On an overcast Friday in August, I traveled an hour to hike The Princeton Woods – Princeton Battlefield State Park – Hike #24 in the book Hiking New Jersey. I am history-challenged so I had no idea that there was a battle between the British and George Washington’s army. This made this hike doubly interesting since I was able to learn something along the way
This hike was one of the best and easiest hikes I have ever done. There were no slopes, trails were wide, it was quiet and peaceful, saw deer, frogs, birds, grasshoppers, and only encountered two other people along the way. Also, there was a very clean bathroom at the beginning of the trail by the Thomas Clarke House’s shed!
The only negative was that trails are not clearly marked at all so I spent most of the time feeling lost and a bit stressed that I was wandering around aimlessly and would never find my way back to civilization.
You start the hike by walking behind the Thomas Clarke House. You will find the trail behind the circular field (on the right side). Right away you will see that the trail is wide and well-maintained.
You will also notice no signage or tree markings. In the book, it says things like “You will arrive at the Trolley Track Trail.” Um, says who?? There are no signs stating that. There must be an invisible map somewhere that I am not privy to.
You will quickly notice while traveling along these pathways that there are many intersections not mentioned in the book. As I was trying to follow the directions, I attempted to stay on the trail they describe but had to guess at which way to turn many times. At the beginning the guesses were logical (turn right to go further into the trees instead of turning left to head back to the parking lot). However, once you were deeper into the hike, it was very difficult to figure out which way was the correct way to go.
Anyway, the first bit of wildlife I spotted was only about 2 minutes into the hike. I saw some grass on the path move and found this little guy.
Soon after I reached the five-point intersection and a huge open field. I took a few steps forward to view the field and spotted this group of friends. They stood there watching me until I walked away.
Finding the right trail to continue on my way was a matter of luck. I suppose I should invest in a compass since directions are sometimes in the form of “turn north”. I try to base cardinal directions on the placement of the sun but when the sun is high in the sky, that becomes quite difficult! I chose the trail directly to the left of the field which if you count the five points clockwise from where you reach them with the trail you are standing on as 1, it would be number 3, the field would be number 4.
As I continued down the trail, I met this guy.
Further along that path, I found the hanging bridge and attempted to cross it with Mimi in her pouch and Eli leading the way. Unfortunately, the bridge was a real swinger and its walkway leaned into the river so we turned around about a third of the way in. I’m sure most people would be thrilled to hear if Eli took a dive off the bridge into the river, but I didn’t want him to meet his maker that day.
We also stopped for a snack and a quick rest.
The next instructions were to turn right onto the Pipeline Trail (again, why they are named, I don’t know). This was where I saw the only two tree markers on the entire trail. Information is that the trail is “a real wide red-shale lane”. Well, the beginning of the trail is overgrown with grass, so again, I wasn’t sure if I was making the right choice of trail picks.
The next few directions of the hike are really unclear. I made a wrong turn but fortunately it led to a dead end so I was able to backtrack. It was during this section that I finally heard a person in the distance. I was more confident now that I knew I was at least near civilization and at the very least could walk on a road back to the car if need be.
While I was walking on the trail feeling lost, I came upon another intersection. I stopped to read the directions and finally figured out that I was indeed on the correct trail and was at the 2.2 mile direction – cross through the trees over some boards and pass through a red barn and a house – talk about not obvious!
This area where some of the greatest minds walked is a good place to stop at the picnic table and take a break.
Then it’s back to the trail! Entering back in at mailbox 330, the trail is wide and obvious. You are now at the final leg of the hike, closing your circle and are very close to the parking lot (but can’t see it). Once you join the bike path, you will be in a very pretty flowered field – the Princeton Battlefield.
You should definitely head across the field (perhaps stopping at the lone bench to enjoy the beauty around you) and explore the Colonnade across the street. This area reminds you of the seriousness of the events that occurred on that land and makes you stop and think.
I then crossed the street again at the crosswalk (a nice truck even did as he was supposed to and stopped to wait for me to cross!) It was then that I explored the area in front of the Thomas Clarke house and read the kiosks – very informative and interesting!
I want to go back to this area one day soon and explore the side trails….now that I know that you are never very far from civilization, and I won’t get lost forever! I also want to brave the hanging bridge and go explore the other side (with Eli in his pouch so he doesn’t fall into the water – sorry to disappoint!)
Here are a few bonus shots from the day.