Grand Tour Trail/Laurel Trail Loop


This loop hike traverses remote sections of this park, passing through dense thickets of mountain laurel and holly.

3.5 hours
Easy to Moderate
6 miles
Route Type:
Allowed on leash
First Published:

Daniel Chazin


Hartshorne County Park, Atlantic Highlands NJ. Photo by Daniel Chazin.


View Hartshorne County Park in a larger map

Trailhead GPS Coordinates
Driving Directions

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 Holly Thicket Tunnel. Photo by Daniel Chazin.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 Tangled Vines. Photo by Daniel Chazin.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 treeTulip Tree growing out of log. Photo by Daniel Chazin. 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.

Comment: Please be relevant, civil, non-commercial.

Loop hikes counter-clockwise from Buttermilk

Hartshorne loop hikes from Buttermilk (Navesink Road) are best hiked counter clockwise. Trails are poorly marked, and many unmapped access trails from nearby roads add to the fun of feeling lost. For a schematic, take an eight by eleven sheet of paper. Draw two parallel 6 inch horizontal lines, 2 or 3 inches apart. Connect them at the ends, and twice in the middle. Write fire road across the top horizontal. You now have 3 boxes, three loop hikes from Buttermilk parking at the top left, with the fire road at the top. I call them the 1-hour trail, the 1-1/2 trail, and the 2-hour trail. Below the third box, the one on the right, add a fourth box below it. You now have two loops for a 2-hour trail, a slightly longer middle loop (longer due to a more winding trail) and a lower loop. Above the fire road is the water tower. I rarely walk there, finding much less spiritual enrichment at the water tower and the multitude of access trails than I find in the loops below the fire road. To the right of your schematic are roads, one cinder-gravel leading down south, one blacktop leading up north to the Rocky Point loops (Portland Road access). The Rocky Point loops are much better mapped and self-explanatory. The Rocky Point blacktop loop, walked clockwise, has excellent views of the ocean and bay access. The woods trails in this loop are nice, too. If you really think you are missing something in the height of land around the water tower, stop by the Twin Lights lighthouse on the drive in to Rocky Point instead for a dramatic 240 degree view of the ocean, the City, and the bay. Back to the Buttermilk loops on your schematic, they are best walked counter-clockwise immediately out of Buttermilk, because there are bay views close by and ocean views off in the distance when the leaves are down along the height of land about half-way into the 1-hour trail. Go to google maps, and your schematic four boxes will become confusing, but trust them. The fire road runs east west across the main ridge, with a very slight northwards arc easily visualized on google. The schematic 1-hour and 1-1/2 loops below the fire road are correct. They simply need to be morphed, pushed and pulled like elastic man around what shows on google (but not in the woods) as Tan Vat road. The 1-hour trail loop is pulled hard down and back up (to the 3-way intersection) then hard back down again. The 1-hour trail continues left, counter-clockwise at the 3-way intersection at the top left of Tan Vat on the google map. The 1-1/2 hour trail goes right at this 3 way-trail intersection and then turns hard left again down below just before the maintenance area. On the 2-hour trail, middle loop, when you run into the black top road on the right of the schematic, do not go left on the blacktop road. Go back about fifteen or thirty feet, continue up that dirt trail to the fire road, and the very mild height of land on the way is one of the finest moments in the park. If you go up the blacktop instead, you will still meet the end of the fire road on the left. The Buttermilk section fire road has a very nice 150 year old unused carriage road ambiance to it, and now is a nice wide woods road. All counter clockwise loops from Buttermilk return along the fire road. The 1-1/2 hour trail and the 2-hour trail do not meet at a 4 way intersection incorrectly indicated on your schematic, but rather at two 3-way intersections. The lower loop 3-way intersection is below (before) the middle-loop 3-way intersection (walking counter-clockwise). Erase this 4 point intersection on your schematic. Move the junction of the lower loop a half-inch to the left to join in on the 1-1/2 hour trail, and your two 3-point intersections here now will be correct. Continue counter-clockwise at both of these 3-way intersections for the 1-1/2 hour trail. Pick up a map at the kiosk, and between that and your schematic, you should have a reasonably good understanding of the park.