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Cheesequake Hardwood Forest Loop
Cheesequake State Park has a variety of ecosystems. This three mile loop through a northeastern hardwood forest, up and around a number of small ravines, gives the hiker some peace in the middle of a very densely populated area.
Allowed on leash
Views, Fees, Birding, Wildflowers
From the GSP in either direction: Take Exit 120 make a right towards Matawan at the end of the exit ramp (ramps from both directions end up on the same side of the road) and follow to the first light. Make a right onto Morristown Road. At the next light make a right onto Gordon Road and follow road into the park.
From Route 34 Heading South: Make a left onto Morristown Road, right after Big Ed’s BBQ and where there is a Sunoco on the corner. Go down to first light, make a left onto Gordon Road -- the street name signs are a little confusing, just make the left and follow the signs to Cheesequake Park.
From Route 34 Heading North: Make a right turn onto Disbrow Road, which is the light immediately south of the Marketplace Shopping Plaza and north of the Berg Animal Hospital. Make a right at the end of Disbrow Road onto Morristown Road. Make a left at the first light onto Gordon Road -- the street signs are a little confusing, just make the left and follow the signs to Cheesequake Park.
Once in the park past the toll booth and ranger station (there is a fee from Memorial Day through Labor Day), go up about a half mile past the first parking lot and past a big field on your right to the first fork in the road. Bear right. Just after the first curve will be a small parking area for ten cars on the right. It is not pictured on the trail map. The trailhead is here, identified with a map and big marker that reads: “Multi-use White Trail”
Though the park has a variety of ecosystems including swamps, salt and freshwater marshes, and Pitch Pine, this three mile loop on the White Trail is mostly through hardwood forest. It is the only trail in the park that allows mountain biking and it is the most hilly of all the marked trails. (Although, be warned, this is the northern Jersey Shore after all, so “hilly” is a relative term). Note along the way the many bike-related structures such as small bridges and beams that have been put there for/by mountain bikers. Just be cognizant of them as you hike. There will be the occasional biker, plus traffic noise from the Parkway, but this trail tends to have little foot traffic. If you go early on a weekend end morning or any time off season, it can be very peaceful. I find this a great get-the-day-started hike and also, if you carry a backpack, an excellent conditioning hike without having to travel an hour or two to find some elevation.
Be mindful, this winding trail loops back very close to itself several times so it is very easy to miss a turn. If you stray or cut across or go back to find the intended pathway, you may see a white blaze, but it could be a totally different section.
About a hundred feet past the White Trail trailhead, you will come to the first of many forks. Either direction is fine as this is a loop, but I prefer to do the section nearest the Parkway first, so go left at the fork. (NOTE: there is a white blaze leading to the right fork, I am not sure why there isn’t one to the left.) You will see white blazed posts all along this trail, though not always where they are most useful. At this point the Parkway will be off to your left.
In a quarter mile or so, the trail bears sharply left into a small boggy area, follow the blazed post with an arrow.
Beyond the turn, after going around a small ravine, is a random white-blazed post off the trail. The Parkway will be slightly in front of you. Bear right. After a small incline, at about a half mile, will be the closest spot to the Parkway on the hike.
The trail meanders for another quarter to half mile or so, up and around several small hills. At this point, with the Parkway slightly behind, you will start to see a meadow up ahead. You may see people walking with dogs on a service road that is on the other side of the meadow. The trail banks sharply to the left – there is a trail marker and arrow. The trail will follow this direction, with the Parkway off in the distance on the left and the meadow on the right for another half mile or so, as it loops around the meadow. If you are here at dawn or dusk there is often a herd of white-tailed deer grazing. You will also pass a fenced-in nursery enclosure that has some birdhouses and a blue tool shed-like building. The middle of the meadow is about a mile into the hike.
At the edge of the meadow the trails starts bearing right and becomes slightly hillier. You will encounter very short split of the pathway – the white blaze is on the left hand side but either leads to the same place. The Parkway is now in back of you as you leave the meadow area. Shortly after that you will come to a dirt road that you will be crossing several times. From where you are standing you will see white signs across the road – but that is for a later section so do not worry! For now, follow the white blaze sign that points left, onto the dirt road. After a hundred feet or so, another white blaze sign points left towards the woods.
Continue up a short incline. You will see a number of old fence posts, presumably to warn folks about the steep drop into a ravine to the left of the trail. Another quarter mile or so, full of short ups and downs and going around many steeper drop offs, and you will have made a big “U” and returned to the dirt service road again. Go left. Follow the dirt road and as you near its end you will see a parking lot through the trees ahead. This is the GSP Exit 120 commuter parking lot. People also park here to gain access to this trail so you will see lots of off shoots from the main trail to and from the lot. At the end of the road, you will see a white blaze with an arrow pointing right. It does not mean turn around and go back down the road J; the trail turns very sharply right and continues back on itself hugging the road. So now the dirt road will be on your right, the Parkway will be behind you and a little to the right. This is at about 1.4 miles.
A few hundred feet ahead is another fork. To the right is just a shortcut to the dirt service road. Stay to the left and on the White Trail. There is no blaze at the fork (of course) but there is one further up. After a few gentle inclines and descents, you will find yourself in a very grassy, flatter area with lots of maple trees. You may see cars from Gordon Road (the road leading to the park entrance) ahead. This part of the trail is slightly less winding than earlier.
The trail will then bank to the right, and Gordon Road will be on the left. After a few hundred feet, the trail will bank to the right again and back into a more hilly, wooded area, leaving the grasses behind. After another quarter mile or so, once you start seeing the paved service road to your right and a ravine on your left, you will be at about the two mile mark. The trail will start to twist and turn yet again.
Shortly thereafter you will reach what appears to be a fork in the trail, just after a large pile of logs to the right. There is no blaze marker here, though this would be a helpful spot for one. Go around the big tree and then to the right. A marker will be along the trail in 50 to 100 feet. Several hundred feet further ahead is a white arrow painted on a tree pointing left, away from the service road.
The trail will continue paralleling the service road for about one-third of a mile. A spot very near the road will be muddy at times and with numerous bike tracks through it. Just make sure you look up ahead to see the white blaze post and stay straight, do not go off onto the service road or left into the woods. After the muddy intersection, you will pass through a much smaller grassy area, and then face another confusing and potentially muddy spot. Stay straight: do not go onto the road. You will then see a fork. To the left is a bike trail down a short but steep hill. The White Trail pathway actually switchbacks up the hill the front of you. This is largest elevation gain of the trail, at about 2.3 miles into the hike.
Partway up the hill you will overlook the rest of the grassy area we passed through before. This a good vantage point to spot deer. Mountain Laurel is to your right – very pretty in the spring.
After the hill you might hear traffic noise from Gordon Road up ahead again and see some houses. Just a note – the last house on Gordon Road before the park entrance is a kennel, so do not worry if you suddenly hear barking dogs. At 2.5 miles you will reach the paved service road. Make a right to follow the service road for about a third of a mile before making a left returning to the dirt pathway.
After you follow the meandering trail for another third of a mile, you will pass several very large blown fallen trees, and then you will start hearing Parkway noise again and be able to see the pathway you started on below you. Once the loop is completed you will see the parking area ahead. NOTE: Before the trail ends meet up there will be a (final!) fork. If you go off to the left it will wind to the left until it meets the service road a few hundred feet away from the parking lot. If this happens, just make right at the road and you will soon see your car.
Date of hike: October 9, 2011