Apple Pie Hill

Apple Pie Hill, Wharton State Forest (6/29/2009)

I never heard of Apple Pie Hill until the May 2009 issue of Backpacker magazine named it one of America's 100 Best Dayhikes, grouping it with just three other hikes under the heading "Solitude". I've been fascinated ever since. "Apple Pie Hill is only 209 feet above sea level, but it affords a commanding view of this million-acre maze of scrub pine, swamps and bogs" the magazine informed. Well this I had to see. So off we trekked this morning, driving nearly two hours south to the middle of the seemingly infinite New Jersey pine barrens, an area in which I have never previously hiked (unless you count a couple of hikes in Allaire, which is nowhere like the heart of the Pinelands).

I was not disappointed. This hike is quite unlike any other. It's an 8-mile out-and-back using the pink-blazed Batona trail (from BAck TO NAture) from the Carranza Memorial (on Carranza Road) to the Apple Pie Hill fire tower and back. The Carranza Memorial marks the place where the Mexican aviator Emilio Carranza died tragically when his plane went down at this spot in 1928 during a particularly nastly Pinelands storm. Today, 78 years after the monument was erected, one can imagine the feeling of hopelessness he must have felt in those last moments. Even the feeling at this relatively popular monument is one of isolation. One can stand on Carranza Road, in front of the monument, and look one way, then the other way, and see just endless blacktop surrounded on both sides by pine trees.

The first mile of the hike parallels a sandy road, crossing it several times, using it for a stretch or two. The second mile is where the sense of solitude deepens, a stretch where the trail cuts through an area with upland on the left (populated with mostly pitch pines) and swampland on the right (populated with mostly swamp cedar). The last two miles is endless pines, where monotony becomes beauty, and where the feeling of being alone in the vast pine barrens is most profound. We had company at the fire tower, a group of teen boys was meeting in the shade, but passed only two other hikers during the entire 8-mile journey. The only sounds were almost all those of nature, with an occasional plane far up in the sky, barely a distraction.

For the complete description of the types of vegetation encountered, the history of the area, and the importance of the underlying aquifer, see Trip #34 ("Apple Hill Fire Tower") in Nature Walks in New Jersey (2nd edition). It is also hike #47 ("Carranza Memorial to Apple Pie Hill") in 50 Hikes in New Jersey (3rd edition).

(Click on the thumbnail to bring up a bigger image in a pop-up window)

Carranza Memorial from front

Coins left on the base

A pine

Batona's pink blaze

Batona camp site

Swamp off the trail

Lotus flowers and lilypads


Lotus flower

Obsessed with sand [photo by Laura]

White quartz sand road

Bridge over Skit Branch (of Batso River)

Vegetation deepens on second mile

Pines ... what else?

Blueberry bushes

In the middle of the Pine Barrens

And having a blast


First of three boardwalks through cedar swamp

[Photo by Laura]

We ate lots of blueberries

Last boardwalk

Now it's mostly all pines

Trail blanketed with pine needles

Climbing one of the unnamed hills

[Photo by Laura]

Directions at a cross road

Colorful fern

Refreshing blueberries

A burnt area

Fire damage


Blueberry bushes and burnt pines


Sand gullys

Very sandy road to Apple Pie Hill

Fire tower

On Apple Pie Hill

View from first steps

View near top (kids in lower right)

Fire tower road to left

Unbroken views from the top

Laura at the bottom

That's Dan! [photo by Laura]

Floor of tower room

View of stairs looking down

Multiple views ...

from the top ...

to directions ...

I can no longer remember

Tower from the bottom

Back through fire-burnt area

New growth on burnt trees!

The Batona blaze and trail

Sandy gully

Mushroom about to pop out

Laura way ahead

Majestic pines

The lovely Batona trail


Our lunch spot

[Photo by Laura]


It got cloudy here

Tannin-colored Skit Branch

Bridge over the Skit Branch

Leopard frog

Plants in water

Another frog

This was our favorite spot

Deep color from the pine needles

Plants going with the flow

Large mushroom

Back to the swamp

Gorgeous lotus flower

Water break

Lotus flowers and liypads

Loads of lilypads

Carrenza Memorial

Back to the car

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