As we prepare to celebrate American Independence on the July 4th holiday with family and friends, why not venture out for an educational hike to some of the region’s state historical parks where Revolutionary War events took place. New Jersey and New York are home to several of these important events and the sites where they occurred have now been preserved.
The first national historical park created in the United States in 1935, Morristown National Historical Park consists of the Ford Mansion, the former headquarters of General George Washington, the site of Fort Nonsense in the center of town, and Jockey Hollow, five miles south of Morristown.
It was at Jockey Hollow that 10,000 soldiers of the Continental Army in the brutal winter of 1779-80, considered the coldest on record for the 18th century, hunkered down and constructed hundreds of wooden huts as they awaited the spring campaign. Soldiers suffered miserably because of inadequate food, clothing and pay. The conditions were some of the harshest of the war resulting in low morale, desertions and mutinies. While the original huts no longer stand, visitors can enjoy today’s reconstructed huts and imagine the hardships endured. Several trails traverse the 1,200 acre former encampment, which is absolutely serene and heavily wooded. Trails range from easy to moderate as to level of difficulty. A recommended hike is the Yellow Trail Loop to the Wick House, a restored 18th century farmhouse, then to the Soldier’s Huts. Stop at the visitor center nearby to learn why General Washington selected Jockey Hollow as a winter encampment.
Situated high atop the Palisades on the New Jersey side of the grand Hudson River is Fort Lee Historic Park. The fort was built in 1776 as part of General Washington’s strategy in fortifying American defenses in and around New York City. British army and naval superiority, however, proved too formidable. Consequently, Washington and his army had to abandon the fort and begin the retreat across New Jersey.
The visitor center has more information about the “Retreat to Victory” march to relative safety on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River. Multiple pathways lead to several highlights on the immediate grounds of the park, such as a reconstructed blockhouse and gun batteries. There are two main trails that cover the 13 mile length of the park: The Long Path and the Shore Trail. The Long Path begins just steps away from the visitor center and is quite popular with backpackers as it extends to Altamont NY near Albany. The Shore Trail, also just outside the visitor center, descends sharply to the Hudson and then hugs the shoreline before it ascends steeply to the top of the Palisades. Shorter trails also meander their way through the park’s grounds.
Finally, Ft. Lee park is a major gateway for cyclists, who ride east over the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan and follow the bike path on the Hudson to the tip of Battery Park and beyond, like the Brooklyn Bridge. The most popular route on the western side of the George Washington Bridge is 9W north, as bikers ride freely on the spacious shoulder to destinations like Piermont or Bear Mountain State Park.
Like Fort Lee, the remains of Fort Montgomery, adjacent to Bear Mountain State Park, overlook the Hudson River. Unlike Ft. Lee and Jockey Hollow, however, Ft. Montgomery was the site of a fierce battle between American and British forces in October 1777. The Americans were outmatched nearly 3 to 1 by the British and their Hessian and Loyalist allies, and therefore could not hold on. The fort, of course, no longer stands but there is abundant evidence of its presence today. Archaeological work has unearthed stone foundations of barracks, a gunpowder magazine and redoubt walls. The new museum is absolutely splendid, featuring original artifacts and weapons.
The paths and trails nearby make this a perfect attraction for both history buffs and hikers alike. Make sure to stroll over to the Grand Battery, with its outstanding views of the Hudson and where reproduction cannons stand guard. The 1777 trail runs alongside Ft. Montgomery and leads to Popolopen Torne Mountain where rock scrambling is required just before reaching the top. Another possible route is following the 1777 trail to the Bear Mountain Zoo, which is part of the Appalachian Trail. Take the AT across the Bear Mountain Bridge, and then to the top of Anthony’s Nose to take in the breathtaking scenery of this once strategic and historic valley.
For more information regarding trails, parking, and historic reenactments for the upcoming holiday, please visit the following websites: