Delaware & Raritan Canal Trail, NJ

While on our way for a weekend in NYC, we decided to stop off in Princeton, NJ to bike a portion of the 70-mile Delaware & Raritan Canal Trail.  If your only exposure to New Jersey has been a stressful and decidedly UN-scenic drive along the Turnpike, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this picturesque waterside trail.  

We decided to “put in” just outside of Princeton because a) it wasn’t far from the Turnpike, b) Princeton is a cute town and the campus is beautiful, and c) there was a good brewery there! So we parked at a Homewood Suites a super-short ride from the Canal at the southern tip of Carnegie Lake. The lake actually seemed more like a wide river that bordered the trail on the left as we headed north, while the canal flowed on our right.  So, there were several stretches where we had water views on both sides.

Like a lot of canal trails (maybe all of them on the East Coast?), the D&R was unpaved with varying degrees of gray cinder or yellow pea gravel surfaces. In some places, however, both had been worn away and it appeared to have rained recently, so there were occasional puddles and deep muddy ruts left by bikers before us.

Hey you two, get a room!

We initially headed about ten miles north passing canal locks, stone tender houses, cobblestone spillways (that required us to walk out bikes over), a tunnel, and several wooden bridges.  While it was late July, a scattering of yellow leaves made it easy to image how exceptionally beautiful the trail is in the fall.

At many of the locks, the water rushed through, but on the long stretches in between, the water was placid and only the sound of wildlife could be heard.  In one long patch, a fresh dumping of insecticides or pesticides (yuk!) left a white film that swirled like a Van Gogh painting.

D& R Canal on the left, Carnegie Lake on the right.

Heading south, where the trail was slightly more rustic and grass grew between the two crushed gravel lanes, we came across a number of families canoeing on the canal.  At one point, the canal, the trail and we traversed right through a golf course, where Jim was likely wishing he was comfortably navigating in a golf cart. When we erroneously thought we’d reached the end of the trail, a delightful pair of bikers corrected us, one of whom was a Brit who serves as a trustee on the West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance.  (Cheers to this org for advocating for trail access and safety on behalf of users!)  

We rode and chatted with them for a few miles, learning interesting facts about the area (e.g., Orson Welles based the landing of space aliens in a nearby farm during his infamous broadcast of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds,” and New Jersey was once the telecom capital of the country as home to Thomas Edison, Bell Atlantic and shortwave radio farms during the World Wars).  Who knew? Our newfound biking buddies also described the continuation of the D&R trails down through Trenton (which they didn’t recommend for its slightly seedy urban roads) and back up along the western trail (which they enthusiastically recommended for the cute small towns it passes through).

Following our ride, we decided to visit New Jersey’s first craft brewery, Triumph Brewing Company, in downtown Princeton. (Apparently the name is derived from a 25-year-old rivalry with Victory Brewing Company.) Emerging from a long, dark hallway, we entered a very attractive three-story bar and restaurant with exposed brick, polished wood and deep blue accents. Above the bar on one side of the long, rectangular room stood the gleaming fermentation tanks.  Surprisingly, the number of beers on tap was limited to only seven.  But Kellie found the Hefeweizen to be very refreshing and the Munich Dunkel to be a light-bodied and smooth dark lager.  Jim had the Bengal Gold IPA which lived up to its billing of being assertive with orange and pine notes.

There are 78 miles of trail to write about – and a few more local breweries – so feel free to add your notes in the Comments section below.

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