Open daily, sunrise to sunset
(609) 924-8720 Website Google Maps Trail Map (phone/GPS)
Gravitas: Hiking: Proximity:
Today, this is probably the nicest city-managed hiking preserve in Mercer County. It’s about the only one where you can actually hike for 90+ minutes on well-maintained trails.
Thankfully, in recent years, Princeton has gotten serious about preserving open space. In the last decade, it added Witherspoon Woods to its park system and trail network (NE corner of the trail system). 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. Connected to the Mountain Lakes trail system, and especially the Coventry Farm view trail (another new additionl) it’s worth checking out, especially if you want to do other things in Princeton. Click on the map to enlarge. Download the Trail Map (link above), and if you follow the directions here, you can use your phone as a GPS as you explore the system.
You can park for free either at the main Mountain Lakes parking lot, or on Cherry Hill Road. I would strongly urge you to use the latter: it’s smaller and much more interesting. Just look for the discrete, white park sign marking the driveway on your left as you approach from 206.
The terrain here is gently rolling. Really, it’s a very easy hike except for the fact that the Witherspoon Woods trails are rocky, making footing occasionally difficult, and drainage is poor, so it can be muddy in the wet seasons. Even with these concerns, I still rate this trail as suitable for beginners (though you’re warned). In addition, there’s enough elevation shift to make the terrain interesting and provide a little extra aerobic value.
Witherspoon Woods is tucked-in next to the so-called “Princeton Preserve”, an exclusive development. The dumpy houses you see go for $700K and up; the nicer ones are $3.5 million or so. Do you think that guy cares whether someone from Trenton is walking along a trail with a view of his back yard? Probably he’s not too thrilled, but those liberal so and so’s who vote in Princeton made this public land. I figure it’s our duty as card-carrying members of the other 98% to make use of their generosity. Noblesse oblige survives in Princeton.
Feel free to explore the whole park, but if you want a route that will take you 90 minuts or so, you’ll start at the Cherry Hill Rd parking lot and turn right when the short spur trail hits the loop. Go right almost immediately to check out the Devil’s Cavern (less dramatic than the name suggests, but still interesting) and stay left then right to get back onto the loop. Follow that until you hit a trail signposted for Stuart School (turn right). It’s worth following that trail all the way to the school, following the stream bed. You’ll then need to double back towards mountain lakes, and turn right on the red blazed trail. You can either follow the red trail along the fence line to check out Coventry Farm.
When that trail ends, stay left on the Green trail towards Palmer Lake and follow it trail along the bluffs on the western shore (this has more elevation change, and is prettier than the eastern shore). Loop around the northern end of Palmer Lake and by all means stop at the Mountain Lakes House if it’s open (it usually isn’t unless there’s a special event). Warning: dog leash laws are vigorously enforced in this park, and especially near Mountain Lake House.
Then head north from the house to pick up the trails back to Witherspoon woods, eventually turning right at the trail marked “Witherspoon Woods Loop”. This is the southern part of the loop Follow it around until you come to the Cherry Hill Rd. spur trail on your right: follow it back out to the parking lot.