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Franklin Parker Preserve Loop
Follow a blazed network of sand roads (dikes) and footpaths through scenic cedar swamps, wetlands, pine forests, along canals and rivers, through old cranberry bogs and along a bald eagle habitat at a reservoir.
NJ Turnpike South to exit 7; keep left at fork after tollbooths and merge onto Route 206 South. Continue about 17 miles to the traffic circle. Take the 3rd exit from the circle on to NJ-70 East. In 1.4 miles turn right on New Road then in another 1.4 miles continue on Patty Bowker Road. In 2.1 miles continue as the road becomes Chatsworth Road/County Road 532. In 7.3 miles turn right at the Franklin Parker Preserve sign just before County Road 532 veers left at Chatsworth Lake.
Lace up your waterproof hiking shoes for this hike where you will encounter some soggy trail sections and a couple of somewhat challenging water crossings.
Facing the gate at the far end of the parking lot, look to the right for three red diamond markers, the start of the red-blazed trail. Turn right here and continue through lovely pine forests reaching Bertha’s Canal in .3 mile. The trail now turns left and follows along the bank of this scenic and peaceful waterway. As you hear the sound of rushing water and pass a conservation easement sign start looking for the trail to turn sharply away from the canal to the left – the turn is not marked so it’s easy to miss. If you reach the source of the sound of falling water – a small dam, you just missed the turn.
The trail now meanders through wetlands, sometimes involving a little creative footwork to avoid stepping in pools of standing water. At 1.1 miles cross an unmarked woods road then abandoned railroad tracks. The red trail emerges at the open area of the A. R. DeMarco Cranberry Meadows Natural Area briefly before turning back into the woods. When the trail comes back out at the cranberry bogs, it makes a right turn on a sand road joining together with the green trail, which comes in from the left.
The combined red/green trail follows a packed sand road through the cranberry bogs. If there is snow on the ground, watch for beaver tracks crossing over the sand road between the bogs and canals. At 1.8 miles climb the observation deck, built upon an old pump house, for unobstructed views.
Descend from the observation deck and continue following the combined red/green trail for another .4 mile until the trails split. Turn right on the red trail as the green trail continues straight. This will be a more interesting section between two canals while still running parallel to the green trail. At a dilapidated cinderblock building leave the red trail by turning left and crossing the canal over to the green trail on an unmarked sand road. Turn right on green just the other side of the canal and watch for the red trail to join in from the right. You could have stayed on the red trail at the old building but it would involve a very difficult, if not impossible canal crossing to connect back over to the green trail. Just after red comes in from the right, follow red as it leaves the green trail to the left as a footpath through an area of pygmy pines.
In .4 mile stay with the red trail as it merges to the left briefly with the green trail coming in from the right as a sand road, then leaves the green trail to the right again as a footpath.
The next time the red trail meets back up with the green trail at 3 miles into the hike, it will be at the intersection with birdhouse number 13. Turn right on green here as the red trail continues straight ahead. (For a 6-mile hike, continue on the red trail, which will loop around back to the parking lot in another 3 miles.)
In a quarter of a mile the green trail turns right at a T-intersection then in a short distance it turns left and crosses over a canal. Once over the canal, continue straight with the woods to the left and the cranberry bogs and “Northgate Road” post sign on the right. In .15 mile follow the green-blazed sand road to the right as it heads towards a cinderblock building. There are no blazes along this stretch but continue beyond the building on the left then two sand roads on the left, one right after the other. At the next 4-way intersection turn left and the green markers will resume.
At 4.05 miles continue straight on the white-blazed trail when green leaves to the left along with the other direction of the white trail. In .2 mile keep straight on white when a blue-blazed connector trail starts to the left at a bench. Very soon Bald Eagle Reservoir will come into view on the left. Keep an eye out for the resident bald eagles along this stretch. At 4.8 miles cross an interesting “bridge” that resembles a giant computer keyboard. You will have to step carefully on the concrete squares as some might be slightly under water. Stop for a complete view of the reservoir from the observation platform with a picnic table and telescope, visible off a short side trail to the right, 5 miles into the hike.
At 5.45 miles the white trail makes a left turn and runs parallel to paved Route 563 until it reaches a kiosk and the yellow-blazed trail at 5.6 miles. Turn right here on the yellow trail, cross over Route 563 and continue beyond a second kiosk and a gate. Shortly after the gate turn left on a blue-blazed connector trail.
At 6.4 miles when the blue trail ends at the yellow trail, turn left on yellow. This section of the yellow trail may be very wet in places. In just under half a mile, cross back over Route 563 and continue on the yellow trail, now a narrower footpath, meeting up with the scenic West Branch Wading River at 7.2 miles, an area with noticeable beaver activity. A short distance ahead keep left at an unmarked clearing then right at an unmarked fork. Yellow blazes will come back into view within a few steps.
At 8.1 miles arrive at a sand road intersection where yellow turns left. At this intersection look to the right for 3 blue blazes, the start of another blue connector trail. Turn right on the blue-blazed sand road. In a quarter of a mile turn right on red when red crosses over blue. The red trail, a footpath, will run parallel to the green trail (sand road) for a while.
Along this section of the red trail you will find a couple of tricky water crossing on branches piled over. Although it doesn’t look like they will hold much weight, it is possible to cross over without getting wet but watch your step! A nice suspension bridge provides a smooth, high and dry crossing at the 8.8-mile mark. The trail will now become surprisingly hilly, at least relative to the completely flat terrain up to this point.
At 9.1 miles the red trail turns right to meet up with the green-blazed sand road, then leaves downhill to the left as a foot path again. At 9.3 miles the red trail crosses over water on a board. The old abandoned railroad tracks are crossed again at 10.25 miles and in less than a quarter of a mile the red trail terminates at the parking lot opposite where the hike began.
Turn by turn description
[ 0.00] Facing the gate, turn right on the red-blazed trail
[ 0.35] Red-blazed trail begins to parallel Bertha's Canal
[ 0.70] Just after conservation easement sign watch for red trail to make sharp left turn before reaching the dam (turn not marked)
[ 1.10] Cross unmarked woods road then abandoned railroad tracks then enters cranberry bogs
[ 1.35] Red trail veers away from bogs back into forest
[ 1.55] Cross foot bridge back towards cranberry bogs then turn right merging with green trail on sand road
[ 1.80] Observation deck
[ 2.00] Pass bench on right
[ 2.20] Turn right on red leaving green as green continues straight
[ 2.30] Turn left at old cinder block building on unmarked, cross over canal then turn right on green (Note: To continue straight on red would involve a canal crossing which is not doable; red meets back up with green the other side of that crossing.)
[ 2.45] Watch for red to come in from the right at canal crossing merge briefly with green then leave to the left - turn left on red here through pygmy pines
[ 2.70] Cross over canal
[ 2.85] Stay on red as it turns left merging with green on sand road then turn right on red as it leaves green as a foot path
[ 3.00] When red crosses over green (sand road) at bird house #13, turn right on green
[ 3.05] Keep left on green at fork when unmarked goes right
[ 3.30] When green turns left over canal, keep straight towards Northgate Road sign so woods are on the left, bogs on the right.
[ 3.45] Green turns right and leads to a cinder block building - keep straight passing by building and two sand roads immediately after the building to the left, one right after the another. There is no blazing in this section but it is the correct route.
[ 3.60] At next intersection turn left and green blazes resume
[ 3.90] Green trail turns right and crosses canal then turns right again
[ 4.05] Keep straight on white (sand road) when white/green goes left
[ 4.25] Keep straight on white when blue goes left at a bench
[ 4.75] White trail turns left at a bench
[ 4.80] Cross reservoir on concrete squares
[ 4.90] Turn right then left to observation deck; retrace and continue right on white
[ 5.05] Turn right on white after passing observation deck
[ 5.45] White turns left and parallels paved Route 563
[ 5.60] At kiosk turn right on yellow, cross paved Route 563 and continue straight on yellow
[ 5.70] Pass another kiosk and walk around gate, continue briefly then turn left on blue into pine forest
[ 6.10] Blue trail turns right on to a sand road
[ 6.30] Blue trail leaves sand road to the left
[ 6.40] Blue trail ends at the yellow trail, turn left on yellow
[ 6.85] Cross straight over paved Route 563 and continue on yellow
[ 7.20] Yellow trail begins to parallel Wading River
[ 7.30] At clearing keep left (no blazes)
[ 7.35] Yellow blaze visible in opposite direction, at fork veer right - blaze not immediately visible but after a few steps comes into view on right
[ 7.95] At T-intersection yellow turns left away from Wading River; a few steps later yellow turns left again
[ 8.10] At clearing turn right on blue connector trail (sand road) when yellow turns left on sand road
[ 8.35] Turn right on red (foot path) when red crosses over blue
[ 8.65] Cross water on sticks and twigs
[ 8.75] Cross water on sticks and twigs
[ 8.80] Suspension bridge
[ 8.95] Two benches on left
[ 9.00] Hilly section
[ 9.10] Stay on red as it turns right on sand road merging with green briefly then leaves to left downhill as green continues straight on sand road
[ 9.30] Cross water on board
[ 9.45] Red trail skirts clearings
[10.25] Cross abandoned railroad tracks
[10.45] Back at parking lot