- Bee sting treatment
- Bug Spray
- Moleskin tape for blisters
- Trekking Poles (Optional)
Delaware Water Gap, Mt. Tammany Red Dot Trail
My latest mountain hike on the East Coast was the Mt.Tammany Red Dot Trail, located at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in New Jersey. (See map above.) The red dot trail is a great hike that can be accomplished as a day trip. Located about 1.5 hours from Trenton and about 2 hours from Philadelphia, this short drive is a beautiful experience in itself.
The terrain changes from flat to hilly as you head north in NJ and spectacular views await as you travel to this destination that was once considered one of the world’s great wonders. I consider this mountain hike to be moderate to hard. I had to attempt this summit twice as I completely underestimated the mountain the first time.
My First Attempt at the Summit
On my first attempt, I was unprepared and totally out of my element. That day the temperature was in the 90’s with high humidity, I packed 1L of water into my pack and headed off to the trail at the opposite end of the parking lot. The trailhead is clearly marked and there are many painted white squares with a red dot trail marker along the way. The first 200 yards of the hike was simple, relatively flat, and rocky terrain. The trail was wide without much underbrush in the way.
Sharp Rise in the Terrain
As the terrain began to rise, the elevation change was abrupt. The next 200 yards were full of uphill rock scrambling with no flat parts. This led to a flat section and ahead was more uphill rock scrambling. I rested here and drank some water before pushing forward. After about 300 yards of scrambling, I got to the first overlook. This first section was about a half-mile long and took about 30–45 minutes to achieve with many rest breaks in between. This overlook provided plenty of beautiful views and opportunities for photographs.
Not for the Unprepared
I consulted my map and pressed forward to the summit along the red dot trail. After approximately 500 yards of gradual uphill climbing, I got to a point where the trail headed steeply upslope. This looked to be 200-300 yards up nearly vertical rock scrambling. I decided to stop my hike here and head back down to the car. I was out of water and estimated I needed at least another liter to complete the climb, I was sweating profusely and decided to stop here before injuring myself.
My Second Attempt at the Summit
On my second attempt, I brought 2L of water and hydrated myself properly beforehand. There was approximately 1 mile of uphill hiking in 90-degree weather beyond the first overlook to reach the summit of Mt. Tammany.
One of the most Beautiful Views on the East Coast
The summit views are beautiful and definitely worth the trip. The fall hike here is probably even more spectacular when the leaves change color, I’ll be back. I felt this was a hard hike for someone like me (50 and not in shape) and not meant for the faint of heart.
I suggest taking it easy on this hike, drink plenty of fluids, and rest where you can. For those of us that are in great physical shape, (I am not, lol), this would probably be considered a moderate hike. I have included some photos and a trail map from Google below, enjoy your next hike, and thanks again for stopping by!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Charles Kikas (author) from USA on July 29, 2021:
I took tons of pictures, I didn't want to fill my article with too many of them.. Thanks, I should have listed it but with cell phones these days...
Ed Palumbo from Tualatin, OR on July 29, 2021:
I no longer live in the Northeast but you bring back great memories and a reminder never to hike without a camera! Thank you!