If you’re looking for a quiet escape in South Jersey and a chance to observe birds, climb on some concrete ruins, or a quiet walk along the river, Maurice River Bluffs is definitely a place you’ll want on your list.
New Jersey is blessed with an abundance of beautiful parks and wildlife preserves. Some are well known and heavily trafficked and some are little gems tucked into the corners of towns and concealed along riverbanks. And this preserve is one of them.
Maurice River Bluffs is a 535 acre preserve managed by the Nature Conservancy. It contains a well maintained 6-mile trail system comprised of several looping trails (red, white, blue) and some newer offshoot trails (orange, yellow). There’s 4.5 miles of riverfront, and the preserve is an important stopover for migratory songbirds, osprey and eagles.
Begin your hike on the blue trail. The trails are that lovely South Jersey mixture of pine needles and sand, easy on the feet. However, don’t be fooled — there are some nice little elevation changes which aren’t physically difficult but allow you to view vegetation from different levels. The park trails have a lovely curated feel as you wind your way down the hills.
To be able to see as much of the park as possible in one day, combine the trails! Connect with the red trail next in order to head off towards the river and the wild rice marshes. Even before you see the wild rice marshes, you can hear them. There were hundreds of red wing blackbirds in and on the yellow thin stalks. The sound of so many red winged blackbirds trilling was mesmerizing; but the sight of those black wings rising and falling in that endless field of grass was otherworldly.
Around the bend, you’ll come to the Maurice River, which is a critical link to the Delaware Estuary. You enter on the bluffs and from this unspoiled view you feel like you are not in New Jersey, you could be anywhere on Earth before pollution and construction changed our natural habitat. There’s a pretty little sandy beach you can walk down to at this point, too.
If you continue down the trail along the river you’ll come to some industrial ruins. There used to be a railroad through here and there are some concrete structures that remain; they show how quickly nature can reclaim her land when given the opportunity.
If you check out this preserve in September, you’ll be lucky enough to observe a wide variety of mushrooms. One of my favorites is the Russula, with its cartoonish red cap and white stalk. Also spotted were the Amanita Frostina, with its orange color and yellow spots and another favorite the strangely appropriately named Earthstar. Accepting that everyone doesn’t get as excited about fungi as I do, I won’t list any of my other exciting finds; just trust me when I say if you are someone who appreciates the beauty of these strange looking forest decorations, you will not be disappointed by the abundance and variety found in this preserve.
Just a small side note to hikers, this is a multi-use park. That means there are mountain bikers and also in season cross country skiers. The park does an excellent job of having separate trails for different use cases but there are some sections of the trail which overlap for all visitors. These points are clearly marked. The Nature Conservancy has done an excellent job in laying out and maintaining the trails in this park.