With the autumn season officially upon us after kicking off on Tuesday, Sept. 22 with a slight crisp to the air, now is the perfect time to get outdoors, get moving and take in the breathtaking fall foliage that our area will soon have to offer. Cooler nights will be greeted with bonfires and blankets and days will be spent enjoying the autumn air as we embrace the change of seasons. Parks and trails throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties make the perfect backdrop for fall hikes with invigorating trails and breathtaking views to admire all season long.
ALLAIRE STATE PARK
Allaire State Park spans both Wall and Howell townships and is best known for its historic 19-century ironmaking town, Allaire Village, as well as its antique steam trains on the Pine Creek Railroad. The Manasquan River winds through the park with a floodplain that provides habitat for more than 200 species of wildflowers, trees and plants as well as habitat for birds and other wildlife. Hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders alike enjoy the many trails in the park.
A perfect place for hitting the trails, Allaire State Park offers over 20 miles of official, blazed trails in both the main area of the park near Allaire Village and on the south side of the park next to Hospital Road. The trails closer to the historic Allaire Village are for hiking only. Most of the trails around the village and family campgrounds are relatively flat, but the trails on the south side offer a little more variety without going over 60 inches of change in elevation.
CATTUS ISLAND COUNTY PARK
Cattus Island County Park, 1170 Cattus Island Boulevard, Toms River, spans 530 acres and seven miles of trails. Hikers can take in the unspoiled beauty the park has to offer by taking a leisurely walk along the main trail to the beach or walk a trail and enjoy many lovely vistas of Barnegat Bay. Park hours are currently daily from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The upcoming autumn season is the perfect time to hike Cattus Island’s trails to witness the beauty of the fall foliage. Join a Cattus Island naturalist for one of the park’s time-honored traditions of free weekend nature walks at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays beginning on Oct. 3. At Cattus Island County Park, nature enthusiasts as well as hikers can experience the wonders of the park’s three distinct ecosystems: the forest, the salt marsh and Barnegat Bay.
Clayton Park, 161 Emley’s Hill Rd., [Imlaystown] Upper Freehold offers six miles of forested, hilly trails, which have become a popular destination for hikers, equestrians and bicyclists. Clayton Park is a rustic 450-acre site located amidst the rolling farmland of western Monmouth County and the property is known for stately stands of red and white oak, beech, ash and birch trees.
A perfect destination to take in fall foliage as you hike your way through the trails. The park is open at 7 a.m. daily and closes at 8 p.m. through Sept. 30. From Oct. 1 to 28 the park will close at 7:30 p.m. and from Oct. 29 to 31 it will close at 7 p.m.
DOUBLE TROUBLE STATE PARK
Double Trouble State Park is an 8,400-acre park in Ocean County that is located on the eastern edge of the Pine Barrens and offers a 1.5 mile nature trail as well as many unmarked trails along sandy service roads. Double Trouble State Park is a phenomenal example of the Pine Barrens ecosystem. The Double Tree Village area features a functioning cranberry farm and visitors are urged to be careful around the cranberry bogs and reservoirs.
Double Trouble State Park Nature Trail starts next to the cranberry sorting and packing house on the east side of Double Trouble Village. Both natural and historical items of interest are delineated by the 20 numbered posts along the Double Trouble Nature Trail. The 1.5 mile walk should take 30 to 40 minutes to complete. Double Trouble State Park and Double Trouble Village grounds are open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk.
Hartshorne Woods in Monmouth County is a hilly and forested 794-acre site that overlooks the Navesink River and features more than 14 miles of trails, with challenging options. The site includes the Navesink Military Reservation Historic District, the 224-acre site of a former military base. Hartshorne Woods is among the highest elevations along the Atlantic Coast, which made it a desirable defense site that hosted a number of different land air-based military installations to defend New York Harbor and surrounding areas.
Park features include group cabin camping by reservation, cross country ski trails, fishing in the Navesink River and trails for walking, hiking, biking and horseback riding. The park can be entered from Navesink Avenue, Locust or Portland Road in the Highlands. Home to the most extensive and challenging series of trails in the park system, hikers are advised to stay on marked trails, plan their route, take a trail map and wear appropriate safety gear. The park is open at 7 a.m. daily and closes at 8 p.m. through Sept. 30. From Oct. 1 to 28 the park will close at 7:30 p.m. and from Oct. 29 to 31 it will close at 7 p.m.
HENRY HUDSON TRAIL
Henry Hudson Trail is a paved, 10-foot wide, 24-mile long trail that is a former railroad right-of-way in Monmouth County. The trail is relatively flat traveling through both man-made and natural environments. While much of the trail is tree-lined there are portions that have views of surrounding wetlands, streams and fields. The northern trail section runs 12 miles just north of and parallel to Rt. 36 from the Aberdeen/Keyport border at the intersection of Lloyd Road and Clark St. to the Leonardo section of Middletown/Atlantic Highlands border at Avenue D. After sharing the road, the trail resumes at the Atlantic Highlands Marina and continues along Sandy Hook Bay to Popamora Point on the Atlantic Highlands and Highlands border.
The Henry Hudson Trail offers a wonderfully changing landscape as it traverses the county from the marshy regions of the Bayshore [Atlantic Highlands to Aberdeen] to the woods and fields of Marlboro and Freehold. The varied scenery, as well as the beautifully maintained conditions, are just two reasons why this trail was selected to be part of the National Rails-to-Trails Network. According to the Monmouth County Parks site, the park system is proud to have earned this distinction, along with other unused rail corridors that have been transformed into vibrant community recreational trails.
Holmdel Park, 44 Longstreet Rd., Holmdel is one of Monmouth County’s most popular locations for active recreation and nature appreciation. The 619-acre site features ten miles of trails including a half mile paved loop linking the Pond View and Forest Edge areas of the park with group picnic facilities and playgrounds.
Enjoy hiking at the level of your choice with the park’s various trails. Holmdel Park’s walking trails wind through the shady woods and rolling hills and there is a fitness trail as well. The rolling terrain will challenge some hikers. The park is open at 7 a.m. daily and closes at 8 p.m. through Sept. 30. From Oct. 1 to 28 the park will close at 7:30 p.m. and from Oct. 29 to 31 it will close at 7 p.m.
JAKES BRANCH COUNTY PARK
Jakes Branch County Park, 1100 Double Trouble Rd., Beachwood is known as “The Gateway to the Pines” and offers both active and passive recreation opportunities. The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Walk the discovery playtrail or hike and bike Jakes Branch County Park’s eight plus miles of nature trails.
SHARK RIVER PARK
Another popular destination in Monmouth County, Shark River Park, features more than 8 miles of trails. Shark River Park is located at 1101 Schoolhouse Road in Wall Township. Plants and animals common to the wetlands/floodplain ecosystem, as well as the pine/oak forest habitat, can be spotted from these trails.
In addition, a fitness trail is available for hikers, which includes 8.27 miles of trails. The park is open at 7 a.m. daily and closes at 8 p.m. through Sept. 30. From Oct. 1 to 28 the park will close at 7:30 p.m. and from Oct. 29 to 31 it will close at 7 p.m.
WELLS MILLS COUNTY PARK
Wells Mills County Park, 905 Wells Mills Road, Waretown has the distinction of being the largest park in the Ocean County park system with 910 acres of pine and oak forest within southern New Jersey’s environmental marvel known as the Pine Barrens. The park features miles of hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty for hikers to choose from. The park is designed to be a passive-recreation facility with 16 miles of marked hiking trails.
The gorgeous Wells Mills Lake also has trails around it, which makes a nice option for a leisurely stroll through the 900 acres of Pine Barrens that are located within Wells Mills County Park. Wells Mills County Park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.