So you’re looking for a new place to ride your bike but don’t want to deal with traffic? Or you’re encouraging someone to bike who gets nervous around traffic? You need some kid-friendly options?
Central New Jersey has some great options, and more trails are coming (it’s just not a fast process, unfortunately). I think these five are fabulous; I hope you’ll love them too.
Of course there are more trails than just these five, so keep exploring and add your favorite to the comments section.
D&R Canal towpath
This is the big one — at 34 miles just on the main canal from New Brunswick to Princeton to Trenton, you can make a ride as long or as short as you like. I keep discovering ways to use it to help go somewhere else; think of it as Route 1 for bikes but far more relaxing.
It can get busy around Princeton, so give yourself some space and explore other sections. If you’re starting at Turning Basin Park in Princeton (big parking lot), try heading south instead of north, for example. Or park instead at the southern end of Princeton where the trail crosses Quaker Road.
Honestly, there are so many places to park and ride that you have no excuse to explore the entire length. (If you’re car-free, your train stations are New Brunswick, Princeton and Trenton. Princeton Junction too if you’re more comfortable with traffic.)
As you bike, look for turtles sunning themselves on logs. You might spot a blue heron too. Can you find this historical marker?
The route isn’t paved so you might encounter some mud after it rains. But much is crushed stone dust I’ll ride it with a road bike and 28 mm tires.
If you’re curious about canals, just know that this one is wider and deeper than the Erie Canal. By connecting the Delaware and Raritan rivers, it sped up the transportation of gods between New York and Philadelphia in the 19th century and was far safer than venturing into the Atlantic Ocean.
If you want to make a weekend of it in Princeton, I’ve got you covered.
Lawrence Hopewell Trail
This is a wonderful 22-mile loop that’s getting close to finished. But it’s easy to avoid the more challenging on-road sections. Park in downtown Lawrenceville or at Mercer Meadows and you can ride for miles. The kid-friendly reward is ice cream and/or the bakery in downtown Lawrenceville. OK, not just for kids.
Bonus: The LHT connect to the D&R Canal towpath near Brearley House. Normally you can ride traffic-free between there and downtown Lawrenceville, but the route through the Lawrenceville School is currently closed because of campus construction. Once that’s done, a bigger kid-friendly challenge is to bike from Turning Basin Park in Princeton to ice cream.
I’ve used the combination of the D&R and the LHT for bike rides to “weird” beer (here’s one) as well as to the more established River Horse Brewing. Just know you’ll need to deal with roads (mostly, but not entirely, low-traffic or with shoulders).
Loops across the Delaware River using the D&R and D&L trails
There are trails along both sides of the Delaware River from Frenchtown south to Trenton. Use the bridges, and you can turn a ride into a two-state loop of as little as 7 miles. Add another option once the bike path on the new Scudders Falls bridge opens (this fall?).
Take that 34-mile option to New Brunswick noted on the sign with a grain of salt: this section doesn’t directly connect with the main towpath. You’ll need to bike into Trenton for that.
But the 10 miles to Bristol are lovely. Unfortunately, cyclists and pedestrians not allowed to use the Burlington-Bristol Bridge to get to New Jersey. There seems to be a walkway, but it is locked.
Curious about Morrisville to New Hope on the Pennsylvania side, across to Lambertville and down to Trenton? I’ve done it.
It’s 3.5 miles out, 3.5 miles back, with a challenging bridge over the highway to get your heart rate up. When the kids complain, tell them they’ll love going downhill!
Start in Metuchen (parking at Greenway Park on Middlesex Avenue, or the Metuchen train station is a few blocks away); there’s only one way you can go — east.
You can stop around midway, just before going over U.S. 1, at the Tano Mall (Lotte Market, the anchor, is an Asian supermarket) or reward the kids afterwards with a slice of pizza or something else from one of the many eateries on and around Main Street.
Delaware River Heritage Trail: Crystal Lake Park to Roebling
This fantastic new section of the Delaware River Heritage Trail will formally open once the crossing over the River Line train track is completed (this spring?). For now, you can still ride several miles. Park at Crystal Lake and follow the trail on its U-shaped route through the park, along a stretch on quiet road (or jump on the sidewalk) and back to trail that goes under U.S. 130. You’ll reach the railroad crossing soon after.
For a shorter segment, start in Roebling along the Delaware River and head north to the railroad tracks.
Once they are formally joined, this will be a jewel and hopefully accelerate further development of the Delaware River Heritage Trail that will one day go to Palmyra; you can cross to Pennsylvania there using the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge or continue to Camden and the Ben Franklin Bridge to Philadelaphia.
For now, if you’re comfortable with a few miles on the road, start your ride in Bordentown near the River Line station and the current start of the heritage trail. Take Farnsworth Avenue, then turn right onto Bordentown Road.
Bonus: From Bordentown, you can head north on an orphan section of the D&R Canal for several miles until it ends at Canal Road, which in turn leads to Lamberton Road by the Delaware River. For the more ambitious, you can bike on quiet roads and trails all the way to the baseball stadium. I’ve ridden it in the other direction. And here’s my experience biking just between Riverside and Roebling.
Ready for an overnight ride? Read my list of 5 great trail-heavy overnight bike trips