Strap on a helmet, pump up the tires and take a bike ride. Go it on your own, bring the family or join a club, but start pedaling folks, because there's no better way to work out the cardiovascular while observing the sights and sounds of Northwest New Jersey along a variety of specific trails and open road routes.
This area is great for families, racers, mountain bikers and road bikers, and there are opportunities for every style of bike riding. Some places to ride are more obvious than others, but it doesn't take much research to connect to the places that will suit your desires. A good bike trail is clearly marked, clear of debris and easily accessible.
Marty Epstein, who owns Marty's Reliable Cycle shops, adds "I think a good bike trail needs to be rideable, scenic and interesting, something that's easy to find, decently maintained and well marked. Its kind of fun to go on these little adventures, on trails that have towns and places to stop, and some nice historical aspects."
Defining all of the above is the 70-mile Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park trail, which is smooth, level and an enchanting blend of nature and Norman Rockewell-ish towns. It's the best place to ride in the area for anybody from an enthusiast to families with kids on their first bike with training wheels. The trail is completely flat, and it's hard to find anyone that doesn't like a bike trail that's flat- unless it's downhill all the way.
On the New Jersey side, it begins in Frenchtown and travels between the Delaware Canal and Delaware River into Trenton. On the Pennsylvania side, it starts in Easton and goes down to Bristol. There are several bridges that enable you to loop across the river and trail-hop, so to speak.
The D&R ride offers short trips, or all-day excursions complete with rest stops. There are places to park along the way, so you can pick up the trail in the middle, rather than start at top or bottom. The trails on both sides vary in scenery, ranging from secluded foliage to wondrous views of the Delaware River and, at times, taking you through small, charming towns. The river sightings may be more frequent in the spring, when foliage is not so thick. But while you are sight seeing, keep an eye out for pedestrian traffic, which can get heavy at times, and occasional gaggles of geese that gather en masse and pay little attention to an oncoming cyclist.
The New Jersey side offers a wonderful array of interesting spots along its crushed gray stone trail. Starting in Frenchtown and heading south, you are engulfed by nature for miles at a time, all the way to Bulls Island Recreation Area, which offers camping, canoeing and picnic tables. A footbridge crosses to the Pennsylvania town of Lumberville, where you can rest your legs and replenish your energy with food and beverage. The next stops feature the town of Stockton in New Jersey, and bridge that crosses into Centre Bridge, PA. Again, these are places to relax and enjoy some nourishment. You might spend more time further down the trail at Lambertville on the New Jersey side and New Hope in Pennsylvania. Unique shops, eateries and pubs provide a wonderful respite from pedaling. And on a springtime Sunday, it's easier to bike into town than drive, as auto traffic gets heavy.
Continuing south, the final point of interest is Washington Crossing State Park in New Jersey, the site where George Washington made his famous Christmas crossing early in the Revolutionary War. Picnic tables and a small pub with deck dining offer views of the river.
"The D&R trail is probably the most well known, but there are some great ones in New Jersey that are not quite as improved, but have a similar appeal," Epstein says. "You can kind of go for a day trip, explore, poke around." Some of Epstein's recommendations, followed by his comments, include:
The Patriots Path trail in Morris County, which has 15 miles open to bikes. The route begins in Morristown's Speedwell Village and goes past Mendham. It is partly paved and partly gravely cinder. "Most people can do the majority of the trail. You can see the Whippany River from the trail and it is a beautiful sight. It's fairly level, there's a big hill in the middle but most people can deal with that. Parts of it go past abandoned, historic railroads, and it's very scenic."
The Kittatinny Trail, which travels through Sussex County. "It's a wonderful trail, which also has a railroad bed, and there are still markers, signs and posts, all kinds of stuff. It goes right through all these little towns in Sussex, a lot like you have on the D&R trail."
The Paulinskill Valley Trail, which is a 27-mile stretch that intersects with the Kittatinny Trail and runs through Sussex and Warren counties. "A great ride. It's way too long for a one-day ride, but you can start at Olde Lafayette Village, go out and back from there. There are different towns along the way and it heads out to the Delaware River."
The Columbia Trail, which stretches 15 miles through Morris and Hunterdon counties and goes from Flanders to High Bridge. "This is just a great trail that is so beautiful. It goes over the Ken Lockwood Gorge (named after an area fisherman), and it's amazing. As you go over it, you think you've gone to Colorado. There's this beautiful river, people are fly fishing. It's just so scenic."
Lewis Morris Park, which contains a five-mile strip in Morris County that is designed mostly for mountain bikes. "It's a great park to start mountain biking. But it's a very hilly and challenging area to ride. Just don't ride your bike in the national park, they're very strict about that."
Epstein says the common denominator for each of the aforementioned trails is that they are designed for the casual biker, and "they're nice, packed down cinder or dirt trials. You have the historical aspect, they go through different towns, and they are almost like preserved nature trails with their little interesting aspects."
The Hunterdon Area Rural Transit, Inc., located in Flemington, provides pamphlets that describe and map out several open-road trails in the Skylands. Included are pamphlets on the routes entitled: Allamuchy Allegory; Great Swamp; Three Easy Scenic River Rides, Old Mine Road, Last Covered Bridge; Round Valley Roundabout; the D&R Canal. Read more about the Hunterdon Trails....
Or try this other helpful NJDOT source for mountain bikers, complete with reviews from those who have ridden the routes.
While biking may seem a simple thing, there are some steps that need to be taken for maximum enjoyment.
One should check their bike before riding. Things to check for safety are tire pressure, brakes, tire condition and spoke tension. It also important to have your bicycle properly maintained throughout the year to ensure you are not let down in the middle of a ride and that you have the nicest ride your bike can provide.
It is important to carry a tire pump and an extra tube. For personal comfort, one should have plenty of water and a snack for along the way.
It is very important to dress properly as weather could change. We recommend padded bike short/pants for men and women alike. These can be disguised over pants or shorts for the modest people. There is no comparison to a ride with a padded short and one without. It is important to layer clothing so you can take off a layer, or add if it warms up or cools down.
Of course, the most important item of all is a helmet.