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The corridor now home to the Sussex Branch Trail was originally the narrow-gauge, mule-drawn Sussex Mine Railroad, which opened in 1851 to haul iron ore from mines in Andover to the Morris Canal. After several upgrades and expansions, the line eventually merged with the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. That railroad’s merger with the Erie Railroad to form the Erie Lackawanna Railroad in 1960 marked the beginning of the end of the Sussex Branch, and the final train ran on the line in 1966. Fortunately, the State of New Jersey subsequently purchased the right-of-way for trail use and now administers the Sussex Branch Trail as part of Kittatinny Valley State Park.
Begin your trip in Branchville, where the trail starts just south of downtown due to a couple of missing railroad bridges. The rustic trail moves southeast, paralleling Dry Brook before emerging into classic Garden State farmland. This stretch is sometimes overgrown with weeds—and bears have been spotted in the adjacent woods—so trail users should exercise caution. Just before Augusta Hill Road, the trail crosses the Great Valley Trail, an unpaved 3.5-mile route that heads southwest.
Bridges provide dry passage as you approach Lafayette, which offers several food, drink, and antiques shopping options not far from the trail. South of Lafayette, the path travels through dense and quiet woodlands, so you may be surprised when you reach an intersection with the Paulinskill Valley Trail and a subsequent road crossing. The peaceful wooded route soon resumes, though, traveling to the outskirts of Newton. While the trail continues unmaintained on the rail corridor another 0.5 mile, a large sign directs you to an on-road detour via Hicks Avenue/County Road 663 to continue on the main route. The road portion is short (1.1 miles) but treacherous, particularly for hikers, as cars move quickly, and only a narrow shoulder provides a perhaps false sense of security.
Back on the former rail corridor, you’ll again be enveloped by trees, and a cut through bedrock is spectacular. Soon you’ll reach access to campgrounds and Lake Aeroflex in Kittatinny Valley State Park.
As you enter Andover, another short on-road detour on low-stress Railroad Avenue is required. Where the trail resumes adjacent to Main Street, low--hanging branches, tree roots, and a narrowed width may prove to be a challenge. At Whitehall Hill Road, trail users may find that vegetation has completely consumed the trail, so another short on-road detour may be desired. (Note that while Whitehall Hill Road is not a busy road, it is hilly.)
You will be rewarded for your determination once you reach scenic Cranberry Lake, whose eastern shore the trail closely follows. Pause to watch boaters enjoying the crystal-clear water. The path widens considerably after the lake and the surface improves, so you’ll likely encounter many more trail users along this final stretch. After passing Jefferson Lake, you’ll soon reach the trail’s end at a large trailhead and parking lot on Waterloo Road. Those hoping to visit Stanhope or Netcong—the closest towns to the trail’s southern end—can continue south via a side path along Continental Drive.
There is no official parking at the trail’s northern end in Branchville. To reach the Augusta Hill Road trailhead from I-80, take Exit 25, and head north on US 206 toward Stanhope/Newton. Travel 10.9 miles, then make a slight left onto Main St. in Newton. After 0.9 mile, turn left onto Spring St., then immediately turn slightly right to stay on Spring St. In 0.1 mile take the first left onto Mill St., and drive 4.4 miles as it becomes County Road 519/Newton Halsey Road. Veer right onto August Hill Road; parking can be found on your left after 1 mile.
To reach the southern trailhead in Byram Township from I-80, take Exit 25 for US 206 N toward Stanhope/Newton. Immediately take the first exit toward International Trade Center/Waterloo Village, and merge onto International Dr. After 0.2 mile, turn right onto Waterloo Valley Road. Travel on Waterloo Valley Road 1.1 miles as it becomes Continental Dr. When you reach the road’s end, cross Waterloo Road to enter the parking lot.
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