Updated: Apr 28
I hope everyone out there is staying safe and healthy amid the COVID-19 global health situation. Although Practical Pup is instituting a temporary suspension of in-home sessions until March 31st, we hope everyone is continuing to train and spend quality time with their dogs!
Self-quarantine, though important, can have an impact on our quality of life, as well as that of our dogs. But it doesn't have to! If you're healthy and able, consider taking your activities outside.
In hope of inspiring fellow dog lovers, Practical Pup is starting a new series titled "Hike New Jersey." The aim will be to provide some insight on dog-friendly hiking trails in and around New Jersey. Don't be surprised if you see the occasional Pennsylvania and New York hikes included as well, and Tennessee if we're lucky!
The first installment will cover Rattlesnake Swamp Trail in The Delaware Water Gap. If you're located within Practical Pup's service area of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, the trailhead will be an approximately 100 mile drive. But if you're a diehard hiker who loves (or in my case, needs) to be in the mountains, it's totally worth it!
You'll find the Mohican Outdoor Center situated toward the end of a long gravel road leading up into the forest. The parking lot is just beyond the center on the left. If you need to fill up any water bottles before you head out, there's a couple of potable water sources along the road you'll take out to the trailhead, past the parking lot.
After asking for guidance, we learned that the trailhead is off to the side, near the front of one of the buildings situated at the end of the gravel road. The distinguishing feature of this particular building is a large picnic table out front.
Go right at the fork, up a short, steep climb that leads right up to the Appalachian Trail and scenic overlook. On the ridge you'll immediately be met by a stunning view, making all the huffing and puffing worthwhile. Be sure to stop to admire the scenery and snap some photos.
Make your way along the Appalachian Trail until you arrive at Catfish Fire Tower. This fire tower is one of the last in the area visitors are allowed to climb. Should you choose to traverse the steps, you might be met by a ranger at the top. There's a picnic table outside the tower, making it a popular lunch spot.
From that point on, you'll continue along the Appalachian Trail (blazed white) until it intersects with Rattlesnake Swamp Trail (blazed orange). Turn onto Rattlesnake Swamp Trail to begin the gradual descent. This part of the trail is particularly beautiful, as it often feels like you are passing through a tunnel of lush forest greenery.
You'll pass by Catfish pond before reaching the fork in the trail where you originally went right. Go back the way you came to return to the parking lot.
For us, distance hiked was approximately 5 miles.
This trail receives a rating of 3 out of 4 paws.
The trail is moderate and requires some stamina on the part of your pooch. Take your dog's fitness level into account when considering this trail. Be sure to always consult your veterinarian first!
Pros - This trail has a lot to offer: beautiful vistas, open scenery, dense forest, ponds, streams and plenty of photo opportunities. On a wintery afternoon in early March, we never passed other hikers on the trail. This is a huge plus when hiking with a reactive dog!
Cons - The trailhead can be a little hard to find, and the trail itself is a bit confusing where the AT intersects with Rattlesnake Swamp Trail. The trail can be quite rocky in places, so boots with plenty of ankle support are recommended.
The following is an overview of the gear we packed for this hike -
Ruffwear Track Jacket - Delaware Water Gap allows hunting during certain dates, look this up ahead of time so you can be prepared with the proper clothing for yourself and your dog. We went during coyote/fox season, so were doubly sure our pup would be wearing orange for safety!
Ruffwear Roamer Leash - Being hands free really makes all the difference while hiking with a dog in an area with leash laws.
Ruffwear Quencher Bowl - Don't forget to keep your pup hydrated!
String Cheese - for a doggy snack and training reward
K9 First Aid Kit
Human - We packed the majority of recommended essentials from Rick Curtis' The Backpacker's Field Manual. Our pack included:
Extra clothing (long sleeve fleece shirt & leggings, Darn Tough socks)
Plenty of water
Matches & lighter
Battery pack for charging phone
This seems like a lot to carry for a 5 mile day hike, but people get turned around all the time in the backcountry and it's better to be safe than sorry!
As an additional safety precaution, always let a loved one know exactly what trails you'll be hiking, approximately how long the hike should take and when they can expect to hear from you.
An important note on Delaware Water Gap: Not all areas are dog friendly. Click here to learn the park rules and regulations for bringing Fido.