The wise naturalist and philosopher John Muir once said, “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” Of course, you can glimpse the world’s beauty through your car window, but there’s nothing like the breathtaking experience of taking a walk as a way of getting up close and personal with your surroundings.
For those fortunate enough to live in New Jersey, hundreds of miles of trails and walkways wind through some of the most beautiful vistas in the country. Hiking as an outdoor activity continues to grow in popularity — and hiking for seniors can be an exciting way to stay fit. The best thing about hiking is that anyone can do it at any age, whether you use foot power or a wheelchair.
Why Hiking Is Good for Seniors
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, men and women ages 65 and older who walked more than four hours per week were shown to have a reduced risk of heart disease than those who walked just one hour or less per week. Additionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week, such as hiking/walking, adding in strength training, which can come from using Nordic poles to push off as you walk and also help with balance.
If you search “hiking for seniors,” you’ll come across countless articles on why hiking and long walks are so beneficial for emotional, physical and mental health. Here’s a look at a few of the top benefits:
Social — Hiking in pairs or with a group is a super social activity. Along with great chats and sharing new experiences, you have built in support and cheerleaders to help keep you motivated.
Physical — From head to toe, hiking for seniors benefits every part of your body, from giving you heart and lungs a great workout to strengthening your core to working every muscle and joint in your body.
Confidence builder — It’s incredibly energizing to conquer a hiking path, even if it’s your first time and the path is just a mile or two. With hiking, you always have a new goal to shoot for and meeting the challenges gives you a greater sense of independence.
Fresh air and sunshine — These two things are always part of a doctor’s orders when it comes to boosting overall wellbeing and fending off the blues.
Trails to meet all fitness levels — Even the most novice hiker/walker can find easy hiking trails in New Jersey, and many are right here in Somerset County.
Minimal special equipment needed — When it comes to hiking for seniors, your most important asset is a great pair of trail walking shoes. Don’t skimp here — comfort is essential and so is stability. Shop at a walking store to let the experts help you make the best selection. Also invest in a few pairs of hike-worthy socks.
Find Your Best Path — Here Are 8 to Get You Going
From Mount Tammany to Blackwell’s Trail, the Watchung Reservation History Trail to the Great Swamp National Refuge, great hiking for seniors is easy to find in and around New Jersey. We’ve got trails to inspire everyone on two legs (and four!), whether you’re a hardcore trekker or an easy-does-it stroller.
Below are 8 of the best hiking trails in NJ, reflecting moderate to easy to wheelchair accessible options. Seniors have a wide variety of trail types to choose from located in parks, sanctuaries, and other nature preserves. Browse the links to more details about these and others, including ratings (easy, moderate, etc.); accessibility (park close to trailhead, wheelchair/walker friendly, etc.); terrain descriptions (flat, rocky, etc.); trail type (asphalt, dirt, crushed rock, etc.); plus maps, mileage, reviews and tips. Lace up and let’s go!
- Blue Mountain Loop – Moderate
An enjoyable, relatively level trek through an attractive forest using new and existing trails to enable a 17-mile circuit of Stokes State Forest. Challenging only in length. Our route guides use the Tinsley Trail to bisect the trail into two loops, but just keep following the blue blaze signs to do the whole thing.
- Pochuck Boardwalk – Light
New Jersey’s best boardwalk is nowhere near the ocean. This isn’t so much a hike as it is an easy stroll, but this unique 1 mile section (including a 110-foot suspension bridge) of the Appalachian Trail in Vernon is one of New Jersey’s hidden gems. Easy walk through wetlands full of wildflowers and wildlife, including plenty of turtles. This is a popular trail, so it can be crowded.
- Hacklebarney State Park – Light
6 miles of overlapping trails available and a lot of that is paved/gravel – good for a beginner or quick hikes, hiking with kids (lots to look at and never far from the car), picnicking (TONS of tables scattered throughout), or basically anyone who wants to experience a wonderful outdoor setting without a lot of effort. It’s extremely popular so don’t expect solitude!
- High Point State Park Trails – Light to Challenging
Choose from 19 different trails varying in length from one half-0mine to 18 miles. You’ll traverse through white cedar swampland, mountain ridge tops with 360-degree views, as well as fields, dense forests, and wetlands.
- Burnt Meadow Trail – Moderate
Moderately easy and lightly trafficked 3-mile loop featuring a spectacular view from Horse Pond Mountain of the Monksville Reservoir and Wyanokie Mountains just a short distance from the trailhead. The secret’s not out yet, so this trail gets very little foot traffic even though it offers one of the best views in New Jersey.
- Great Swamp Trails – Light to Moderate
Four color coded trails are available to walkers and hikers that vary in length and type of habitat on view. The Great Swamp is a mixture of marshes, meadows, dry woods, and brush covered swamps. It’s a prime spot to see wildlife in their natural habitat. The shorter trails are great for grandkids.
- Woodbine Railroad Trail – Wheelchair Accessible
Woodbine Railroad Trail is a 4.3 mile (10,000-step) route located near Woodbine, New Jersey, USA. This route has an elevation gain of about 52.5 ft and is rated as easy. If you use a step counter, expect to add 10,000 steps to your day’s total!
- Sandy Hook Trail – Wheelchair Accessible
Sandy Hook Multi-Use Trail is a 9.4 mile heavily trafficked point-to-point trail located near Highlands, New Jersey that features beautiful wild flowers and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
- Blue Mountain Loop – Moderate
Visit these links to browse more ideas for challenging hikes:
Visit these links to browse more ideas for light to moderate hikes:
Visit these links to browse more ideas for wheelchair-accessible hikes:
Pre-Hike Prep Tips for Seniors
What to take on a day hike:
- Light backpack with snacks, water, sunscreen, insect repellent, charged phone, whistle, trail map
- Wide brimmed hat and sunglasses (add a cord to keep from losing them)
- Walking stick or poles for balance
- Emergency pack with first aid supplies, matches or lighter, flashlight
- Dress for changing temperatures — think layers you can take off or put on
6 safety considerations:
- Challenge level — choose appropriately
- Check the weather
- Doctor approvals
- Work up to long hikes with short walks and gym workouts
- Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back
- Hike with buddies
- Stay on marked paths
- Take time to rest
- Hydrate often
- Turn back when your body says enough
Why Nature Lovers Love Living at Fellowship Village
Love the great outdoors? Then you’ll love living in New Jersey’s most welcoming Life Plan Community. Not only are our grounds perfect for strolling, but you’ll live close to some of the best walking and hiking trails in the state. Discover the carefree lifestyle you can enjoy on our picturesque 72-acre campus —and enjoy peace of mind knowing that assistance and superb healthcare services can be yours anytime you need them as part of your monthly cost. We look forward to meeting you at Fellowship Village!