Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park Trail Itinerary

New Jersey

At a Glance

Name: Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park Trail
Length: 72.8 Miles
Trail activities: Fishing, Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Walking, Cross Country Skiing
Counties: Hunterdon, Mercer, Somerset
Surfaces: Asphalt, Crushed Stone, Dirt
State: New Jersey

About this Itinerary

Once a path for mules and horses towing cargo along the canal, today the 69.5-mile Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park Trail (DRCSPT) is one of the most popular recreational areas in New Jersey. Located in the central part of the state and following alongside two canal systems, the Main Canal, which stretches from New Brunswick to the capital in Trenton, and the Feeder Canal, which follows the Delaware River from Trenton to Frenchtown, the trail provides an ideal car-free way to explore an historically and culturally rich portion of the Garden State.

Built in the 1830s, the canal was used for barges to haul coal from Pennsylvania to New York City. Eventually railroads made the barges obsolete and the canals were abandoned. In addition to providing the state with a recreational haven, today the canal is used to supply water to a large portion of central N.J. The canal and park are part of the National Recreation Trail System, and provides an important wildlife corridor that offers shelter for 160 species of birds and other animals. For visitors, the route offers charming scenery including quaint wooden bridges, 19th-century structures, remnants of locks, and stone-arched culverts, as well as providing a peaceful and flat trail through historical small towns, rural countryside, and bustling urban areas.

Our itinerary tackles this 69.5-mile route in three days, all roughly 20 miles one-way. (Note that a 6-mile section south of Trenton is not included in this itinerary since it is not connected to the main trail. Refer to the Canal State Park website for details on accessing trailheads.) After heavy rains, it is possible that sections of the DRCSPT will be impassable. Before setting out be sure to also check the park website to learn of any closures or trail conditions that will impact your itinerary.

In Princeton, stay at Homewood Suites. Located just steps away from the trail and not far from the downtown area, this reliable chain property is an ideal base for trail users. It is not in the heart of the downtown, however, so if proximity to shops and restaurants takes priority over trail access, there are a wide range of options in Princeton to meet your taste and budget. This property, however, allows bikers to leave the car behind and set off directly from the hotel for two of the three days of riding. Enjoy amenities such a hot breakfast, fitness center, indoor pool, and laundry service. The hotel offers studios, as well as one- or two-bedroom suites with spacious living and sleeping areas.

A view of the trail

Bike rentals are available in downtown Princeton, less than one mile from the trail, at Jay’s Cycles. The shop offers full repair services as well as rentals of road and mountain bikes (the latter of which is recommended for the canal trail). Rentals include a helmet and lock. Be sure to reserve in advance.

Day 1

Today’s route includes biking 20 miles from Homewood Suites to the trail’s end in New Brunswick and back (40 miles round-trip.) After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, set off with full water bottles. To reach the trail, take a right from the hotel and a left on Mapleton Road. Follow the road along until you see the connector to the trail on your right (this is less than a half mile from the hotel). Follow the path that will take you over the canal to the DRCSPT. Once on the trail, turn right to head north. The canal will be on your right and Carnegie Lake will be on your left.

Just north of Princeton, find several of the trails’historical sites. In Kingston, see lock #8, the lock tender’s house and station, and a mill site. Farther along, find Griggstown Mill. This scenic spot features a wooden canal bridge, the muletender’s barrack’s building, the bridgetender’s house and a mill. Here you will also find Griggstown Canoe and Kayak Rental, should you wish to explore the waters. Farther along, in Blackwell Mills, find another historical canal house. All of these picturesque sites give visitors a sense of what life was like during the canal’s heyday and are worth a short visit.

Following along the canal, the route heading north is quiet and fairly rural until you reach the town of South Bound Brook about 17 miles along. Here you will find a number of businesses close to the trail, including J&G South Bound Brook Diner. This classic diner serves breakfast all day as well as offering a full lunch and dinner menu. To reach it from the trail, turn right on to Route 527/Main Street and bear left after crossing the bridge. Follow Main Street for about three blocks and take a right on to Cherry Street to find the diner. In the next block down, farther along Main Street, find several additional restaurants options as well as a couple of convenience stores.

Back on the trail, continue following it along until it ends in New Brunswick. Although the route is never far away from busy highways, retail and industrial areas, and residential neighborhoods, the DRCSPT is largely sheltered from these surroundings and feels much more remote than it actually is. The trail ends close to Buccleuch Park in New Brunswick, where restrooms and water fountains can be found (to reach cross over the canal). Retrace your route and return to Princeton.

Once back in Princeton, head to the downtown area for a refreshing treat. Considered to have some of the best ice cream in the area, visit The Bent Spoon. Offering fresh baked goods, gelato and ice cream, there is something here to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth.

For dinner, outside of the center of Princeton in a residential area, find the popular neighborhood Mexican restaurant, Tortuga’s Mexican Village. Known for large portions, and offering classic Mexican-style dishes using fresh ingredients, this popular local spot. The restaurant is cash only, however, so be prepared.

Day 2

Today’s ride includes 22 miles to the town of Titusville. Retrace your route to the trail and turn left to head south. Shortly after setting out find the Princeton Canoe & Kayak Rental. This is another rental outfitter that allows visitors the opportunity to experience the canal from a different vantage point. Consider this for a late afternoon activity upon your return, or on another day during your stay in the area.

Continuing along, you will come to some of the least scenic sections of the trail. On the outskirts of Trenton, find yourself riding alongside Route 1, a decidedly more modern day avenue of transportation than the canal. The route does a jog across a busy road, under roadways, along the back of an industrial area, and around residential development before reconnecting to a more lush landscape. While the city of Trenton does not conjure up the image of a biking haven, the route the DRCSPT goes through is considered to be generally safe. It is an urban area, however, so use your judgment and do not continue riding in any sections that make you feel uncomfortable. We do not recommend riding this section, or any of the DRCSPT, in the dark (the trail officially is open from sunrise to sunset anyway).

Another view of the trail

An additional note regarding the trail in Trenton is that this stretch has the one portion where riders might be confused. The trail divides for almost two miles before rejoining again, although it is not apparent that this is the case. On the eastbound route the trail is marked with an arrow pointing to ‘The Greenway’and another to ‘The Trail.’While both routes end at the same spot, the trail follows the canal and can be a little tricky to navigate as it goes through a residential neighborhood. The Greenway is more secluded, but is as the name implies, a greener route. The westbound route is not marked, but with the above description it should be clear which route is which. In the western end of Trenton, the trail becomes a lot less urban and much more park-like as you head out of town and begin following alongside the Delaware River.

Our stopping point for today is at the Titusville trailhead, just past the Patriot’s Crossing Restaurant. The restaurant is also the perfect place to stop for lunch before retuning. Here you will find a variety of pub-style dishes including soups, salads, and sandwiches. To reach it, as you are heading north, turn right at Washington Crossing-Pennington Road, and find the restaurant on the corner. This area is the site of Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware. The town directly across the river is Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, and farther past the restaurant, you will find Washington Crossing State Park. This is the site of Washington’s landing with the Continental Army on Dec. 25, 1776, just before marching on Trenton. The park is located about a half mile away (with a slight uphill) and offers a museum exploring the many facets of America’s revolutionary conflict, with an emphasis on the campaign which made the area famous. The park also features a nature center, an observatory, and numerous walking trails. After a relaxing lunch and time exploring, retrace your route and return to Princeton.

For dinner, relax with a carafe of wine and savory pasta or pizza at Teresa’s Caffe Italiano. This neighborhood trattoria, located in the heart of Princeton, offers simple Italian fare made with fresh local ingredients, most of which is grown at the owner’s nearby farm. Enjoy the warm and inviting atmosphere of this casual eatery.

For classic steakhouse dining, look no further than Witherspoon’s Grill. Featuring prime Angus beef and fresh seafood, this Princeton restaurant features a refined, yet casual setting, with such favorites as lobster mac and cheese, braised short ribs, juicy burgers, and a raw bar. Also enjoy an award-winning wine list and an extensive craft brew menu.

Day 3

Today, drive about 18 miles to the trailhead in Titusville from which you had turned around at yesterday, to bike the remaining 23 miles to Frenchtown. To reach the trailhead, take US 1 S, merge on to I-95S via the ramp to Philadelphia and take the exit toward Lambertville. Merge onto River Road after about 2.5 miles, turn left onto Washington Crossing-Pennington Road, and right on to River Drive. Look for the trailhead on your right.

Today’s route travels alongside the Delaware River and is a lot more rural than other portions of the trail. This section follows the former rail bed of the United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company. Built in 1855, the line was used until the late 1970s. While industries along the river fell into decline leading up to the abandonment of the railroad, and the towns’fortunes went along with them, today this region has seen a resurgence and the towns along the route are vibrant, artistic hamlets, rich in history and culture. First along is Lambertville, a picturesque spot with a compact downtown filled with shops, galleries, and restaurants. Take a break here to enjoy some of the town’s amenities and soak up its quaint, historic charm. See many restored 18th- and 19th-century homes in a town bustling with a creative vibe from the many artists who live in this revitalized area. Find several restaurants located close to the trail, including Caffe Galleria Restaurant & Market, which features both a full-service restaurant as well as an espresso bar serving drinks and snack type foods. To reach it, turn right on Bridge Street and take the first left on to Union Street. The restaurant is located in the middle of the block on your left.

As you continue, the trail parallels Route 29 and passes though the town of Stockton, where you will pass Prallsville Mills. This is a 19th-century mill complex containing a sawmill, a gristmill, and a linseed oil mill. The trail ends just slightly farther along, north of Frenchtown. Similar to Lambertville, Frenchtown is filled with historic charm, and is well worth time exploring the many shops and restaurants and wandering the downtown area. To reach the core of the town, turn right on Bridge Street (as you head north), and find several businesses along this stretch, as well as along Race Street, which veers off to the left several blocks down. Before leaving the trail, however, you will notice The Bridge Cafe. This lovely little restaurant is located in the once busy rail station, and offers spectacular sweeping views of the Delaware River and the Frenchtown-Uhlerstown Bridge. Enjoy a scenic lunch of a gourmet sandwich or salad and top it off with a fresh ice cream or a specialty drink such as a chocolate egg cream. Indulge, as you still need to return to Titusville!

Day 4

Should your schedule permit, spend a day exploring the multitude of cultural and historical attractions in the area. The Princeton University Art Museum features an expansive collection of more than 92,000 works ranging from contemporary art to antiquities with a focus on American, European, and Latin American artists. The museum offers a permanent collection as well as a rotating schedule of special exhibits. Founded in 1882, and located on the grounds of Princeton University, the museum is free to the public. Spend time wandering the galleries and afterward stroll the grounds of this beautiful Ivy League campus.

Experience fine dining in an historical setting at The Peacock Inn. Located in the heart of Princeton in a colonial-style mansion with a modern and stylish decor, this is the spot to enjoy a memorable lunch or dinner. Consistently voted one of the best restaurants in town, the menu changes seasonally and features New American cuisine, with a focus on fresh local ingredients. The inn also features six luxurious guest rooms, which is an option for those who are looking to stay in the heart of town and are looking for upscale lodging.

Located on more than 2,700 aces in nearby Hillsborough, visit Duke Farms, one of the largest privately-owned parcels of undeveloped land in the state of New Jersey. The property features a lake, water features, a sycamore allee, and barns. Visitors will find a tranquil refuge within which to explore extensive grounds, participate in a number of educational programs, enjoy a casual lunch, learn about sustainability efforts on the property, and to see a wide variety of orchids and tropical plants in The Orchid Range. The estate was established by James Buchanan Duke and developed further by his daughter Doris Duke, who reopened the grounds to the public after decades of closure.

Visit the last remaining British military barracks in North America at the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton. In 1758, during the French and Indian War, the Old Barracks was built by the New Jersey colony to house British soldiers. From March 1777 until the treaty of Paris in 1783, the building was a military hospital, largely dedicated to inoculating Continental Army soldiers with smallpox. This was considered to be the first successful mass-inoculation in Western history. Tour the site and learn more about American colonial life through an excellent guide and interpretation program.

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Outfitters/Bike Shops

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