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Great Swamp Walk in Lord Stirling Park
This relatively level hike passes through lowland forest, runs alongside a river, and crosses swamplands on boardwalks.
Allowed on leash
Take I-287 to Exit 30A (Basking Ridge) and merge onto North Maple Avenue. In 1.6 miles, bear left at the fork onto South Maple Avenue. Continue for another 1.0 mile and turn left onto Lord Stirling Road. Follow Lord Stirling Road for 1.0 mile and turn left into the parking lot for Lord Stirling Park. GPS address: 190 Lord Stirling Road, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920.
Lord Stirling Park is named for William Alexander, Lord Stirling, a general in the Revolutionary War, whose estate included this area. It is situated on a portion of the former Glacial Lake Passaic, which covered the area about 15,000 years ago. As a result, the entire area of the park is nearly level. Sections of the trails can be very wet, so it is a good idea to wear waterproof hiking boots.
From the parking lot, walk to the right of the Environmental Education Center and bear right, following the sign for “hiking trail.” Continue ahead on a gravel path, with Branta Pond on the left and Esox Pond on the right. When you reach the end of Branta Pond, turn right onto a wide grassy path, the route of the Yellow Trail.
Bear right at the next intersection, soon passing a viewpoint over Esox Pond on the right. Turn right at the following intersection and then immediately bear left, still following the yellow blazes. Just ahead, on the left, is the East Observation Blind, which overlooks a wetland known as Lily Pad Pond.
After passing the pond on the left, continue to follow the Yellow Trail as it turns right onto another path that heads east. The trail soon approaches the Passaic River and turns north, paralleling the river. It approaches the river once more and crosses the June Beetle Bridge, then curves left, away from the river.
At the next intersection, turn right and then immediately bear right again. Soon, you’ll begin to follow along the edge of the Lenape Meadow on the left. A short distance beyond, a short boardwalk on the right leads to the East Observation Tower, which offers a view over the Passaic River. It is well worth the short detour.
After enjoying the view, return to the trail and turn right, following the wide grassy path along the edge of the meadow. At the end of the meadow, bear right at a T-intersection. In another 200 feet, a boardwalk begins on the left, but you should continue straight ahead.
After proceeding for a quarter mile through a wooded area, the trail begins to follow al ong stretch of boardwalk. At the next intersection, bear right and continue along the boardwalk as it meanders through the East Marsh, a swampy area with a number of trees. At one point, the boardwalk approaches the Passaic River, with a short spur leading out to a viewpoint over the river. Across the river is the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. After taking in the view, return to the main boardwalk and bear right.
At the next intersection, bear right onto an 0.7-mile-long loop, nicknamed the "Boondocks Boardwalk' after the isolated area that it goes through. Unfortunately, this boardwalk was damaged during Hurricane Sandy, and the section of the boardwalk that traverses La Plus Grande – the most interesting wetland in the park – is now closed for repairs. You’ll have to turn left at a sign for the “new trail” and follow a path through the woods for about 750 feet until you reach the undamaged section of the boardwalk, where you turn left.
After traversing a long section of boardwalk through woodlands, you’ll come to a triangular junction of boardwalk. Bear right, now heading south. Do not turn right at the next junction, but continue straight ahead. When the boardwalk ends, continue ahead on a trail marked with red blazes.
In another 100 feet, you’ll reach a T-intersection. Turn left, continuing to follow the red blazes, which will lead you all the way back to the Environmental Education Center. You should bear right at the next two intersections, and then make a left followed by a right. After passing a deer exclosure on the right, you’ll cross the Backswimmer Bridge over a stream. Bear left just beyond, and cross the Aphid Bridge. After going around a bend in the trail, the Environmental Education Center will be visible ahead, across Branta Pond. Bear right at the next intersection onto the path on which you began the hike, and proceed back to the center and the parking lot.