Vertical Elevation Gain (Sourlands Preserve)

Sourlands Preserve, East Mountain Rd, Hillsborough Twp, NJ
Open daily, sunrise to sunset
Google Maps     Trail Map (GR Series)

Gravitas:   Hiking:   MTB:   Proximity:

Special notes for parents
This park supports a major trail network, many trails suitable for kids. The most fun aspect are the trails through the boulders, some of which are big enough to climb in their own right. The best boulders are in the northern end of the park, about a mile and nearly 300 ft elevation above the trailhead.

However, none of the trails is particularly scrambly or dangerous, so motivated beginner hikers are probably OK (the footing can get tiring, however, as you’re always stepping on some kind of stone and it’s unrelenting). Other than the trails, there’s a fishing pond on the site, but not much else to do.
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.

The Sourlands is one of the few hiking spots close to Trenton where you can experience reasonable elevation gain, along with 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 western section with moderate grades.  Many of the trails pass through interesting rock formations (though scrambly bits are rare).

Compared to other parks in the area, the trails make for more rugged walking, because they are generally purpose built for hiking (not converted woods roads), and are quite rocky (though beginner trails have been fairly well graded). After the Sourlands and Baldpate, the next closest hike with a higher elevation gain is half an hour further away. So it’s a spot you may want to check out if you enjoy hiking. Combine it with a stop in Princeton on the way out or back and you’ve got a lovely excursion for an afternoon in the “country”.

Operated by the Somerset County Park Commission, the trails are well maintained and marked. While you occasionally share the trails with mountain bikers, the paths are quite rocky, making it a highly technical ride, and discouraging most bikers. The trail comments below refer to notes on the Somerset Country brochure, reproduced below (note North is to the right, West is up on this map).

Sourlands trail maps

The park has recently opened up a number of new trails, and relocated a major segment (signposts 6-7-8).   These are marked in red and gray on the map. While the scale isn’t obvious, the trails along the outer loop are about 10 miles, although the system allows walks of all distances and difficulties from moderately easy to moderately strenuous.  You can divide the park into trails to the North of the gas pipeline (which is shown as the double dashed lines in the center of the map), and those South of the pipeline.  The northern trails, by and large, are steeper and more rugged.  The Southern trails are generally more open and longer, well suited to “Intermediate” hikers.  Roaring Brook is also in the southern end of the park, which is pretty when it contains water.   The pipeline right of way is walkable.  It’s one of the steeper ‘trails’ in the park, and allows you to create multiple variations without spending hours in the park.

My favorite walk in the park stays in the north (see map).  It follows the main trail along the right-most, northern segment (1 to 4, blazed with white squares).  However, I prefer the connector trail near the northern tip of the trail system (This trail is blazed with a white circle surrounding a black C, and is shown on the map as gray). This is just about the steepest section of trail in the park.  After it connects back to the white trail, I continue left and stay straight at signpost 4.  After a few dozen yards, I turn right at the new, red-circle blazed trail and follow it to the pipeline (top of map).  I then turn left, heading east along the right of way, then cut back left at signpost 5 onto the main trail (blazed with white squares), follow it back to signpost 4, and descend on the “Connector” trail (also marked on the map with a C, and on the trees with a white circle surrounding the C), past signposts 3-2-1, down to the parking lot.

Connector Trail
The connector trail on the north end of the park is one of steepest trail segments, wending its way through an old rock fall.

There’s one panoramic view in the park, where the main square-blazed trail crosses the gas pipeline right-of-way, near the spot marked 5 on the map.  On a clear day you can see lower Manhattan.

There’s also a pond which is stocked with sunfish and bass…it gets an awful algae bloom in summer, but for a couple of months between April and June it’s pretty good fishing.

BTW, the couple in the banner photo is my brother and sister-in-law. They live in Marin County, and hike all over California. They LOVE the Sourlands with its trees, leaves, and boulders.

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