Exploring Wharton State Forest


  • Ben and daughters – Toyota 4Runner
  • Jendra – Jeep JKU
  • Matt – GMC Yukon

Wharton State Forest is in southern New Jersey and is sometimes called the Pine Barrens.  There is a lot of illegal wheeling that happens in the forest and our trip focused on staying on the legal road system.  A good off-road focused GPS based navigation system (we used Gaia for this trip) is highly recommended for exploring this area since the roads are generally unmarked and form a confusing spider web of interconnecting roads.  This area is very interesting to explore as the landscape is vastly different than the typical East Coast wheeling spots.  The entire area is mostly sand (we only saw a few rocks all weekend!) and the predominate tree type is pine with widespread evidence of forest fires.

Our trip started by meeting at Atsion Family Campground on Friday afternoon.  Only a 2-2.5 hour drive from Baltimore, it is a similar distance (or shorter if you are in Baltimore) to the club’s other wheeling spots.  If you are visiting the forest, I highly recommend taking the exit for US 40 toward Atlantic City right after the Delaware Memorial Bridge and drive through rural southern New Jersey on your way in.  It is a beautiful drive well worth the extra 5-10 minutes of travel time!

In Atsion Family Campground we had two adjacent sites on the lake that offered stunning sunrise and sunset views.  It was a very peaceful and beautiful spot to hang out together when we weren’t on the trail.

Saturday, we allowed ourselves a slower start and got on the trail about 10.  Little did we know that our pace of travel would be dramatically slower than we had predicted!  Our first road of the day was Batso Fireline and it proved to be the most challenging of the day…    Batso Fireline had a lot of soft sand that required some momentum and/or 4-wheel drive to power through.  There were also depressions in the trail, some of which had standing water and others were mostly dried up.  That soft sand combined with some water presented a few challenges! Matt was the first to bog in a puddle that still had a decent amount of water in it.

I (Ben) was the next to go down and after burying my back end in 2-wheel drive and my front in 4 high decided I needed some help!  Had it not been for driver error I think I could have made it through, but it provided an opportunity for Matt to return the favor and pull me out!

Most of the rest of the morning was uneventful on roads that were firm sand that was easily done in 2-wheel drive although higher clearance is good to keep from scraping on some of the deeper ruts.  We wound our way through the western part of the forest and ended up at Crowley’s Landing for a late lunch.  Our morning pace averaged out to about 7 miles per hour!  We enjoyed lunch along the Mullica River before hitting the road again.  Since we were behind schedule I decided to cut the planned afternoon ride a little short and focus on the landmarks I wanted to check out.  We mostly stayed on paved roads as we headed to Apple Pie Hill passing several cranberry bogs on the way.  Apple Pie Hill is one of the highest points in the area at nearly 300 feet elevation!  On it is a fire lookout tower that is closed except for when a fire observer is on watch.  From there we traveled on to a memorial for a Mexican pilot who crashed in the forest.  After checking out the memorial we headed back to camp to enjoy our last night together before departing Sunday morning.

We left quite a bit of the eastern part of Wharton State Forest unexplored and all of us were excited about coming back and exploring this area.  Overall the forest is a very interesting place to explore that could be done by a wide variety of vehicles.  Most of roads would be passable by an AWD crossover with enough clearance to clear the ruts but having 4-wheel drive gives that extra assurance to be able to get out of trouble in the soft and/or wet sand that can start to bury a vehicle.

Photo Album: 11/04/23 Wharton

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Trail report written by Ben Dunkerton. Pictures contributed by Ben Dunkerton, Matt Malone, and Jendra Rambharos. GPS track provided by Matt Malone.

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