A canal was built through central New Jersey in the 1830s as a transportation route between Philadelphia and New York City. It shortened freight travel by 100 miles and prevented boats from having to journey into the ocean. Coal from fields in eastern Pennsylvania traveled by this efficient route during much of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The canal also helped support the thriving potteries of Trenton and other local industries during this time. This main artery of the garden state is dotted with bridges and cobblestone of days gone by. Explore a route rich with history as we discover the longest biking trail in New Jersey!
The Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park Trail
The Delaware and Raritan (D&R) Canal State Park Trail is the longest multi-use trail in the state of New Jersey. Cyclists share the route with walkers, joggers, hikers, and riders on horseback. The trail begins near Frenchtown and after making a V-shaped route through the state, winds up in New Brunswick. It follows along the D&R canal, either on former towpaths or along the path of the former Belvidere Delaware Railroad. This historical canal winds under wooden bridges and beside old bridge tender houses. Hand-built stone culverts and cobblestone paths also dot the route.
History of the Longest Biking Trail in New Jersey
The majority of the canal and its surrounding areas is now a New Jersey state park, designated in 1974. Mules used the towpath alongside the canal to tow barges before the advent of steam-powered barges. When the canal was a vital transportation vein, it was a tool of industry within a mostly rural landscape. These days, as worded by the research director of the New Jersey Historical Commission Howard Green, “it is one of the most beloved parks in the state a sinewy, snake-like greenway through one of the most heavily populated parts of the world. It has gone from being the machine in the garden, to being garden in the machine.”
Converted for use as a multi-use trail, this former towpath is now the longest biking trail in New Jersey. The portion of the trail that runs along Delaware is a former rail line. The D&R Canal State Park Trail became a National Recreation Trail in 1992. It is part of the East Coast Greenway, which is a long route that connects Maine to Florida.
Navigating the D&R Canal State Park Trail
The recommended route begins in the northwest where parking is available at Old Frenchtown Field in Frenchtown. However, there are dozens of access points along the route. The D&R State Park website provides a map of the canal, while the Rails to Trails Conservancy provides a handy trail map for biking it.
Historical concrete mileage markers dot the way along the canal. The two numbers indicate the miles between these markers and the ending points of Bordentown and New Brunswick. There are also mileage markers that indicate every half mile starting in Trenton at the Battle Monument.
Frenchtown to Trenton
The trail begins just northwest of the town of Trenton near the borough of Frenchtown. It passes through Stockton, Lambertville, Titusville, and Ewing Township before reaching the midpoint of Trenton.
Trenton to New Brunswick
The trail runs northeast from Trenton through Lawrence where you can make a connection to the Lawrence Hopewell Trail. It then approaches the area of the Princeton University campus and passes through Kingston and Franklin Township before reaching the final destination of New Brunswick.
How Long Does it Take to Ride?
You can complete this ride in one day if you’re in great physical condition and have arranged for transportation back to your starting point. Otherwise, it would be best to break the trail up and complete it in sections or to stop and find accommodations along the way. With so many access points, it’s really up to you how you experience the trail. Riding the trail over a period of several days is recommended so that you can really soak up the rich sights and sounds of the area.
What Type of Bike Can I Ride?
A hybrid or mountain bike is recommended for this trail. However, a road bike may also be acceptable. The trail is paved within the capital city of Trenton, which marks the middle of the trail. As it runs along the canal, the majority of the trail is a surface of finely crushed stone laid over hard-packed dirt. While much of the route is well-maintained, there may be rocky and muddy sections to navigate at times.
Conditions of the Trail
As the majority of the trail runs alongside the canal, flooding and other damages can sometimes occur making the route unsuitable for biking. The state of New Jersey state park website is the best place to look for trail conditions. It will notify of any closures and provide detour routes if applicable.
Elevation & Difficulty of the Trail
The D&R Canal State Park Trail is flat from end to end with no perceptible variation in elevation. Since this is a flat and well-maintained route it’s an excellent choice for beginners and seasoned riders alike. This incredibly scenic trail can be crowded at times. If you’re looking for a fast ride, you may be disappointed during these times as they require riders to slow down and navigate carefully.
If completing the entire length of the trail it is important to be well prepared for the distance. Plan ahead by ensuring that you have your maps, understand the route, have checked the current conditions and have all the snacks, water and other supplies you’ll need for the journey!
Wildlife on the Longest Biking Trail in New Jersey
The D&R Canal State Park is an important wildlife corridor that links together many forests and ecosystems. According to the state park’s website, a recent survey found 160 species of birds within the area, so keep your eyes on the skies and watch for rare birds. You might spot various waterfowl, turtles, fish, and frogs in and around the canal. Perhaps you’ll catch sight of the elusive beaver or one of its famous constructions. Red foxes are a rare sight but do live in the area. Deer are abundant and you may spot them grazing the grasses alongside the canal. Squirrels and eastern chipmunks are natives of the area that you’re sure to see scurrying alongside you as you ride.
Bring sunglasses, not only as protection from the sun but as a way to keep flying insects out of your eyes as you fly down the path. Mosquito spray is essential as you bike alongside a waterway where they can be abundant. In the spring watch out for racer snakes as they dart across your path! Bicycling can bring you into a state of harmony with the natural world as you travel at a rate that’s aligned with your surroundings. So have fun exploring and be sure to respect the territories you traverse along your way.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Pavel1964
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- New Jersey State Park Service, Available here: https://nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/drcanalstatepark.html
- D&R Canal State Park, Available here: https://www.dandrcanal.com/
- Bike It or Hike It, Available here: https://bikeitorhikeit.org/delaware_and_raritan_canal.htm
- TrailLink, Available here: https://www.traillink.com/trail/delaware-and-raritan-canal-state-park-trail/
- Community News, Available here: https://www.communitynews.org/princetoninfo/coverstories/the-garden-in-the-machine-the-d-r-canal-is-central-jersey-s-hidden-gem/article_5c6324c4-c191-518d-8bd9-810f9c837f3c.html
- D&R Canal State Park, Available here: https://www.dandrcanal.com/images/maps/DRparkmap.pdf