The best running trails in all 21 New Jersey counties – NJ.com

The best running trails in all 21 New Jersey counties  NJ.com

This story was originally published on May 9, 2019.

Running shouldn’t be a chore.

Going for a jog is one of the most accessible forms of exercise for the average person: all you need are two shoes and the will to put one foot in front of the other. A good run can be therapeutic. It helps people clear their heads, relieve some stress and get some much-needed fresh air.

But it can be a drag running on a treadmill or down the same streets day after day. Finding a good trail or road can be a serious treat — never underestimate the power of a varied exercise routine.

So whether you’re still clinging to your New Year’s resolutions, taking advantage of cooler weather to reset those goals, training for your next marathon or just running to relax, these are the best places in the Garden State to log some miles.

This list was compiled by suggestions from running stores, running groups and running coaches across the Garden State. Remember to check before you go about any coronavirus-related restrictions, and don’t forget to wear a mask, especially when near other people.

The overwhelming favorite

By far the most suggested trail was Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park, which has more than 70 miles of smooth dirt trails running alongside the historic canal across five counties in Central Jersey. The path is generally flat and is well shaded; wildlife like turtles, deer and eagles are often found near the canal.

The main canal runs from the Delaware River in Trenton to the Raritan River in New Brunswick, running through Princeton and other communities as it connects the two rivers. The feeder canal runs along the Delaware River from Frenchtown to Trenton, where it connects with the main canal.

With dozens of parking areas and access points, the canal trail is easy to enjoy.

Atlantic County: Wharton State Forest

Deep in the heart of the Pine Barrens lies Wharton State Forest, which has dozens of miles of sandy, shaded trails. The most popular suggestions for runners centered around the historic Batsto Village.

Of course, Wharton is split across Atlantic, Burlington and Camden counties, but it gets the nod in Atlantic to make room for other suggestions in Burlington and Camden.

Atlantic County runners-up

Stockton University: The school’s grounds in Galloway Township hold a spiderweb of trails, seven miles worth, that are popular with local runners.

Atlantic City Boardwalk: The world-famous boardwalk stretches four miles long, with ocean views the entire way.

Estell Manor Park: This county park just south of Mays Landing is a nearly 1,700-acre tract of land along the Great Egg Harbor River.

Bergen County: Palisades Interstate Park

Palisades Interstate Park is a jewel on the Hudson River. Shared by New Jersey and New York, the park is home to stunning cliff faces and far-reaching views. Long trails run along the tops of the Palisades and along the shore of the river, with short, steep trails connecting the two in certain areas.

The park has access points in Fort Lee, Englewood Cliffs, Alpine and New York’s Rockland County. There is also access through the Green Brook Sanctuary in Tenafly, but that property is only open to members. Go to the Palisades on the right day, and you may catch athletes from Stevens Institute training on the trails, according to Coach Lance Harden.

Bergen County runners-up

Richard W. DeKorte Park: This park, located in Lyndhurst and owned by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, features more than three miles of trails in the Meadowlands with views of the New York skyline. A great place for short runs and interval workouts.

Ramapo Valley County Reservation: Encompassing more than 4,000 acres in Mahwah, this park — which is pictured above — is the largest in Bergen County. Be prepared for steep, rocky trails and possible muddy sections depending on when the last rain was.

Overpeck County Park: Featuring more than five miles of trails, Overpeck is more than 800 acres large and is split between Englewood, Leonia, Palisades Park, Ridgefield Park and Teaneck.

Burlington County: Palmyra Cove Nature Park

Described as an “urban oasis” along the Delaware River, the 250-acre Palmyra Cove Nature Park in Palmyra has nearly 10 miles of trails. Runners are never far from water, with Pennsauken Creek and the namesake tidal cove supplementing the views of the Delaware River.

Runners in the boys race make their way down the hill during the Burlington County Cross-Country Open Championships at Mill Creek Park in Willingboro, NJ on October 14, 2016. (Scott Faytok | For NJ Advance Media)Scott Faytok | For NJ Advance Media

Burlington County runners-up

Rancocas State Park: An idyllic, 1,252-acre park split by Hainesport and Westampton. The park is divided into two sections by Rancocas Creek, with one set of trails on the north end and a second set of trails on the south end.

Laurel Acres Park: Located in Mt. Laurel, this park is good for short runs.

Millcreek Park: Considered the “flagship” of the Willingboro park system, this park is a hub for high school cross country meets

Camden County: Cooper River Park

Cooper River Park, a nearly 350-acre-large facility split between Pennsauken, Cherry Hill, Collingswood and Haddon Township is a very popular running destination in South Jersey according to Dave Welsh, the owner of the Running Co. of South Jersey.

The county park is home to the namesake Cooper river, and offers miles of paths for runners to enjoy while taking in the Philadelphia skyline.

Camden County runners-up

Black Run Preserve: This 1,300-acre piece of land in Evesham Township lets joggers experience a protected pine forest complete with streams and old cranberry bogs.

Gloucester Township Health and Fitness Trail: This roughly 3-mile-long flat, paved path is laid along an abandoned railroad bed that roughly parallels Black Horse Pike in Gloucester Township. There are plans to further extend the trail to a total length of over four miles.

Gibbsboro Bikeway: Gibbsboro has spent years developing a series of trails — some paved and others off road — that wind throughout the town. More trail expansion is planned, according to this map, and the existing system already connects to other trails that runners can follow into neighboring towns and beyond.

Cape May County: Lizard Tail Swamp Preserve

The Nature Conservancy’s Lizard Tail Swamp Preserve in Middle Township offers a three-mile-long trail system designed to give visitors access while protecting ecologically sensitive areas that provide habitat for species like the endangered eastern tiger salamander.

Cape May County runners-up

Route 52 Causeway: The link between Ocean City in Cape May County and Somers Point in Atlantic County, this bridge reopened in 2012 after getting renovations that included improving pedestrian access.

Ocean City Boardwalk: Let’s just say there’s a reason we ranked this the best boardwalk in New Jersey.

Two bald eagles can be seen in the far distance in this photo of the Nature Conservancy’s Maurice River Bluffs, located in Millville. Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013. (Staff Photo by Cindy Hepner/South Jersey Times)Cindy Hepner | South Jersey Times

Cumberland County: Maurice River Bluffs Preserve

The Maurice River Bluffs Preserve, which is also owned by The Nature Conservancy, protects 535 acres of land along the Maurice River in Millville. The preserve has a trail system that is six miles in length, giving runners plenty to explore in this natural expanse.

Cumberland County runner-up

Coastal Heritage Trail route: This roughly 300-mile long route strings together scenic back-roads from Sandy Hook to the Delaware Bay shore. In Cumberland County, these roads make for good running.

During the 5k timed run at the Susan G. Komen North Jersey Race for the Cure was held at the South Mountain Reservation in West Orange on May 3, 2015. (Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Essex County: South Mountain Reservation

A massive chunk of the Essex County park system, South Mountain Reservation encompasses 2,112 acres in West Orange, Maplewood and Millburn. South Mountain includes a number of non-running attractions — like the Turtle Back Zoo — but runners looking to get a strong workout in will be drawn to the winding trails throughout the rest of the park. The flat, paved path that loops just over one-and-a-half miles around Orange Reservoir is pretty nice too.

Darrell Lampley Sr. of Newark runs along a path in Branch Brook Park in Newark on New Year’s Day 2017. (George McNish| For NJ Advance Media)George McNish | For NJ Advance Media

Essex County runners-up

Branch Brook Park: This park, pictured above, is an oasis in Newark — especially when the cherry blossoms bloom in spring.

Weequahic Park: Found in Newark’s South Ward, this park offers a two-mile loop around Essex County’s largest lake. The trail is a rubberized surface, like a track.

West Essex Trail: Running between Verona in Essex County and Little Falls in Passaic County, this trail offers just under three miles of wooded dirt path on a former railroad bed. Those looking to go farther can hop on the connecting Lenape Trail.

Gloucester County: Monroe Township Bike Path

Another rail trail, the Monroe Township Bike Path makes use of an old railbed that once served the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines. This path, paved in asphalt, is more than six miles long and crosses Monroe Township as it connects Williamstown and Glassboro.

Karl Anderson walks the trails in Ceres Park, Mantua, New Jersey. (Tim Hawk | For South Jersey Times)Tim Hawk | South Jersey Times

Gloucester County runners-up

Woods of Wenonah: A horseshoe of forested land wraps around much of this borough, and within those woods is a six-mile-long system of trails.

Ceres Park: This Mantua Township park has a main trail that is about one mile long and connects to other trails snaking through the woods.

Tall Pines State Preserve: Gloucester County’s first state park — designated so in 2016 — was formed from an abandoned golf course in Mantua Township. The paved cart path remains, and serves as the park’s trail system.

A memorial run/walk for Carolina Cano took place in Lincoln Park in Jersey City on Sunday, April 14, 2019.

Hudson County: Lincoln Park

The centerpiece of the Hudson County Park System is Lincoln Park in Jersey City. The park is split into two sides, with the east side showcasing ponds and landscaped greenery while the west side is dedicated to preserving natural habitat along the Hackensack River.

Runners can take advantage of the park’s trails, as well as a track and a cross country race course.

Hudson County runners-up

Liberty State Park: The most popular attraction in the New Jersey state park system, this preserve in Jersey City allows runners to workout along the Hudson River in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

Mill Creek Marsh Trail: A hidden gem, according to Stevens Institute coach Lance Harden, this short trail in Secaucus is a flat loop perfect for timed workouts.

Montgomery Street, Jersey City: This road comes recommended by St. Peter’s University track coach John Marshall, who said his athletes use it for their speed work.

Hunterdon County: Columbia Trail

The Columbia Trail is one of New Jersey’s prominent rail trails — more than 15 miles of crushed stone path that lies on the path of the old Central Railroad of New Jersey. The trail starts in High Bridge and heads north through Clinton, Lebanon, Califon and Tewksbury. It then continues into Morris County before ending in Washington Township.

The highlight of the trail is the passage through the Ken Lockwood Gorge area, where runners cross a 60-foot trestle over the South Branch of the Raritan River.

Hunterdon County runners-up

Deer Path Park: This county park in Readington Township offers a few miles of trails and serves as a hub for cross country racing

Round Valley Reservoir: Though no trail completely circles the reservoir, the park offers miles of trails of varying degrees of difficulty for runners.

Point Mountain Reservation: Centered around Point Mountain in Lebanon Township, this park lets runners take in rocky climbs, the Musconetcong River and farmland. The best views, and the steepest trails, are found in the central section of the park.

High School Boys Cross Country at Washington Crossing State Park on 10-25-2019. The boys cross country race.Phil McAuliffe For The Times of Trenton

Mercer County: Washington Crossing State Park

There are about 15 miles of trails snaking through Washington Crossing State Park, which is dedicated to preserving the spot in the Titusville section of Hopewell Township where George Washington led his troops across the Delaware River before launching a surprise attack on Hessian troops in Trenton.

That’s a lot of history for runners to mull over as they log miles through woods, meadows and along the D&R Canal. And there are plenty of runners; the park hosts cross country meets, and The College of New Jersey’s track athletes train here regularly.

Julie Schikk of Princeton walks her dogs, Bella, right and Nike, left, through Princeton Battlefield State Park on September 26, 2012. (Patti Sapone | The Star-Ledger)Patti Sapone | For The Star-Ledger

Mercer County runners-up

Princeton Battlefield State Park – Institute Woods: Another history-laden state park, Princeton Battlefield in Princeton is bordered by the Institute Woods, which contains multiple trails for runners to use.

Ted Stiles Preserve: This protected area in Hopewell Township includes Baldpate Mountain, the tallest point in Mercer County. The 12 miles of trails here are rugged, so be prepared.

Mercer Meadows: A 1,600-acre park divided into five different sections, this park includes a number of trails including part of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail.

Middlesex County: Middlesex Greenway

This rail trail is a paved path running more than three miles from Metuchen to Woodbridge, through Edison, on the former path of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The Middlesex Greenway is well-shaded and marked every quarter-mile. It’s very flat, with the exception being the overpass that caries runners over Route 1.

West Windsor North team runs the back stretch at the NJSIAA Central Jersey Sectional Cross Country Meet at Thompson Park on November 9, 2019.Larry Murphy | For The Times of Trenton

Middlesex County runners-up

Thompson Park: Shared by Monroe Township and Jamesburg, this county park offers a series of trails and serves as the home of multiple cross country meets each year.

Rutgers Ecological Preserve: This tract of land protects more than 300 acres between Rutgers’ Busch and Livingston campuses. The park’s location in Piscataway offers easy access to the D&R Canal as well.

Monmouth County: Manasquan Reservoir

Monmouth County runners-up

Holmdel Park: Monmouth County’s hub for all-levels of cross country racing, Holmdel Park offers close to 10 miles of trails for runners.

Allaire State Park: The focus of this state park in Farmingdale is a historic iron-making town, but a series of trails on the south side of the park is a draw for runners in the region.

Long Branch Boardwalk: This strip of beachfront running is known to Garden State runners as being the finish line for the New Jersey Marathon at the end of each April.

A runner makes her way on the trails at Loantaka Brook Reservation in Morris Township. The COVID-19 virus has kept New Jerseyans in their homes, but with the nicer weather people enjoy the great outdoors.Amanda Brown| For NJ Advance Med

Morris County: Loantaka Brook Reservation

The Morris County park system touts the Loantaka Brook Reservation’s “lush flat terrain” as perfect for running. The park, in Morristown, has more than 10 miles of trails. Much of those patches follow Loantaka Brook through the park, highlighted by Kitchell Pond.

The Giralda Farms preserve, another popular running spot, connects to Loantaka and has been open to the public since 2015.

Morris County runners-up

Jockey Hollow: The main portion of the segmented Morristown National Historical Park, Jockey Hollow is a place where runners can be immersed in Morristown’s Revolutionary-era history while taking in miles of trails.

Mahlon Dickerson Reservation: At more than 3,300 acres in Jefferson Township, this is the largest of Morris County’s parks. More than 20 miles of trails are open to runners here, and Headley Overlook offers views from one of the county’s highest points.

Randolph Trails: This 16-mile-long trail system runs throughout Randolph. It continues to expand.

Cole Parsons of Cherry Hill East runs in the boys senior race during the Battle at Ocean County Park Cross Country Invitational at Ocean County Park in Lakewood, NJ on September 18, 2015. (Scott Faytok | For NJ Advance Media)Scott Faytok | For NJ Advance Media

Ocean County: Ocean County Park

Ocean County Park in Lakewood preserves a plot of land that was originally part of John D. Rockefeller’s vacation home. The park has multiple trails for runners to use, highlighted by a roughly three-mile-long perimeter loop trail. The park is frequently used to host cross country meets.

(left to right) Rachael Rittweger, Kevin Shimrock and Shannon Shimrock bicycle on a trail through Cattus Island County Park, in Toms River, NJ on June 13, 2009. (Noah K. Murray | For The Star Ledger)Noah K. Murray | For The Star-Ledger

Ocean County runners-up

Cattus Island County Park: This park, pictured above, offers seven miles of trails with beach access along Barnegat Bay in Toms River.

Double Trouble State Park: Split between Berkeley Township and Lacey Township, this large park offers a limited amount of trails to explore around the historic village.

The start of the girl’s group 3 race at the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 1 cross-country championships at Garret Mountain. George McNish | For NJ Advance Media

Passaic County: Garret Mountain Reservation

Situated mostly in Woodland Park, but also in Paterson and Clifton, Garret Mountain Reservation is Passaic County’s “major recreational area” — at least according to the county.

Runners can take advantage of trails that run throughout the park, from Barbour Pond to Lambert Castle. The park is heavily wooded, but there are plenty of open playing fields as well.

Passaic County runner-up

Ringwood State Park: This is trail running in the truest sense, with narrow paths twisting up and down ridges and valleys through the park.

Don Brovero, Elk Township Committeeman, (left) and Teal Jefferis, Chairman of the Environmental Commission, (right) walk the trails of Elephant Swamp in Elk Township. (Tim Hawk | South Jersey Times)Tim Hawk | South Jersey Times

Salem County: Elephant Swamp Trail

Following the long abandoned Pennsylvania-Reading Railroad, this trail runs six miles through Elephant Swamp in Elk Township. Runners will enjoy the flat terrain, the unpaved surface and the ample tree cover.

Katie Anconetti (right) runs during the 5k portion of the United Way’s Halloween Bone Run and Walk at Parvin State Park in Pittsgrove on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. (Patrick Campbell | For NJ Advance Media)Patrick Campbell | For NJ Advance Media

Salem County runner-up

Parvin State Park: Miles of trails are available to runners at this state park in Pittsgrove, which sits at the edge of the Pine Barrens where the pine forests transition to swamps and coastal woods.

Somerset County: Duke Farms

This huge, 2,740-acre preserve in Hillsborough protects the former estate of the Duke family — yes, the same people that Duke University in North Carolina is named after. Duke Farms opened to public visitors in 2012; since then, runners have been able to use 18 miles of trails winding through woodlands, meadows and landscaped gardens on the property.

Be aware: Duke Farms has hours of operations that differ from other parks. Be sure to check before you go.

Runners compete during the girls varsity 5k run at the Skyland Conference Cross-Country Championships at Natirar Park in Gladstone on October 22, 2015 (Alexandra Pais | For NJ Advance Media)Alexandra Pais | For NJ Advance Media

Somerset County runners-up

Natirar Park: A county park split by Peapack-Gladstone, Far Hills and Bedminster, Natirar offers a few miles of trails to run on. It’s a regular host for cross country meets.

Sussex County: Paulinskill Valley Trail

One of New Jersey’s longest rail trails, the Paulinskill Valley Trail traces about 27 miles across Sussex County and Warren County, from Sparta at one end to Knowlton at the other. It loosely follows the Paulinskill River as it flows to the Delaware River. The trail is set on the abandoned rail bed of the Susquehanna and Western Railroad.

Sussex County runners-up

Sussex Branch Trail: Another rail trail, the Sussex Branch intersect with the Paulinskill Valley Trail. It runs about 21 miles from Branchville to Bryan Township.

High Point State Park: Home to — you guessed it — the highest point in New Jersey, this state park offers over 50 miles of trails for runners to take advantage of. Be ready though; some of these trails can be pretty steep and rugged.

Union County: Watchung Reservation

The largest of Union County’s parks is the Watchung Reservation, situated in Berkeley Heights, Mountainside, Scotch Plains, Springfield and Watchung. A core part of the park is the history trail, a six-mile-long path that gives runners and other users a tour of historic sites in the reservation.

Runners run through Warinanco Park during the boys varsity race in the Union County Cross-Country Championships held at Warinanco Park on Wednesday October 24, 2012. (Aristide Economopoulos | For The Star-Ledger)Aristide Economopoulos | For The Star-Ledger

Union County runner-up

Warinanco Park: Known for its heavily used sports center, this park provides 205 acres of open space in Roselle and Elizabeth. It regularly hosts cross country meets.

Warren County: Delaware Water Gap

One of the most visited natural areas in the nation is the Delaware Water Gap. While the Pennsylvania side of the park has the McDade Trail, runners have plenty to explore on the New Jersey side as well. Anyone who is willing to beat the crowds and take on some steep trails in Worthington State Forest will be rewarded with a spectacular view at the top of Mount Tammany.

Ultra runner Mary Vish, of Lopatcong Township, hits the trails Friday at Merrill Creek Reservoir in Harmony Township on August 16, 2013. (Express-Times Photo | STEPHEN FLOOD)Express-Times Photo | STEPHEN FLOOD

Warren County runners-up

Merrill Creek Reservoir: A perimeter trail makes a more than five-mile-long loop around the reservoir in Harmony Township.

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Michael Sol Warren may be reached at mwarren@njadvancemedia.com.