Following the Wallkill River in Sussex County
|Mileage||25 miles (41 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||46 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||Spring, Summer, and Fall|
|Roadways||New Jersey Highways 23 and 94, Church Road, Drew Mountain Road, Glenwood Road, and McAfee Glenwood Road|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, pharmacies, etc.||Andover, NJ▼, Brighton, NJ▼, Franklin, NJ▼, Hamburg, NJ▼, Newton, NJ▼, Sparta, NJ▼, Sussex, NJ▼, and Vernon, NJ▼|
3.8 average from 58 votes
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Numerous back roads lace the countryside in Sussex County, beckoning the traveler to explore. This scenic drive follows the Wallkill River, where you will discover quaint towns, a rich mining history, and breathtaking pastoral scenery, expansive vistas and rolling hills. There is a growing agritourism here, with tours, pick your own farms, horseback riding and more, so be sure to indulge along the way. Beautiful any season, this drive is ablaze with color in fall. This drive ends in the town of Sussex, not far from the New York and Pennsylvania borders.
We begin in Sparta, on County Road 517, and the source of the Wallkill River, Lake Mohawk. The lake was dammed in 1926 and is the largest artificial lake in New Jersey. Attractions here include the 1000-foot boardwalk over the north end of the lake and White Deer Plaza named after Princess White Deer, a Mohawk entertainer. The lake was also named in honor of her tribe. The Plaza contains a wide variety of unique shops, restaurants and the Lake Mohawk Country Club all of which were built in the “Lake Mohawk Tudor style” (reminiscent of English cottages, Tudor, and German Baronial structures) and are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Continue on CR 517 to the small town of Ogdensburg where mining for iron, zinc and limestone was once the prime industry. Ogdensburg, and the nearby town of Franklin on Route 632, are home to the world’s most famous zinc mines. The Franklin mine is known for mineral fluorescence and a variety of rare mineral species. Learn more at the Franklin Mineral Museum (M1), which features over 4,000 mineral specimens, dazzling fluorescent displays, as well as Native American stone tools and artifacts. There are guided tours and visitors can do a little mining of their own at three collecting areas. A picnic area and a gift shop also make up the complex. There is an admission fee.
At the Sterling Hill Mine Tour and Museum (M2) in Ogdensburg, visitors can peruse exhibits housed in the original mining buildings once used by the New Jersey Zinc Company. The museum is the only one in New Jersey where visitors can access an underground zinc mine 1,300 feet below and see first-hand how mining was performed. In the Zobel Exhibit Hall, explore over 20,000 mining related artifacts including local fluorescent minerals. The museum also features 1,800 square feet of displays of fluorescent minerals, a fossil discovery center and the Ellis Astronomical Observatory. There is an admission fee.
County Road 517 then connects with State Route 23 where you should head north towards Hamburg. Interested in quirky roadside attractions? Detour on Gingerbread Castle Road to see the incredible Gingerbread Castle (A1), designed by world-renowned architect Joseph Urban. The castle was built between 1928-1930 to tell the story of Hansel and Gretel and features candy cane towers, cake icing turrets and other unusual design ornaments. Once the centerpiece of an amusement park, the castle is now closed and has since fallen into serious disrepair. There is hope that one day it will be restored.
Continuing on NJ-23, turn right at the junction of NJ-94 for a chance to visit one of New Jersey’s award-winning wineries, Cava Winery and Vineyard. Cava means cave or mine in Italian, and this winery salutes the mining history of area. Tastings are offered on Saturday and Sunday from noon-6:00 pm and can be paired with specialty pizzas, seasonal tapas, and more. Part of the Sussex Wine Trail, two other wineries, Ventimiglia Vineyards and Westfall Winery, can be found along NJ-23 north of the town of Sussex.
Nearby, is the Silver Lake section of the Hamburg Mountain Wildlife Management Area (H1). Over 2,800 acres is comprised of a variety of habitats and a diverse array of birds and mammals. Each season brings flurry of migrating and resident nesting birds. In spring, look for Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Belted Kingfisher, summer features Broad-winged Hawk and the dazzling color of butterflies such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Silver Spotted Skipper and Red-spotted Purple. Fall is raptor season and winter delights with resident woodpeckers. There are miles of hiking trails though most are unmarked. If you lose sight of a trail, be prepared to “bushwhack” as you will eventually meet up with another trail. Having a compass will come in handy. Or travel along a branch of the abandoned New York, Susquehanna and Western Railroad. Part of the Rails to Trails project, Beaver Lake Trail spans three miles from Beaver Lake Road to Ogdensburg just south of NJ-23. To access this hike, parking is available in a marked lot on the north side of NJ-23, one mile east of CR- 517.
Return to NJ-23 heading towards Sussex. Turning right on CR-565 leads to the Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge (H3). The Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge encompasses a major portion of the Wallkill River which is unusual for its northward flow between two major south-flowing rivers, the Hudson and the Delaware. The Refuge comprises nine miles of wetlands, marshes, and grassland meadows that support a variety of fish, amphibians, mammals, and approximately 225 species of birds. Keep an eye out for the parking area for the Wood Duck Nature Trail. This self-guided 1.5-mile interpretive trail is an easy, flat path through wetlands on what was once a former railroad bed. Passing ponds and wet meadows, enjoy turtles basking on floating logs, great blue herons searching for food, and possibly the scurry of a muskrat. There is a photography blind, a footbridge across Beaver Run, and benches for resting. The trail ends at a viewing platform overlooking the Wallkill River.
One of the best ways to see the Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge is from the water. A few miles ahead on CR-565 is a canoe and kayak access point. Just beyond that is the Park Headquarters where trail maps, self-guided brochures and information about wildlife in the Refuge can be obtained. The 2.7 mile Dagmar Dale Trail begins here and walking the two loops will take you through grasslands and hardwood forests.
Take CR-667 to explore more of the Refuge. At Kelly Road there is parking for the Timberdoodle Trail. This is a self-guided walk, just under one mile, through woodlands, fields, wetlands and vernal pools. Look for Spotted Turtle, Wood Frog and Spotted Salamander. Insect repellant is recommended. CR-667 will then cross the border into New York State. A left onto Oil City Road leads to the 2.5 mile Liberty Loop Trail. Serenaded by songbirds, enjoy a variety of waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds in the managed wetlands. Wintertime attracts raptors such as northern harrier, short-eared owl, and rough-legged hawk. The Appalachian Trail joins with the Liberty Loop Trail for one mile.
Continue on Oil City Road to NJ-284 and head south down the west side of the Refuge and to the town of Sussex. Boaters will want to detour east onto CR-642, for another canoe/kayak access point at Bassett’s Bridge. Our scenic drive officially ends in the town of Sussex but don’t miss continuing on to High Point State Park, home to New Jersey’s highest peak at 1,803 feet. Climb more than 200 stairs to the top of the High Point Monument for expansive panoramas of the rolling hills, pastoral farmland and valleys of 3 states, the Pocono Mountains toward the west, the Catskill Mountains to the north and the Wallkill River Valley in the southeast. The 220-foot High Point monument is an obelisk built in 1928-1930 in honor of war veterans. There are other hikes to explore the beautiful landscaping designed by the Olmsted Brothers, including one that explores the Dryden Kuser Natural Area and Cedar Swamp. Stop in the Visitor Center for more information. Take advantage of the many interpretive and educational programs, swim in Lake Marcia, enjoy fishing and boating or tent camping and cabin rentals. Winter features ice skating, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and ice fishing. There is a day-use fee from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.
From here, consider continuing onto the Kittatinny Ridge Loop and explore the Delaware Water Gap.