Biking to Philadelphia on the New Jersey side has long intrigued me, especially after having ridden to Philly on the Pennsylvania side. So when a group a sister has started riding with announced a ride from Trenton to Camden and then over the Ben Franklin Bridge to Philadelphia, I was all in (well, at least to Camden.)
We met the other nine riders at the Trenton train station. Right then was a big question mark for me: how to get to the section of the D&R Canal that goes to Bordentown? Google Maps sends you through South Trenton; the Delaware River Heritage Trail just leaves it out. The route isn’t signposted, and we’d heard that you have to find the slip road of NJ 29, a high-speed road.
It all sounded daunting.
It turns out that you don’t need to do any of that. Instead, make your way to Arm & Hammer Park, the baseball stadium that has hosted the New York Yankees’ double-A farm team (and just got dumped for a wealthier town). That’s a pretty straightforward route: head south down South Clinton (the road between the Transit Center and the RiverLine stop) to Hamilton (note abandoned factory on your left at the traffic light), then a right and left onto Ferry, then left onto South Warren and across the highway to this area that has a nightclub, a few state government office buildings .. and the ballpark.
You can get on a path along the river right after the nightclub or stay on the road as far as the ballpark. Follow the path around the back of the ballpark and through parks, staying between the river and the highway until, right around a sewage plant, you connect with Lamberton Road. Follow that quiet road (at least quiet on a Saturday morning in November) to your first left (Canal Boulevard) and watch for the turnoff soon after onto the canal path. (How hard would some bike signage be?)
You’ll bike for a few miles under the tree canopy with marshes on both sides, crossing under Interstate 295, until you cross Crosswicks Creek and reach the northern end of Bordentown. Time to chat and try to get to know some of the riders.
If it all sounds too complicated, you can take the RiverLine from Trenton to Bordentown.
From Bordentown — home of Thomas Paine, American Red Cross founder Clara Barton and Napoleon’s brother Joseph — we followed the Delaware River Heritage Trail for many miles, through Bordentown and along the road past Fieldsboro until we reached the QuickCheck at the corner of U.S. 130. Then we picked up a new, beautiful trail, one we had explored this summer. Only this time we crossed the RiverLine tracks and went on to Roebling.
Here’s the trail under construction:
And then more great drone footage, this time of the Roebling part of the trail under construction:
This was a factory town, home to John A. Roebling’s Sons Co., the company that built the Brooklyn Bridge. The trail keeps you close to the water, but you see the pillars of the old Kinkora Works, a Roebling steel mill. You can always detour to the museum to learn more.
But we pressed on, now on the road. We had biked between Roebling and Riverside in 2017, so the route was familiar. But in addition to the shuttered factories, there’s now an Amazon warehouse. (We biked to a tour of another one in New Jersey — read here.)
Our string of residential and low-traffic roads ended after Riverside, however. We were now on County Road 543 (River Road) — two lanes in each direction. Sadly, there’s really no alternative until you reach tiny Riverton borough and briefly head back to the river and the stunning stone mansions facing it. All too soon, though, we were in Palmyra and weaving our way through neighborhoods until we were back on a county road heading to more industrial section of Pennsauken.
We did pick up a food tip a day after our ride: L&M Bakery, a family-run operation on River Road.
The Delaware River Heritage Trail, which ends in Palmyra, doubles as part of the East Coast Greenway‘s spur route from Trenton to Philadelphia. (Free cue sheets here.) The vision from Palmyra south is a path along the water, but that’s all it is at this point — a vision.
We stuck to the road, passing the turnoff for the Pennsauken Transit Center (trains to Atlantic City and Philadelphia as well as the RiverLine between Camden and Trenton). We turned onto Cove Road, which leads to a boardwalk that takes you to a platform with a view of the Philadelphia skyline in the distance. This quiet spot is a favorite of the ride leader, who thinks it would make a great bike-for-yoga destination. Also on his wish list is a ride to nearby Petty Island, once used by industry and now entirely under a conservation easement, still with limited public access.
Then suddenly we were in Camden, following residential streets to the Ben Franklin Bridge and that skyline getting ever closer. We peeled off at the foot of the bridge, heading to the RiverLine and a train back to Trenton while most of the others rode over the bridge to Philadelphia. All told, a bit over 40 miles.
Here is the Ride with GPS file of the ride. A couple of caveats:
- A rider got a flat tire by the Kroc rec center in Camden, so the file shows some backtracking to the site of the flat. Just keep going straight on Harrison Avenue.
- We stopped at a meh gas station in Burlington for snacks and bathroom. If you want to skip that, you can keep going along the waterfront (Pearl) — watch for the Riverfront Promenade if you like — instead of turning left after the bridge. You can always look for food in downtown Burlington. Or go under the Burlington-Bristol Bridge and then go left on Commerce Square Boulevard to reconnect with our route.
Getting back to Trenton
The RiverLine was our first time on public transit since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down our offices, so we naturally wondered how masked would riders be. (A mix, it turns out — many wearing masks properly, but some exposing their nose or only cupping their chin, and a handful with no mask at all.)
Pro tips from a regular:
You probably don’t want to be waiting outside for the light rail very long or in the evening. Next time, maybe we’ll start with the train ride rather than end with it. And if you are going into Philadelphia, there is always SEPTA back to Trenton.
And if you prefer to keep going north past Trenton? You can take the D&R Canal towpath all the way to New Brunswick. I suggest spending time in and around Princeton, including riding the amazing Lawrence Hopewell Trail and discovering this marble-covered Hindu temple.
And the best route to Philadelphia is…
So which is the better way to bike to Philadelphia — on the Pennsylvania side or the New Jersey side?
Both have their share of urban riding, so neither is not for those skittish around traffic. The D&L Trail from Morrisville to Bristol is great, but the rest of that first ride to Philly wasn’t exactly chill. The new trail to Roebling (especially once the railroad crossing is official — word is it could be May) makes the New Jersey section much more doable than before. It might even have the overall edge for now, only because there’s less traffic.
My money is on Pennsylvania eventually winning out, given how it’s closing so many gaps on its riverfront trails as part of the awesome Circuit Trails project. But do enough of those trails connect now to make it a pleasant ride today? I may have to ride from Bristol to Philadelphia again to decide.