An undeveloped wilderness surrounded by a rare forest community.
Penn State Forest’s undeveloped wilderness has been attracting picnickers, hikers, botanists, historians, hunters, anglers, birders and boaters since 1910. Bear Swamp Hill, an uncommon landscape feature approximately 140 feet above sea level, is mentioned in the first line of John McPhee’s famous “The Pine Barrens” published in 1968. This area was once proposed to be part of a huge jetport and opposition to this jetport started the movement to protect the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Visitors can view the rare Pine Plains forest, a globally rare habitat of stunted pine trees, and walk through the remains of one of New Jersey’s few African-American Civilian Conservation Corps camps. Lake Oswego, a reservoir for a downstream cranberry operation, is a beautiful backdrop for the picnic area and boat launch.
European settlers in the area date back to the early 1800s when a very small village called Penn Place existed in what is now Penn State Forest. It was on the Pappoose Branch of the Upper Oswego River and was a tiny village of only five structures. It got its name from a descendant of the Penn family that supposedly resided there in the eighteenth century. However, it appears that the first Penn in the area, James Penn, was the son of a William Penn who was a sea captain. The Penn family may have resided in the area up until 1890.
Around that time, Edwin Pue and his wife acquired the property. The Pues contracted with the state of New Jersey for the sale of 2,764 acres of land in what was known as the Penn Reserve on October 26, 1909 for $14,500.00. The Board of Forest Park Reservation Commissioners acquired 2,764 acres of woodland in Burlington County from the Pues on February 11, 1910.
Little occurred at Penn State Forest until the Great Depression. On July 6, 1933, the train station in Tuckerton received some new visitors as the first enlistees of the first Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) arrived. The CCC camp located at Penn State Forest was for African American enlistees only. The CCC was created by a law Congress passed on March 31, 1933, which created a public jobs program similar to others in the New Deal such as the Works Progress Administration or the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The federal government’s civilian program of conservation was followed by the activity of the military, as the world situation deteriorated and World War II began in Europe in 1939. Penn State Forest was a central location of military maneuvers that occurred in Southern New Jersey as the U.S. Army increased its preparedness.
The central region of the Pine Barrens contains several areas of pine and oak forest that resemble the surrounding forests with one major exception: from a standing position, one can gaze over the top of the tree canopy. The Pine Barren Plains, known locally as the Pygmy Forest, contains trees that may attain a height of only about four feet at maturity. New Jersey contains the world's largest acreage of this globally rare forest community. The Spring Hill Plains of Penn State Forest are in the northern portion of Penn State Forest. Many researchers believe that this unique stunted forest ecosystem is partly the result of the fire ecology of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
The forest’s untouched, open terrain is ideal for cross-country skiing in the winter months.
Hiking Horseback Riding
The forest’s untouched, open terrain is ideal for hiking. There are many miles of roads to hike, but no marked hiking trails.
There are many miles of roads to use for horseback riding, no trails. Please do not block any roads with horse trailers. There is a small parking lot at the southern end of the forest along Lake Oswego.
There are many miles of roads to ride a mountain bike, but no marked biking trails.
There are many miles of roads to use a snowmobile, but please remember that other vehicles can be using the same roads and follow speed limits and other regulations.
Lake Oswego, a result of an upstream dam that was constructed to create a reservoir for a downstream cranberry operation, is suitable for paddling. A small boat launch and parking lot exist at the south end of the forest.
Fishing is permitted in Lake Oswego situated within the forest.
Hunting is permitted in designated areas within the park and is subject to Division of Fish and Wildlife regulations (link is external).
A small picnic area with a couple of picnic tables is at the southern end of the forest adjacent to a small parking lot along Lake Oswego. There is also a non-flush toilet facility in the parking lot.
Facilities for People with Disabilities
We encourage people with disabilities who require special considerations to contact the park at the phone number listed in the general information on the home page of the park. The staff will assist with arrangements. Text telephone (TTY) users, call the NJ Relay & CapTel Service at 711 or 1-800-852-7897 for English or 1-866-658-7714 for Spanish.
All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs)
Recreational use of ATVs is not permitted on NJ State Park Service property. This includes state parks, forests, recreation areas, golf courses, marinas, natural areas, historic sites, and preserves. Thank you for your help in protecting New Jersey’s natural and historic resources. [N.J.A.C. 7:2-3.4(d)]
State law prohibits the smoking of tobacco and use of electronic smoking (vaping) devices in all state parks, forests, historic sites, recreation areas, golf courses and marinas. [N.J.P.L.2005, c.383 (C.26:3D-56)]
Alcoholic beverages are not permitted in state parks, forests, recreation areas, golf courses, marinas, natural areas, historic sites, and preserves. [ N.J.A.C. 7:2-2.6 ]
Keep Your Park Clean and Green
Protect plants and animals and care for your parks by taking your trash with you. Whatever you carry into the park, plan on carrying it out too. It’s like crowdsourcing trash management! Bring a bag or two for trash, recycling and cleaning up after your pet. There are no trash receptacles in this park. Thank you!
Pets must always be on a leash no longer than six feet in length and under the control of the owner. Please clean up after your pets.
Use insect repellent, wear light-colored clothing, tuck pants into socks, stay on trails, check yourself when you get home, shower and wash clothes immediately.
Be Bear Aware
Black bears are found throughout New Jersey. Do not approach or attract bears by making food available. Feeding bears is dangerous and illegal. Never run from a bear! To report an aggressive bear, call 1-877-WARN-DEP (1-877-927-6337) immediately. Please report any damage or nuisance behavior to the park office. Visit the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife at www.njfishandwildlife.com for additional information on bear safety.