Yeah, I know. It's back to school insanity. Weekends are now hostage to homework and sports mayhem. But sometimes you end up with a Sunday surprise: a little bit of sun, a little bit of energy and.....an open few hours on the schedule.
Here's my suggestion: Skip the leaf-peeping crowds clogging the New York Thruway and head Wawayanda. It's just about an hour from Montclair and maybe a little more from the City. But this glassy lake surrounded by miles of trail-laced wilderness really does make you feel like you're, well, just what its name implies. Last autumn, on one of those precious Indian summer days, Paul and I popped up there with Noah, his friend, and Ringo. The colors were riotous, the air perfumed with that spicy, heart-tugging smell of dying leaves, the water as still as a mirror. We ate turkey sandwiches, then tossed fishing lines from the shore. We walked with Ringo along the flat, easy path around the lake, while the boys scrambled up fallen tree trunks and rocky shelves. And when we hit the dam at the other end, we laughed our own pants off as Noah and his bud stripped down to their boxers and ducked under the waterfall.
I've returned often ever since: For a Mother's Day picnic with Grammy Florence. For a day of kayaking with Grandma Carol (all sorts of boats are for rent between Memorial Day and around about mid-October). And just last weekend, I took all of my males on a New Year's hike to Shelter Pond just outside the park. You see, I gave them a choice: synagogue or the woods. I don't think they realize we don't belong to a synagogue and that I'd sooner go to a Nascar event in Texas than wear a skirt, read a book I don't understand, and stand up and sit down for five hours straight. Yes, I'm probably going to hell. But Ben the Nature Hater did fall three times and was tormented by a bee, so it's not as though there wasn't suffering involved. And we did do some good Nature worshipping, right? Whatever your inclinations, spiritual or sporty, go ahead, give it a try. Wawayanda will take you where you need to go.
Wanna Go? Need to know....
Getting There: Wawayanda is almost at the New York State border in the NJ Skylands, about 10 minutes from West Milford. Your best bet is to follow directions at this web site: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/wawayanda.html. You can also punch this address into your GPS: 885 Warwick Turnpike Hewitt, NJ. Keep in mind, though, that this is a mailing address and when your GPS tells you you have arrived, you will see only houses and get very nervous. Keep driving a few hundred yards, though, and you will see a big sign on the right pointing into Wawayanda, the entrance of which is on your left. For details, you can call:(973) 853-4462.
Trail Tips: Wawayanda State Park is a huge recreation area, with many trails (including 20 miles of the Appalachian Trail) and several parking lots. When you enter, you might want to pop into the park office for maps/info/recommendations. If you want to hike and boat as I've described, follow the signs to the lake. And here's the important part....drive right through the first parking lot for the lake and continue on to the second lake parking lot. This is where the boats and easy lake trails are. (The first lot is for swimmers, I think.) You can picnic at the picnic tables, throw your stuff back in the car, then take a walk around the lake and follow any of the trails for as long as you like. Just keep track of where you're going! If you want a more serious hike, ask the park office for advice and buy a map of the area (the ones they give out for free ain't so great). The Shelter Pond hike I took with the boys is amazing (so is Bearfort Ridge), but they can be tricky to follow so only undertake them if you are somewhat confident reading trail maps and blazes. The trailheads for these are actually outside the park.
When to Go: As I said, Wawayanda rents kayaks, peddle boats, small electric boats, etc. between Memorial Day and mid-October, so it's a great summer/early fall destination. Be warned, though, that it can get busy on peak swim weekends. Fall is divine, spring, too, and I've heard Wawayanda is the bomb for cross country skiing and even ice skating. I'll report this winter.
What to Bring: Bathings suits, water shoes, towels, picnic stuff when it's warm. Fishing rods any time--it's one of the few year-round habitats in NJ for landlocked salmon and trout. Mountain biking is big here. Dogs love this place and yes, signs say to keep them leashed. I generally let Ringo loose once I'm in the woods.
Costs/Services: There's a per car charge of $5/weekdays and $10/weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The rest of the year it's free. Boat rentals start at about $15/hour (I may be wrong here). There are lifeguards and a concession stand at the swim area; there's a decent bathroom and picnic tables at the lot where you rent the boats. All garbage must be carried out. If you don't feel like shlepping bikes, call ahead to the park office. I saw a sign recently that bikes are available for rent.
Fear Factor: None if you're just hanging around the lake. There are enough people so you won't feel creepy about getting lost or about being attacked by a bear or human. If you take a real trail, they are generally well marked, but it's still easy to get lost ,so always take another adult with you.