Winter Adventures in the Kittatinny Mountains

When the snow arrives, this North Jersey range hosts NYC’s closest real downhill ski and snowboard action, centered at Mountain Creek resort.

Even with the greatest of snowstorms, Long Islanders are not likely to be downhill skiing at Jayne’s Hill in West Hills County Park. As the devoted skiers and snowboarders who live there are well aware, there are no ski resorts on Long Island proper. Fortunately, a flight out of JFK can put you directly into the mountains out West. The other call is the 4-hour drive grinding up to Hunter Mountain, Windham Mountain and the rest of the grandeur and ski resort goods farther upstate.

However, there is another option that requires neither a boarding pass nor a second tank of gas: the Kittatinny Mountains of northern New Jersey, which offer the mountain life experience at a more reasonable 2.5-hour drive from Long Island. 

Winter Adventures

The center of the outdoor action is Mountain Creek, a resort located in Vernon Township, N.J., which does a whole lot with its 1,040 feet of vertical rise. “Creek,” as it’s known around the region, was originally founded as Great Gorge and Vernon Valley in the mid-1960s. It grew to be a full resort in the ’80s (also doubling as the infamous Action Park during the summer months) and became Mountain Creek in ’98 when Alterra (then Intrawest) purchased it. With a massive Superpipe, it hosted the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix in 2004 and 2005, a qualifier for the U.S. Olympic Team.

The resort consists of four peaks—Vernon Peak, Granite Peak, South Peak and Bear Peak—with 46 trails, 11 lifts (including the Cabriolet, an 8-passenger open gondola) and five terrain parks. There’s also a snow tubing hill ready with seven lanes available for 180 tubes. Both this popular side-attraction and the mountain itself are lit for night use. 

Whether day or night, there’s plenty of fun to be had. Of course, no one will confuse it with a resort in the Rocky Mountains, but Creek takes what it has to work with and makes the most of it, sculpting features that everyone can enjoy. And what it has is snow. This area gets more of it than anywhere in New Jersey or Long Island, with an average of 41 inches per year. 

If you’re more into fitness and solace found off in the white woods, try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing at High Point Cross Country Skiing and Snowshoeing, located at High Point State Park (another 15 miles up state Route 23), which has 15 miles of trails and snowmaking. Bring your own skis, rent or sign up for a guided snowshoe tour. Or if you’re looking to join up with a group, contact the New Jersey Nordic Ski Club. 

Refresh & Refuel

The Elias Cole in Sussex is a Bavarian-style family restaurant open for breakfast and lunch with hearty American classics. New Jersey diners are also famous the world over. The nostalgic Sit n’ Chat Diner locations in Sussex, Franklin and West Milford will fill your belly as well. A local favorite is the Clove Brook Market, a deli and bakery featuring cases overflowing with prepared foods and baked goods, ready for grabbing after a day or riding, biking or climbing. You can also venture to All Roads Vegan Bakery in Jefferson, not far from Lake Hopatcong.

If you’re headed to Mountain Creek for a night or weekend, especially with a full family or group, check out the Appalachian Hotel, which is slopeside with studios and multi-room studios, some with fireplaces.

Waiting for Snow

The mountains of far northern New Jersey are a year-round destination as well. The hills turn lush in the summer and fall colors can rival New England. Of course, the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine, has 72 miles through far North Jersey cutting through the Vernon and Wallkill valleys. But beside the famed thru-hike, there is an entire network of trails full of mountains, lakes and expanses of woodland. Climb Sunrise Mountain in Stokes State Forest or pull bass out of Wawayanda Lake (anyone over 16 needs a freshwater fishing license in N.J.).

This region also offers some serious mountain biking at a variety of state and county parks. During the spring, summer and fall, Mountain Creek turns over the entire resort to a downhill and freeride mountain bike park, with the lifts accessing terrain for riders of all abilities. You can try rock climbing at Allamuchy State Park. Camping opportunities are numerous and diverse, with everything from backpacking to tent campgrounds, RV parks and cabins. One family favorite: Woodland Trails, a sprawling getaway in the town of Sussex with 3.5 miles of hiking trails and a lake for paddling, fishing and swimming. It offers every type of camp experience from full-hookup RV sites to hike-in primitive campsites, as well as day-pass access to the amenities.

Sussex County also boasts some pretty incredible waterways like the Musconetcong River. Greenwood Lake and Lake Hopatcong (the largest lake in New Jersey) provide plenty of launching opportunities for flatwater paddling tours via SUP, canoe or kayak, plus fishing, swimming and waterskiing/wakeboarding.

Getting There

Getting to the mountains of North Jersey isn’t easy, considering the tiny issue of the country’s biggest metropolitan area in the way. It’s less than 100 miles, but you’re looking at about 2–2.5 hours. Best advice is to drive very early or very late as drive times are heavily dependent on traffic. From Long Island, a good bet is to drive northwest to the Bronx and take Interstate 87 north up to the Cuomo Bridge, then I-287 west to the hills.

More Info

The New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection has all of its state parks mapped out at the DEP website. Also, check Mountain Creek lift ticket info and pricing, including the resort’s Triple Play, which gets you three days of riding.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.