Although some view New Jersey as home to just oil refineries, highways and urban/suburban sprawl devoid of good motorcycling opportunities, nothing could be further from the truth. New Jersey has counties with miles of backcountry roads to explore. Two of the best are Sussex and Warren in the Skylands Region, where country roads serpentine and roll past farmlands, forests and small towns, and through thousands of acres of state parkland, making for a memorable and scenic favorite ride.
I began my tour in West Milford at the base of Bearfort Mountain. My 1,700cc Kawasaki Voyager comfortably climbed the snaking Warwick Turnpike into the mountains of Abram S. Hewitt State Forest, passing the shimmering waters of Upper Greenwood Lake and the 34,350-acre Wawayanda State Park, which offers swimming, boating, hiking and picnicking opportunities.
After Wawayanda, you cross into New York for a few miles but as my friend, Too Cool Drew, always says, “Just looks like more of Jersey to me.” For a nice view, make a left at the Warwick Conference Center sign onto Hoyt Road and stop at the parking lot of the Mulder Chapel. Mountains and farms spread out like a colorful quilt. From there, continue on Hoyt Road to Route 94 south and back into New Jersey.
Sailing through Vernon Valley on the hilly curves of Route 94, ringed by mountains and embraced by farmland, is one nice ride. Heaven Hill Farm offers multiple farm experiences, plus amusement park rides during fall weekends. At Vernon Crossing Road/Route 644, I turned right and then connected with Route 517 north, continuing my scenic exploration of Vernon Valley.
At the Pochuck Valley Farm Market (a great place for a respite, snack or lunch), I headed south on Route 565, a rollicking road where I was tempted to “just roll that power on” (Bob Seger), but instead enjoyed the scenery at a cruising pace. Riding along the boundary of the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, there are sweeping views of mountains and farms.
Route 628, another twisty road, leads west to Route 519 south, which weaves and rolls through Sussex and Warren counties. By this time, these beautiful roads had already filled me with contentment. I was in nirvana riding the countryside with my Voyager rumbling in my ears, the cool, fresh fall air caressing my lungs and the sun washing my face with warmth.
Stopping briefly at Space Farms Zoo & Museum, I viewed the bison herd from a side road. Space Farms also has more than 500 animals including tigers, bears, leopards and monkeys, among others. What might be of most interest to riders, however, is the museum of antique cars and motorcycles.
From here it was a straight run on Route 519 to Hope, established in 1769 as a planned community by German Moravians. Many of the original stone buildings still stand today, as does the Inn at Millrace Pond (my lunch stop), a former gristmill built in 1769. The entire town was listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1973.
After lunch, I did a walkabout and imagined what it must have been like living here in the 1700s. Mounting my steel steed, I galloped north on Route 521, another premier road that weaves through Sussex and Warren counties. Recently repaved, it makes for a smooth ride. I stopped in Blairstown for gas and had a coffee at the famous Blairstown Diner, which appeared along with other sites in and around Blairstown in the 1980 “Friday the 13th” film starring Kevin Bacon.
Route 617 in Stillwater branches off Route 521, offering a more rustic ride before reconnecting with it. Also, recently repaved, 617 leads into the high country sooner, with views of the rocky cliffs of the Kittatinny Mountains as it serpentines beneath them. Route 521 joins U.S. Route 206 north, leading to a bumpy ride through Stokes State Forest to Sunrise Mountain and High Point State Park, a combined 31,504 acres of parkland. If you enjoy motorcycle camping, both parks have campsites, and Stokes also rents cabins and lean-tos. Several overlooks bless this route, and watch for wildlife – the parks abound with deer, hawks, bears and coyotes.
Sunrise Mountain gives an eagle-eye view looking east along the route traversed earlier on Route 519. However, the most encompassing panorama on the entire ride is from High Point Monument. The monument obelisk rises 220 feet into the heavens and was built to honor veterans. Even from the base, a three-state mountainous view of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York rolls across the horizon like ocean waves.
With the day growing late, I mounted my Voyager and headed home on Route 23 to Route 94. Images of all the great roads, farms, mountains and country churches flickered in my brain like an old time movie. And I was already looking forward to exploring New Jersey’s northwest counties once again.