Natural New Jersey

Hiking to Sunfish Pond and Mt. Mohican on the Appalachian Trail
By Glenn Scherer & Don Hopey
  |  Gorp.com
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Sunfish Pond is one of the most popular hiking destinations in New Jersey, with good reason. The rocky shores of this crystal clear glacial lake are postcard perfect. Get an early start for this hike, or go on a weekday or in winter. You will miss the crowds and improve your chances of spotting the plentiful but shy wildlife.

Before starting out, stop at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Information Center at Kittatinny Point. Its rangers and books on local flora, fauna, history, and geology will enrich your hike. Behind the visitor center is a spectacular view of the Water Gap. The river flows by in a graceful curve, while the towering heights of Pennsylvania's Mt. Minsi and New Jersey's Mt. Tammany rise 1200 ft. above. Exposed rock strata display millions of years of geological history. The gorge was not, as people imagine, created by the stream forcing its way through the mountain wall from north to south. The currently accepted theory states that an aggressive mountain stream on the south side of the ridge found a weakness in the erosion-resistant stone and cut downward, opening the gap (a process geologists call"headward migration").

The AT follows the paved road in front of the information center. Skip this road walk by driving your car along the"trail." Make a right out of the information center parking lot, then a quick left through the I-80 underpass, a left at the far side of the underpass, and an immediate right into the Dunnfield Creek Natural Area parking lot, where you can leave your car overnight. The AT goes into the woods at the end of the lot. A pump provides water.

Within seconds of exiting the parking area, the trail leaves the bright, hurried human world behind. Highway noise is replaced by the comforting sound of a rushing mountain stream as the AT crosses Dunnfield Creek on a rustic wooden bridge. It is easy to imagine the small 19th-century river village of Dunnfield that once stood just behind you, where I-80 traffic now roars by.

The trail climbs gently through a green grotto of ferns, rhododendron, and towering hemlock trees. It parallels the creek, which pitches over waterfalls and rushes down flumes into pools and potholes where native brown trout swim. Layered ledges of red shale and sandstone, sculpted by fast-moving water, are hung with ferns and moss. Stay on the trail to avoid trampling fragile vegetation.

Sadly, the ravine's hemlock trees are dying. Their bony limbs shed needles and open the glen to the sky a little more each year. This is the destructive work of the hemlock woolly adelgid, an Asian insect that caught a ride into the United States on imported ornamental trees about fifty years ago. Though biological controls (other imported bugs that eat the adelgid) are being tested, there is little money for research, and soon the Eastern hemlock may disappear entirely from our forests.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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