What the heck are the Skylands?

The New Jersey Skylands refers to the northwest corner of the Garden State, renowned for its suburban rolling hills, mountains, and lakes interspersed with rural agriculture and small towns. The term was originally created by the NJ Department of Tourism to encompass Morris, Sussex, Warren, Hunterdon, and Somerset counties (map animation above).

However, from a geographic, cultural, and economic standpoint, many New Jerseyians (including SAWGG) use a smaller, more natural footprint:

  • Eastern border: I-287
  • Southern border: I-78
  • Western border: Delaware River
  • Northern border: New York State

These natural boundaries (map above) include Sussex, Warren, and most of Morris counties, the northern ceilings of Hunterdon and Somerset counties, the northwest “pan” of Passaic County, and a sliver of Bergen County around the Ramapo Mountains. More simply: Drive east of I-287 and you are in “North Jersey.” Go south of I-78 and you are in “Central Jersey” (until your reach I-195).

Uniquely geologically defined: The Skylands differ from the rest of New Jersey by its numerous pastures, mountains, lakes, and upland forests. The Skylands is essentially located in the “Highlands” and “Ridge & Valley” physiographic provinces (map above). I-287 and 1-78 generally border these geological regions.

The Skylands were shaped in large part by the Great Wisconsin Glacier 12,000 years ago. The highest point in NJ is in the Skylands’ Stokes State Forest (which also boasts New Jersey’s portion of the Appalachian Trail). Also within the Skylands is the protected “Highlands” watershed. Extending into New York, it is one of the oldest landscapes in North America (Precambrian!) and supplies drinking water to 2/3 of NJ’s population. We also get the most snow in the State, earliest frost in Autumn, and last frost in Spring (okay, not everything is great here).

This is why you might hear the Skylands referred to as “The Highlands” (map below), or as travel writers Bill and Kay Scheller call nearly all of it: the “Upper Delaware Valley.”

A rural history: Once exclusive to small town dairy farms, mining, and forestry, the creation of 3 major Interstates starting in the 1960’s lead to more development before being curtailed with the 2004 Highlands Act. Real estate agents began referring to the Region as “ruburbia” to attract commuters, giving today’s Skylands a “hybrid” character. But still in marked contrast to the more congested, urbanized parts of the Garden State.

The vibe: Being just beyond the border of the NYC Metro Area, the Skylands mixes small towns and tiny cities with protected open space, development limits, and agriculture. With less mass transit and smaller, sometimes country roads, something is created distinct from “North Jersey” and the “New York City Area”. Blacktop and sidewalks share the landscape, rather than dominate it. A mountain or valley always seems in your field of vision. Lakes and forests abound. You learn to live with wildlife of all sizes in the Skylands. State Fairs are the real deal here, and a summer day on a lake is common. You have room to roam in here as nature is a short walk wherever you are. Along with a more polite demeanor.

The Skylands is a model (albeit imperfect) of how non-urban development should be done, and why we love it out here. Why not hit the road and get some fresh air, discover new towns, and take in the unique landscapes?

LATE SUMMER: Beaver Brook near the eastern edge of The Skylands in Denville, NJ
WINTER: Beaver Brook near the eastern edge of The Skylands in Denville, NJ
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