Brendan T. Byrne State Park is the second largest state forest in New Jersey and covers 37,242 acres of the Atlantic coastal pine-barrens. It was known as the Lebanon Forest until recently, named for the 19th-century business Lebanon Glassworks, which folded after they ran out of firewood to continue making their glass products. It was renamed after Brendan T. Byrne, New Jersey’s governor from 1974 to 1982, in honor of the Pinelands Protection Act which he both championed and signed in February of 1979. This act preserved thousands of acres of land in southern New Jersey. Within the forest is the town of Whitesbog, a historic center for the cultivation of cranberries, as well as the home of the Highbush Blueberry. There are over 25 miles of trails to help you explore the pine-oak and lowland forests as well as the white cedar swamp areas. A large variety of wildlife lives in this ecosystem including deer, river otters, foxes, and several types of reptiles and amphibians. Over 200 species of birds either travel through this area during their migration or live here throughout the year, so birding enthusiasts should be sure to bring along binoculars and a birding kit in their trailer. There are only a few sites that are set up for rigs, however, so if you plan on visiting this vibrant ecosystem, it is advised that you make your reservations early.
This park is just around an hour’s drive northwest of Atlantic City in New Jersey, and just under two miles north of the nearest small town, Woodland Township. The highway to the park is wide and fairly straight, with large sloping shoulders, but you will want to keep your eyes open as you approach the park. The roads that lead into the park from Highway 72 are small gravel roads that are not particularly well marked. This park may be difficult to traverse for larger rigs or for those who are towing any sort of trailer or boat. The campground itself is a good distance from the main office and ranger’s station, and there are just a few parking sites near it. The few campsites that are suitable for RVs or trailers are interspersed throughout the tent style campsites, so be sure to watch carefully for the site you reserve. If you decide to visit either the historic company town of Whitesbog Village or the small Pakim Pond, you will find plenty of additional parking near these areas.
Ten of the 79 sites are suitable for RVs and trailers, with six of those being designated as pet-friendly campsites, so it may be a good idea to get your reservations set ahead of time. Pets are not allowed in buildings or in sites that are not designated as pet-friendly. Reservations can be made anywhere from 2 days to a year in advance of your trip and require a minimum of a two-night stay, with a maximum stay of 14 days. Each site includes a fire ring with a grill and a picnic table, and while the campsites are somewhat close together, they tend to be fairly quiet and private. There are several flush toilets available in the campgrounds, as well as well-kept showers and laundry services. The park office and ranger station is where you will check in and is around a five to ten-minute drive from the actual campsites. Brendan T. Byrne State Park has a strict carry-in carry-out program, so be sure to bring bags along in your trailer to take your trash out of the park.
There are more than 25 miles of marked trails in the Brendan T. Byrne State Forest. The trails range from easy, ADA-accessible trails like the Cranberry Trail to the 50-mile Batona trail that connects with several other loops and trails. Whether you are looking for a short nature walk of an hour or an all-day trek through the Pine Barrens, there is a trail near the Brendan T. Byrne State Forest that will suit your needs. Pets on a six foot or shorter lead are allowed on the trails, but be sure that they are up to date on their flea and tick medication; there is an abundance of ticks in the vegetation surrounding the campgrounds.
Within the Brendan T. Byrne State Forest, just under 13 miles from the campground itself, is a historic company town known as Whitesbog Village. The town was founded by cranberry farmer, entrepreneur, and engineer Joseph J White in the 1870s. By the early 1900s, Whitesbog had become the largest cranberry farm in New Jersey. It was here that Joseph White’s daughter, Elizabeth White, developed the first cultivated blueberry in 1911, known as the Highbush Blueberry. Whitesbog is considered a historic center for the cultivation of cranberries as well as blueberries and is surrounded by 3,000 acres of cranberry bogs, blueberry fields, reservoirs, and forests.
Avid birdwatchers will want to ensure that they bring their birding kits in their campervan if they are visiting Brendan T. Byrne State Forest. The profusion of berry bushes, wildflowers, and other low growing bushes help to attract over 200 avian species to the area. Pine warblers and eastern phoebes are frequently seen in the spring, along with several neotropical migrant species. Flocks of tufted titmouse, Carolina chickadees, and woodpeckers are commonly seen in the winter, as are other birds that winter in this forest including dark-eyed junco and white-throated sparrows. If you wait until dusk you may even be lucky enough to spot a barred owl as it hunts for its supper.
The forest was originally known as the Lebanon Forest until the name was changed in 2004 to honor Governor Brendan T. Byrne, who preserved thousands of acres of pinelands in southern New Jersey in 1979. Lebanon is famous for its cedar trees, which are also plentiful in the swamps of this area. Between 1851-1867, Lebanon Glassworks operated in the area creating windowpanes, bottles, and decorative glass, but it shut down when the supply of wood for the furnace was exhausted. A few ruins, mostly comprised of scattered concrete foundations of the Lebanon Glassworks buildings, can still be found in the forest.
If you typically bring your fishing gear in your trailer, Pakim Pond is a small lake in Brendan T. Byrne State Forest that is just under a mile from the campgrounds. It is a cozy little fishing pond of around five acres that boasts a few varieties of fish, including catfish, sunfish, perch, and chain pickerel. Be cautious when reeling in catfish from this pond as they tend to be small and are often adorned with spines. If you cast your line near the bridge, you may have luck landing a more satisfying pickerel or perch, particularly in the early spring months.
There is an abundance of wildlife to view in the Pine Barrens around the campground. White-tailed deer, mink, pine snakes, foxes, and raccoons are common to the drier areas of the wilderness. Mammals such as river otters, beavers, muskrats, dwell in the wetter areas of the forest, along with copious reptiles and amphibians, including garter snakes, northern fence lizards, Fowler’s Toads, spotted, musk, and snapping turtles, and green, leopard, and carpenter frogs. There is even a population of Pine Barren's tree frogs in the area, a state-listed threatened species.