Biking to Duke Farms has been on the list for a while.
But if we wanted to benefit from the calmness of the D&R Canal towpath for much of the ride, the trade-off would be some stretches of busy road. Would it be worth it?
We have a verdict: Yes. And a few improvements could make it even better.
We met a friend on a hot Sunday morning by the Griggstown Causeway on the D&R Canal towpath (also part of the East Coast Greenway). There’s parking there if you want to drive but even more parking near Route 518 and the canal if you want a longer bike ride. Or start even further south — Princeton, perhaps?
We chatted away as we biked 8 miles on the canal towpath, making way for oncoming riders, dog walkers and joggers. Love that shade! Then we reached the Manville Causeway, which took us from the canal to over the Millstone River and into Manville, once a one-company town and today a town we know better for flooding badly during those once-in-a-blue-moon storms that seem to happen a lot more frequently.
We eyed the right turn we needed to make on Main Street. Two lanes in each direction. No shoulder. Not great. But we only needed to go half a mile before the left turn onto Roosevelt Avenue. Plus it was Sunday morning and once traffic cleared through the traffic light, we had a lane to ourselves. There is a sidewalk on the last stretch, but it would be nice for those who feel nervous if it went the entire way.
Or is there a way over the railroad tracks using the side roads? We didn’t spot one, but perhaps there is a secret bridge?
A few more turns, going past the high school and a Ukrainian church, and we’re at U.S. 206. This was our other big question, but at least there’s a shoulder. Our mapping software wanted us to use the traffic light to cross the road there — but why? It turns out there’s a sidepath skirting the Duke Farms property — in need of some TLC (repaving!) but fine for anyone not looking for speed. No glass or debris despite only a gradual elevation from the road, so maybe that’s good enough?
We took the shoulder on the road, though. Again, on a Sunday morning, this 0.4-mile stretch was no problem.
However, our final last half-mile to Duke Farms on Dukes Parkway West would benefit from a multi-use path. Impatient drivers on a narrow road would overtake us, seemingly oblivious to oncoming traffic. (Admittedly, we also encounter this when we’re driving.) Can you avoid it on other days using the path off U.S. 206 to Conservation Lane?
We arrived! (Here’s the route.) We’ve biked around Duke Farms before. A planning note: On Sundays, it’s closed except for the farmers market in the main parking lot. We realized this on Saturday night!
I had my heart set on peaches … but most are picked while they’re still firm. It took some time, but the vendor found us three soft ones. We bit in .. ah, what flavor! .. and had peach juice dribbling down our chins and fingers.
The wood-fired pizza looked tempting, as did the croissants. But our friend is on a carb-cutting mission … so we opted for freshly grilled kielbasa on a stick. I tucked four cans of Jersey cider into my bike jersey pockets and my bikepackking bag.
Next up: a beer at Flounder
Had we found the best way to bike to Duke Farms?
We had mapped out a different way home — retrace our route for the first 1.6 miles and then aim for Sunnymeade Road and eventually Amwell Road and Flounder Brewing’s new home in a 250-year-old barn, a total of 5.7 miles from Duke Farms.
The new location and its beer garden was another place we’d had on our bike list. It’s a lovely spot, with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating and a more extensive choice of drinks than in the old industrial park. Just no food, in keeping with New Jersey law for breweries, unless it’s pre-packaged (what the distillery next door does) or via a food truck (which are sometimes there). A shame a New Jersey law is restricting the number of music events breweries can have; I’m still regretting havinf missdded the Simon and Garfunkle tribute band.
To my surprise, this option wasn’t better than going through Manville, and not just because of the headwind. The roads weren’t overly busy but still busier than I expected. And the roads didn’t have shoulders. Plus the towpath was flatter.
We headed back to the Griggstown Causeway using Willow Road, which mostly had bike lanes — yay! — and Belle Mead Griggstown Road. Straightforward. But to be honest, I’d have opted for meeting up with the route we’d used to get to the former Flounder site that cut through neighborhoods and, yes, involved more turns. A little quieter and a little flatter. And perhaps a bit more shade on a hot and humid day.
There’s another option — to take Amwell Road for about 2.5 miles back to the canal towpath. If I was just going to Flounder, this is probably what I would do. I’m figuring this is another not-so-quiet road, but it looks like there’s a shoulder the entire way. We test it out next time.