Do the Hike: Belleplain State Forest’s North Trails

By Collin Hall

Belleplain State Forest, located just 20 minutes from some of our most iconic shore towns, is a wonderful stretch of preserved land that every local – even those in far-south Villas or Cape May – should visit. My grandmother, a Louisiana transplant, says that she spent many summers camping here with her beloved daughters and dear friends. The picture she painted was idyllic, of late-night campfires and warm afternoon lake swims. The kind of schmaltz that seems out-of-reach from the confines of a 9-5 desk job. But a Saturday afternoon at Belleplain reminded me that those days are available for all of us, and our local state forest makes them easy to find.

History of Belleplain

This huge fallen log couldn’t stop us!

Belleplain State Forest was established in 1928 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a government program spearheaded by FDR that provided millions of young men with work in a time of economic and social despair. Many of Belleplain’s amenities, its trails, dams, roads, and even Lake Nummy itself, were whipped together by scrappy young 20th century men through this program.

Starting our Adventure

Newly-installed cabins at Belleplain State Forest are a great way to stay in Cape May County on the cheap.

The forest office, located off Belleplain-Woodbine Road, is a rustic old building full of friendly folks who can give you information about the trails.

We grabbed a map and then set out on the red-marked “North Trail” that brings you from the park office, through wide horse trails, to Lake Nummy and its surrounding benches, canoe launches, and picnic spots. The free map was incredibly useful and marked each trail with distinct colored lines.

All the trails in Belleplain State Forest we saw were wider than we expected; there’s enough room to bike these trails and not worry about running into people. We passed by a mighty, dead oak tree that split another tree in half with the weight of the crash. Scary stuff!

That first short red “North Trail” connects after about a half-mile with the “green trail,” which so wide you could call it a road. But don’t worry, you aren’t going to get run over by a Ford F-150 here. The wide trail, soaked orange with gravel and dirt, seemed to be frequented by bikers and horse-riders. We walked south here for a third of a mile or so before taking a turn onto the “yellow” and “white” trails that intertwine like an infinity sign or an 8.

Lake Nummy

Lake Nummy is a quiet, 26-acre artificial lake. We saw several people day-fishing by canoe.

Lake Nummy itself, a modest 26 acres, is enchanting. It was once a highly profitable cranberry bog, but was turned into a day-use lake by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Those young men dug the bog into the much-deeper Lake Nummy. We walked parallel to the lake through a plush corridor of trees.

The Lake Nummy Day Use Area, at the end of the North Trails in Belleplain State Forest, is sprawling. There are dozens of picnic tables, canoes for rent, and a sandy beach area where we set up a picnic.

The trail was well-marked and easy to follow. Many educational plaques stood along the way, still readable despite their age. Educational signs make me feel well-read and bookish, if just for a second.

We saw southern red oak trees, pitch pines, and American holly trees whose bright green leaves glittered in the mid-afternoon’s dull winter sunlight.

The amenities on offer at Belleplain put it a step above any hiking spot we’ve been to in the county. If you’re local, you should check out the park’s 169 camp, 14 lean-tos, yurts, or small shelters. NJ residents can rent a spot for as little as $20 a day, and if you want a small cabin, that’s only $45 a night. That sure beats market rate.