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Gravitas: Hiking: Proximity:
If you enjoy a reasonably challenging hike, there is really only one place to go in the immediate Trenton area (Baldpate Mountain), a 20 minute drive to the trailhead, up Rt. 29. It’s wonderful, but if you walk a lot (and I do), you can get bored with the same old same old. For variety, you need to go farther afield: the Sourlands (50 minutes) or Tohickon (50-55 minutes) are both great.
To that list, I’ll now add the Musconetcong Gorge Preserve. Yes, it’s over an hour away. But it’s one of the most beautiful, and least stressful drives you can do in this state: up the Delaware Valley along Rt. 29 to Frenchtown, continue paralleling the river to Milford, then pick up Hunterdon Country 519, and make a right turn on Dennis Rd just before you cross the Muskie into Warren County. (Be sure you don’t make the turn onto 519 in Stockton, which is about 20 minutes south of Milford).
Add a meal in Lambertville, Stockton, or Frenchtown, and you’ve got a fabulous half-day excursion from Trenton.
The preserve itself is great fun, with a fantastic loop hike at its core, which you can extend in various ways (click on the map to enlarge). The trail itself is pretty narrow and rocky in most places. You also get about 450 feet of elevation gain/loss in one pitch, plus a couple of additional descents/ascents from Scout Run for a total elevation gain of 600 feet or so. You’ll want to wear hiking boots (or walking shoes with a lugged sole), bring the map, and be prepared to cross a stream (Scout Run) on the upper trail (the lower trail has a bridge over the worst bit). Normally, you can pretty easily hop on rocks over Scout Run, but if it’s just rained, you might have to step into ankle deep water.
The phone number provided here is for the Hunterdon County Parks Department, which operates Musconetcong Gorge Presevere. There’s parking for a dozen cars or so on Dennis Rd, which is the principal trailhead. Just look for the sign where the road makes a 90 degree bend. Note the upper trail (yellow blazes) and the lower trail (blue blazes) both start here. My wife and I walked the loop trail counterclockwise (i.e. upper first). You can walk the trail in either direction, the difference being that if you go lower first (clockwise), you’ll get almost all of the vertical in one, long ascent up switchbacks (white blazes), and you’ll have to descend the steepest section of the entire hike, from the ridge into Scout run. By going counter-clockwise, you break the climb into two segments (the parking lot is at mid-elevation), and get to climb the steepest bit (which most people find easier than descending).
The loop itself will take you 90-120 minutes (it’s about 3.4 miles). You can extend it by continuing east along the ridge towards (or past) Pine Run, or (a little easier), walking east on the abandoned RR bed along the river.
Note the trail and the RR bed are different. If you do the trail counter clockwise, the trail starts only a few feet above the bed (which is a smooth, gravel road), and parallels it closely for a while. You can head west along the bed if you want… just watch the trail markers and bushwhack a few yards up to the trail when it starts to climb into Scout Run.
Map courtesy of NJHiking.com