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.

SOUTH

Cattus Island County Park
Toms River (Ocean County)

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 6.9 miles of loops
This 530-acre county park has four primary trail loops (red, yellow, blue and orange) with stunning, unspoiled views of Barnegat Bay and displays of wetland wildlife, including several osprey nests in spring. Each trail provides an easy stroll along sand, pine needles and boardwalk. A large parking lot in the center of the park offers easy access to the red Maritime Forest Loop (1.7 miles) and connects to the Yellowbank Trail (1.5 miles), which skirts the bay’s shoreline. For more distance, follow the short bike path north to the blue Island Loop (2.2 miles), which offers three observation blinds ideal for wildlife photography. This trail connects to another bike path that leads to the remote Hidden Beach Loop (0.7 miles) at the northern tip of the peninsula. When you’re finished, stop at the Cooper Environmental Center.—ND

Island Beach State Park
Seaside Park (Ocean County)

Difficulty:  Easy
Length: 10 miles one way
Eight short trails, each less than a mile long, meander through the narrow, brushy interior of the park, but the best way to comprehend its scale and rare beauty—10 miles of pristine beach, the longest stretch of undeveloped oceanfront land in the state—is to walk the unmarked trail along the tideline, with the Atlantic lapping at your feet. For a one-way hike, go with a companion. Leave a car at the entrance, then drive a second car to the southern tip of the park and walk north. It’s best to plan it around low tide, when the sand is firmest. You will meet some surfcasters in their beach buggies, but mostly you’ll be alone—and free to imagine that you’re down the Shore in the 19th century.—KC

Palmyra Cove Nature Park
Palmyra (Burlington County)

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 1.7 miles one way
Bird lovers flock here to catch a glimpse of herons, catbirds, owls, warblers and other frequent flyers. Park at the nature center (1300 Route 73 North), which sits under the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge to Pennsylvania, and grab a map or bathroom break. The out-and-back yellow-blazed Cove Trail stays flat while spanning woodlands, wetlands and Delaware shoreline—with frequent views of the Philadelphia skyline. The trail meets up with the rocky, sandy River Trail midway through for a beach-strolling experience (unfortunately, the Delaware also coughs up a good bit of trash during high tide), then finishes off with a raised wooden walkway around the Tidal Cove. The park offers a beginner’s birding hike on the third Saturday of each month.—MP

Rancocas Nature Center
Westampton (Burlington County)

Difficulty:  Easy
Length: 1.5 miles total
Pop into the nature center (794 Rancocas Road ) for a snake-turtle-guinea pig fix and a map, or picnic outside at the tables next to the parking lot. The blue trail starts to the left of the white barn. Follow its wood-plank path to the conifer forest. Branch off to the orange trail for a short (and slightly overgrown) detour to Rancocas Creek, then hop back on blue to finish its loop. QR-code stands dot both trails, offering details about the nature around you. For extra mileage, the blue trail connects to the white trail (a 2.2-mile loop) that circles Old Powhatan Indian Reservation. The nature center has plenty of events, mostly for little ones. (Giggly, Wiggly Worms, anyone?) —MP

Rancocas State Park
Hainesport (Burlington County)

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 3.2 mile loop
This set of trails is sandwiched between the north and south branches of Rancocas Creek, which means abundant wetlands, nice water views and zealous mosquitoes in the summer. It’s a no-frills hike (no bathrooms, picnic tables or even a map), but it’s well marked and easy to follow. Park on Rancocas Avenue or Deacon Road to access the blue trail. If you have horror-movie ambitions, look for the abandoned cabin. If you want to up your mileage, the 1.6-mile orange trail loops off the blue hike. The park allows bow hunting in the fall and winter, so be sure to wear bright clothing in those seasons.—MP

Black Run Preserve
Evesham (Burlington County)

Difficulty:  Easy
Length: 1.8 miles one way
Black Run can get pretty busy on nice days. That’s partly because its trails are immaculate and well marked, partly because there’s a 5K route, and partly because of the sheer number of trail options. From the small parking lot (Kings Grant Trails and Kettle Run Road), follow the gravel path to the red trail. It takes you through old cranberry bogs, woodlands, meadows, and a sandy (sometimes buggy) stretch that’s pure Pine Barrens. If you forget to take a photo of the map at the trail head, QR scans on many of the trail signs bring up the official map. For an extra-quiet trek, cross Kettle Run Road and follow the black trail.—MP

Crow’s Woods Nature Preserve
Haddonfield (Camden County)

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 1.1-mile loop
To find this easy-to-miss trailhead, follow East Atlantic Avenue until it dead ends at a small parking lot and picnic pavilion. Snap a photo of the large wooden map at the trailhead. Once on the trail, blazes are sparse. Head left at the fork onto the white trail and plunge down some stairs into the woods. You’ll pass a beaver-friendly branch of the Cooper River and a popular rope swing. When the trail peters out—after the Cooper River floodplain marker—you can double back or continue on the white loop through some new terrain. Beware: This part of the loop runs next to the PATCO tracks and should be avoided during peak commuting times.—MP

Franklin Parker Preserve
Woodland Township (Burlington County)

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 21 miles of several loops
The various trail loops offer a secluded Pine Barrens hiking experience through more than 10,000 acres of reclaimed cranberry bogs, pine forests and wetlands. Park at the southern Speedwell entrance on Route 563 (2.6 miles south of the 532 and 563 intersection) or the northern Chatsworth Lake entrance on Route 532 (about one mile west of the 532 and 563 intersection). From the south, hike the yellow and white trails for a 6.6-mile loop featuring a wildlife observation platform over vast stretches of wetlands. From the north, try a combination of red (mostly forest) and green (mostly cranberry bogs) trails for a 7.7-mile loop. The red trail is the most impressive, with varied terrain and a short suspension bridge. Don’t leave home without waterproof footwear; wetland flooding can make for some soggy trail crossings.—ND

Historic Smithville Park
Eastampton (Burlington County)

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 4.1-mile loop
The dog-friendly trails at Smithville Park aren’t terribly challenging, but what they lack in difficulty they make up in seclusion and historic interest. There are three primary trail options. Combine the red and green trails for a 2.6-mile loop, which begins at the trailhead near the visitor center on Smithville Road. This takes you along wide paths through Smith’s Woods before emerging at the 22-acre Smithville Lake. There, the green trail turns into a series of interconnected floating pontoon bridges over some spectacular gatherings of water lilies. Don’t miss the 1-mile out-and-back Ravine Trail (blue) at the northwest edge of the park. Near the northwest end of the red trail, hikers can get an up-close look at an old, abandoned bike factory, historic Smithville village, and the mansion built by eccentric 19th-century businessman Hezekiah Smith. With several picnic areas, a playground, a butterfly garden and fishing spots, Smithville is a great option for families.—ND

Wenonah Trail System
Wenonah (Gloucester County)

Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Length: 6 miles of various loops
You’ll need a full day to cover all 6 miles, or you can opt for any of the smaller interlocking loops, most of which are less than 1 mile long. Start at the trail sign posted at the far end of the parking lot on North Jefferson Avenue. Hang a left at the next trail marker, and begin a fairly easy hike around Wenonah Lake. Hallmarks of this extensive trail system include marshlands, deep woods, a few moderate hills, some steep hills, and more than 40 footbridges spanning creeks and bogs. There are no color blazes to differentiate each separate trail, but intersections are clearly marked with well-displayed signposts. A detailed map is available at the Wenonah Town Hall on South West Avenue.—ND

Maurice River Bluffs Preserve
Millville (Cumberland County)

Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
Length: 5.2 miles
Located inside a 525-acre preserve named for the breathtaking bluffs overlooking the 35-mile-long Maurice River, the four challenging loops (blue, white, red and orange) can be hiked separately or together for the full 5.2-mile trek. The woodland terrain includes some surprising elevation changes. From the parking lot at the trailhead off Silver Run Road, you’ll set out on the 1-mile blue loop, which links up to the other three at various points. It can get a little confusing, but pay close attention to the blazes and you’ll be fine. Carve out a full day for picnicking and multiple scenic views of the river, which supports the state’s largest collection of wild rice marshes and 53 percent of the animal species recognized as endangered by the Garden State.—ND

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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.