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Jamesburg Park Conservation Area Cedar Swamp Trail Loop
This hike meanders through a section of the Spotswood Outlier of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, with its unique ecological area of mixed hardwood forests and pitch pines.
Allowed on leash
The trailhead is located on the north side of Helmetta Boulevard in Helmetta, NJ, 0.5 mile west of Main Street (County Route 615) and 0.6 mile east of Cranbury-South River Road (County Route 535). Limited parking is available on the shoulder of the road.
If coming from the north, take the New Jersey Turnpike to Exit 9 and proceed south on NJ 18. In 3.5 miles, turn right onto Cranbury-South River Road (County Route 535) and follow it for 4.1 miles to Helmetta Boulevard. Turn left onto Helmetta Boulevard and proceed for 0.6 mile to the trailhead.
This hike follows the lollipop-loop Cedar Swamp Trail through the Spotswood Outlier of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, located about 20 miles north of the main Pine Barrens and characterized by sandy acidic soil and vegetation that is adapted to soil with few nutrients and little water holding capability. It features mixed hardwood forest wetlands and pitch pine forests.
The entire trail is suitable for cross-country skiing except for the southern branch of the loop, which is a more primitive trail and includes an unbridged stream crossing that can be difficult at moderate-to-high water levels.
From the trailhead on the north side of Helmetta Boulevard, marked with a triple orange blaze, proceed east on a sand road that soon begins to head north. Soon, you'll pass another distinct sand road on the right. This is an optional return route, but for now continue ahead on the main road, following the orange blazes. In another 500 feet, the Cedar Swamp Trail turns right, leaving the sand road. After bearing right once more, the trail meets the other end of the sand road that you encountered earlier in the hike.
About three-quarters of a mile from the start of the hike, you'll reach the start of the loop. Continue straight ahead to follow the loop in the clockwise direction (the trail on the right will be your return route). Soon, you'll pass a wetland on your left. Take care to follow the orange blazes, as many unmarked trails and sand roads intersect the marked trail in this area.
About 0.6 mile from the start of the loop, you'll reach a T-intersection with a sand road at the northernmost point of the loop. Turn right and continue along the road for 0.3 mile to the easternmost point of the loop. You've now hiked for 1.6 miles. The remainder of the loop is a narrower, more primitive trail, with a number of downed trees and a potentially difficult stream crossing. If you are skiing, you should turn around here and retrace your steps back to your car.
To continue on the hike, turn right, leaving the sand road, and continue on a footpath. In 0.3 mile, you'll reach the stream crossing, which may be difficult if the water is high. The trail now climbs a small hill, makes a broad loop to the right, and climbs another small hill. In 0.3 mile from the stream crossing, you'll come to the end of the loop.
Turn left and retrace your steps back toward the trailhead. In 0.2 mile, the trail turns right onto another sand road (the sand road continuing straight ahead is brushed out and marked with trail closure/trail restoration signs). In another 500 feet, you'll notice a distinct unmarked sand road on your left.
Here you have the choice of turning left on the unmarked sand road or continuing to retrace your steps on the orange-blazed Cedar Swamp Trail (which leads in half a mile to the trailhead). The sand road gently climbs to the crest of a pretty ridge, then descends to end at a junction with the Cedar Swamp Trail in 0.3 mile. Turn left onto the trail and follow it for 500 feet to the trailhead.