Highlands Trail #16: Columbia Rail Trail

~3 hours, ~6 miles, easy peasy

Hike #16: The Straight and Narrow

 Do the sycamore.

Do the sycamore.

Tip of the day: you can hike with a lighter backpack when you are on the Columbia Rail Trail. You are not in the backcountry at all, so the potential dangers are much less. If you twist an ankle and can't make it to the next cross street, someone will likely come along at some point. That someone may be a horse.

Where you are going to park your car in downtown Califon:

 Downtown Califon

Downtown Califon

Califon? Yes, of course, I know where the name comes from. The town was named by this guy Jacob Neighbor, who made a killing in California during the 1849 gold rush. Upon settling in this area in New Jersey, he decided to name the town California. Unfortunately, his sign painter couldn't fit all the letters, so they shortened it to Califon. Three letters make all the difference.

 Bex Kitchen in Califon, park near it

Bex Kitchen in Califon, park near it

Order your Lyft. You're going to Fairview Avenue, at the foot of Schooley's Mountain. You'll need to navigate your driver there, as I couldn't find a perfect destination to enter into the app. Shoot me an email if you have one.

Go into Bex and get the vegan breakfast bar while you wait 20 mins for your car. While you are waiting, you can also pay a visit to the most gargantuan Sycamore ever. This reminds me of another project I want to work on, which is to recognize the great trees of New Jersey. This would be one of them. There is another one behind the Verizon store on Route 4 west in Hackensack. 

 The sycamore by itself, in all its glory, without me in the way. Deserves two photos.

The sycamore by itself, in all its glory, without me in the way. Deserves two photos.

When you get to the parking lot at Schooley's Mountain, go straight down the Gillette trail. This will take you to the Columbia Rail trail. Hang a right. You'll be on here for a while.

A bit of history on the Columbia Rail trail. The trail runs on top of where tracks used to be. Completed in 1875, the railroad line ran from High Bridge to Port Oram, currently known as Wharton. The line accommodated passengers, but was really known for its shipments of coal and iron ore from the mines in Morris County.  In 1976, this railroad branch was deemed redundant by its owners Conrail and dismantled. Underneath the trail lies a gas line owned by the Columbia Gas Company of West Virginia, which it's owned and operated since the 1990's.  See Hike #13 and #14 for more info on Morris County iron! [thanks to Wikipedia and County of Hunterdon for the above info]

More on the Columbia Rail trail here.

 Gas line underneath. Yeah, sure, it's safe.

Gas line underneath. Yeah, sure, it's safe.

TOTALLY WORTH IT SHORT AUTHORIZED DETOUR: The Old Stone Union Church. You'll see it from the trail, off to the left. Sorry I didn't take a photo of the corner, got too excited. It's pretty awesome. There's a cemetery, too, with a lot of the headstones so old you can't even read them. Some of the headstones are just leaning up against the church.

 A bit of Lutherianism history here. Imagine the parishioners sitting in there. 

A bit of Lutherianism history here. Imagine the parishioners sitting in there. 

Don't ever pass up this opportunity. Grab a plastic bag and pick up someone else's garbage. Pay it infinitely forward. Get greedy about it.

There are friendly gnomes living on and along the Columbia Rail trail. 

The Highlands trail, as it runs along the Columbia Rail trail, is a wide, gravel trail. Although relatively straight and flat, I really enjoyed this part of the hike. Often flanked by heavy brush and deep woods, it was the right time for relaxed contemplation. Birdsongs and distant cars were the only sounds. The Highlands Endeavor would be coming to a close in the next week or so and I wondered what was next. I didn't know the answer to that. What I did know was that I felt extremely happy I had made this commitment to hike the Jersey Highlands in it's entirety. I also felt extremely lucky to have this choice, to be able to take the time to breathe a bit. Though, according to actuarians, the amount of years I had lived now exceeded the amount of years I had left to live, I felt fully and robustly alive. As alive as I had ever felt.

 a junkyard along the way

a junkyard along the way

 1906

1906

 This was a first, sharing the trail with horses. Amazing.

This was a first, sharing the trail with horses. Amazing.

This below was not happening. There was a lot of horse poop on the trail. I was thinking about the logistics of this. It's just not possible. Does the rider always know when the horse poops? Also, is the rider actually going to dismount every time the horse poops? And where do you put it afterwards? I mean, it's not little doggie poop. It's big, comes in the form of mounds.

You'll pass a farm along the way. The cows looked at my suspiciously, as if they knew I was not from Hunterdon County, as if they could smell the Bergen on me.

By the way, you are Hunterdon County now. You can hold your head up atmospherically high. You've been through so many New Jersey counties now, you can't even name them all. Passaic seems like eons ago. You are an intergalactic highlands endeavorer. Take a bow to the brush. 

 This brush.

This brush.

There is very little navigation to worry about on the Columbia Rail trail. Just keep going straight. I could give you the details on all the sections and streets you cross over, but it's not necessary. Just keep walking until you get to your car in Califon. 

 You have no idea how badly I wanted to go into this house and take a photo of me in the window. Logic prevailed.

You have no idea how badly I wanted to go into this house and take a photo of me in the window. Logic prevailed.

You've had phenomenal success with your garbage pick up work. Throw the full bag in the bin by the Sycamore tree, when you get back into Califon.

I spent the night in Clinton. I wanted to bang out three hikes in two days and didn't feel like driving home. I stayed at the Hampton Inn near Route 78. It did the job. If you want a fantastic meal and even better service, go to the Clean Plate in Clinton. Our kind of place.

Use this map for the Columbia Rail Trail, starting at Schooley's Mountain and going to Califon.