Local’s Guide to Our Favorite Central Jersey Parks and Running Trails!
It’s that time of year! We may be faltering on our New Year’s resolutions and sneaking in more winter indulgences, but with a few extra layers of cold weather gear, enjoying our Garden State’s parks and outdoor running trails is a perfect pre-spring celebration.
Whether you are looking for a leisurely walk around a lake, something with a bit more unique history, or a challenging hike, we gathered a list of Central Jersey’s most beautiful parks and running trails!
With 4.5 miles of trails with a wide array of topographies, the Historic Smithville Park consists of over 300 acres that once was home to an industrial mill employing hundreds of workers dating back to the 1860’s. A mix of its history combines with a bounty of wildlife and nature including Smithville Lake and a floating trail walkway around the perimeter of the lake. On the opposing side of the historic landmarks is a trail that runs through Smith’s Woods where you can find a butterfly garden and wooded picnic areas to enjoy the scenery this park has to offer. 801 Smithville Road, Mt. Holly, 08060 (609)265-5858 http://www.co.burlington.nj.us/DocumentCenter/View/1471
One of the most well known parks in Monmouth County featuring three levels of trail intensity from easy to challenging, Holmdel Park is loved by cross country runners, history buffs, nature enthusiasts, and even fishermen! Longstreet Farm, located in the center of the park, offers a live look at a 19th century homestead and agrarian lifestyle. Locals know “The Bowl” as an intimidating portion of one trail that loops down and around a hill straight into a steep, 150 foot incline making for a tough hill workout! 44 Longstreet Road, Holmdel 07733 (732)946-9562 http://monmouthcountyparks.com/documents/130/Holmdel%20Bro.pdf
Railroads, historic villages, hiking and horseback riding trails, campgrounds, and more on over 3,000 acres of land spanning two townships in Monmouth County, Allaire State Park is visited annually by both locals and tourists alike. Most trails are relatively flat offering a mix of topographies and lengths, while also boasting the best spots for birdwatchers and over 200 species of trees, shrubs, and other plants. One of the main draws is the Historic Village at Allaire, a living history museum from the 1750’s that hosts tours along with antique fairs, craft shows, and multiple live historical events! 4265 Atlantic Avenue, Wall Township 07727 (732)938-2371 http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/allaire.html
A mile from Princeton University is Marquand Park, which consists of 17 beautiful, historically preserved acres of land and pathways that still meander around the original 19th century garden landscaping. Consisting of Lovers Lane and an Arboretum, Marquand Park is best for a relaxing walk learning about the widespread historic collection of trees and foliage, eleven of which are the largest in the entire Garden State. Lovers Lane, Princeton 08540 (609)921-9480 http://www.marquandpark.org
Established 25 years ago on the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds in Hamilton, Grounds for Sculpture is a unique blend of museum, park, and a 7-acre outdoor statue exhibit called The Meadow. Grounds for Sculpture may be categorized more of a gallery than a park, but it features over 120 artists creating a more contemporary sculpture garden space that’s great for a pleasant walk through spectacular, larger than life monuments. 80 Sculptors Way, Hamilton 08619 (609)586-0616 http://www.groundsforsculpture.org
Mercer County Park
Coined for the lake that this park engulfs, Mercer County Park spans 2,500 acres of forests, fields, recreational and playground areas, a golf course, and notably, its hiking, biking, and nature trails. If you’re looking for the most rural of trails, head to the park’s east side where the more wooded, cross country style running paths to traverse. 1638 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor Township 08550 (609)443-8560
Cheesequake State Park is one of the most unique expanse of land in Central Jersey that is a cross of urban, suburban, and rural landscape. Through the marshlands of our Garden State, Cheesequake is comprised of multiple ecosystems: lakes, white cedar marshes, pine barrens, tidal creeks, meadows, all a stone’s throw from the parkway. Five designated trails allow for a good run or hike with steady inclines, and there’s a freshwater lake that allows for recreational fishing. 300 Gordon Road, Matawan 07747 (732)566-2161 http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/cheesequake.html
Monmouth Battlefield State Park
Why not run through a former battlefield dating back to the American Revolution in 1778? Monmouth Battlefield State Park dates back to the 18th century and the site of one of the largest battles, but now consists of multiple farmlands, hiking trails, and horseback riding routes. Some hikes are provided by a guided tour offering up birding tidbits, background on the battle, and information about the flora and fauna. 16 Business Route 33, Manalapan 07726 (732)462-9616 http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/monbat.html
Named for the soils that were not very fruitful for farming by early settlers, Sourland Mountain Preserve is known for its beautiful array of natural resources: streams, woodlands, wildlife, swamps, and even a bouldering area. With four different trails, including hiking and mountain biking areas, some say the hills are haunted by John Hart, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and hid in the hills during the Revolution. 421 East Mountain Road, Hillsborough 08844 http://www.somersetcountyparks.org/parksfacilities/sourland/sourlandmtpreserve.html
Washington Crossing State Park
You can tell by the name that Washington Crossing State Park is a pretty historic preserved piece of land! Nearly 300 years ago where George Washington crossed over the Delaware River on Christmas night, the park maintains an array of running and hiking trails that weave between farmhouses, mills, and even gravesites. Trails often intertwine which can make the route you choose a bit confusing, but it’s a great park for a quick jaunt that is loaded with history. 335 Washington Crossing-Pennington Road, Titusville 08560 (609)737-0623 http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html
While it is an important water resource for local towns, the Manasquan Reservoir is home to a beautiful 5-mile trail around its perimeter, in addition to a 1-mile scenic route exploring the lakeshore. A flat, gravel trail (with mile markers!) that is suitable for both walking and running, it can get a bit crowded sharing the same path with bicycles and horseback riders, but worth the varieties of wildlife you’ll observe. 311 Windeler Road, Howell 07731 (732)919-0996 https://www.monmouthcountyparks.com/page.aspx?ID=2531
From Howell to Lebanon, we traverse to another Garden State water resource with a more hilly, challenging series of trails: Round Valley Reservoir. About 15 miles of trails span this body of water, which is actually the deepest lake in NJ. Many use it for a moderately strenuous hike than for running distance due to its rugged terrain. However, the yellow marked Campground trail is ideal for those preferring a well-traveled flat path. Scenic, but can get overcrowded fast in the summertime! 1220 Lebanon-Stanton Road, Lebanon 08833 (908)236-6355 http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/round.html
Originally a 19th century horse estate known as Brookdale Farm, Thompson Park features over 12 miles of varied surface trails that weave between a lake and a reservoir in Lincroft. The reservoir loop being the longest of the trails and close to 5 miles brings you along the water circling through most of the park. It’s the most challenging distance in the park, but offers an incredible view of 667 acres in most of our own backyards. 805 Newman Springs Road, Lincroft 07738 (732)842-4000 https://www.monmouthcountyparks.com/page.aspx?ID=2539
Not for the running novice or someone looking for a quick out and back course, the Henry Hudson trail is a former railroad track that stems from Highlands looping around and down to Freehold! Divided into two 12-mile trails titled North and South respectively, the Henry Hudson trail has the most beautiful scenery stemming from the coastline shore area through the marshlands, and into the inland woods of Monmouth County…a bit quicker on a bicycle! 369 Shore Drive, Highlands 07732 (732)495-2115 https://www.monmouthcountyparks.com/page.aspx?Id=2525
Hartshorne Park is an expanse of land almost 800 acres in size hugging the Navesink River with some of the most extensive, challenging trails in the area. Old military bunkers have been named part of the National Register of Historic Places two years ago! Trails can be tough to follow so bringing a guide with you is important to stay on the specific path that was originally started, but views of the ocean, river, and valleys are well worth the discoveries. 300 Navesink Avenue, Locust 07716 (732)872-0336 https://www.monmouthcountyparks.com/page.aspx?Id=2524