While New Jersey never fails to keep its residents on their toes with fall weather — hitting us with humid hurricanes, freezing nor’easters, rain, snow, the first frost, a bonus day of beach weather — the foliage is something that never disappoints.
There are many little know facts and best-kept secrets about our magnificent state, but two of particular interest are that New Jersey is tied for the second* most tree cities, as designated by the Arbor Day Foundation, and that it has 881 walking trails, 667 hiking trails and 534 running trails mapped out on All Trails, a popular trail guide. All this to say — there’s no need to trek up to New England to see some spectacular displays of color this fall. Check out our list below for some of the best hiking trails and foliage viewing opportunities within a short drive of the shore area.
*(New York is first with 170 tree cities, and New Jersey is tied for second with Florida at 163 tree cities. So, which eight cities are going to apply next year?)
FOR A STROLL IN THE WOODS
CHEESEQUAKE GREEN TRAIL: This 3.1 mile out-and-back trail near Matawan, gives hikers of all ages an opportunity to take in the fresh fall air and beautiful scenery. Hikers traverse a mix of well-marked trail and boardwalk, with small staircases for elevation changes. The trail is open year round and can even be accessed via cross-country skis and snow shoes in the winter. It not only offers opportunities to view the fall foliage, but also provides ample bird watching opportunities along the way. Bathrooms can be found at the trailhead. Dogs are welcome on leash.
MANASQUAN RESERVOIR LOOP: Take in the quiet of the woods as leaves drift down from towering oaks and other New Jersey natives as you walk this 5.1 mile loop trail in Howell. The trail takes walkers, hikers, bikers, rollers and strollers over a nearly flat, partially paved/partially graveled path through the woods around the Manasquan Reservoir. Fancy a kayak instead of a walk? The area is also open for paddlers, canoers and fishers with the appropriate license. Leashed dogs are welcome on the trail and restrooms are available all along the way. The route is relatively accessible for wheelchairs and strollers, though there are some gravel lined portions of the trail that may require all-terrain tires.
DEVIL’S HALF ACRE, RIDGE AND TRIBUTARY TRAIL LOOP: This 6.1 mile loop in the Sourland Mountain Preserve near Montgomery Township provides more advanced hikers with a two and a half hour adventure through woods, along rivers and across boulder fields to the top of Sourland Mountain for beautiful views. The area is known for nesting bird activity and offers ample opportunity to view the changing colors. The trail is kid-friendly, open to dogs on leash only, and is a popular spot for trail running.
FOR A MODERATE HIKE
ALLAIRE ORANGE TRAIL: This 4.7 mile loop near Allenwood takes hikers through Robert L. Brice Memorial Park along a moderately challenging route. The trail winds through scenic woods, providing plenty of opportunities to view fall foliage. While it’s a fantastic option for walking, the trail is heavily used for mountain biking, trail running and horse riding, so be aware of your fellow outdoors people if you choose to do this one on foot. The trail is reportedly not well marked, but easy to follow, so be sure to check a map before you go or bring one along. Dogs are welcome and are allowed off-leash in some areas.
DOCTOR’S CREEK AND OLD FORGE TRAIL: Birders, hikers and mountain bikers will enjoy this 4.0 mile loop near Cream Ridge, in Clayton Park. The trail takes hikers up and down small inclines, over several bridges and along a pond and creek. The trail is considered an “easy moderate” by All Trails and is accessible for older children or newbie mountain bikers. Tree-lined trails offer fall views and dogs are welcome on-leash.
MACEVOY, CASTLE AND CANNONBALL TRAIL LOOP: This 5.5 moderate loop near Oakland takes hikers, runners and dog walkers through Ramapo Mountain State Forest to spectacular views of the surrounding woodlands along a ridge. It also passes through the ruins of the Van Slyke (or Foxwood) Castle. According to Atlas Obscura, the castle was a mansion, built in the early 1900’s by William Porter, a stockbroker, and later used as a vacation home by his widow, Ruth, and her third husband, Warren Van Slyke. Ruth lived in the castle until her death in 1940. Its last owner abandoned the property in the 1950s. It was torched by vandals shorty thereafter, leaving the ruins that present-day hikers can explore. Dogs are welcome to join the adventure and may be off-leash in certain areas.
FOR THE ADVENTUROUS
MOUNT TAMMANY RED DOT AND BLUE DOT LOOP TRAIL: While this loop only runs 3.6 miles through Worthington State Forest, near Pahaquarry, it’s considered a challenging route, starting the adventure off with a scramble up a steep rocky face. From there, adventurers can make their way to the summit, taking in views of the state forest all along the way, before following the trail down a gradual decline, passing a swimming hole and small waterfalls on the way out of the woods. For those looking for more of a stroll or roll through the woods, there is also a shorter trail that runs along Dunnfield Creek to the swimming hole. Leashed dogs are welcome.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN AND POCHUCK VALLEY VIA APPALACHIAN TRAIL: This 7.5 mile out-and-back trail near Glenwood offers hikers a chance to walk a portion of the trail that runs from Georgia to Maine, through hiked by hundreds each year. The trail starts at an Appalachian Trail crossing and takes hikers across boardwalks, over a suspension bridge and through cow pastures before heading up the “stairway to heaven” — a series of switchbacks over rocky terrain — before reaching a look out point where tired hikers can reap the reward of a gorgeous view. Leashed dogs are welcome.
BATONA TRAIL BETWEEN ROUTE 532 TO ROUTE 72: This is a 14.1 mile out-and-back trek through the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve. According to All Trails, the trail is usually fairly empty, making it great for those who want to be alone with the fall colors. The route winds through the pine barrens, offering plenty of opportunities to view trees at their finest. It passes by a few small ponds and traverses a couple swamps — be aware of when the last rain was and maybe pack a spare pair of shoes for this one!
BATONA TRAIL: For more experienced outdoor enthusiasts, the Batona trail near Chatsworth offers several options for traversing the New Jersey Pine Barrens, from short loops and out-and-back trails to more challenging back country camping and backpacking opportunities. The full point-to-point trail offers 51.3 miles of scenery, taking backpackers through swamps, across streams, along ponds, into the woods and through wildflower fields. The trail is mostly level, though it gently rolls up Apple Pie Hill at one point, which stands 205 feet above sea level. Dogs are welcome on leash and anyone looking to camp must obtain a permit.
LENAPE TRAIL: The 32.8 mile point-to-point walk from Branch Brook Park in Millburn to South Mountain Reservation typically takes hikers about 12 hours to finish. The trail runs through several county and local parks, taking hikers through a small bamboo forest, past a few waterfalls, across a prairie and up summits offering views of the New York City skyline. The trail can provide some challenging terrain, with mud and roots, but is generally well-marked. There are ample water sources along the way and places to camp for those who want to sleep under the stars and listen to the falling leaves.
Before hitting any trail, walking path or foliage viewing site, be sure to check local regulations around dogs, camping, fire advisories, and other safety concerns. Practice good trail etiquette including obeying signs about changes in trail direction, private property, hunting areas and more. Always pack water, sunscreen, snacks and layers, and make sure to pack out what you pack in to help preserve our woods and parks for generations to come.