~3 hours, ~4 miles, moderate
Hike #17: Gnomes rise!
Note: if you are a hardened Jersey Highlands hiker, you can and should combine hikes #17 and #18 into one.
The Ken Lockwood Gorge Wildlife Management Area is located between Califon and High Bridge on the Columbia Rail Trail. The Highlands trail co-aligns with the Columbia rail trail in this area.
Ken Lockwood was an outdoor journalist and conservationist. He made the protection of this trout fishing haven his lifetime project until he died in 1948. With steep rocky cliffs on both sides and stream in between, it is one of the most spectacular areas on the Highlands trail and possibly in all of New Jersey. It won't take long for you to understand why Mr. Lockwood fought to protect this particular corner of the world.
But first you have to get there. I suggest first getting coffee at Scout's Coffee Bar in High Bridge before going to park your car. It is the bomb. Once you've gotten that taken care of, turn in here at Voorhees State Park, off High Bridge-Califon Road.
Go to the roadside parking lot on Observatory Road. Drop off your car here.
DO NOT stop at this scenic view on the way to the parking lot. It is not scenic enough to warrant stopping.
Call your Uber, which will take 20 mins minimum. You're going to 41 Main Street in Califon. Once you get to Califon, jump on the Highlands trail, which is right next to the fire company building.
You'll pass this old stone train station and educate yourself.
If you don't want to read it, here's a cool tidbit. Feel free to share it with your friends. By 1913, Califon had the greatest number of businesses than any other town on the rail line, including a peach basket factory, two coal yards, two gristmills, five confectionary and tobacco stores, a piano shop, and much more.
Apparently, peach production was a big business in the area. I have no idea what happens at a gristmill.
A bit further on the trail and you'll be in gnome country again. They really flourish on this part of the trail.
Once you see this bend, you have entered Ken Lockwood Gorge territory. You are walking above it. Look down below.
Look for real life fly fishermen in the area.
I know you know this, but I didn't, so I figured I'd share it with you. The definition of a gorge is a narrow valley between hills or mountains, typically with steep rocky walls and a stream running through it. So, as you get close, look for this.
While exiting the gorge, you are going to come across a bridge, the Ken Lockwood Gorge Bridge. Prior to this steel bridge, there was a wooden trestle that supported the railroad on this stretch high above the gorge. On April 18, 1885, engine #112, known as The Columbia, pulling 45 cars, plummeted off its side.
After the gorge, hang a right into this hill, on your way to Voorhees:
This will ultimately take you to a road. Follow the blazes on the road until you head into the park here:
Cross under the power line and pass this thing on this tree:
You're back at your car in less than 30 minutes, drop down a hill onto Observatory.
There's no official trail map for this hike, but this one helps.