Favorite Walks for Beginning Hikers

Here’s a list of our favorite beginner hikes. Click on the excerpt title to read the full review and gain access to driving directions and trail maps. Or click here to review them all.

Clayton Park
Part of the Monmouth County Park System, Clayton Park is an easy 25-minute shot from Trenton (off I-195 Exit 11). It's absolutely lovely, featuring 8 miles of trails through a mixed habitat of mature hardwood forest, wetlands, and fields. The topography is rolling hills...there's no more than a hundred feet or so of elevation gain at any one climb, but you can string together a few of those climbs to improve the aerobic value. More popular as a MTB trail than as a hiking trail, but both activites are lovely. (Driving time is just about 30 minutes, Rated for Beginner to Intermediate cyclists or hikers depending on where you go).
Hacklebarney State Park
For beginning to intermediate hikers, Hacklebarney gives you a taste of what wilderness hiking is all about. The Park is truly beautiful, with trails that overlook tiny, pristine brooks that still support wild native trout (the brook trout), and descend through dense woods towards the Black River. Kids will love the streams and the rock formations. (Driving time is a little over an hour; rated Beginner to Intermediate depending on the trails you select)
Sourlands Preserve
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)
Trenton Morrisville Walk
It's the weekend, and you've been sitting like a slug for too long. You want a walk in the country, but your mother-in-law is coming over for dinner, and you've really only got an hour. What can you do? Walk the Levees! (No driving required as this walk is in town; Rated for Beginner walkers)
Washington's Crossing State Park
What's the closest place to Trenton to get in a reasonable hike? The answer's simple: Washington Crossing State Park (the NJ Park, not its counterpart on the PA side). It's only about 8 miles from downtown, a straight shot up Rt. 29 (or you can cycle up the D&R canal, if you're truly ambitious). (Driving time is about 15 minutes; Rated for beginner to intermediate hikers depending on where you go).
Witherspoon Woods and Mountain Lakes Preserve
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)

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