Sussex County NJ: For Outdoor Enthusiasts

WHY GO: Rock hounds already know about Sussex County NJ. New Jersey’s Northwest region claims the largest concentration of fluorescent rocks and minerals in the world.

You can see a critical mass of these glowing objects at a decommissioned zinc mine, which is now an indescribably awesome museum complex.

But you can also hike part of the Appalachian Trail, adventure on water, snow, ropes, and bikes, golf, ski, zip-line, run rapids. You can try some hooch at Sussex County’s first distillery, tour one of the largest wine cellars in the country, or do nothing to your hearts content on this World of Wonders NJ Getaway.

What to Do in Sussex County NJ

Mountain Creek Water Park Whitewater Vernon NJ
Mountain Creek Water Park Whitewater Vernon NJ

ADVENTURE: Mountain Creek Resort

A four-season playground, Mountain Creek draws over 650,000 people annually to its myriad components. Inch by inch, Mountain Creek is taking over Northern New Jersey’s adventure parks.

Years ago, it swallowed up Action Park’s Water Park, renamed it Mountain Creek Waterpark, and added the hugely popular white water rapids downhill tube ride. Plus, heart-stoppers like “High Anxiety,” with its dark tube and 45′ drop. (There are 22 water rides in total). The Alpine Slide was rebuilt as a more securely railed coaster.

Tubing Mountain Creek Water Park Vernon NJ
Tubing Mountain Creek Water Park Vernon NJ

Last year, Mountain Creek incorporated Great Gorge’s Golf Course and built a state of the art Ropes Course, also, on the property. It owns The Appalachian at Mountain Creek, and the Red Tail Lodge next door (see under where to stay).

The Getaway Mavens recommend this as one of the Best Places to Propose in NJ.


TreEscape Mountain Creek Vernon NJ
TreEscape Mountain Creek Vernon NJ

The new (as of May ’19) aerial adventure park, TreEscape, has courses rated like ski trails (green, blue, black). Over 110 obstacles and climbing elements thread throughout trees in a dense forest.

After a quick safety orientation and securing your harness for a practice run, you’re escorted to one of ten ropes courses that best suit your abilities. Repeat customers tend to up the challenge each time they return.

Ski, Bike, and…. Wed?

The Ski Resort has 46 trails, four peaks, nine lifts (servicing 1,040 vertical feet) on 170 acres. With abundant snowmaking (with water drawn from seven mountaintop lakes), over 300,000 people per year get an earlier jump on the ski trails. An additional 30,000 come for the snow-tubing park.

Mountain Creek Coaster Vernon NJ
Mountain Creek Coaster Vernon NJ

In spring, summer, and fall, the hill turns into a world-renowned mountain bike course, bringing an additional 30,000. Skiers and mountain bikers haul their gear up the hill on “cabin” lifts – open gondolas that can transfer a larger number of people than traditional chair lifts.

Wedding Way Mountain Creek Vernon NJ
Wedding Way Mountain Creek Vernon NJ

But there’s another segment of the population that ascends to the summit, some say to the “scariest trail in the country.” Brides and grooms. With singular stunning unobstructed views of three states from a mountaintop, “Wedding Way” is also one of the most popular places to get married.

Appalachian Trail Boardwalk through marsh and fields in New Jersey
Appalachian Trail Boardwalk, Glenwood NJ

HIKE: The Appalachian Trail Boardwalk and Stairway To Heaven Trail, Vernon

The most popular hike in New Jersey, this part of the AT is easy and flat for 2.5 miles. If you just want to do the Boardwalk, park on the side of Route 517 near the trailhead. The 1.4-mile Boardwalk meanders over wetlands, giving you ample time to commune with birds, frogs, Cattails, and other swamp flora and fauna as you make your way up and over a cool wooden suspension bridge.

Appalachian Trail NJ Wooden Bridge
Appalachian Trail NJ Wooden Bridge

The trail continues for a mile through a cow pasture before crossing Route 94 – the start of the strenuous climb up 840 vertical feet. This is the Stairway to Heaven portion of the hike – a lung-expanding ascent to rock ledges and observation points atop the mountain.

Mounted bear diorama at Stoke State Park NJ Office
Stokes State Forest Visitors Center Branchville NJ

HIKE: Stokes State Forest, Tillman Ravine, Sunrise Mountain

Stop first in the Ranger Station/Welcome Center for advice on where hike and what to see in this 16,500 acre State Forest. You can rent kayaks, fish and camp here as well.

Tillmans Ravine Trail Stokes State Forest NJ
Tillmans Ravine Trail Stokes State Forest NJ

The 1.5-mile looped Tillman Ravine Trail takes you into a narrow red shale and sandstone gorge along rushing river water, through tangled brush and by stands of hemlock trees and banks of blooming Rhododendrons in early summer.

Rocky trail on the AT in New Jersey leads to Sunrise Mountain
Sunrise Mountain Path NJ

Unless you are a thru hiker on the AT or want to spend a few hours hiking, drive up through a long stretch of woods to the Sunrise Mountain trailhead. A short ¼ mile hike takes you over bedrock crosshatched by striations left from the end of the last ice age, when receding glaciers gouged deep grooves in the land. The short trail leads to an open Pavilion and overlook. Views are breathtaking.

Mulit-tiered waterfall in Delaware Water Gap Sussex County NJ
Buttermilk Falls Delaware Water Gap NJ

WATERFALL: Buttermilk Falls, Layton

Within the New Jersey side of the Delaware Water Gap, you need not get out of your car to see one of the tallest tiered waterfalls in the State. You can climb slippery wooden stairs to the top, should you need a leg stretcher, but the best views are from the road below.

Peters Valley Craft School Delaware Water Gap NJ
Peters Valley Craft School Delaware Water Gap Sussex County NJ

VISIT: Peters Valley School of Craft, Layton

This craft school is a hidden gem, nestled within the Delaware Water Gap on the NJ side (a great stop when you’re heading to or from Buttermilk Falls).

Peters Valley Craft Gallery Delaware Water Gap NJ
Peters Valley Craft Gallery Delaware Water Gap NJ

Tourists will find an abundance of hand-made ceramics, fiber art, jewelry, fine metal, and other crafts in a colorful retail Gallery. But you’re also invited to stay for 2-8 day classes (includes housing and dining in a communal dining room) in everything from blacksmithing to weaving. There’s even a “Business Bootcamp for Artists.”

State Park Sussex County NJ

HIKE/EXPLORE: Kittatinny Valley State Park, Andover Township

A State Park like no other, Kittatinny Valley boasts three unique features: a lake, an airport, and 3 Rail Trails. To boot, numerous types of flowers and plants (over 700 species) thrive in wetlands, glacial lakes, vernal pools and forests due to Sussex County’s heavy concentration of limestone and resulting alkaline soil. Multi-acre fields comes alive with swarms of butterflies by day and “silent sparks” (fireflies) galore on summer nights.

Kittatinny State Park Visitors Center NJ
Kittatinny State Park Visitors Center NJ

The breath of-fresh-air Kittatinny Valley SP has 75 miles of trails and intriguing programs to get you out on them – no matter what level of couch potato you are – thanks to Lynn Groves, Resource Interpretive Specialist. There’s no stopping Groves’ enthusiasm and creativity.

Nature and Nurture Tours

Kittatinny State Park Lake-NJ Fire Service Runway
Kittatinny State Park Lake-NJ Fire Service Runway

Groves hosts “nature tours,” obviously, and other “interpretive programs.” One of the most popular is the 8:30am 2.7 mile Wednesday Walk (free), which entices upwards of 50 mostly retired people per week, year round, to get up and get going. There are “Bark Buddies” walks (bring your dog! Free), and Rid-Litter Day Walks (free).

But it’s activities like “Hike To Happy Hour” – 3 miles with Beer and Pizza at the end, just $5, the 4 mile “Walk to the Winery,” $5, “Bike To BBQ: Double S Smokehouse,” and the like that will really get your juices flowing.

These are novel (and very popular) ways to impel people to get active, connected, and fed. Join a group, or pick up a walking or Rail to Trail Map in the Visitors Center. Open daily 9-4. Though not confined within Kittatinny, the 27 mile Paulinskill Valley, 21-mile Sussex Branch Rail, and 3 mile Great Valley Rail-Trails are managed by and considered “part of” the Kittatinny Valley SP.

Stirling Hill Mining Museum Main Building Sussex County NJ

TOUR: Sterling Hill Mining Museum, Ogdensberg

How extraordinary is this under-the-radar attraction? So extraordinary that the venerable Museum of Natural History in NYC is interested in featuring its defining element – a thick slab fluorescing rock – in a stand alone room within its upcoming $325 million expansion.Sterling Hill Mining Museum Sussex County NJ

A zinc mine from the 1700’s to 1986, Sterling Hill now exists as an Educational Foundation. Each year over 40,000 students from elementary school to college age discover the unique properties of minerals here. Civil Engineer/Adjunct Professor of Engineering Geology, Bill Kroth, serves as President, Executive Director and sometime-guide.

Bill Kroth, Sterling Hill Mining Museum Ogdenburg NJ

During its WWII heyday, when 500 employees put their backs into it here, the Sterling Hill complex seemed more like a railroad yard than a mine. “You’ll never see a piece of zinc,” says Kroth. “It doesn’t occur as pure metal.”

A 5-story crushing plant was perched at the top of the hill, smashing zinc ore to powder. The powder traveled by conveyor belt, dropped into four massive drums (all still standing), and emptied into train cars below. The raw product was shipped to Pennsylvania. There, it was processed into the metal we recognize as zinc.

Fluorescent Rocks Sterling Hill Mining Museum NJ

Historically, zinc was added to copper to fashion brass, and for galvanizing iron and steel to prevent rust. The Sterling Hill mine, 2,700 ft deep (two Empire State Buildings), was threaded with 35 miles of tunnels.

Fluorescent Discovery

In the early 1900’s, miners learned about the unique property of these rocks quite by accident. At the dawn of the electric light, they used a “knife-blade” switch, which caused a spark. This spark illuminated the walls, which glowed a ghostly green.

Over the years, nearly 370 minerals have been discovered here, 80 of which fluoresce; rendering this area unique in the world. (Thus, the interest from the Museum of Natural History).

Zobel Hall Sterling Hill Mining Museum NJ

Kroth takes great delight in shocking kids with scientific facts and artifacts, hoping to “spark” an interest in geology and the sciences. That was his experience as an eight year old when he set his eyes on a fluorescing rock for the first time.

Sterling Mine Museums

The Sterling Mine complex is made up of several “museums” based in former offices and worker’s quarters. In the basement of the Geotech Museum, Kroth is quick to point out “Dinosaur Poop,” a huge hit with grade schoolers.

He explains how we know about the Earth’s core (from the core of other planets – meteorites), and what it does (protects us with a force field). He further explains why metals don’t just “stick right out of the ground.”

Thomas S. Warren Museum of Fluorescence

Glowing Rocks Sterling Hill Mining Museum NJ

You’ll see all manner of fluorescing wonders inside the 3-room Thomas S. Warren Museum of Fluorescence. Pure light seems to emanate from within each rock. If you’ve been awed by stones bathed in Black or UV Light, you’ll be even more so by those illuminated by the Short Wave light employed here. There is a significant difference.

Zobel Exhibit Hall

Periodic Table Sterling Hill Mining Museum NJ

The Mine’s main museum, the Zobel Exhibit Hall in the former “Dry House” (where wet clothes would be lifted to the ceiling to dry), is crammed with extraordinary objects, collections, and artifacts.

You’ll find one of the world’s finest Periodic Tables. It’s an incredible Science Fair resource, especially because the website offers a free interactive version. The stunning Oreck Collection of blingy, multicolored minerals and crystals from around the world is an eye-opening delight. The exhibit also features a piece of the meteor that fell on a car in Peekskill NY on October 9, 1992.

Rare Minerals Sterling Hill Mining Museum NJ

And yes, a tour will bring you into a portion of the mine, where you’ll learn about blasting and tough conditions. However, that foray seems a bit anticlimactic after gazing on what came out of it years ago. This attraction is well worth an afternoon – and should be a destination for all. Open daily 10-4 (in winter, weekends only), with public 2 to 3 hour tours at 1pm, $12 adults, $9 kids.

The Getaway Mavens recommend this as one of the Best Places to Propose in NJ.

Nancy Madacsi, Joyce Simmons, Renee Ferguson and Maryanne Francisco of the Sparta Historical Society

VISIT: Sparta Historical Society Museum at the Van Kirk Homestead, Sparta

This is no stale and stuffy museum. The Sparta HSM is a vital, enjoyable, beautifully presented and relevant collection of local history, thanks to zingy women like Nancy Madacsi, Joyce Simmons, Renee Ferguson and Maryanne Francisco, who bring life and intelligence to this small place.

Built in the late 1700’s, the Van Kirk family lived in this two-story homestead until 1996 when most of the property was sold to the Sparta Board of Education to construct the behemoth Middle School right next door.

The Historical Society was able to save and restore the Van Kirk house. A 365-year- old White Oak Tree – the second oldest in the state – shades its roof.

Super Duper Museum Staff and Volunteers

The Sparta Historical Society Museum has benefited from a curator’s eye – and that curator is Museum Director Jack Clark, who was formerly the Director of the Bruce Museum in my own hometown of Greenwich CT (the one that I spent days upon days in as a kid in the 60’s and 70’s). That this small organization was able to tap the expertise of such a stalwart of the Museum community speaks to the quality of its exhibits and enthusiasm of its members.

There’s a well-preserved Stereopticon in the downstairs Victorian Era Parlor with, as the ladies told me, “some pretty risqué pictures.” I would have looked at the dozens of “3-D” photographs, noted the naughty ones, and “toured the world” as they did in the 1890’s, if I’d had the time. (P.S. – make time to do this).

1930's Child Dress Sparta NJ Historical Society Museum

Upstairs, in the Sparta Gallery, some of the documents and photos depicting the history of the town are mounted on black slate from an old church. Though the area around Sparta was best known for its mines, quarries, and taverns, by the mid 1900’s tourism was on the rise.

Resorts sprung up around Sussex County’s many lakes, including Lake Mohawk, which sported a boardwalk that is still there. (Although the resorts closed).

Special Sparta Artifacts

Civil War Honorable Discharge Sparta NJ Historical Society Museum

I was quite taken with several items on the second floor. I loved the ingenious fully mobile bookshelf/desk used by itinerant teachers who traveled throughout the county. Also, I was fascinated by how the little polka dotted red dress, mounted in the Children’s room and worn by Mary Owen in 1930 (shown in photo below it) was so well preserved.

And I was most intrigued by an original Honorable Discharge Certificate for one Morgan Hart. Mr. Hart must have served admirably during the Civil War, as he was asked to accompany the body of President Abraham Lincoln on Lincoln’s Funeral Train. After Hart’s death, this decorative document was presented to his widow, and remains in beautiful shape. Open only the 2nd and 4th Sunday of every month from 1-4 or by appointment.

Painted Barn Market The Shops at Lafayette NJ
Painted Barn Market The Shops at Lafayette NJ

SHOP: The Shoppes @ Lafayette

Formerly an outlet mall, this small “shopping village” was flagging until new owners stepped in. Now, all that remains from its outlet days are Van Heusen, Bass, and Maidenform. All other stores are independently owned – including the pretty gift-shop, Lynn’s Boutique, and The Painted Barn Market & DIY Workshop (where you can paint your own signs).

Windy Brow Farm Ice Cream Counter Fedon Township NJ
Windy Brow Farm Ice Cream Counter Fedon Township NJ

SHOP/FARM: Windy Brow Farm, Newton

Who wants to try Taylor Ham flavored ice cream? This is probably the only place you can get it – but of course there are more traditional and fantastic choices. Windy Brow Farm (named for its windy location in the brow of a ridge) operated as a dairy farm in the late 1800’s. However, it’s now known for its superb apples and varieties of peaches (pick your own), plums, cherries, apricots, and unique foods. And that includes ice cream that tastes like something you’d put on your Easter Table.

TASTE/SHOP: Milk Street Distillery, Branchville

Milk Street Distillery owners, Gordon and Mike Geerhart, were “in construction” before opening this labor of love in this blink and you’ll miss it town. Their skills were obviously put to good use. The tasting room, carved from the shell of a 125-year-old building, with burnished hard wood floors and reclaimed-red-barn-wood-bar topped with a lacquered slice of tree trunk, is striking.

Milk Street Distillery Branchville NJ

As pretty as the tasting room is, the cocktails – just $8 each – are even better. They showcase the house-made Black Vulture Vodka and Wooden Leg Rum to perfection. $8 for tour, 3 ½ oz tastings and shotglass. Open Fri. 4-8, Sat 1-7, Sun 1-6. Though no food is served, you can bring your own, and the local pizzeria delivers.

Sparta NJ Sussex County

WALK: Lake Mohawk, Sparta

Promenade along the boardwalk that traverses Lake Mohawk. The whole town has the appearance of a Swiss Village – and this was by design. You’ll feel as if you’ve stumbled into a European Alpine lake town.

Restaurants in Sussex County N

St. Moritz Grill and Bar Sparta NJ
St. Moritz Grill and Bar Sparta NJ

EAT: St. Moritz, Sparta

The first restaurant built in the 1930’s when Lake Mohawk and its surrounding plaza was constructed, St. Moritz was a happening place. Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole played here. Celebrities and celebrity hounds would make the then 2 1/2 hour trek from New York City after dinner, arriving here at 1am for drinks and the scene.

Over the years, St. Moritz went through name changes and owners. In 2012, Keith Holmes bought the Sparta landmark “right before Hurricane Sandy.” Within days, the power went out and “we had to throw out all the food.” Holmes was overwhelmed with gratitude when week after week, post-Sandy, “people from the community poured in every Friday night to support us.”

St. Moritz remains one of the most popular restaurant in Sussex County NJ. Signatures include Wood-fired Salmon with Crispy Leeks ($25.99) and Chicken Schnitzel ($20.99), but if I lived closer, I’d return again and again for the addictive Sweet & Hot Calamari – lightly fried with the perfect blend of honey and kick.

Bar Mohawk House Sparta NJ

EAT: Mohawk House, Sparta

I’m still trying to decide where to fit coverage of this 350-seat restaurant, built from hyper local resources. Should it be listed in “Where to Eat,” or “Things To Do?” Because it’s worth seeing even if you just pop in for a look.

Steve Scro and his wife, Rachael, had a vision. In 2005 that vision culminated  in this Adirondack-style structure (that should not be confused with Mohonk Mountain House in New York).

Built out of Patterson NJ brick, fieldstone from surrounding land, reclaimed weathered wood floors from a nearby mill, and filled with furniture made by local artisans, there are touches of Sussex County NJ in each room. “We built with our hearts,” admits Scro.

Locally Sourced Construction Materials and Food

Mohawk House Main Dining Room Sparta NJ

The Scro’s also own a big Sussex County NJ farm, and procure ingredients and goods from forty other nearby producers and artisans – from farms, ranches, breweries, and woodworkers.

Their famous 10-Mile Burger (all ingredients sourced within ten miles) was featured on the Food Network.  Green Acres Wantage supplies Water Buffalo meat and cheese. Turkeys come from Waterwheel Farm. Other purveyors arrive each day in pickup trucks laden with fresh wares.

Community Minded

Scro is known for establishing first contact with local purveyors, in fact. He reached out to the Geerhart Brothers at Milk St. Distillery before they even had a chance to call him, much to their amazement.

Dessert Trio Mohawk House Sparta NJ

A destination restaurant, the food is innovative and sometimes downright brilliant. Discover the likes of Alligator Pad Thai, Seared Blue Crab Cake, and Orange Roasted Chicken.  Plus works of art, like the Trio of Mini Cheesecakes.

Happy hour is a party every day in the soaring bar area, where 56 – yes 56 – craft beers are on tap. Steve feels fortunate to be in the position to both support and feed his community. And it’s not a stuffy place. “You can come in a three piece suit or in a t-shirt after mowing the lawn.”

Krogh's Brew Pub Sparta NJ

EAT: Krogh’s Brew Pub, Lake Mohawk, Sparta

Across from the Lake Mohawk promenade, what is now Krogh’s was built in 1927 as a Trading Post. (It’s on the National Historic Register).

The Fuch’s family purchased the Bavarian/Swiss-style restaurant 36 years ago. They hired chainsaw carver, Brett McLain to design dramatic wooden doors and interior chairs as heavy as iron, giving the room a sort of Viking appeal.

Krogh’s added an on-site brewery in 1998 – the first Brew Pub in Sussex County NJ. Now, it’s a landmark. Visitors come from all over the world to wander Germanic-looking Lake Mohawk, stepping inside for a fantastic burger, hot Panini, a pint or flight of excellent brews.

Krave Cafe Newton NJ

EAT: Krave Cafe, Newton

Locals rave about Krave. You’ll find this little gem in a strip shopping center next door to a Quick Check. Food is as fresh as could be, very good, and reasonable priced. Try the Black Bean Quinoa Burger, Beef Short Ribs, Chicken Cassoulet. Or any special offered. This cool and stylish spot is a local favorite for a reason .

Where to Stay in Sussex County NJ

STAY: Wooden Duck B&B

If you’re seeking a place that provides serenity and peace and a bit of quiet romance just an hour from New York City, you won’t find better than the 10-room Wooden Duck B&B, an elegant, luxury, out-in-the-country inn.

First Impressions of Wooden Duck B&BWooden Duck BnB Neighborhood Sussex County NJ

Wooden Duck B&B straddles the border of Kittatinny State Park in the midst of farm and pastureland. Surprisingly, though, it’s progressive enough to feature an electric car charging station! To say that it’s bucolic here is an understatement.

Wooden Duck BnB Electric Car Charging Station NJ

Enter the driveway, climb the hill, and you’ve found “an escape without an itinerary.”

The Wooden Duck is a haven for birdwatchers, of course. But also for Mother-Daughter combos (there’s one room with two beds), romantics, and anyone who wants to escape the world, really.

Wooden Duck BnB Living Room NJ

If it’s raining, put your feet up. Read. Play a game (provided). Watch a movie (from stack of DVDs). When it’s hot, dip in the pool. When sunny, hike the trail on the B&B’s 10-acre property that changes from mossy to rocky granite to forest, and connects with a 26 mile rail trail. Hike in the adjacent State Park. Bike the Rail Trail. Or, do nothing. It’s that kind of place.

Rooms at Wooden Duck B&B

Guest Room Wooden Duck BnB NJ

Individually decorated rooms in the main house and carriage house – each one named for a breed of duck – are tastefully decorated and immaculate. They run from Economy to Deluxe. Even the most basic rooms are elegantly dressed with carved sleigh or 4 poster beds. Six rooms feature gas fireplaces.

Deluxe Harlequin Room Wooden Duck BnB NJ

My personal favorite is the bright and sunlit Deluxe Harlequin. It features a double gas fireplace (facing both the bed and Jacuzzi tub in bathroom), wall-to-wall Berber carpet, four poster bed with soft cloud-like bedding, balcony, flat screen TV, and sitting area.

The Second “B” – Breakfast at Wooden Duck B&B

Bird on feeder outside window Wooden Duck BnB Sussex County NJ

A three course, bountiful and beautiful breakfast comes with Finches, Woodpeckers, and Cowbirds on the side. Well, directly outside, anyway. Swarms of birds dine at the bird feeders inches from the dining room’s picture windows. So many species show up, there are bird identification cards on each table.

Hot Breakfast Wooden Duck BnB NJ

You’ll start breakfast with home baked bread, and move on to possibly a poached pear, and toothsome quiche with local sausage, baked tomatoes, and roasted potatoes. It’s hearty enough to get you through dinner. Room rates $139-$269. Includes three course breakfast for two, snack station, fresh cookies, bottled water and use of bikes for the Rail Trail.

Grand Cascades Lodge Hamburg NJ

STAY:  Grand Cascades Lodge in Hamburg NJ

Part of the Crystal Springs Resort, the upscale Adirondack-style Grand Cascades Lodge is the place to stay for Boomer comfort.

Cascades Lodge Guest Room Hamburg NJ

Guest rooms in earth tone shades feature ultra comfy Temperpedic beds, heated floors in large bathrooms and beautiful views of the golf courses and mountains from small balconies.

Grand Cascades Lodge Golf Course NJ

There’s all manner of golf, from six traditional courses (throughout the resort and off-site), “Foot Golf,” played without clubs, and an 18-hole putting course that starts right outside the front door and hugs the front of the hotel.

Wine Cellar Tour

Grand Cascades Lodge Wine Cellar Hamburg NJ

The daily complimentary hour-long Wine Cellar Tour (3-4pm) brings you down into a series of underground catacombs that hold over 100,000 bottles of the worlds finest wine – a must do for oenophiles.

Separate rooms are devoted to Bordeaux, to California wines, to White Wines, Burgundy, International Wines, Australian, Italian, and even one for “Wine Testing.”

There’s over $1 million worth of Imperial bottles (6L, the size of 8 bottles) in one room alone. Another chamber is dedicated to vintages from Chateau LaTour: the oldest bottle from 1863 priced in the five figures.

Still another room displays a complete Courvoisier Erté Collection. You can get lost amid all the rare and precious fruits of the vine. But know this. Almost every bottle is available to order with dinner. For a price.

Pools, Food, and Amenities

Bio-Sphere Pool Grand Cascades Lodge NJ

The large landscaped indoor pool – The Biosphere – is more like a terrarium. A twisty water slide and a mid-tier hot tub are hidden among the tropical foliage. You don’t even have to leave the enclosure for smooth, tasty cool treats and snacks at the Gelato Bar.

Gelato Bar Grand Cascades Lodge Sussex County NJ

While “Nature Trail” is pushing it, there’s a brand new 3-mile (round trip) paved and graveled path that traverses two Golf Courses, pierces small thickets of trees, and ends at a hillside platform with majestic views overlooking the resort and mountains all around. A lovely walk.

Grand Cascades Lodge from Nature Trail Platform, Hamburg NJ

Also on site – Lawn Games, a Big Human Sized Chess Set, Grass Labyrinth. And come summer, “Mountain Top” runs fly-fishing, canoe, and kayak adventures.

Reflections Spa, Grand Cascades Lodge, Hamburg NJ

Sure, you can run, swim and paddle, playing any outdoor game you can think of.  But if your interest in exertion extends only to climbing on a massage table, you’re also in luck. The Reflections Spa offers dozens of treatments in 13 rooms, so you won’t have to wait too long to knead out those golf kinks.

Restaurant Latour, Grand Cascades Lodge, Hamburg NJ

It’s tough to score a seat at the haute Restaurant Latour, considered one of the best restaurants in New Jersey. But if you can’t, try for a first-come first served spot at the weather-dependent “Chef’s Garden.” Just as it sounds, you’ll dine al fresco amid the veggies, and watch chefs pick the ingredients used in your dishes, for a fresh-from-the-dirt meal.

Chefs Table, Grand Cascades Lodge, Hamburg NJ

Inside, the Crystal Springs Tavern is fine for an in-house meal. After dinner, join guests at the S’Mores Fire Pit, enjoy another glass of wine, and call it a night. Room rates from $299, Suites from $369 per night.

STAY: The Appalachian at Mountain Creek

The Appalachian at Mountain Creek

There’s a ski lift right outside the back door of The Appalachian at Mountain Creek. It’s right behind the heated pool that’s open all year – and steps away from your studio, one or two bedroom apartment, should you choose one on ground level.

Pool, The Appalachian at Mountain Creek NJ

In summer, it will take you a bit more time to climb the hill to the multi-ride Water Park. But if you’re into such things, you won’t mind.

There’s a Lazy River, enormous wave pool, the H-2-O-No! slide, High Anxiety, and many others to set your teeth on edge. If solid or liquid water sports are not your thing, there’s always mountain biking. Chair lifts are designed to carry you and your bike to the top of the trails.

Virtual Bowling Alley, The Appalachian at Mountain Creek, NJ

Should the weather outside be frightful, inside there’s a Virtual Bowling Alley, a full old fashioned arcade with pool table, and a walk-in Laser Tag game. Plus, whet your whistle at  Jack & Otto’s café and trendy bar.

Red Tail Lodge @ Mountain Creek

Hawks Nest, Mountain Creek Resort NJ

Next door, the Red Tail Lodge @ Mountain Creek is a full-service ski and mountain-bike lodge, with ski and bike rental shops, ski and bike repair service (even if you bring your own), and of course food concessions and Hawk’s Nest Restaurant (with cool ski-back stools at the bar). There’s a Brick Oven Pizza and Sushi bar upstairs.

Jack and Ottos, The Appalachian at Mountain Creek NJ

Mountain Creek just purchased the 18-hole Golf Course and Ropes Course at Great Gorge, so get ready for more choices. Mountain Creek features a pool of 90 apartments in both the Appalachian and a few miles away at Black Creek Townhomes available to rent from owners, so each will be different. Make sure when you call in to request one location or the other. In season apartments from $269 studio to $369 for 2-bedroom per night.

Minerals Resort Vernon NJ
Minerals Resort Vernon NJ

STAY/FAMILY: Minerals Hotel @ Crystal Springs Resort

Part of Crystal Springs, but located closer to Mountain Creek, what Minerals Hotel lacks in luxurious appointments, it more than makes up for in fitness classes, water features, sports, and intensive programming.

Minerals Resort Indoor Pool Vernon NJ
Minerals Resort Indoor Pool Vernon NJ

If you want lap of luxury, stay elsewhere. If you want to be active and engaged every minute of your day, stay here.

The property, common areas, and rooms are nice and clean. Reception is friendly and helpful. But the indoor pool and outdoor pools are knock-you-socks off large and a huge enticement to do nothing else but get pruned in the water.

Minerals Resort Basketball Court Vernon NJ
Minerals Resort Basketball Court Vernon NJ

However, there’s also indoor basketball, racquetball, and other sports courts, as well as yoga, fitness classes (including Pole dancing!), and 80 more programs. Some are free, some cost a pittance (like Paint and Sip: Lemonade Mason Jar, $15). Rooms range from $199 per night off peak to $600 for suites in season.

Sussex County NJ Pin


  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine,, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.

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4 thoughts on “Sussex County NJ: For Outdoor Enthusiasts”

  1. So sorry I was sick the day of your visit to the Sparta Historical Society but what a terrific job you did! We are all so grateful to you and hope you will come back again in the future. I am wondering if our paths actually did cross all those years I spent at the Bruce. I still go back to see old friends a couple of times a year. Thanks again and keep in touch!!
    Jack Clark, Museum Director, Sparta Historical Society, Sparta, NJ

  2. Malerie,
    Thank you for making us part of this wonderful article. We are just thrilled! It was so nice to meet you. We hope you will stop by and visit us again soon.
    Lorraine Perry

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