Soft, chewy rolls, melty provolone cheese and beef with just enough grease to keep it moist – Nixon’s Deli in Tablernacle, New Jersey has the absolute best Philly cheese steaks. It’s a haul to get here from downtown Philadelphia, but if you want a cheese steak, this is the place to get one. All the classic places in Philly are just not worth it – unless you just want the photo op (if you need a sandwich in Philly, go for the roast pork from Di Nic’s at Reading Terminal Market). Nixon’s is definitely off the beaten path, but there is always a wait for sandwiches, so call ahead to order. This is also the place to stock up on candy, root beer and “Piney Power” paraphernalia (the ultimate Jersey souvenir is a “Proud to be a Piney from my Head down to to my Hiney” bumper sticker).
You can eat at Nixon’s (indoor and outdoor seating), or take you sandwich to go and head 15 minutes down the road to Franklin Parker Preserve – my favorite hiking area in the Pine Barrens (no picnic tables – bring a blanket or eat in the car). I love the Pine Barrens, but I’ll admit that it can get a bit monotonous after miles of nothing but sand and stunted pine trees. Franklin Parker Preserve is a great place to see some diversity. Over 10,000 acres of former cranberry bogs and blueberry fields, the preserve has trails ranging from a few miles to 10-12 miles. Depending on where you go (there are 3 entrances), you can see abandoned cranberry fields, creeks, pine forests and cedar swamps. This is not a place to come for spectacular scenery, but great if you appreciate nature on a smaller scale.
Orchids, carnivorous plants, Tundra swans – and, if your timing is right, blueberry picking in early July.
Fred and I once saw a GIANT snapping turtle (at least 2 1/2 feet long), but alas, we have no photographic proof. It moved with surprising speed when it saw us. 2018 was the year of the mushrooms. In 24 years of exploring the Pine Barrens, I’ve never seen so many! Luckily, mushrooms don’t move quickly, so we do have photographic proof:
The area around the preserve is still home to active cranberry bogs. I was lucky enough to drive by at just the right time in early October to see the harvest (on Chatsworth Road). Cranberries float, so the most efficient way to harvest is by flooding the fields and corralling the berries once they float to the surface – which makes for spectacular photos.
A fun way to explore the area from April-October is by canoe. Mick’s Canoe rental will rent you gear, drop you off, and pick you up downstream a few hours later (your choice of 2, 3, 4, or 5 hour trips). Bring a picnic and bathing suit. https://www.mickscanoerental.com/