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Grand Tour Trail/Laurel Trail Loop
This loop hike traverses remote sections of this park, passing through dense thickets of mountain laurel and holly.
Easy to Moderate
Allowed on leash
Trailhead GPS Coordinates40.401826,-74.012382
Take the Garden State Parkway south to Exit 117. Bear left beyond the toll booths and continue on NJ 36 for 11.5 miles. After passing through Atlantic Highlands, turn right at the exit for Red Bank Scenic Road, then turn right at the stop sign onto Navesink Avenue. Continue for 0.3 mile to the Buttermilk Valley parking area for Hartshorne Woods Park, on the left side of the road. (Do not turn right at the intersection of Memorial Drive and Navesink Avenue in Atlantic Highlands.)
Most trails in this park (including the two that make up this hike) are open to joggers, bicyclists and equestrians. Although park regulations provide that bicyclists must yield to all other trail users, hikers should be alert for approaching bicycles on narrow trails. Hikers must yield to equestrians.
From the parking area, proceed ahead to a large trail map posted on a kiosk and turn left onto a wide sandy road that proceeds north, parallel to Navesink Avenue. After going around a barrier, follow the road as it curves to the right and ascends gradually through an oak forest, with some mountain laurel. Beyond the crest of the hill, the road descends to a junction, marked by signposts, in about half a mile. Here, you should turn left onto the Grand Tour Trail, which follows a sandy gravel road. (A signpost designates this trail with a black diamond, indicating that it is rated as "challenging"; however, the rating system is designed primarily with bicyclists in mind. For hikers, the trail is of no more than moderate difficulty.)
Soon, the trail bears right at a split-rail fence. It ascends gradually on a winding footpath through mountain laurel thickets, and crosses a crushed-stone service road. Near the top of the hill, it again crosses the road. The elevation at this junction, 268 feet above sea level, is the highest on the trail. Just to the left – at the southwest corner of the fence that surrounds a water tower – is the highest point in the park, 274 feet above sea level.
Follow the Grand Tour Trail as it descends on a sandy road, soon crossing the Cuesta Ridge Trail, which follows a wider road. The Grand Tour Trail continues to descend gradually. Soon, it narrows to a footpath and enters the remote Monmouth Hills section of the park.
The winding trail descends to a junction. Continue straight ahead, following the sign for the Grand Tour West. The trail now passes through thick stands of holly, with the trail tunneling under the holly at one point. It continues through an area with tangled vines. After curving to the right, the trail reaches a junction marked by a signpost. Here, a side trail leaves to the left, but you should continue ahead, following signs to the "trailhead." The trail passes some more holly trees and tangled vines and soon reaches another junction marked with a signpost (this junction is not shown on the park map). Here, a side trail to the left leads out to Hartshorne Road, but you should turn right, following the sign to the "trailhead."
After passing more tangled vines, the trail arrives at a junction. Here, you should turn left and proceed uphill past several huge trees. After descending a little, the trail continues to ascend on a winding path to the crest of a hill, with limited seasonal views to the left over the Navesink River. The trail now begins to descend, going through an area with many trees downed by Hurricane Sandy and passing a wooden cabin on the left. Just beyond, it reaches another intersection. This is the lowest point on the trail, 40 feet above sea level. Here, the trail turns right on a sandy road, passing houses to the left. Soon, the road narrows to a footpath and passes through mountain laurel thickets.
In another quarter of a mile, to the left of the trail, watch carefully for a tulip tree that appears to be growing out of a horizontal log. The most likely explanation of this unusual feature is that the tree was blown over when young, but its roots remained intact and an upward-pointing branch continued growing as the new trunk. The trail now climbs to reach a junction with the Laurel Ridge Trail. Here you should turn left and follow the Laurel Ridge Trail, which proceeds along the side of a hill, with views through the trees of the ridge to the east. It continues through mountain laurel thickets, with some holly trees.
After traversing an area with dense holly trees and tangled vines, the trail curves sharply to the right and begins to ascend, now heading northward. Leveling off on the crest of the ridge, it reaches a junction (marked by a signpost) where a side trail to the left leads to the Claypit Creek Overlook. Follow this side trail through dense mountain laurel to the overlook. The view has largely grown in, but during leaf-off season, there are views through the trees of Claypit Creek, the Navesink River, the Oceanic Bridge and the Rumson Peninsula.
Return to the main trail and turn left. The Laurel Ridge Trail now begins to descend, first on a stone-bordered switchback, then through mountain laurel thickets. With paved Hartshorne Road directly ahead, bear right and follow the trail as it heads north. After climbing a little, the trail descends rather steeply to the kiosk at the Buttermilk Valley parking area, where the hike began.