The Great Swamp Refuge - Bike Ride, Lunch & Fall Foliage

The Great Swamp Refuge - Bike Ride, Lunch & Fall Foliage

If you're looking for a great outdoor excursion (that may or may not include cycling), consider checking out The Great Swamp Natural Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Morris County, NJ. Back in July, we imposed on our neighbor, Dave, for a good bike route in the area around The Great Swamp. We know he cycles a lot and knows that area well. So, we did what neighbors do....asked for a favor...and he did not disappoint. He put together a great 20-mile cycling trip for us, outlined in the map below. The route brought us through several historic towns and rural drives around the swamp.

Although there were several points throughout the trip we could have ducked deeper into the refuge area, it was peak mosquito season and we thought Swamp+Mosquitoes=Misery. So, we decided to just do the biking trip and lunch (see below) and didn't stop off in The Great Swamp itself until recently as the fall foliage started to peak. The colors are really bursting this time of year.

Walkway through the Great Swamp

Walkway through the Great Swamp

Sign to direct you to each of the blinds

Sign to direct you to each of the blinds

During our recent visit, we stopped into an area of The Great Swamp that has several observation "blinds." Raised wooden pathways lead you through the swamp and out to observation blinds where you can observe the natural beauty of the area and spot some of the birds, water fowl, mammals and more that inhabit the swamp. The blinds keep you hidden from the outside where you can look through or aim your camera through the cut-outs. To plan your trip, view the map of the refuge.

Observation Blind 

Observation Blind 

View through the cut-outs

View through the cut-outs

It's particularly beautiful this time of year. The colors are breathtaking...don't miss out! This colorful display doesn't last forever! The nice thing about coming here is that you feel completely immersed in it - not just viewing it from afar.

Walkway/Bridge across the swamp

Walkway/Bridge across the swamp

The Raptor Trust

The Raptor Trust, which borders The Great Swamp, is also worth a visit while you're in this neck of the woods. The Raptor Trust is "one of the premier wild bird rehabilitation centers in the United States." It's open to visitors 7 days a week where you can see hawks, eagles, falcons and owls close-up. In addition to the rehabilitation efforts, they have a few educational "residents" whose injuries prevent them from being released. The Raptor Trust is a comprehensive organization dedicated to the fulfillment of three primary missions:

  • To provide free care and assistance to injured, sick, or orphaned wild birds.
  • To educate people about wild birds, especially birds of prey.
  • To provide a humane example for others.

It's an organization that's not only interesting to visit, but one that does a lot of great work. They'll even take in injured birds people find in their yards. Visits are free, but a donation of is $2.00 is suggested.

Lunch in Chatham, NJ

Inside Marie's

Inside Marie's

During our first trip to the Great Swamp, we stopped off at Marie's Italian Specialities for lunch. We had been there once before and knew that we had to return while we were in the area. Marie's is the real-deal. It's buried in a typical Jersey "strip mall" setting, but don't let that turn you off. The staff is friendly and the food is great. It's a comfortable setting with authentic Italian dishes. It was even featured on Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives." (Not my favorite show, but still kind of cool.)

Get the Mussels....

Get the Mussels....

Looking for some recipes? They're willing to share.

Looking for some recipes? They're willing to share.

I encourage you to take a trip out there while the colorful autumn leaves are peaking. This beauty doesn't last forever.

I'm Catherine, a small-space urban gardener in New Jersey (Zone 7a) who started gardening out of upcycled wooden wine boxes. For years, I wanted to try gardening, but didn't know where to start. I got up the nerve to give it a try - starting small with a single wooden wine box that turned an idea into reality. That reality quickly turned into my filling every sunny inch of space of my postage-stamp size lawn and turning it into a garden oasis. I grow mostly vegetables and herbs with some exception for fruits (when the squirrels and rabbits don't get to them first). I love learning from gardening communities (and lots of trial and error).

I hope one day to take all that I'm learning and apply it to a larger plot of land. To help me get there, I'm extending my learning through the University of Massachusetts, Stockbridge School of Agriculture's, Sustainable Food & Farming program. (I'm addicted to learning as much as I am to gardening.)

This blog isn't just for gardeners (although I hope it inspires some of you to try growing a plant or two). The recipes (food & cocktails) in theRecipes section of this blog contain ingredients that don't have to come from your own backyard. If you like visiting your local farmer's market(or even your grocery store) and would like to get some new recipes you can use with the fresh produce and herbs you get from your local growers, this blog will have plenty for you too.

In addition to gardening and cooking, I also love to visit and photograph my surroundings. I feel fortunate to have so many amazing places here in New York/New Jersey, where I live and work. Visits to local farms, farmer's markets, and cycling through rural farming areas help me feel connected and refreshed. share these experiences in theExploring section of the blog so that you might visit through proxy or be inspired enough to visit yourself. 

With very few exceptions, all of the photographs on this site are ones I have taken myself. (For the photographers out there, I shoot with a Canon 7D and sometimes with my Lumix  DMC-ZS15 compact camera.) 

I hope this blog inspires you to grow, create, explore, and try something new. The best way to stay up-to-date is to follow me using the social buttons above, or click Subscribe and sign up for my email newsletters.    

Happy Gardening and Healthful Living!

- Catherine