Three spots to relax in the woods (and get a dash of history, too)

Photo by Brent Erb

Photo by Brent Erb

Gone Camping

by Lauren Johnson

As summer sets in, ditch the hot pavement and check out these three camping destinations to slow down and reconnect with nature. Though each is just an hour away, you’ll feel as if you’re miles from city stress.

For the Kids:
Allaire State Park
4265 Atlantic Ave., Wall Township, N.J.

Pack up the family for a wilderness adventure with a historic twist. This park features several campsite options and multiuse trails accessible from the main parking area, as well as an additional 800 acres at the southern end of the park to roam and explore. 

After journeying through the wilderness, cool off in the Manasquan River, which flows through the park and provides ample opportunities for splashing, swimming and canoeing. The park also includes historic Allaire Village, a once-thriving 19th-century community that produced pig and cast iron; it’s since been preserved to function as a living history museum. Families can experience a working blacksmith shop, a general store where you can purchase old-fashioned candy and handmade souvenirs, and a bakery to sample fresh, homemade treats. Folks in period costumes roam the grounds and gladly chat about what life was like during that time. There is also an antique steam train that loops around the park, further helping you take it all in.

For the Grown-Ups:
French Creek State Park
843 Park Road, Elverson, Pa.

For the more serious outdoor enthusiast, French Creek State Park has it all. The property is part of America’s industrial history, as it was once the site of Hopewell Furnace, an iron manufacturer in the late 1700s that used the local timber to produce coal to fuel its facility. The federal government claimed the property in the 1930s as part of a national effort to create “recreation demonstration areas,” and it remains a protected historic site today. 

The 7,730-acre park has much to offer, including a cornucopia of forests, fields and lakes that are home to some rare animals and plants. Be sure to bring your binoculars, as the park has been designated by the National Audubon Society as an “important bird area” and “important mammal area,” and it serves as a vital stop for migrating species. Don’t forget to call ahead for reservations!

There are more than 35 miles of trails, all of which are marked with trail blazes indicating their varying degrees of difficulty. Campers can either choose to stay in one of the park’s 200 wooded campsites or spend the night in their choice of cottage, cabin or yurt. Ten miles away, you can visit Daniel Boone’s homestead, owned by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

For Everyone:
Wharton State Forest
31 Batsto Road, Hammonton, N.J.

Situated in the heart of New Jersey’s Pinelands National Reserve, Wharton State Forest, at 120,000 acres, is the largest continuous land tract within the New Jersey park system. The state forest includes a major section of the 50-mile-long Batona Trail. Aside from ample hiking and scenic vistas, visitors can enjoy the waterfront of their choice, including the Batsto, Mullica, Wading and Oswego rivers, or enjoy picnicking at the Atsion Lake recreation area. Campers can choose from nine campsites or rent a rustic cabin. 

For a change of scenery, visitors can make their way to Batsto Village, a nationally recognized historic site that was once a major iron-mining town in the late 1700s inhabited by workers and their families. The village sits within the park’s property and includes restored original structures, such as the 19th-century ore boat, charcoal kiln, icehouse, blacksmith, gristmill and general store, all of which help take you back in time.