The New Jersey Audubon’s Plainsboro Preserve is a real gem and one of my favorite local places for a quick escape from the daily grind. At one time this land was an active quarry, but now it is about 1,000 acres of protected natural habitat teeming with wildlife located in the suburban community of Plainsboro, New Jersey. If you live in central New Jersey and are looking for a nice place to spend an afternoon reconnecting with nature, the preserve is a great choice.
At the center of the Plainsboro Preserve is McCormack Lake. Several of the preserve’s trails provide views of the lake from different vantage points, including the popular Maggie’s Trail which is only about a quarter mile long but leads out onto a peninsula and provides nice views of the lake from all sides.
While it is not a challenging place to hike with its relatively mild terrain, the hiking is quite enjoyable nonetheless and if you are lucky you will see a variety of wildlife. There are multiple trails of varying lengths and most of them can be done as a circuit around the preserve. I have used RunKeeper to measure my hikes in the preserve and found that if I do all of the trails available it works out to about five miles.
The thing I enjoy most about the trails here is that they are all different lengths so I can customize my hike based on how much time I have. If I have a lot of time I will do them all but if I have only an hour or so to kill I might just stick to one or two of them.
Another nice thing is that all of the trails have their own distinctive feel. Some of the trails like red and green go through woods that are mostly old growth beech trees while the blue trail goes through a mixed growth forest with a lot of ferns and skunk cabbage covering the forest floor.
The Plainsboro Preserve is definitely a place to bring a camera. You never know what kind of wildlife you will encounter. I have been fortunate to see all sorts of animals though I am still holding out for the elusive river otters! You can see some of the photos I have taken at the preserve in my Plainsboro Preserve photo set at Flickr.
If you live in New Jersey and have not done the Mt. Tammany hike you have been missing out. This hike has it all – spectacular views, beautiful scenery, cascades (waterfalls), and is very easy to get to.
Simply put, this is one of the more enjoyable hikes in New Jersey.
To get there you want to take route 80 west- the parking area is less than a quarter mile from the Delaware river crossing. You will want to look for signs that say Dunnfield Creek Natural Area. The parking lots are literally right off the side of route 80 and hard to miss. If you park in the first lot the trail head starts with some stairs at the far end of the lot. In the second lot the trail head starts with stairs right near where you pull in.
The blaze for this part of the trail that ascends Mt. Tammany is a red dot which is typically painted on a white square. The ascent can be pretty rough if you are out of shape as you ascend pretty rapidly and there are a few rocky parts early on that can be a little steep.
I unfortunately did not keep track of distances to key points on the trail but ultimately that information is not too important as it will become obvious when you get to certain points of the trail.
There are two really amazing views on the red dot portion of this hike – one you will get to about half way up or so which looks out over the Delaware River and route 80 below and then the summit which has a beautiful view of the whole Delaware Water Gap.
The summit is a great place to stop for a bit, relax, eat and drink and just enjoy. Don’t expect to have it all to yourself. There is a chance you might but this spot is very popular and on the day I went there were five of us enjoying the summit.
Once you are ready to move on you will see the blue blazes. This is the trail that descends the mountain. There are parts where the descent is quite rocky and it can sometimes be wet so make sure you pay attention to your footing.
While not as spectacular as the views from the summit, the scenery along the blue trail is not too shabby either. There are some clearings that on a nice sunny day make for good break spots just to take it all in and enjoy the clean air. I found the diversity of foliage and the contour of the land on the descent to be enjoyable.
You will keep following this trail and as you get closer to the end of the blue trail you will hear water from one of the small cascades in the area. At this point the blue trail ends and you are now on the green trail where you will be in a beautiful location with cascades that makes for some nice photos.
This is another spot that I spent a bit of time in. Rested up, drank some, and just took it all in. This area around the cascades is absolutely gorgeous. I imagine on a really hot day that the ice cold water might be nice to take a dip in.
Once you leave this spot and go down the green trail a little bit you will come to the bridge that crosses Dunnfield Creek. Once you cross the bridge, here is where you decide if you want to go on a longer hike or not.
If you have had your fill of hiking, you will want to turn left and follow the white blaze of the Appalachian Trail all the way back to the parking area.
Should you choose to go on make a right and follow the white blaze of the Appalachian Trail as you ascend the Kittatinny Ridge. This part of the Appalachian Trail is deceptive because when you first get on it from the green trail it is a clear, flat dirt path with few rocks but once you ascend a bit there are a couple of switchbacks and it gets quite rocky in parts.
This part of the hike is long but pleasant. The terrain changes around a lot, and the foliage is quite varied. Unfortunately again I did not measure specific distance per segment of the hike but I believe this part was the longest. Probably a few miles.
I followed the Appalachian Trail all the way until I got to Sunfish Pond – you will know when you get there since it is a pretty large body of water. Once I got to the pond I chose to go around the east side. It is not the Appalachian Trail on that side but there is some distance you can do on a fire road. I chose to stay near the shoreline. There can be some snakes around here so be careful of where you step as they do not appreciate you stepping on them. Nothing to really worry about – just need to be aware that they are there.
I hugged the shoreline until I met back up with the Appalachian Trail on the other side and continued on a bit until I decided to play it safe and turn around for the hike back as I wanted to make sure I got back to the parking lot while there was still adequate light in the woods.
My total hike ended up at a little over 12 miles and took me a good portion of the day but it was worth every minute.
Here are a few of the links I used as my guide when plotting out this hike: