The New Jersey Skylands generally refers to the northwest corner of the Garden State, renowned for its rolling hills, mountains, and lakes interspersed with agriculture and small towns. The term was created by the NJ Department of Tourism to encompass Morris, Sussex, Warren, Hunterdon, and Somerset counties.
However, from a geographic, cultural, economic standpoint, most New Jerseyians think a smaller footprint for The Skylands: bordered by I-287 (east), I-78 (south), Delaware River (west), and New York State (north). These more natural boundaries exclude the southern lowland halves of Hunterdon and Somerset counties, but includes the mountainous northwest parts of Passaic and Bergen counties. Go east of I-287 and you are in “North Jersey.” Go south of I-78 and you are in “Central Jersey”. You might also hear the Skylands referred to as “The Highlands” or as travel writers Bill and Kay Scheller call (nearly all of) it, the “Upper Delaware Valley.”
A preserved 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.
Unique terrains. The Skylands differ from the rest of New Jersey by its numerous pastures, mountains, lakes, and upland forests. These are mostly located in the “Highlands” and “Ridge & Valley” physiographic provinces. 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). But it also brings…
A calmer 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, often country roads, a milieu distinct from “North Jersey” and “New York City Metro Area” is created. Blacktop and sidewalks share the landscape, rather than dominate it. Hills and valleys are all around you. 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 The Skylands as nature is a short walk wherever you are. Along with a slower pace and 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?