Worthington State Forest


Sunfish Pond. Your ultimate destination on this hike.

Delaware Water Gap is one of the most visited parks in New Jersey. Even though the following hike can be quite strenuous for people who are out of shape, on a nice day the trails will be full of people with their dogs or children. Those who know me know that I'm not too fond of crowds on trails. Still, I am willing to suffer them to do as nice a hike as this one.

Getting there
Take I-80 all the way west to Exit 1, marked as the last exit before toll. Upon exiting, take the sharp left turn (watch out for a really bad stop sign) under the highway and follow the road to the information center. While the Delaware Water Gap info center is the only one I know of that requires payment for its maps, they will give you a one-letter handout with a basic trail map if you ask them. Follow the road and turn left, following the sign pointing to I-80 west. Instead of going onto the highway, turn right on the small parking lot. Overflow parking is available as well.

Hiking - The Sunfish Pond Small Loop
The small loop to the Sunfish Pond is about 6 miles long with a total elevation differential of roughly 1300 feet. While you will be doing a lot of climbing, the worst part will be expansive rock fields that you'll have to cross, so wear sturdy shoes. If you are taking a dog with you, keep him on a leash; bears are very common here.

Start hiking the white-blazed Appalachian Trail, which winds its way over Dunnfield Creek. After heavy rains, the creek can get quite impressive; during more serene times people walk down to it and even try hiking on the streambed. I can only recommend the former, but you may want to hold it off, as you'll get much more intimate with the creek later on.

After about ten minutes, you'll get to a fork on the trail. The Appalachian Trail leaves uphill to the left, while the green-blazed Dunnfield Hollow Trail starts towards the right. Turn left here and begin to climb the Appalachian Trail. This first section will take you about ten minutes, after which the trail levels off for a while. I haven't been here often enough to be certain, but this spot tends to attract bears; I've seen them here twice already. The bears cross the trail quite freely, and while they seem to be used to people, it's always a good idea to never get stuck between the mother and the cub.


The Dunnfield Creek gets a fairy-tale quality in late afternoon.
After a sharp right turn on the trail, the climb starts anew. While the first ascent was quite rocky, this one starts out on a wide gravel road, but soon, the trail becomes extremely rocky and steep enough for wooden steps helping you out. Anywhere between half an hour and an hour since leaving the initial fork in the trail (depending on your speed and stamina), you'll arrive on what appears to be the top of your climb. This spot is a little open and can get pretty hot in summer. The red-blazed Holy Springs Trail crosses your path here. This crossing lies roughly in the middle between the parking lot and the Sunfish Pond, your ultimate destination. If you are very tired, you should consider turning right here and going down to the green trail and return back. Otherwise, you'll do some more climbing.

The Appalachian Trail now becomes a dirt road and actually descends a little. Soon, however, the climb begins again, and while it's not as steep as before, the footing is extremely difficult with lots of large rocks covering the trail. Most of the time you'll hike on the top of a ridge, but the few trees here and there will offer enough shade. Half an hour to an hour later, you'll arrive to the real top of your climb, Backpacker Site 2 (the only place for legal camping on this portion of the trail), and the crossing with the blue-blazed Douglas Trail. If you walk towards the left, you'll be able to find a few good spots to overlook the Delaware River.

As you continue on the Appalachian Trail, you'll descend rapidly, after which the trail levels off and continues forward. The trail is now clearly a woods road, and the footing is much more comfortable. Ten to fifteen minutes later, you'll arrive at the Sunfish Pond.

On a good day, this glacial lake 1380 feet above the sea level offers one of the most beautiful sights you can get. Its waters are crystal-clear, and the surrounding forest is lush green. While there is a strict no-camping policy in effect, I failed to notice any "no swimming" signs, and I've seen lots of people taking a dip here. If you feel like it, you can circle around the lake, which will add about a mile to your total hiking distance. Once you are ready to leave, just take the green trail and start another climb.

The green-blazed Dunnfield Hollow Trail starts with a short but very steep climb. Throughout the climb you'll be exposed to the sun, as the wide trail winds its way through low undergrowth, with only few tall bushes that are too far off to offer any shade. Once on the top, the trail levels off for a short while and then starts a very steep and difficult descent on an extremely rocky surface. Once down, you'll get no rest, and instead will be forced to cross a large rock field. Be sure you are well rested before you get on the green trail.


Sunset over the Delaware Water Gap.
Soon, you'll start crossing small streams and wet areas. That's a sign that you are coming close to the Dunnfield Creek. Suddenly, you'll spot it in front of you, just as you leave all the undergrowth behind and rejoin the forest. After a series of short ups and downs, the trail will level off and offer a very nice walk along the creek.

As much as I enjoy the challenge of the Appalachian Trail and the beauty of the Sunfish Pond, the serenity of the walk along the Dunnfield Creek that beats them all. For the next half an hour, you'll be strolling along a quiet creek through an open forest with large patches of fern undergrowth, enjoying the tranquility. On a late afternoon, this part of the trail is completely deserted and achieves an almost fairy-tale quality.

After about half an hour, the trail is joined by the red trail that you crossed while on the Appalachian Trail. From here on, you are likely to meet other hikers, and the environment becomes more civilized, with a wide gravel road and bridges instead of a narrow dirt trail and rocks to cross the stream. Fifteen to twenty minutes later, a blue-blazed trail joins you from the left. If you are in a really good shape, you may want to consider taking it. It will eventually lead you to the top of Mount Tammany (described as a separate hike here), and add about 3 miles and 1,250 feet elevation to your hike. Otherwise, follow the green trail that soon rejoins the Appalachian Trail and some ten minutes after that ends on the parking lot.

Note: There is another Sunfish Pond loop hike, which is about two miles longer, and will let you hike the ridge back to Mount Tammany. However, the ridge trail is unkept, overgrown and infested with deer ticks, and the park rangers strongly discourage everybody from going there in summer.

Rating
Difficulty: 8 out of 10. Relatively long, with very difficult footing.
Orientation: 10 out of 10. Quite possibly the easiest orientation in NJ, with very obvious and well-marked trails.
Beauty: 7 out of 10. No scenic views, but a very serene forest and a beautiful lake.

Additional resources
DWG official site
Park official site
Park info at Warren County State Forests
Park profile at New Jersey Skylands
Profile at LocalHikes
Park reviews at Epinions
Pictures at Webshots
More pictures at Webshots
A few pictures of Sunfish Pond

Time table
Net time Total time Notes
10 - 15 min 10 - 15 min The first section will lead you from the parking lot to the fork in the trail.
30 - 60 min 40 - 75 min This is where you do most of the climbing up the Appalachian Trail until you get to the crossing with the Holly Spring Trail.
30 - 60 min 70 - 135 min After some more climbing and very difficult footing, you arrive at the Backpacker Site 2.
10 - 15 min 80 - 150 min You get some relief as you descend down to the Sunfish Pond.
70 - 150 min 150 - 300 min The Dunnfield Hollow Trail starts out difficult, but later becomes very easy, allowing for relatively fast movement.
Methodology: The lower number is how long it took me to finish each part. While I'm in mid 20s and in a relatively good shape, I tend to stop often to take pictures or simply enjoy the view. It is very likely that your time will be close to mine. The upper limit is my time adjusted to the difficulty of the trail and various distractions. I assumed a family with children in my calculation. I believe that the upper limit is rather extreme. I have not taken into account the time spent for an extended break.

© Jozef Purdes, 2003

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