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Postcards became popular in the 1920’s as a way to document vacations at the shore.

National Park Service New Jersey Division of Parks & Forestry


Mention New Jersey and people think of different things: the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State parkway, refineries and factories, casinos and entertainment, boardwalks and beaches. All are part of what makes up New Jersey – but there is more to this state than stereotypes and fleeting impressions.

Instead, picture a time about 8,000 years ago when Lenape Indians lived here, walking trails that later became highways. Envision the young state that fought for American independence (and the first to sign the Bill of Rights). Hear the stories of tall ships, lighthouses, shipwrecks, oystering, and coastal defense. Consider settling in a new town to start a business, express your faith, or relax for a while. Imagine nature- the crash of waves or splash of a stream the feel of a southerly breeze, the songs of birds and frogs, the scents of forests and wildflowers.

Think of these things the next time someone mentions New Jersey. Better yet, go see for yourself. In 1988 Congress established the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail Route to provide for your appreciation, understanding, and enjoyment of the cultural and natural sites found along the coastal areas of New Jersey. Take the time and explore this trail of discovery.


Trade, Navigation, Defense Bounty from the ocean, bays and rivers supported a brisk maritime industry for centuries. Oystering and fishing trades thrived. In the 1800s shipwrights used local timber, including the decay-resistant white cedar, to build a variety of working and sailing vessels. Lighthouses had operated along the coast since the late 1700s (the 1764 Sandy Hook Lighthouse is the nations oldest operating light), but more maritime traffic meant more shipwrecks. Mariners needed better navigational aides. The number of lighthouses increased, and by the 1890s lifesaving stations were located every 3 ½ miles along the coast.

Defending the coast and harbors from military attack over the years resulted in an innovative array of defense systems, including disappearing guns. Their stories live on at Fort Mott and at Sandy Hook.


Fledgling New Jersey had a lot to offer new settlers and entrepreneurs: bountiful supplies of fish and marine resources, timber, ample water from a vast aquifer, agricultural land, and lots of sand - the key ingredient in making glass. Small villages grew into prosperous communities that provided products to the growing United States.

Rail transportation introduced in the 1850s bolstered inland industries, allowing faster delivery of fruits and vegetables and iron, wood, and glass commodities to eastern cities. You can still visit some of the communities that gave so much to the rest of the nation. Buy seafood in a 200-year old fishing village; select fruit from a fourth-generation farm; or watch glassblowers at work.


The New Jersey coast provides vital habitat for many species during their spring and fall migrations. Some birds fly short distances; but for the millions that travel thousands of miles, the chance to stop here – eat and regain strength – is critical to their survival.

A spectacular sight is the spring shorebird migration. During the full moon in late May and early June hundreds of thousands of helmet-shaped horseshoe crabs climb ashore along the Delaware Bay where females together lay up to a billion eggs in shallow pits. Sanderlings, red knots, and other hungry migrating shorebirds gorge themselves on this delectable food. Fish that live primarily n the ocean spawn in New Jersey’s bays and salt marshes. Whales, seals, and dolphins migrate north and south as seasons and water temperatures change.

Butterflies and dragonflies pass through here on their long journeys. Watch for them in wildlife management areas.


New Jersey enjoys a proud heritage as a place for those seeking a get-away- for fun in the sun, spiritual inspiration, or annual hunting and fishing trips with friends and family. With the introduction of train service in the 1850s, seaside resorts became popular destinations for city dwellers eager to get to the beaches and boardwalks. Today, Atlantic city is renowned for its entertainment and casinos, and seaside towns offer relaxing vacations. Beginning in the 1600s people seeking an avenue for religious expression began settling here. Methodists, Quakers, and other religious groups built year round communities. Summer religious resorts and camp meetings sprang up, a practice still flourishing. Hunting and sport fishing (a time-honored tradition since the 1800s) abounds in coastal forests, streams, and marshes.


Ancient episodes of uplift, volcanic activity, faulting, glaciation, and erosion created the varied landscape you see along the New Jersey coast today.

The resulting barrier islands, dunes, bays, estuaries, freshwater and salt marshes, ponds, swamps, bogs, and rivers provide vital breeding areas, nurseries, habitats, and refuges for plants and animals.

Traveling inland on the Trail you will see several types of forests including: red maple, ash, birch, and hardwoods that grow in wet, swampy conditions; white cedars also found in swamps; and pines and oaks in the Pinelands (also called barrens because other vegetation struggles to survive in the dry, sandy soil). Forest undergrowth varies, from blueberries, ferns, and insect-eating pitcher plants around the swamps and bogs to huckleberry thickets in the Pinelands. All attract birds, so watch and listen for warblers, grouse, nut-hatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and owls.

New Jersey’s 245,000 acres of salt marshes are a critical link in the coastal food chain. Their nutrient-rich muck and greases provide habitat and food for crabs and other shellfish, baby fish, and shore and wading birds. Watch for turtles, muskrats, and egrets.

Planning Your Visit to New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail Route
The Trail stretches nearly 300 miles along the Atlantic seaboard, Delaware Bay, and Delaware River. It is divided into five regions: Sandy Hook, Barnegat Bay, Absecon, Cape May, and Delsea. The Trail is a route of discovery-a journey along roads less traveled and scenic byways that take you to a New Jersey worth exploring.

Each region has a color-coded regional brochure that focuses on Trail themes with descriptions of sites, a map of the region, directions, hours, and phone numbers. Get regional brochures at welcome centers, staffed sites, and at some local information centers, or write for them. Find Trail information at Watch for the Trail logo on road signs and on exhibits at Trail destinations.


You can escape the big city bustle in the Sandy Hook Region. Relaxing on a quiet beach is one way, but why not try something new? You can visit the highest point on the Eastern Seaboard-Mount Mitchill at 266 feet above sea level. At Ocean Grove, the first religious resort established on the shore, you will get a glimpse of camp meeting life. Families live in tiny structures: canvas tents with porch and sleeping and living area on a platform; a wooden shed with kitchen and bath in back. Nearby is the 6,000-seat Great Auditorium.


Along the Atlantic coast of Barnegat Bay a ribbon of barrier islands absorbs the force of pounding waves and helps protect developed areas from the perils of storms and flood waters. Communities here reflect their seafaring history and love of the ocean. Long Beach Island offers 18 miles of sand and sea. It is worth the trip up the 217 steps of the Barnegat Lighthouse for a bird’s-eye view of Island Beach State Park and the inlet. At Double Trouble State Park you can see the Pinelands, cedar swaps, and an 1800s village with a sawmill and cranberry-packing plant.


Each fall the Cape May peninsula acts as a funnel, concentrating millions of migratory birds, including about 60,000 raptors (birds of prey), as they cross Delaware Bay. Spring migration is not a spectacular, but you may see some birds already donning their colorful breeding plumage as they stop to reenergize before flying to summer breeding grounds. Absecon and Cape May regions have more than birdwatching. Here New Jersey offered many firsts to the nation: boardwalks, saltwater taffy, Miss America, and Lucy, a 65-foot-tall wooden elephant.


It is quiet in the Delsea Region. Small towns dot the landscape, and vast fields of vegetables and flowers give credence to New Jersey as the Garden State. This bayshore area is perfect for a picnic or a hike along a stream. Stop in Salem to see the 400-year-old white oak. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has owned the tree and Friends Burial Ground since 1681. At Fort Mott State Park you can see an 1896 fort; its 750-foot-long parapets protected cannon from enemy ships on the Delaware River.

Safety and Regulations

This is a vehicular trail, and that means roads. Motor vehicle laws are strictly enforced. Regulations differ among areas managed by federal, state, local, and private agencies. It is your responsibility to know the regulations.

Park Partners and AdministrationNew Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail Route is developed cooperatively by the National Park Service New Jersey Division of Parks & Forestry. The Pinelands Commission, New Jersey Office of Travel and Tourism, and other federal, state, local, and private organizations working together to preserve New Jersey’s natural and cultural heritage. The Trail continues to develop themes and sites for each region. Eventually each region will have a welcome center with information, films, and exhibits.

For Regional Brochures and Information:

New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail Route
PO Box
Newport, NJ 08345

New Jersey Office of Travel and Tourism
PO Box 820
Trenton, NJ 08625-0820
609-292-2470; 800-847-4865


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