Goat Hill Park was acquired in 2009 by the State of NJ, and is managed as a satellite park of Washington Crossing. It is potentially one of the most spectacular hiking destinations in central NJ, but budget and regulatory constraints have blocked the state from developing it. It’s a pity. Of course, if you’re willing to bushwhack, you can still go exploring.
Bowman’s Hill climbs a bit over 300 vertical feet from River Road, with an average gradient of over 25%. That’s pretty darn steep, and it’s one of only a handful of spots within half an hour of downtown Trenton where you can gain so much elevation. Most of this trail is on paved paths, but the climb up the hill is on a trail that’s no longer maintained, hard to find, and unmarked. But it’s short, sharp, and fun: definitely worth checking out by experienced hikers, given its proximity. (Driving time is only about 20 minutes from downtown; rated for experienced hikers only for elevation gain, steepness, and lack of blazing).
The Jacob’s Creek Preserve provides a little over a mile of trail along this famous creek, a charming, short reminder of a wilder time. The southern end of this walk is particularly lovely, because it passes through farm land not yet subdivided into McMansion plots. (Driving distance is about 20 minutes from downtown Trenton; rated Intermediate for footing which is sometimes irregular. The trails will get muddy in wet season.)
In this era of global warming, it seems crazy that Mercer County could have leased a mountain to a ski resort operator until 1997 at this site. Now the place is pretty much ignored, which is a pity, because this is truly a fun hike with the some of the BEST visual payoffs in Mercer County. Trails aren’t maintained (and can be quite brushy), aren’t blazed or signposted. Footing can be tricky. Accessing “The Ledge” requires traversing a narrow path with steep drops on both sides. (Driving time is about 25 minutes from downtown Trenton. Rated for experienced hikers only! )
The Water Gap is one of the geologic wonders of the area, and the Mt. Tammany hike takes you to an awesome, panoramic view of it. Rising more than 1,000 vertical feet from the trailhead, it’s one of the steeper and more challenging hikes you’ll find anywhere in NJ. Accordingly, we rate it for Experienced hikers, though the major challenge is fitness. Fit individuals of any experience level may welcome the opportunity to take it on, though beginners will find the footing challenging in places. Kids will love the scramble, the views, and the sense of accomplishment of climbing a “real” mountain. (Driving time just squeaks in around 90 minutes; rated Experienced for elevation gain and footing)
Cushetunk offers two different hiking options. If you park at Old Mountain Road in Lebanon, it’s an intense 2.4 mile loop hike that includes a fairly strenuous scramble along a 0.9 mile ridgeline and an elevation gain of about 450 feet. If you park on Mountain Rd, in Whitehouse Station, the hike is about 7.5 miles and 1,100 cumulative vertical feet. (Driving time is about 70 min, Rated for Experienced hikers for elevation gain, rugged footing, and poor blazing)
In recent years, Princeton has gotten serious about preserving open space. Recently, Princeton added Witherspoon Woods to its park system and trail network. It’s only 40 acres, but it adds charming terrain and a slightly more challenging way to access the Mountain Lakes Preserve. I stumbled upon it by accident and fell in love with it. A wonderful introduction to “real hiking” for beginners, and a charming walk for everyone. (Driving time is about 25 minutes. Rated Beginner though the footing is rocky in places and can get muddy in wet season)
The preserve is great fun, with a fantastic loop hike at its core, which you can extend in various ways. There’s about 600 feet of cumulative elevation gain: some of the climbs are quite steep. There are also a couple of stream crossings. Usually you can just hop over stones to cross, but in high water, you may get your feet wet. (Driving time is about 75 minutes, though the drive, mostly on Rt. 29 is beautiful and stress free; Rated for Experienced hikers because of elevation gain and steepness)
The Sourlands is one of the few hiking spots close to Trenton where you can experience reasonable elevation gain, second only to the Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain. Yes, it is about 40 minutes away (compared to Baldpate’s 20 minutes) and in the Sourlands you gain up to about 350 vertical feet on the steepest trail (compared to Baldpate’s 425). But, the Sourlands have miles of reasonably challenging forest-hiking trails to enjoy… There are trails suitable for all levels of walkers from Beginner to Advanced. Beginners can do some short loop hikes near the parking lot, while Intermediate hikers have miles of trails in the southern section with moderate grades. (Driving time is 40 min; Rated Beginner to Experienced depending on where you go)
Spring through Fall, Trenton’s section of the Delaware becomes home to a nice population of smallmouth bass ready and eager to take your fly, lure, or bait. Fish up to a couple of pounds are pretty common, and larger is possible. There are also Carp, which can be HUGE, and are much harder to catch than the smallies.