New Brunswick to Princeton on the D&R Canal + East Coast Greenway

The D&R Canal towpath was a mess after the one-two punch from Henri and Ida in late August and early September of 2021. Eight months later, it was time to check out how much repair work had been done and how rideable the route is. So we hopped New Jersey Transit to New Brunswick to find out.

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A loop through the Assunpink wildlife refuge

I discovered the Assunpink area thanks to NJDOT’s High Point to Cape May route and have done many variations of a loop through it since then.

This one, at close to 30 miles, starts and ends by the West Windsor Senior Center (more parking than the nearby library and about a mile from the Princeton Junction train station). It takes you past the camping stop in Mercer County Park (more here), Union Transportation Trail (read about a ride here and a nearby farm brewery) and some horse farms, through the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area and the New Deal town of Roosevelt and into Hightstown and the posh Peddie School, right past the Old Hights Brewery (bike ride here) and back into West Windsor.

You could always detour to a massive marble Hindu temple (more here), a chocolate factory (here) or Working Dog Winery.

The roads are generally quiet, you cross U.S. 130 at a traffic light and your biggest climbs might be the two overpasses over the New Jersey Turnpike.

I can’t stress enough how much great cycling central New Jersey offers … and so much variety too. Here are five great day rides on trails and a weekend’s worth of biking and more around Princeton. You want hills? The Sourland Mountains from Hopewell to the Delaware River.

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A new bike crossing over the Delaware River

Bike across … or pay the toll.

There’s now one more way for bicyclists (and walkers and runners) to cross between New Jersey and Pennsylvania — using the new 0.7-mile bike-ped path along the new $534 million (or is it $570 million? After once being projected to cost “just” $310 million?) Scudders Falls Bridge project on I-295.

It opened about a week ago so of course we had to check it out. And it’s great, with long ramps on both ends up to bridge height about 23 feet above the river from the D&R Canal towpath on the Jersey side and the Delaware Canal towpath (part of the D&L Trail) on the PA side as well as a few bump-outs so you can pull over and stare northward (or downward).

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Biking in the Brandywine Valley: Hills, headwinds and Hurricane Ida’s wrath

Wow, what hills. Not really long, and only a brief moment of 12% grade. But non-stop. Even when the route looked flat on a map, it was still small ups and downs throughout our Brandywine Valley routes. Tour de Pines this was not! Perhaps my hardest two days of riding this year?

We pulled our routes for two days off Ride With GPS, so you really never know what you are going to get. These were fabulous — nearly 44 miles from Chadds Ford north, then west, then back through Kennett Square, the mushroom capital, and skirting south back to Chadds Ford on day 1, and straight out of our hotel — the Inn at Mendenhall — north past Longwood Gardens, then looping south into Delaware and then back north to the hotel for 34 miles and change on day 2. Parts followed Pennsylvania Bike Route L (a north-south route from near Binghampton, N.Y., to Delaware) and Delaware Bike Route 1, another north-south route.

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I’ve found another 5-star trail on the East Coast Greenway

Back when I biked from Annapolis to Alexandria, Virginia, along the East Coast Greenway in 2014, the route to Washington, D.C., relied on the Northwest Branch Trail. Today there’s another option, and I think it’s even better.

This is the Anacostia River Trail, which runs along the eastern side of the Anacostia River, which feeds into the Potomac River, and crosses back into D.C. nearish to the Capitol. There’s more on the western side (some still under construction) that goes past the old (soon to be demolished?) RFK Stadium and near the pro baseball and soccer stadiums.

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Tour de Pines 2021, day 4: I’m in love with Belleplain State Forest

The calm of Belleplain State Forest

The final ride of the 2021 edition of Tour de Pines may be my favorite yet: so much time bicycling on quiet roads plus my first time in gorgeous Belleplain State Forest. Who would have expected all this in the most densely populated (and can I say most congested?) state in the U.S.?

I’m rarely this far south in New Jersey, so this bike ride of close to 50 miles was a lot of new territory. We started in Estell Manor Park, about 25 miles west of Atlantic City, and generally went south. We were deep in the Pinelands National Reserve — think lots of oaks and pines, plus the occasional small town. That or the route planners did a great job keeping us away from traffic.

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Tour de Pines 2021, day 3: The hunt for the Jersey Devil

Oh I looked for the Jersey Devil on this 51-mile ride on the Tour de Pines, particularly around Leeds Point, the eastern-most part of our route and its alleged birthplace.

No luck.

Was it because it was a warm, sunny day — perfect biking weather, really — and maybe devils prefer nightfall? Or did we need to wander deep into the woods and swamps, rather than head to the end of somewhat deserted yet paved Oyster Creek Road, almost to the Atlantic Ocean and where there’s an seafood restaurant and bar that didn’t try to capitalize on more than 100 hungry, thirsty cyclists? We spotted the Atlantic City skyline in the distance … perhaps the devil prefer doing its mischief in modern casinos?

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Tour de Pines 2021, day 2: Historic Whitesbog Village plus Potato the baby pig

We aborted this bike ride after nearly 5 miles (I’ll spare you the explanation, but all is fine — we’ll find another day to ride the 52 miles, maybe a bit less, and finally see Chatsworth, the heart of the Pine Barrens).

On the other hand, I had time to explore historic Whitesbog Village, once New Jersey’s largest cranberry farm and a place where they apparently treated their workers better than the rest. It also was home to Elizabeth Coleman White, who developed the blueberry cultivar we eat today.

Workers came 100 years ago for the six-week harvesting season, often from South Philadelphia. So read that as Italian immigrants. One of the things that struck me was how many more women than men were in the photos. But I feel like I only scratched the surface; apparently there were two communities of migrant homes, Rome and Florence, and they were segregated, one for those Italians, one for the African Americans. I only saw photos of white people.

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Tour de Pines 2021, day 1: Cranberries and ice cream sandwiches

This is my third year exploring New Jersey’s giant Pine Barrens ecosystem and preserved open space, thanks to the Tour de Pines bike rides organized by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. It’s back as group rides this year, though over four days instead of the five pre-COVID.

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Hurricanes Henri and Ida ripped up the D&R Canal towpath

The remnants of Hurricanes Henri and Ida walloped New Jersey in August and September, and the D&R Canal towpath was smack in the path of both. The Millstone River flooded, Canal Road flooded, all kinds of major roads flooded … it was not pretty.

I dreaded seeing the damage to the canal towpath (also part of the East Coast Greenway).

We finally biked the section from Trenton to Princeton after Sunday’s big rally for the Essex-Hudson Greenway. Here’s what we found:

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