Coastal Caper (Hartshorne Woods Park)

Hartshorne Woods Park, 1402 Portland Rd, Highlands, NJ
Open year round, 8 AM to Dusk
(732) 842-4000   Website    Google Maps     Brochure     Trail Map (GR Series)

Gravitas:   Hiking:   MTB:   Proximity:

Special notes for parents
This is an amazing hike, NJ’s mystery spot: a forest and 200 ft ridge right next to Sandy Hook. It’s a longish drive, in that you’ll need to go across I-195, and then north through Red Bank. You might want to go out mid-morning, and then spend the afternoon on the beach at Sandy Hook National Park which is 2 minutes away. You may also want to check out Twin Lights lighthouse, which is on top of the same ridge, just outside of the park boundary, for a spectacular view of Sandy Hook and New York harbor beyond.
GR series trail map available for free download...

One of Hidden Trenton’s exclusive, GR Series trail maps is available for this location. Download it using the Trail Map(GR Series) link above. You can print it, or load it into your smartphone. Properly configured, your iPhone or Android phone can then work like a wilderness GPS, showing your location on the map, even if you lose a cell signal. It’s easy and free, and once the map is downloaded, there’s no additional data usage. Installation instructions here.

Hartshorne Woods is a magical place for walking or mountain biking (or fishing or birding), located on the highest coastal escarpment on the Atlantic seaboard south of Maine.  A little over an hour from Trenton, east of Red Bank, and opposite Sandy Hook, it makes a wonderful half-day excursion in its own right, or combined with a half-day at the beach.

There are something like 14 miles of trails and roads on this 800-acre Monmouth County Park.  The most challenging combines a trail that winds its way around Rocky Point, and then continues as the “Grand Tour” looping through the “Monmouth Hills” and the Cuesta Ridge: over 5 miles if you do the whole thing.  Elevations shift from sea level to about 225 feet, which isn’t a huge range, but the trail meanders up and down, making the cumulative elevation gain much more than that.  There are several places where you can cut the trip short if the hike starts to feel too long.

The woodscapes are at times breathtaking: mature deciduous trees interspersed with mountain laurel.  The path itself is hard-packed sand, and well graded, with switchbacks up the steepest bits.  This makes footing relatively secure (except in a few eroded spots). The woods seem very different from inland trails; I felt at times transported to Big Sur or perhaps a temperate rain forest in the Cascades.  I know of no other location in NJ like it.  The fact that you can hop in your car and within 5 minutes be lying on a white sand beach makes it even more compelling.

You share the trail with mountain bikers, but the hilliness of the terrain discourages all but the fittest cyclists, and those that do ride the trail are generally considerate to hikers.  There are also a series of paved and hard-packed carriage roads, in addition to the Rocky Point/Grand Tour, so even beginning mountain bikers can enjoy cycling through the park.

A view from Rocky Point:  the Sandy Hook estuary, the base of Sandy Hook, and the ocean beyond

The Navesink River/Sandy Hook estuary which surrounds the park supports major runs of striped bass and bluefish (among other sports species) at certain times of the year.  There are several places in the park favored by fishermen.

Hartshorne Woods is named after the original landowner, Richard Hartshorne, an English Quaker who purchased more than 2,300 acres of land in the area from Lenape Indians in 1670 for 11 shillings.  The park supported a coastal artillery battery as recently as WWII (you’ll pass a few concrete pill boxes along the trails; roads take you to some of the key sites); and a Nike air defense missile base during the Cold War.

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Activities | Birding | Cycling-MT | Fishing | Hiking/Walking | Historic Site | Kids

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