Washington Crossing State Park

Washington Crossing State Park

Washington Crossing State Park
River Road & Washington Crossing-Pennington Road, Titusville, NJ
Open daily, 8AM - Seasonal Closing Hours (roughly 30-60 minutes before Sundown)
(609) 737-0623   Website    Google Maps     Trail Map GeoPDF

Gravitas:   Challenge:    Proximity:

Special notes for parents
This is a great place to start hiking with your kids. None of the trails is terribly difficult and the ones by the streams are particularly lovely. You can take the history in small doses, or focus on it for the first trip out. In December, the crossing is re-enacted (weather permitting), check website for details. Be sure to leave the dog home for any reenactments, the reports from muskets and cannons are quite traumatic for them.

Washington Walked Here

What’s the closest place to Trenton to get in a reasonable hike? The answer’s simple: Washington Crossing State Park (the NJ Park, not its counterpart on the PA side). It’s only about 8 miles from downtown, a straight shot up Rt. 29 (or you can cycle up the D&R canal, if you’re truly ambitious).

The park is over 3,000 acres, most of it woodland. The trails (and there are many miles of them) are pretty much all rated for “beginners”. There’s no serious elevation gain anywhere, but many of the trails dive in and out of two stream beds that cut through the park, giving you steep little climbs of 25-75 feet or so. Pick out a route that traverses 4 or 5 of those little climbs, and it can turn into reasonable exercise.  (If you’re looking for something a little more challenging, check out the Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain, 5 minutes further up 29 North, or the Sourlands, which is in Somerset County). On the other hand, Washington Crossing stays open during hunting season when, say, Baldpate might be closed.  Some sections of trail are as pretty as any in the county, and the relatively flat topography makes the park well suited to x-country skiing in winter.

Except for the trails right by the visitors center, you will see very few other people (a prerequisite for a “reasonable” hike in my book). One quirk of the trail system is that many of the best trails in the park are unofficial and unblazed. I’ve been hiking here for nearly 30 years, and these trails were well established long before I started. But they don’t show up on most trail maps, except the one we publish, which you can download for free.

Many of the trails are also used by mountain bikers as well.  I’ve been asked by the park’s superintendent to put out the word that mountain biking is prohibited on the blazed hiking trails.   On the ground, this prohibition is not posted (the only indication I can find is a footnote in the park brochure), and is widely ignored.  Cycling is allowed on paved roads, and on multi-purpose trails which you’ll find mostly on the northern and eastern periphery of the park.

Continental Lane tracks Washington’s actual line of march, evoking a real sense of history

As for the history…well of course the crossing was a seminal event, the turning point of the American revolution. For such an important place, the park is a bit of an embarrassment. The tiny visitor’s center might interest you for a few minutes…but there’s really not much there. My favorite “history” spot in the park is to walk along “Continental Lane”. It’s a footpath between the trees (unfortunately paralleled by a paved park-drive for about half its length) that does evoke what the the 18th century “roads” might have been like. Keep walking until the lane enters the forest and starts to parallel a stream, to enjoy its full charms.

Every Christmas, there’s a re-enactment of the crossing (a part of Patriot’s week), which draws a pretty good crowd, and is much more engaging to kids. And it is fun to just look out at the river (of course there were no bridges back then), and the Continental Army had confiscated just about every small boat in the state and pushed it over to the PA side, making the river a real barrier.

There are additional history events scheduled throughout the year on weekends, so it pays to check the calendar. But the hiking is great year round (and if we get enough snow, a rarity in these global-warmed times, you can think about snow-shoeing or back-country skiing).

A note about access. If you drive into the park proper, they may hit you with a parking fee during peak season: Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. The “directions” link here takes you to River Drive and Grant Street. Driving up from Trenton, when you make the right onto River Drive, watch for the parking lot on your right before you get to Grant. It’s part of the D&R Canal State Park system, and it’s FREE (though it gets crowded on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in peak season). You can walk into the park over a pedestrian bridge, and save yourself $5.

6 Responses

  1. Nick Atkeson
    | Reply

    Are park guests allowed to swim across the river from Pennsylvania to New Jersey?
    Editor’s response: I have a vague recollection of no swimming signs on the NJ bank. However, there are almost never any park rangers there. Personally, I wouldn’t want to swim across as speed boats go up and down, and I’d be afraid they might not see me swimming.

  2. Michael Wright
    | Reply

    If you are looking for something different to do in the park, the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton maintains an observatory in the park with two telescopes. The observatory is open for public viewing on Friday evenings from 8:00pm to 11:00pm from April to the end of October, weather permitting. Volunteers from the club show celestial objects through the telescopes and answer questions about our universe. The observatory phone number is 609-737-2575.

  3. Carl Burger
    | Reply

    My dog and I know every inch of the park. Good times. (All these hikes you guys post make me homesick.)

  4. Elle Butler
    | Reply

    People and pet owners be careful, though. Deer ticks run rampant out there. It’s a fantastic walk and the trails are fun, but the warning signs posted are easily missed.

  5. Steven Karl Szmutko
    | Reply

    Ripping people off with their $5 parking fee. Park by the River and walk in that way.

    • Hidden Trenton
      | Reply

      Great minds think alike. If you read our review on the website, you’d see it’s a suggestion we make in the last paragraph. (We try look out for our readers!)

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