The Paulinskill Valley Trail and the Sussex Branch Trail are echoes from the past of thriving railroads that connect to the surrounding cultural and natural environment. Passing through the Highlands, Ridge and Valley Physiographic provinces of northern New Jersey in Sussex and Warren counties, these once abandoned railroad corridors cross landscapes of mostly farmland, forests, streams and towns. The Trails intersect at Warbasse Junction in Lafayette Township, Sussex County. Both corridors are part of Kittatinny Valley State Park and the New Jersey Trails System.
Paulinskill Valley Trail
The Paulinskill Valley Trail was once part of the right-of-way of the New York-Susquehanna and Western Railroad. The route closely followed the Paulins Kill, a tributary of the Delaware River, and was originally used to transport agricultural products and Pennsylvania coal to the cities and towns of eastern New Jersey and New York City. Freight transport of locally produced goods such as dairy products and Portland cement, in addition to some passenger service, were also major parts of the railroad’s business. The original portion of the line was built in 1886 and, over time, continued to expand. Railroad operations ceased in 1962. Local citizens organized and waged a long term lobbying effort to save the corridor as a recreational trail. The state Green Acres Program ultimately purchased the property for non-motorized recreational trail use in 1992. Historic artifacts associated with the rail line, such as mile markers with distances to and from its terminus in Jersey City, whistle stop markers, depot foundations and railroad bridges are still in evidence along the trail. The Paulinskill Valley Trail extends 27 miles from Knowlton in Warren County eastward through Blairstown, Frelinghuysen, Hardwick, Stillwater, Fredon, Hampton, and Lafayette, to its eastern terminus at Sparta Junction in Sussex County. Rock outcroppings, farmlands, small towns, forests and wetlands are among the diverse landscape features found along the trail.
Sussex Branch Trail
The Sussex Branch Trail follows a section of the route of the former Sussex Branch line of the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad that extends through Sussex County from Byram Township in the south to Branchville Borough. Providing service from 1848, the Sussex Branch evolved from the former Sussex Mine Railroad, which was used to transport high-grade iron ore from mines in Andover to the Morris Canal, in Morris County where it was loaded onto barges and transported for processing. As iron mining faded away and towns and industries grew, the railroad began to transport farm products, freight, and passengers. In the lace 1800’s, Cranberry Lake became a popular resort and day-trip area for its passengers traveling from eastern cities. The railroad ceased operations on the Sussex Branch line in stages during the late l950’s and early l960’s. The last train ran in 1966. The state acquired The right-of-way in two sections in 1979 and l982, converting it to a rail-trail.
Located in Sussex County, the trail follows a 20-mile route beginning from the north at the Frankford Township-Branchville Borough boundary, and continues south through Lafayette Township, Andover Township, and Andover Borough to its southern terminus in Byram Township at Waterloo Road. The trail passes through rural and forested landscapes in addition to swamps, lakes and small communities. A one and a half-mile gap through the town of Newton interrupts the trail. Trail users should contact the park office for detour information.
Both the Paulinskill Valley and the Sussex Branch trails are multiple-use trails with a flat, cinder base that is suitable for hiking, mountain biking, running, and horseback riding. For wagon and carriage driving activities, contact the park office. When snow cover is adequate, cross-country skiing and dog sledding are permitted. The use of all types of motorized vehicles , such as dirt bikes, ATV’s, snowmobiles, cars, SUV’s, and trucks, is prohibited on the trails. Individuals with wheelchairs should contact the park office for conditions and access areas. The trails are open for use during daylight hours only. no camping is allowed along either trail.
During the fall, winter and spring various hunting seasons are open. While not permitted on the Paulinskill Valley and Sussex Branch Trails, hunting may occur on adjacent private and public lands. The AeroFlex section of Kittatinny Valley State Park is open for hunting and provides favorable habitat for deer, turkey, and small game. Trail users should consider wearing fluorescent orange clothing to increase their visibility. Hunting is subject to NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife regulations.
Lake Aeroflex, Gardner’s Pond, White’s Pond and Twin Lakes offer excellent fishing opportunities. The Paulinskill Valley Trail follows the Paulins Kill, a popular trout stream of Northern New Jersey. Although there are access points to this stream from the trail, much of the land that lies between the stream and the trail is privately owned and trespassing is prohibited. Fishing is subject to New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife regulations.
The trail corridors are wide enough to accommodate a variety of trail activities , and are popular which many types of users. Common sense and courtesy go hand-in-hand to ensure that all trail users have an enjoyable trail experience. Hikers, ocher pedestrians and cyclists should yield to horses and dog sleds. Cyclists should yield to pedestrians and horses. Trail users should also recognize and respect the private property that surrounds the trail corridor. Please stay on the trail to avoid conflict with the trail neighbors. Large groups planning an organized trail activity should contact the park office to determine it a special use permit is necessary.
Preparation and Safety
Advance preparation for a day on the trail is important for an enjoyable and safe outing. A phone call to the park office will help the trail user determine current trail conditions.
All trail users should wear clothing appropriate for the weather.
Hikers should wear sturdy, comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots.
Wearing light colored clothing and tucking long pants into socks help in the detection of deer ticks. Water, insect repellent, and food (lunch or snacks) should also be carried. New Jersey Stace law requires all cyclists under the age of 14 to wear a helmet that meets current safety standards. Horseback riders and cyclists should wear protective helmets. Be cautious when crossing the many roads that both trails intersect. Cyclists and horseback riders should dismount and walk across roads and bridges before continuing their journey.
The Carry-In/Carry-Out Program helps to eliminate trash. It encourages park visitors to be good park stewards by placing their trash in bags provided throughout the park and taking it home for proper disposal.
Individuals and groups have the opportunity to assist park staff in maintaining and monitoring the trails. To help with these tasks, volunteers remove litter, help install signs, conduct interpretive hikes and rides, and advise park staff on trail conditions.
The “Volunteers in Parks Program” is available for those who are interested in volunteer opportunities along the trails. Please contact the Kittatinny Valley State Park Office for information.
Kittatinny Valley State Park
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Parks and Forest administers Kittatinny Valley State Park. In addition to the Paulinskill Valley and Sussex Branch trails, the park includes the Aeroflex-Andover Airport, which is operated by the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.
The park’s lands are primarily located in Andover Township in Sussex County. Forests filled with oak, sugar maple, tulip poplar, and hemlock cover glacially formed valleys and limestone ridges. The Sussex Branch Trail passes through the Aeroflex section of the park and connects with the park’s network
A section of the Sussex Branch Trail between Waterloo Road and North Shore Road in Byram Township is under the administration of Hopatcong State Park, which may be reached.
Alcoholic Beverages are not permitted in the park. Pets are permitted, but must be on a leash no longer than six feet in length.