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Cheesequake State Park Loop
This loop hike passes through diverse habitats, including upland hardwoods, pine barrens, fresh-water swamps and an Atlantic white cedar swamp.
Easy to Moderate
Allowed on leash
Cheesequake State Park map (available at the park office and at the Interpretive Center)
Take the Garden State Parkway to Exit 120 (be sure to stay in the local lanes south of the Raritan Toll Plaza). Turn right at the end of the ramp and continue to the first traffic light. Turn right at the light onto Morristown Road, then turn right again at the next traffic light onto Gordon Road. Follow Gordon Road as it turns sharply left and continue ahead, past residential subdivisions to the left, into the park. You will pass a toll booth (an entrance fee is charged from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend) and the park office. Continue for 0.1 mile beyond the toll booth, and park in the trailhead parking area on the left side of the road. GPS address: 300 Gordon Road, Matawan, NJ 07747.
The park -- located in a transitional zone between New Jersey's southern and northern vegetational types -- has four marked hiking trails, blazed in yellow, green, blue and red, respectively. This hike will follow the Green Trail, which is the longest and most interesting of the park's trails, proceeding for most of its route through a protected natural area. The Green Trail is sparsely blazed for much of the way, but there are green blazes at all intersections and important turns in the trail. In addition, green blazes on brown wands indicate each tenth of a mile along the way.
All four trails begin at the large trail map at the southern end of the parking area. Soon after the start, the trails fork. Bear left and follow the blazes downhill along a wooden boardwalk with many long steps. At the next intersection, the Yellow Trail continues straight ahead, but you should turn left, following the green, blue and red blazes. After crossing the first of many wooden bridges you'll encounter on this hike, the trail heads uphill to the park's Interpretive Center. You will want to stop here to view the informative exhibits and obtain a trail map.
Continue ahead along the trail through the hardwood forest. You will soon reach a spot with a view through the trees over the Cheesequake Salt Marsh to the right of the trail (the view is obscured by vegetation in the late spring and summer). Continue downhill on wooden steps and a boardwalk, then climb a long flight of wooden steps. Just beyond the top of the steps, the Blue Trail leaves to the right, but you should bear left, following the green and red blazes.
After paralleling a ravine on the left, the trail descends wooden steps to cross a bridge over the ravine. Soon, the trail climbs some more wooden steps, levels off, and crosses a sandy road known as Perrine's Road. Just beyond the road, the Red Trail leaves to the left, but you should bear right to continue along the Green Trail.
After another level stretch, the trail climbs a little, then bears left at a fork and descends rather steeply, passing a beautiful stand of tall phragmites (swamp grass) on the right. Next, it descends wooden steps to cross a fresh-water swamp on a long boardwalk, the end of which has been built around several large red maple trees.
At the end of the swamp, the trail climbs wooden steps and bears right. Soon, it goes down to cross another boardwalk which passes through an Atlantic white cedar swamp, with dense thickets of sweetbay magnolia. Here, a layer of clay beneath the surface traps the water and prevents it from draining off. After crossing this interesting and unusual swamp, the trail continues through deciduous woods, crossing a boardwalk over a wet area. It climbs over a ridge and descends to cross Museum Road, another sandy road.
NOTE: Due to severe damage that the boardwalk over the Atlantic white cedar swamp sustained during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, the trail section across the swamp has been closed and is expected to remain closed until late 2013. In the interim, the Green Trail has been rerouted. After climbing the steps at the end of the fresh-water swamp, the Green Trail bears left and follows a relatively level footpath to Museum Road. It turns right and follows the road for about 0.2 mile, then turns left at a sign and gateway for the Green Trail, reenters the woods, and continues as described below.
After crossing the road, look for several large 150-year-old white pine trees on the right side of the trail. After another level stretch, the trail climbs over exposed tree roots, ascends wooden steps, and bears left at the top of the rise. It descends gradually, turns right to cross a ravine on a wooden bridge, then turns left to cross a smaller ravine on another bridge and continues ahead on a level path.
After descending on an eroded path through a shallow ravine, the sandy Museum Road is visible straight ahead. Here, the Green Trail bears right, as an unmarked trail joins from the left. Just beyond, you will notice a depressed area to the left of the trail. This is the site of the former park museum, built in the 1950s but never used. The building – after which Museum Road is named – was demolished soon after it was constructed.
The trail bears right to skirt a low-lying area with deciduous trees on the left, often flooded during periods of heavy rain. Just beyond a huge fallen oak tree, the trail turns left and proceeds across the low-lying area on a long boardwalk. After crossing a stream on bridge, the trail bears left and continues to skirt the low-lying area. Soon, it curves to the right and crosses a short boardwalk, with a viewing platform that overlooks a grassy, wet area on the left. The dead trees in this area were killed by siltation from development outside the park that settled into this low area.
The trail now turns left and crosses another boardwalk. It then bears right, climbs over a small hill, and continues along a level footpath. After descending into a ravine and crossing a wooden bridge, the trail climbs to Perrine Road, opposite a restroom building at Gordon Field, a group camping area.
Turn left and continue along the paved road for about 900 feet, passing another restroom building. About 150 feet beyond this building, follow the Green Trail as it turns right at a wooden arch and – along with the Red Trail – follows a footpath into the woods. It skirts to the left of the field, then bears left and descends to Museum Road. Turn right on this road and follow it, past a turnoff to the Interpretive Center, back to the parking area where the hike began.