I suppose my title should actually read, “Hiking with dogs… in New Jersey,” right?
I can’t say I’m an avid hiker, though I other dog owners/parents might agree that taking their dog for long walks is somewhat of an all-around favorite. Hiking is not my favorite, but I love seeing my dogs in nature. Below are a few trails, parks, and watering holes we’ve taken our dogs to. The parks range from local, a short drive, to a little bit of a longer drive. Of course, I have to first list the places we go to in our home base, Jersey City.
Liberty State Park
Liberty State Park is the park of my hometown, Jersey City and boy, do I love that park. I’ve seen it transform over the years, from being underdeveloped to the verge of overdevelopment. I have fond memories of this place and I’m glad that I can now share that with my dogs and hope to share it with my future children. When we come here to “hike”–more like walk–with Benny, we park at the first lot upon entering the park. There is a children’s playground on the other side of the parking lot. We follow the concrete paved trail that leads us into the main park, onto the waterfront and then back to the lot again. Along this trail is also a health course – a handful of park equipment meant for exercise – pull up bars, incline bench for sit-ups, etc. It is actually a welcome feature to the park, which was pretty desolate in the 90’s until it was developed in the past 10 years. The trail is paved with concrete and very easy to walk, especially in the cooler seasons. It is about 1.3 miles. In the summertime, however, the heat and sun can be extreme. Since the redevelopment of the park wasn’t that long ago, the trees along the trail are still very young, which means that there isn’t
much shade at all.
Our favorite and the most beautiful features of this park are because of its location. Along the “trail” that we follow into the main part of the park, is the Interpretive Center, which remains closed after having sustained damage from a really bad hurricane a few years ago.* We like stopping at the Interpretive Center grounds on our way to the main park because the flora and foliage are just gorgeous, I don’t think words can do the scenery justice. There is a bench toward the back of the building faces the marshes and when we’re there, we often spot turtles and different kinds of large majestic birds. The waterfront walkway is along the Hudson River, therefore giving you a panorama view of New York City’s (mostly lower) West Side.
*While the Interpretive Center remains closed, they do offer educational environmental programs.
Lincoln Park, though not very exciting, is worth a mention because, well, its the closest park to us. Lincoln Park is within walking distance from our home. I usually treat the dogs for a walk here when I’m home on winter, summer, or spring break (I work in a school). I enter through a little entrance on Communipaw and Mallory and make my way to the loop around the whole park, which is about mile, I think. Maybe even less. My favorite part about this park is actually its west side, called Lincoln Park West, which wasn’t developed until a few years ago.
Next to the football fields, you can drive over a narrow bridge and into the west side of the park. Alternatively, there’s a footbridge you can walk, too. The bridge goes over 440 traffic and is quite exhilarating. Once you’re at LP West, there are plenty of parking spaces as there are two baseball fields. Woohoo, sports! Amirite? Further past the fields is a huge – and I mean huge – dog park. The dog park has a nice faucet with a hose that is often used to fill up kiddie pools for the dogs to wade in during the summertime. We used to frequent the dog park, but now prefer to just take our dogs for actual walks. Across the lot from the dog park is a little pebble trail that seems to be near or part of the newly built golf course. It is beautiful; there are wildflowers, marshland and a clear view of the Pulaski. Ha! This particular trail is the most secluded, which is best for us and our dogs. We like this trail, though it is important to note that it is not very shady (see: outer part of the golf course), so the sun can get intense, especially in the summertime.
Berry Lane Park
Berry Lane Park was completed and opened only a year or two ago and it is teeny. I think the goal for this was less walking space, but more for utility. When I was younger, I remember seeing the site of Berry Lane Park as I rode the light rail and imagining what could possibly be in those XXL industrial barrels and industrial silos. What could they possibly turn this land into? Fast forward eight years later and it is a neat park with brightly colored benches, playground and workout equipment and most importantly, plenty of garbage+recycling cans. There are also athletic fields, basketball and tennis courts – the works! Like I said, this park seems to be more for utility than anything.
The dog park here is teeny and I wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing Benny here when there are other dogs – that’s how small it is. We often forgo the dog park when there are other dogs in there. Otherwise, it is a great space for practicing commands with our dogs (not that they listen). One of our favorite things at this dog park is that there is a human + doggie drinking fountain!
If we had kids, we would definitely take them to this park. There are so many cool things on the playground and apparently, there is a splash pad in the summertime. The exercise equipment is very cool, plenty, and usable. Berry Lane Park is so beautiful and well-kept that you almost forget that you’re in the hood.
Lastly, Berry Lane Park is easily accessible by light rail, bus, and car. There is ample free parking, which is always a plus.
Steven R. Gregg Park (Bayonne Park to JC residents)
Bayonne Park is bigger than Berry Lane, and probably about the same size (if not bigger) than Lincoln Park. I could be completely wrong if we’re actually counting square footage. From the outside, it looks like a regular park, but alas, it is not! Some fun features for people with human children: lots of playground equipment, a separate playground with water structures, bike paths, etc. This park is beautiful and also a little older with large sturdy trees, which means it is nice and shady! What a reprieve this can be from the hot summer sun, especially with the breeze of the bay.
There is a dog park here, but we don’t go in. Again, we prefer walking around. One of my favorite part about this park is the little boardwalk walkway toward the east side of the park. It leads you into a little wildlife oasis! The boardwalk isn’t that long, but there isn’t much shade so it can feel very hot and long! Along the boardwalk are small watch boxes with eye/peepholes where you can stand by and discreetly watch wildlife. Though there are signs that caution against fishing and eating what you catch, there are often people fishing along the water here.
Ramapo Valley Reservation
Now on to the good stuff! Ramapo Valley Reservation is one of our favorite watering holes. It is a ~ 48-minute drive from where we live in Jersey City. We barely hit Saturday morning traffic on our way here. The drive was smooth and beautiful. We also found parking very easily – and free!
We have never really taken an actual hike here. Rather, we take a short trail (okay, maybe a short hike on the light blue/yellow trail) up to MacMillan reservoir which was beautiful and not strenuous at all. Not even a mile. The hike was shady and had a slight breeze with plenty of other people on the trail, many with dogs, too. What liked about this train was that it was wide! Our dog tends to pull on his leash when he sees other dogs – out of excitement, of course – and there’s plenty of space to manage (or avoid) this kind of behavior. There are two ponds that lead up to MacMillan reservoir. They’re kind of yucky; don’t let your dogs swim in there!
The reservoir is huge. The space around it is huge. Naturally, we congregated near the other dog owners and watched as their dogs paddled in the water. Some dogs swam far and other stayed near the shoreline. Ours, he tested the waters – literally! We mostly kept him on his leash because we were afraid he’d swim out too far, realize he was so far, and then freak. And then, one of us (my partner, of course!) would have to save him. For this reason, I later purchased a 20-foot leash, though we haven’t used it yet. There was a human or two that was also swimming in this reservoir with their dogs. Awww.
The hike back to the car was just long and warm enough to get dry Benny off completely.
Cheesequake State Park
Cheesequake, Cheesequake, Cheesequake. How I hate to love you. We have visited Cheesequake State Park a few times over the years. I love that it has many uses – it has a small lake for families, birdwatching, camping, etc.
We came here for a hike on a July Monday and paid $5 at the entrance. We decided to skip the lake since the last time I jumped in this lake (a few years ago), I ended up with some sort of skin discoloration, but that’s a story for another time. It should be noted that the swimming area for the lake is very small and this lake definitely smells like a lake!
Now on to the hike, but before I go into detail, it is very important to know that you will need bug spray. As a matter of fact, no matter if it is hot or cold, I will always bring bug spray in the future. Here’s why. We hike up to the nature center where there are bathrooms which are surprisingly very very clean, so go before you set foot on any trail! After we hit up the nature center, we walk toward the trails and head off into the blue trail, which was a non-strenuous 2 miles (for us). The trail itself was easy to navigate. The markers were clear and easy to follow. We came across a set of stairs that were actually very high (id distance from each other), so being 4’9″, I had to basically climb on to each step; The other sets of stairs were normal, though.
Now on to the mosquitoes. I should have known something was up when I saw a sign that said, “the bugs are biting” at the entrance toll booth. I write this with the most big-sisterly care I can: BRING and WEAR BUG SPRAY. At 1.2 miles into the hike, we come across this clearing of pine trees where you’re basically walking into a fog of mosquitoes. There wasn’t really any turning back. So, for .5 mile, we fast-walked and swatted our way through and by a pond, where the mosquitoes were the most aggressive and populous. What was I thinking not bringing bug spray when I saw and knew that there were marshes on the map!? Two days later, I was SO itchy and filled with regret!
Lastly, this is a place where you have to take out your own trash. We took our dog with us who also liked the hike. That said, with no trash cans, you will have to carry poop bags with you throughout the hike if your dog does the doo.
If the mosquitoes don’t bother you and/or you are confident in the powers of bug spray, come here. I definitely will be back when the weather is cooler… that’s when mosquitoes are less prevalent, right? Overall, this would have been a five-star hike had I been prepared.
South Mountain Reservation
South Mountain Reservation is a gem! Since we weren’t familiar with the area, we stayed on the Zoo Loop, which only circled the reservoir (called Orange Reservoir on Google Maps). The loop is a very relaxing non-strenuous two miles. It was so easy and scenic, in fact, that it didn’t feel like two miles, so we circled it twice.
We came here on a Saturday afternoon around 2:30 p.m. and surprisingly, while there were people here, it didn’t feel crowded. Parking is across the street and is free! Before entering, you are able to see a children’s park, which we didn’t go to. There is a little picnic/area with tables to eat at the entrance as well as a boathouse and treat shack. The boathouse sold tickets to the paddle boats. From what I can recall, it seemed that the prices were reasonable and if we didn’t have our dog, we would have likely gone for a ride. They also had four restrooms at the entrance – what a treat – really! Two were gender-neutral single-stall bathrooms and the other two were male and female bathrooms with multiple stalls.
A mile into the zoo loop, you have the option to veer off the trail and actually follow a different one. We opted not to. This zoo loop was a cute little walk and we will probably return. The “trail” was paved with concrete, the plants and grass were well kept and there were plenty of benches and cute little Adirondack chairs to sit on along the way. One thing that we noticed that won us over were the signs to pick up after your dog AND poop bag dispensers with poop bags in them! Personally, if you’re a dog owner, you should always have dog bags on you. Its a crime not to, but this place takes the extra step of making sure there is no excuse not to pick up after your dog.
I really liked the fishing areas! They had little spaces along the trail for people to fish – basically, it was just tiled/paved sections of the reservoir’s perimeter – and there were actually people fishing there! I just think the little spaces are nice to sit along the water. Lastly, I liked that there were no bikes/skateboards allowed on the Zoo Loop. Frankly, the trail wasn’t wide enough for pedestrians and bikes.
A few exits along the trail lead to multiple things – McCloone’s Restaurant, other trails, and then to Turtleback zoo. I wonder if Turtleback zoo has free parking… because if it doesn’t then here’s your answer! We will be back here!
And that’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed reading this list of our favorite parks, trails and watering hole(s). Let me know what you think in the comments below!