Sourlands Mountain Preserve, Ridge Trail

Story and photos by Mary Jasch

At the Sourlands Mountain Preserve on East Mountain Road in Hillsborough, three trails begin at the same Trail Head across the grass from the parking lot. Grab a map in the kiosk and enter the woods for this pleasant hike in Somerset County. Take the four-mile Ridge Trail, designated with a rectangular blaze. The blazes here are carved wooden plaques in geometric shapes. Walks are always easy at the trailhead, and this one starts with a smooth gravel/dirt path under tall trees.

The Ridge Trail is a gentle climb for about a mile with winding walks on flat terraces interspersed between rises. The sunny path is wide through ferns, berries and spicebush, and a boardwalk covers an outwash of weathered and crumbled rock. There are no big boulders to rest on this trail until almost at the top. A rocky-bottom brook begins shallow and flows to a deep-cut streambed. Tall skinny beech, oaks and tulip poplars comprise a mixed oak forest here and cover the flattish hilltop and slopes.

The trail crosses the Texas Eastern Pipeline, offering an open, sunny habitat with abundant wildflowers and tall patches of Phragmites. For a great view on a clear day, follow the pipeline uphill, have lunch, then come back down to the rectangular blazed trail that re-enters the woods.

The path eases down the hill through grassy, open woods where thick Virginia creeper vines hang from the trees. The Boy Scouts built a handrail to assist hikers on the trail's steepest descent. At the bottom of the handrail, a wide flat boulder---conveniently located---is a great place to stop, rest, and have a snack. Further down, the Roaring Brook flows with a comforting sound, even in dry times. It eventually empties into the Millstone. On the final stretch, the trail crosses a gentle slope through towering deciduous trees that have shaded out a broad patch of old Eastern red cedars.

Sourland Mountain is a 10-mile long volcanic ridge of diabase--one of six in the Central Jersey lowland. Large boulders here were crushed for railroad beds, roofing shingles, and road surfaces. Its diverse landscape provides habitats for a variety of wildlife and plants. Rare plants found here include wild comfrey, winged monkey flower and ginseng. Threatened and endangered wildlife seen here include the grasshopper sparrow and barred owl.

Over 30,000 people a year, including birders, hikers and families out for a fun day, visit the Preserve. The Sourlands mark the southern boundary of many northern bird species, and the northern boundary of southern species such as the black-capped and Carolina chickadees. Birders know it and come here all the time. Bring binoculars and a bird field guide. There's an active pond near the parking lot and grassy picnic areas.

On the 2,600-acre preserve, there are three trails, two about a half-mile each. The Ridge Trail is a pleasant moderate walk through bright sunlit woods on wide paths. Mountain bikes and horses are allowed in season. Two hundred seventy three acres of the mountain extend into Hunterdon County and is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

There are two trails for public use ­ a wide, flat service road that goes through deciduous woods, a marsh and a boulder field of diabase or "trap rock." The marsh is a perched wetland, a depression in impermeable rock, and filled by surface water. The South Loop Trail branches off the service road, becoming very wet and even crosses a stream. Be prepared to boulder-hop. The reward is a plethora of native wildflowers. Vernal pools provide great amphibian watching. See if you can find spotted salamanders, wood frogs, and gray tree frogs.

To get there: Rt. 206 to Amwell Road in Hillsborough. Turn left onto East Mountain Road. The parking lot is 0.6 mile south. Or, take Rt. 601 to East Mountain Road. For more information, contact Somerset County Park Commission at 908-722-1200 or mail to PO Box 5327, North Branch, NJ 08876. In Hunterdon, call Department of Parks and Recreation at 908-788-1158, or write to PO Box 2900, Flemington, NJ 08822-2900.

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09 Apr 2017, 13:14
For anyone interested in loop hikes within Stokes...
02 Jun 2014, 19:36
I love going to Stony Brook Farm market on 82 Stony Brook Road. The owner Ann such an interesting person! I usually buy some organic eggs, sausages, honey, tea... She makes it all herself!

I love her stuff!
01 Jan 2014, 06:23
i used to live in the sourland mountains with my dad in the early 70's. the house was off blawenburg rd. back almost a mile in the woods. it was demolished by the park commission years later. the house was close to a dam which had a cement slab with said from cruiser to muller on it. does anyone have pics of that area?
12 Sep 2012, 21:37
I am not an experienced hiker, 70 years old. What would be the shortes or best trail for me to start out on. I want to build up my hiking endurance. Thanks
J. Williamson
17 Jun 2012, 09:14
I am a 72 year-old inexperienced hiker. My 12 year-old grandson will be visiting me this summer. Is this a good place for us to spend an afternoon? If so, how should we prepare?\r\n\r\nThanks.\r\n\r\n
08 Jun 2012, 19:53
Where exactly is the Bouldering here? Do you guys have the coordinates handy?
17 Mar 2012, 00:06
Bikers be aware: the trails are STEEP and literally covered with deep roots and big rocks. It's extremely technical riding, I would say EXPERT ONLY. There are flat parts but you can't get to them without going through a lot of lumps and bumps. Expect a lot of first gearing. Bring water.
17 Mar 2012, 00:02
Weekends are getting more & more people every year! I used to go there & there'd be 3 cars in the parking lot. Now the lot is nearly full much of the weekend. Still, you don't really run into many people on the trails. But if you want the most serene hike, go during a weekday. The earlier the better.\r\n\r\nThe mud is fun! If you don't like getting dirty then consider going to Colonial Park instead. Bikers are usually very considerate. The only thing that annoys the CRAP outta me is the occasional dog walker who thinks it's OK to let their dog run free, just because it doesn't run off. Well someone's loose dog came up behind me & tried to get past me on a tight squeeze, & the dog knocked me over & smeared slobber all over my jacket. All the owner said was "he won't hurt you!" But that's not the point!!!
03 Jan 2012, 07:47
Hiked the "white square" trail on New Year's Day 2012. No question that this is a beautiful, serene hike. Trail was VERY muddy in spots - even with some rocks to hop across and the boardwalks that the park has - we ended up pretty muddy (and there hasn't been any significant rain recently). We started at the parking lot and followed the white square trail to the right. Trail was amazingly well marked at first - but then after the first fence (3M property?) the markings become fewer and far between - at a point we thought we were lost but thankfully someone had taken small logs and marked out a path - we took that as a clue and found the trail again. They just need about a dozen or so more markers in this area and this hike would be just about perfect. We will definitely be back again.
Richard Mitnick
06 Aug 2011, 15:13
There is no address as such on the brochure map.\r\n\r\nThe single parking lot is on East Mountain Rd, so you could try\r\n\r\nEast Mountain Rd\r\nHillsborough, NJ\r\n\r\nIf you use Google Earth, and have checked the box for parks, and the box for roads, search \r\n\r\nSourland Mountain Preserve, East Mountain Rd, Hillsborough, NJ \r\n\r\nand it will pop up. You will see that East Mountain Rd runs between Amwell Rd and Rte 601. Amwell Rd (Rte 514) runs due West from New Brunswick. Rte 601 is off NJ Rte 206 a fair way down from the Somerville circle.\r\n\r\nJust as good for this would be a Hagstrom County map for Somerset, NJ.\r\n\r\nLittle tale about "Amwell", there are East and West Amwell Twsps, and there is Hopewell.\r\n\r\nThe tale is about two brothers in the family which owned a lot of this land.\r\n\r\nWhen they would meet, one would say, "I HOPE you are WELL". The other would say, "I AM WELL".\r\n\r\nBest of good luck, it is well worth finding this wonderful place. Bring good boots, you will need them; water, hiking poles, food.\r\n\r\n
Ms. Patel
06 Aug 2011, 13:37
If I wanted to put the address into my GPS, what would I put in?
07 Jul 2011, 03:49
Thanks for the info. There were no trail maps left in the box. I enjoyed the the entire white square trail!
Richard Mitnick
04 Jul 2011, 14:23
Joan-\r\n\r\nWe just got new maps, which are very complete. They are (should be) in the box just off the parking lot.They show the Ridge Trail (white squares) at 5.5 miles. But, there are well marked connector trails (big "C" blazes) which can shorten it. If you start from 1, and go counter clockwise, the first connector trail, to the left of the main trail, cuts off a bit, it is very beautiful but quite steep and in spots quite technical with a lot of rocks.\r\n\r\nAlso, if you want, you can stick with the main trail from 1 up to 4 (it's clear on the map) but then at 4 you can come back on the connector trail at that point. It is easy to see.\r\n\r\nAfter 4, there are no connector trails to shorten up, But from 4 on, counter clockwise, the hiking is pretty easy.\r\n\r\nI hope that you enjoy Sourland, I have hiked all over North Jersey, Sourland gives up nothing to any of them.\r\n\r\n
04 Jul 2011, 10:53
how long is the white square trail now?
Richard Mitnick
18 Sep 2010, 11:28
Jim, I meant to come back to you, we took a bike ride to make sure of what I had told you.\r\n\r\nThe best access is from Rte 518, east from Rocky hill, NJ (Rte 206 and Rte 518 intersection)to right turn at Provinceline Rd, stay right at Hopewell-Amwell Rd, which may or may not be marked up to right turn at Zion Rd, which does not show on Google Earth, but, take it from me it is there. It is then not far to the rock which is in a bend of the road.\r\n\r\nBut, you need to see the rock in the book I noted, which is at Peacock's General store, Lindberg rd and Wertzville Rd (this is straight instead of right at Zion, and down the other side or the Sourland).
John Nolan
18 Sep 2010, 11:09
Following up on Tuomas' note of 7/24/10, the trailhead and parking lot are located 1.9 miles down East Mountain Road from Amwell Road.
Richard Mitnick
28 Aug 2010, 21:58
O.K., not a site, a theory I have had for years:\r\n\r\nIf one examines a map with the townships names showing,\r\none sees a geographic flow from Green Township (Sussex County) through Independence and Liberty townships down into White Township (the last three in Warren County). Admittedly Allamuchy and Oxford Townships interrupt the flow, but they do not disturb its following of the ridge and valley topography in the valley east of the Jenny Jump ridgeline.\r\n\r\nGREEN, INDEPENDENCE, LIBERTY, WHITE. New Hampshire's state colors are green and white. New Hampshire was a center of pre-Revolutionary War anti-colonial, anti-British sedition, the home of "Live Free or Die". \r\n\r\nThe above named New Jersey townships are also replete with roads such as "Freedom-Union Rd".\r\n\r\nMy theory is that this section of New Jersey was in sympathy with the good folk of New Hampshire, some of whom may have migrated to New Jersey. \r\n\r\nThis is a period of time with relatively primitive transportation, and families with offspring remaining near by, farming in the same areas for decades.\r\n\r\nSo, what do you think? I got on a genealogy email distribution list and, e.g., while supposedly independence Township was given its current name in 1921, I found the name attested to long before 1900.\r\n\r\nInteresting?\r\n
28 Aug 2010, 18:39
Thank you very much Richard - I will stop by the store and pick up the book. I'm an amateur historian and folklore buff so the info is very helpful. If you know of any other spots of interest please share - actually invested in some new boots for the hike, but will be an excursion to check out the rock unless it's on private property. \r\n\r\nThanks again!
Richard Mitnick
28 Aug 2010, 18:14
O.K. Zion Road, East Amwell Twsp., not actually anywhere near the Sourland Mountain Preserve. Fortunately, I am a cyclist as well as a hiker, so I know the spot well.\r\n\r\nThere are two access roads. NJ Rte 518 from Rocky Hill west to right turn on Lindbergh, up Lindbergh to the top of the ridge, Zion Road will be on the right.\r\n\r\nOr, Rte 514 west from New Brunswick, past Neshanic church, continue to Long Hill Road, left on Long hill, which after a while will become Zion Rd.\r\n\r\nYou are really going to need to know what this rock looks like, because , and I have a picture of it, it's not that big a deal.\r\n\r\nIt is in a book, "New Jersey's Sourland Mountain, by T.J. Luce. I got the book at Peacocks General Store, corner of Wertzville Rd and Linbergh Rd., don't know the actual town, the mailing address is Ringoes, and they are not in Ringoes. Check a Hunterdon county map for the store.\r\n\r\nReally, unless you have a specific need, this rock is no big deal of a rock, at least above ground. The book says it shows "The process of fracture between two great slabs of diabase...creating a pillowing effect".\r\n\r\nBe careful of cyclists.
28 Aug 2010, 17:27
Where is Knitting Betty's Rock?
24 Jul 2010, 20:20
The trail head is in the wrong place in the map on this page. The actual place is more to the south. Zoom in and you see two small ponds on the west side of the E Mountain Rd on the map. You can also see the parking lot in the satellite image.\r\n
10 Jun 2010, 08:38
can anyone help me. We are looking to rent for a private hilly terrain for a four day event. all we need is water access and a 150ft hill. dinnerads@gmail.com
Richard Mitnick
20 Apr 2010, 11:32
Ray-\r\n\r\nAt the parking lot, there is a kiosk with maps and a glass fronted display.\r\nThere is an updated trail map behind the glass. The maps in the boixes do not have the new - and wonderful - connector trail. But I am not sure it tells the whole story. bring a m,ap, or take a map, and draw in the new routes.\r\n\r\nBut- if you hike the Ridge Trail, 1-13, which means counter-clockwise, you will see that the old "6" is closed. You will go through the fence and see the new "6". You have been hiking the white squares blazes. Stick with them after the fence. DO NOT follow the red square blazes.\r\n\r\nIt sounds like what you did was follow the red squares up the ridge. They do end back at the pipeline.\r\n\r\nAfter the fence, the red squares will go to the right. You want to go toward the left to continue your counter-clockwise hike.\r\n\r\nYou do not want to give up on this place. I go there a lot. I love it. Today, my friend and I went up to Ramapo Mountain State Park off Rte 287. Excellent. Well, so is Sourland: excellent.
20 Apr 2010, 10:53
I wish they'd update the trail brochures... I got lost when I got onto the 3M land and ended up circling back to the pipeline, when I had intended to head down along Roaring Brook. Oh well, an excuse to go back again sometime.
Richard Mitnick
07 Feb 2010, 03:09
Philip- Just go there, The Sourland Mountain Preserve, East Mountain Rd (off of 514), Hillsborough. \r\n\r\nGet a trail map from the box, and if you can, take the Ridge Trail (white squares). If you are a serious hiker, you will be in heaven.
06 Feb 2010, 23:13
i still dont understand any of these trails and i think they have the rivers mess up or something
Richard Mitnick
10 Sep 2009, 05:31
The two new trails noted by John above have now been blazed with red blazes. The red square trail connects back to the main Ridge Trail [white squares]. The red circular blazed trail runs north and ends at the gas line.
26 Jul 2009, 13:52
There's been a great addition to the park. Two new paths cross into land owned by 3M to add a nice addition so you can get back to "Roaring Brook". It goes from marker 6 to 8. The new trails can be found at the kiosk at the park entrance.
Steven L. Sacks-Wilner
30 Jul 2007, 13:33
nice article.\r\nNeeds one correction: Sourland Preserve in Hunterdon http://www.co.hunterdon.nj.us/depts/parks/guides/Sourland.htm is miles away and has no connection except it is a part of the same 90 Sq mile Sourland Mountain area http://sourland.org/planning/nri.pdf .
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