Just over 50 miles outside of New York City, Vernon Peak at Mountain Creek Resort — New Jersey's largest ski mountain — towers up from the quiet town below. Whether you're coming from a few miles or a few hours away, you'll drive down Vernon Township's rolling hills into the base of the resort. With winding roads, open fields, plenty of tree cover, and a hometown feel, you'll feel right at ease going into these races — but probably not for long.
Mountain Creek was formerly home to the infamous Action Park — known by many as "Accident Park" or "Class Action Park" — which was New Jersey's most dangerous water park. (There's even a documentary about the park's fallout.) Present-day Mountain Creek is no longer a liability, but some racers still tremble at the sight of the course's nasty climbs.
Here's what you can expect from your Tri-State race weekend in Vernon, New Jersey, including course elements and terrain, where you should stay and eat, which of the area's adventurous activities are worth giving a try, and why this venue is so great that we visit it twice every year.
Your Ultimate Travel Guide to the Vernon, New Jersey Spartan Race Weekend
The Nitty Gritty of the Vernon, New Jersey Course: Race Types, Terrain, Elevation Gain, and Weather
Mountain Creek is no Killington, sure, but it's still our fifth-hardest venue on the U.S. schedule. As the region’s highest skiable vertical, Vernon Peak summits at 1,480 feet. (But any distance you race will cover at least three times that amount of elevation gain.) And since this is the only venue in America that we return to twice in one year, thanks to such high racer demand, your distance options (and your fate in terms of weather) vary depending on the time of year you choose.
In one half of the year, you can usually bank on choosing between a 21K Beast (with 30 obstacles) and a 50K Ultra (with over 60 obstacles), and that festival is typically brimming with battle-hardened Spartans (plus a few ambitious newbies). The year's other event weekend typically offers a great chance at making new, first-timer friends, as our shorter distances, the 5K Sprint and 10K Super, are available that weekend, along with the longer races during select seasons.
If it's around April, it can get as warm as the mid-60s, but temperatures can still dip down into the low 30s — and rain, or even snow, is not out of the question. Those who prefer racing in slightly warmer conditions might fare better at our early-fall iteration, where the weather will still be hanging around the 60s, though you're less likely to see anything colder than 40 degrees. (And you might even get lucky with a 70- to 80-degree day.)
But what are the courses actually like? What types of terrain will you be up against? Within steps of the start line, you'll begin your ascent, which — depending on your distance — will be unrelenting, rocky, and mountainous for multiple miles. You'll weave in and out of the northeastern forest and scramble up ski slopes until you reach a gauntlet of obstacles at the summit.
And if you thought that was tough, you'll need to divert your gaze to the ground as you plunge back under tree cover and barrel down winding, steep, and technical trails that track through muddy, shoe-sucking creek beds. (Tie your laces tight!) The remainder of your course will consist of undulating elevation gain and loss, single track trails, astonishing summit views, and — if you're racing a Beast or Ultra — an ice-cold water crossing.
Expect around 5,000 feet of total elevation gain on shorter races, and up to 10,000 feet throughout the 21K and 50K courses.
Places to Stay Near Vernon, New Jersey
- Quality Inn ($): A pet-friendly hotel with a fitness center, laundry, and free breakfast and coffee, just a 5-minute drive from the race venue.
- Rolling Hills Motel ($): A homey motel just 7 miles from Mountain Creek with single, double, queen, and king rooms, and even $40, 3-hour "hikers special" rooms — ideal for racers who just want to wash up and regroup before the drive home.
- Alpine Haus Bed & Breakfast Inn ($$): A cozy bed and breakfast directly across the street from Mountain Creek with multiple airy porches to relax on, a communal living room with complimentary coffee, and Jacuzzi tubs in every room.
- Fox & Bear Lodge ($$$): A family-owned and operated 1831 colonial mansion that sits directly on a stream just 5 miles from the course, with eight luxury, robust rooms that are surrounded by massive wraparound porches and mountain views.
- Mountain Creek Resort ($$$): As close as you can get to the venue, Mountain Creek offers two unique hotel experiences: The Appalachian (slope-side rooms with kitchens, fireplaces, a fitness center, and a heated pool and hot tub) and Black Creek Sanctuary (a gated townhome community two minutes from the mountain's base with outdoor BBQ pits, a pool, and a hot tub).
- Crystal Golf Resort ($$$$): Right along the Appalachian Mountain Range, this culinary, golf, and spa resort features two distinct hospitality experiences, Grand Cascades Lodge and Minerals Hotel, both of which are complete with luxurious spas, pools, restaurants, and much more.
Places to Eat Near Vernon, New Jersey
- The Daily Bean ($)
- Granny's Pancake House & Grill ($): A cozy breakfast spot beloved by locals. The staff is friendly, and it has a Cheers vibe, where everybody knows your name. Though we don't recommend it before you toe the start line, the homemade pie is widely regarded as the best in the area.
- Hamburg Hot Bagels ($)
- Dairy Queen ($): Normally we'd never be so pro-processed dessert, but DQ's "Good Luck, Spartans" signage on race day is so heartfelt that they earned a spot on our list. (Plus — c'mon — you earned a treat.)
- Biergarten ($$)
- Healthy Thymes Market ($$)
- The Crystal Cafe ($$)
- The Glenwood (formerly Smokey's Tavern) ($$)
- Milano's Italian Restaurant ($$-$$$)
- The Lamp Post Inn ($$-$$$)
Things to Do Near Vernon, New Jersey
- Adventure at Mountain Creek: From zip-lining tours to epic mountain biking, Mountain Creek offers plenty of adventurous ways to see the mountain (besides climbing up it).
- Visit Warwick, NY: If you're in the mood to stroll down the streets of a charming, old-school town nearby, take the scenic 15-minute drive to Warwick, New York, just over the New York-New Jersey border. Despite being in New York, it has a bit of an Old West/1800s flavor. Check out the mom-and-pop shops, go wine tasting (Warwick Valley Winery and Applewood Winery are great options), go apple picking at either Masker Orchards or Ochs Orchards, and grab some post-race grub at Eddie's Roadhouse or the dog-themed Fetch Bar & Grill.
- Hike the Stairway to Heaven Trail: If you aren't sick of hiking and running by now, this two-hour section of the Appalachian Trail features some steep climbs, bouldering areas, and even some bushwhacking.
- Visit Heaven Hill Farm: Established in 1982, this massive garden and farm center not only sells visually-stimulating plants, herbs, and vegetables, but also offers outdoor, fall-inspired activities for all ages, including a Pumpkin Festival.
- Try TreEscape Aerial Adventure Park: High in the trees, traverse one of two exhilarating experiences that combine ropes, obstacles, climbs, and zip lines — perfect for Spartans. Plus, there's even a dedicated Kids Park.
- Go Golfing: With so much open land, Vernon is a hotbed for golfing. Hit the links with fellow Spartans on the area's many courses, including Great Gorge Golf Club and Crystal Springs Resort's plethora of landscapes. You might not find prettier courses in all of New Jersey.
Recover With a Spa or Wellness Session: Kick-start your recovery process at one of Crystal Springs Resort's two award-winning spas, or attend one of many weekend wellness courses, from goat yoga to forest bathing.