Northwest New Jersey's scenic beauty is never greater than during the glory days of autumn. A riot of color transforms the landscape; old villages and quaint hamlets, surrounded by yellow birch and red maple, become even more picturesque. An urge to meander along back roads tugs at the heartstrings. Autumn reminds us to treasure the journey as much as the destination. In that spirit, we have worked up some itineraries, all designed for a day's drive, to help you enjoy the splendors of fall in the Skylands.
A still significant chunk of northwest New Jersey has retained its rural character. In the fall the hills provide sweeping views of a changing landscape. For a back road treat, take Route 23N from the town of Sussex to County Route 519S. (If coming from the south, take Route 206 to 15N and turn at Branchville onto 519N.) High Point State Park lies just to the north, with its cedar trees serving up a sharp contrast to the fall colors, but for the time being consider the park a deferred pleasure.
From 519S, make a right onto Neilson Road just before the big red barn of "By-Acre Dairy Farm". The windy road climbs up the side of ancient volcanic rock. At the antiquated buildings of Lusscroft Farm look down at the burnished hillsides of the Kittatinny valley. Enjoy. This is pastoral perfection: autumn's splendor spread across a landscape dotted with farms and livestock. From Neilson Road most roads feed back into 519. To the south, pick up Route 647 for a loop around High Point State Park, or go north on 519 to 23 to circle the park from the other direction. Either way you will be blessed with stunning views.
If High Point State Park seems too remote for a day's drive, try a day-trip through northern Warren County. From Interstate Route 80, take Exit 12 to County Route 521 South into Hope. You have now entered the land of the Warren County Shade Tree Commission, where old trees and ancient stone buildings of a former Moravian Village go hand in hand. In Hope, pick up Great Meadows Road to Route 46. Go west toward the Delaware River, passing the 4,000 acres of the Pequest Trout Hatchery. Here the rich loamy soil produces healthy woodlands; depending on the time of day, mist rising from the rivers can envelop the changing trees with an otherworldly fog. Take Route 519 south and make another right onto Route 623 (Brass Castle Road). You will soon find your way to Belvidere, home to some of the state's largest sycamores, as well as wonderful specimens of white walnut and white and red oaks. Head out of town along Water Street and pick up Route 46 North to 519 back to Route 80.
To the east, Morris County provides day-trippers with stunning woodlands. Take Interstate Route 287 to exit 30B (North Maple Avenue) towards Bernardsville. Continue straight through the light (Van Dorn Mill will be on your right). Take the first right onto Hardscrabble Road. Continue on Hardscrabble to the New Jersey Audubon / Schermann-Hoffman sanctuary. A deer fence surrounds part of the property, where naturalists have been at work for two years restoring native plants; here you will have an opportunity to see some of New Jersey's true fall colors. Continue on Hardscrabble, turning right on Jockey Hollow Road. Stretch your legs at the New Jersey Brigade Area, or continue into the historic district. At the end of Jockey Hollow make a right onto Tempe Wicke Road. Tempe Wicke leads to the entrance of Jockey Hollow. Colonial-style fencing flanks an apple orchard and part of the road. A winding tour road through the park cuts through wooded acres. By autumn the ground will be blanketed with leaves. Along one field, replicas of soldiers' huts add a poignant touch. It is easy to wonder what the impoverished men of the Continental Army thought as the trees turned color. Did they admire the beauty around them or did they think only of the winter that would soon follow? The tour road loops back to the main entrance. Signs direct visitors back to Routes 24, 202 and 287.
Hunterdon and Somerset counties offer an opportunity to see how the landed gentry maximizes the pleasure of seasonal changes. Take Interstate Route 78 to 287N and exit at 206N. Near Gladstone look for signs for Pottersville Road. Turn left (west) on Pottersville Road (Routes 512). You will soon pass the headquarters of the United States Equestrian Team. (If you venture down side roads, watch out for horse drawn carriages and members of the Essex Hunt riding after the hounds.) Here trees are equal parts decorative accents and tools to prevent erosion. Stands of sycamore, adorned in bright yellow fall colors, tower over the nearby Black River. Continue into the tiny village of Pottersville. The road winds uphill and eventually becomes Fairmount Road East; enjoy the colorful, rolling hills when fields open up the view. Cross County Route 517 and continue on Fairmount Road West. The mixed woods bordering the fields of Christie Hoffman Park invariably present a variety of colors. Continue into Califon, passing the old train station by Railroad Avenue. Turn left onto Raritan River Road. At Hoffman Crossing follow the dirt road along the Raritan River. The river broadens enough to permit fly fishing. Fall colors offer a nice contrast to the rhododendron thickets that line the steep river banks. Road conditions are variable, so drive with care. All too soon, you will make a left onto Cokesbury Road. Your route will take you to Cokesbury-High Bridge Road, then Water Street. Look for Saw Mill Road east, which will put you on Lower Fairmount Road (517 south) Some of the old barns outside Oldwick offer vibrant counterpoints to the changing trees. Route 517 goes directly to Route 78, but to complete your journey, just before the Melick Farm Stand, turn left onto Lamington River Road. The fall foliage in Bedminster's rural back roads is as good as it gets. Lamington Road ends on route 206.