The Ultimate NJ Hiking Guide

The Garden State is teeming with trails. We've picked 36 of our favorites in North, Central and South Jersey. Go on, take a hike.

CENTRAL

Washington Valley Park
Bridgewater (Somerset County)

Difficulty: Moderate
Length: Various
The red trail system (accessible via the Newman’s Lane parking lot) runs along the scenic, 21-acre Washington Valley Park Reservoir. Follow the red trail east until it merges with a dirt road (Logan Road) that ends at busy Chimney Rock Road. Carefully cross the road and find the orange-blazed trail to your left. The trail zigzags up the First Watchung Ridge; when the trail levels, keep right at the fork and follow the trail down the other side of the ridge. As it descends into the valley, the trail splits into several unmarked forks that emerge into the clearing alongside the East Branch Reservoir. Look for the manmade Buttermilk Falls (not to be confused with the similarly named waterfalls in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area). This 715-acre park is a favorite among mountain bikers, so stay alert.—JB

Musconetcong Gorge Nature Preserve
Bloomsbury (Hunterdon County)

Difficulty: Moderate
Length: Various
This 500-acre park rests in the steep valley formed by the Musconetcong River at the border of Hunterdon and Warren counties. From the parking area (182 Dennis Road), pick up the blue-blazed Nature/Gas Line Trail, which descends into the limestone gorge before merging briefly with the red-blazed Railroad Trail. Where the trail splits, follow the orange Waterfall trail for optimum scenery. It zigzags up the hillside, then turns right onto the flat blue trail. When you intersect with the yellow- and-teal-blazed Ridge/Highlands Trail, turn right, cross the bridge and follow the trail back to the parking lot. For a longer, steeper experience, turn left on Ridge/Highlands.—JB

Sourland Mountain Nature Preserve
East Amwell (Hunterdon County)

Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Length: 3-mile loop
This 4,000-acre park has dense woods and several clusters of distinctive, giant boulders—some the size of Volkswagens—that formed almost 200 million years ago. There is a small parking area at 233 Rileyville Road, Ringoes (Route 607). Follow the Service Road Trail from the parking area to the boulder field at the center of the preserve. Loop back on the white-blazed trail. Sturdy footwear is recommended after heavy rains, which can push rocks from the streams onto the gently sloping trails. Fun fact: The Charles Lindbergh estate is nearby, and the infamous kidnapper is believed to have hidden in these woods.—PT

Round Valley Recreation Area
Lebanon (Hunterdon County)

Difficulty: Easy to challenging
Length: Various

This 3,684-acre park is home to the Round Valley Reservoir—the state’s deepest lake—and three marked trails that call all be accessed from the South Parking Lot. The nine-mile Cushetunk Trail passes through heavily wooded areas that are rugged, rocky and steep in places, making it more suitable for experienced hikers. It ends at the Water Supply Authority’s restricted area so hikers must follow the same trail back to its starting point. The one-mile Pine Tree Trail and the half-mile Family Hiking and Biking Trail are both loop trails and easy to traverse.—SV

Cheesequake State Park
Old Bridge Township (Middlesex County)

Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Length: 1.5 to 3.5 miles
This park offers five well-marked trails. The green trail is the longest and most varied loop, traversing a salt marsh and a white-cedar swamp, with boardwalks, bridges and steps. The 0.7-mile yellow trail links a forest area, salt marsh and Hooks Creek Lake, which offers  swimming, fishing, crabbing and kayaking. An Interpretive Center includes live displays of animals, as well as exhibits on local history and the surrounding ecosystem. Entrance fees (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day): $10 per vehicle for New Jersey residents and $20 for non-residents, weekends; $5 and $10 on weekdays.—BM

Plainsboro Preserve
Cranbury (Middlesex County)

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 1 mile one way
In the late 1960s, McCormack Sand and Gravel Company mined this corner of Central Jersey—until they hit a spring and started a flood. Eventually, the water filled what’s now McCormack Lake, the star of any trip to the preserve. (Beavers love it, too; watch for their toothy handiwork.) Park at the Nature Center, 80 Scotts Corner Road. The white trail is a short, flat walk to Maggie’s Trail; no hiking boots required for either path. Maggie’s takes you onto a lake peninsula with lovely views and a stone bench at the end. Keep an eye out for butterflies in the summer. For a forested hike, hop on the yellow, green or red trails. The blue trail is a longer hike (1.7-mile loop) with  scenic stretches along the lake, but later it runs beside the noisy Amtrak tracks and can be a mosquito feeding frenzy. Inside the kid-friendly education center, there are a gift shop and a shy European starling named Ringo.—MP

Dismal Swamp Conservation Area
Metuchen, Edison, South Plainfield (Middlesex County)

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 0.5 miles one way
This 1,450-acre sanctuary of wetlands, upland forests and meadows serves as home to 220 bird species, 24 mammals and 25 species of amphibians. In the heart of the area, the nonprofit Edison Wetlands Association manages the Triple C Ranch and Nature Center (206 Tyler Road, Edison; open April through October, with butterfly and hummingbird viewing areas). For a short hike, try the Songbird Trail, just outside the ranch property; enter at New York Boulevard or Nevsky Street.  The area has an additional eight miles of trails with bird blinds, eight managed gardens, a pond and interpretive displays. —CR

Baldpate Mountain/Ted Stiles Preserve
(Mercer County)

Difficulty: Easy to challenging
Length: Various
There’s a trail for everyone in this 1,200-acre preserve. The most scenic is the Summit Trail (1.3 miles one way), which ascends to the highest point in Mercer County, at 446 feet. From the Fiddlers Creek parking lot (327 Fiddlers Creek Road), you’ll trek over paved road, big stone steps (slippery when wet) and wide-mowed paths to the peak, with its expansive view of the nearby mountains, Delaware River and Trenton to the south. At the peak you’ll also find picnic tables and a free viewing telescope. Just down from the summit is Strawberry Hill, the charming former country estate of the Kuser family, now an event space. The woods are also used for horseback riding, mountain biking and trail running. —PT

Pole Farm At Mercer Meadows
Lawrenceville (Mercer County)

Difficulty: Easy
Length:  1.5 miles one way
Mercer Meadows encompasses 1,600 acres of field, meadow and woodland, spread across five ecological and historic landscapes. The area offers scenic walks and biking along miles of well-marked mowed and stone-dust trails as well as boating, fishing and picnicking. The most unique portion of the complex is the Pole Farm: 400-plus serene acres that provide habitat to rare and threatened grassland birds, juxtaposed with a peek into telecommunications history. In 1929, AT&T erected several thousand poles,  each topped with a gigantic antenna. For decades, much international traffic was routed from this spot. One pole and a few artifacts remain, with excellent signboards explaining this little-known history. For the best view of the Pole Farm, use the 1.5-mile Maidenhead Trail (111-167 Cold Soil Road at Keefe Road). —PT

Manasquan Reservoir
Howell Township (Monmouth County)

Difficulty: Easy
Length:  5.1-mile loop
A dirt trail hugs the perimeter of the 770-acre reservoir, passing through man-made wetlands, wooded forests and wildflower meadows. The area is home to 200 species of birds, including a bald eagle nesting pair. A favorite of dog walkers, the trail is wide and flat enough for strollers, bicyclists and horseback riders. Park at the Visitor Center (311 Windeler Road) or the Environmental Center (Georgia Tavern Road); both have public restrooms, and there are portable toilets along the trail. For a full day of fun, rent rowboats or kayaks, take a boat tour ($6 per adult; $4 per child), enjoy a picnic, visit the playground or go fishing.—BM

Allaire State Park
Wall (Monmouth County)

Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Length: More than 20 miles of trails
Start your hike at Allaire Village, the restored 19th-century iron-making village within the state park. Ride the narrow-gauge steam train, fuel up with a cookie from the bakery, and then follow the green blazes of the Canal Trail through the wetlands. You can hike the entire 2.7-mile loop or follow the red blazes to the shorter Nature Center Trail. If you don’t mind mud, try the Floodplain Trail, which leads from the mill pond to the old blast furnace, a short loop through a Tolkien-esque pocket of bent trees and exposed roots hugging the twisty Manasquan River, the slippery soil tinted orange by the bog iron that gave rise to the village. The additional trails in the southern section of the park are popular with mountain bikers.—KC

Monmouth Battlefield State Park
Manalapan (Monmouth County)

Difficulty:  Easy to Moderate
Length: 25 miles of trails
For one sweltering day—June 28, 1778—the county seat then known as Monmouth Courthouse was the center of the American Revolution. George Washington and an all-star cast of officers (Hamilton and Burr both!) intercepted 20,000 British soldiers who were marching from Philadelphia to New York and fought them to a draw in one of the war’s bloodiest battles. The park encompasses the rolling fields where most of the significant fighting took place. Make your hike a history lesson by starting at the sleek new museum and visitors’ center. Follow the Hedgerow and Parsonage trails down the hill, and connect with the Washington and Lafayette trails. Interpretive signs tell you who was shooting at whom and where, and point you toward the spring where local legend Molly Pitcher is thought to have drawn the water she carried to the parched soldiers.—KC

Hartshorne Woods Park
Middletown (Monmouth County)

Difficulty: Easy to challenging
Length: 14 miles of trails
The western section of this densely wooded county park, at the Buttermilk Valley entrance, has some easy and moderate loops. The challenging Grand Tour trail circles for three miles through the hilly center of the park. But the trail that shows you the most is the Battery Loop in the eastern Rocky Point section (entrance on Portland Road). The 1.3-mile path, paved but steep in spots, leads around the old concrete artillery bunkers that were built during World War II to defend the coast against an enemy attack that never came.  Admire the vista out to the sea, and take the short Black Fish Cove loop down to the pier for a view of the Navesink River.—KC

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  1. Natural Lands Trust

    We like to think our 6,765-acre Glades Wildlife Refuge and 344-acre Peek Preserve (both Cumberland County) are pretty darn awesome for hiking, too! Both preserves are open every day, free of charge, to everyone. Learn more about them, plus download trail maps, at http://www.natlands.org/preserves

  2. William Kuhles

    I’m going to throw in another Monmouth County park: Tatum Park. 6.3 miles of trails with some of the largest Tulip trees in the state. Easy trails through woods, fields and marshes. Wonderful place to spend an afternoon with Deep Cut Gardens just across the street.

  3. briansnat

    I understand the emphasis on variety, but some relatively mundane hikes were included at the expense of some outstanding ones.

    Two amazing hikes are on Bearfort Ridge. The northern Bearfort loop hike using the Bearfort Ridge, Ernest Walter, State Line and Quail Trails might be the single prettiest and possibly, most rugged hike in NJ. Glorious views of Greenwood Lake and the distant mountains, scenic Surprise Lake, and challenging, but always interesting terrain.

    The Terrace Pond loop on southern Bearfort Ridge is also a top notch hike. Much of the same sort of terrain as the northern section, without the incredible views, but Terrace Pond is beautiful, glacial lake.

    If you haven’t hikes Bearfort Ridge in NJ, you have missed out on a special experience.