The Road Less Trammeled
by Steven T. Rider
Wawayanda State Park
August 02, 2004
With the price of fuel at record levels the time is right to stay closer to home: somewhere that makes you think you are very far away.
Wawayanda State Park sits along the Passaic and Sussex County lines just south of the New York Border. Pronounced, Wah-Way-ahn-da, it is truly one of the gems of the New Jersey State Park System. Still relatively unknown, Wawayanda has arguably the most scenic lake in New Jersey. Even the name sounds exotic.
August is a splendid time to put the kayak or canoe into Wawayanda Lake early in the morning. As the days begin to shorten, and the nights get longer, the radiational cooling of the earth begins to draw the built-up heat of the lake back into the atmosphere. The warmer lake gives off mists that swirl and surround the canoe, lending an otherworldly feeling to place.
The sounds of the loon are gone (Spring is also a great time to slip a boat into the water here, when you can make some close observations of these northern waterfowl as they migrate to their nesting territories, as well as ospreys, mergansers, and an occasional eagle), but the northern latitude feel of this lake is unmistakable. A mere two hours from the heart of Manhattan, you can pretend with some real success that you are in Maine or Canada.
The granite bedrock outcrops that jut out of the water, and the steep shores of the lake that terminate in some impressive cliffs give the place a wild feel that is ever rarer in the Northeast.
If sitting atop the water makes you nervous, take a turn hiking along some of the sixty miles of surprisingly rugged trail terrain this big park has to offer.
The ancient granite and syenite bedrock is about a billion years old, some of the oldest bedrock in North America. The Wawayanda Plateau is the geological name of this corner of New Jersey. It is all that remains of Himalayan-sized mountains that once rose out of the sea between Vernon and Manhattan. The effects of weathering and repeated assaults by ice have worn the entire area flat, except for the erosion-resistant remnants of these mountains and the Kittatinny Ridge to the west.
In order to get a good view, it is necessary to travel to the edge of the plateau. Wawayanda State Park lies at the northern edge of these highlands and you can attain a spectacular view north and west from the Appalachian Trail toward the Catskills, just before it plunges into the Vernon Valley. From the Surprise Lake area of Abram S. Hewitt State Forest (also administered by Wawayanda State Park and immediately adjacent to it) you can attain views to the east of Greenwood Lake toward Harriman and the Palisades.
In the midst of the plateau the land is some of the wildest in the region. Broad swamps and rock outcrops litter the landscape. Rhododendron thickets and upland woods are interspersed throughout the Park and provide some made to order bear habitat. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be surprised to see one or two during your trek -- that includes the waters of Wawayanda Lake.
More than once IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had to rein in my imagination while out on the canoe as a large black head plied the waters in the mist ahead of me only to find that a massive black bear emerged at the shore, shook off no small amount of water and disappeared into the woods and mist beyond. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no Wawayanda equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster this time, but it will do.