Ken Lockwood Gorge and the Columbia Trail

Overview

From the quaint town of High Bridge, hike into the scenic Ken Lockwood Gorge along the bank of the South Branch of the Raritan River and return a level up on the Columbia Trail.

Details
Time:
3 hours
Difficulty:
Easy
Length:
7.5 miles
Route Type:
Lollipop
Dogs:
Allowed on leash
Features:
Waterfall, Handicap Accessible, Public Transportation, Historic feature
Location
Park:
Region:
County:
Hunterdon
State:
NJ
Publication
First Published:
02/16/2012
Submitter:
Daniela Wagstaff
Trailhead GPS Coordinates
40.669490, -74.896492
Driving Directions
Take I-78 to exit 17 (westbound) or exit 16 (eastbound) for Route 31 towards Washington.  Drive about 2 miles on Route 31 then turn right on Main Street.  In 1.1 miles turn right on Bridge Street, proceed 390 feet, then left on Main Street.  Continue for .2 mile through town then turn left at The Commons sign to the parking lot.  If you pass Church Street, you just missed the entrance to the parking lot. Main Street dead ends in another block so there is an opportunity to turn around and approach from the other direction.
Train
Public transportation is available to High Bridge via weekday commuter service on the NJ Transit Raritan Valley Line.
Description

Walk back towards Main Street the way you drove in and cross Main Street.  You will be on a paved, gated path crossing several side streets through town before the trail becomes crushed stone at the Columbia Trail sign and information board.  This former rail line that once transported iron ore from mines in Morris County now passes through a residential area briefly before becoming more remote as it enters Ken Lockwood Gorge.

Turn right at the Taylor Steelworkers Historical Greenway entrance .4 mile into the hike.  A few steps ahead the trail forks with a yellow trail descending to the right.  This 7-mile greenway leads to Lake Solitude and Lake Solitude Dam as well as to several historic sites.  For this hike, turn left at the fork and take the short red-blazed trail that leads to benches at an overlook of Solitude Dam.  Retrace your steps back and continue on the Columbia Trail deeper into the gorge. 

At 1.3 miles, before crossing a bridge, take a side trail to the left that descends to Cokesbury Road.  Turn right on Cokesbury Road and proceed a short distance ahead towards the bridge over the South Branch of the Raritan River.  After crossing the bridge, turn left on River Road.  This paved road follows along the river for the next half mile but the only traffic will be residents of the few homes along this stretch and those driving to the Ken Lockwood Gorge parking lot about half a mile ahead. 

Two miles into the hike, walk beyond the gate that prevents cars from continuing along River Road.  This scenic multi-use section closely follows the river through the gorge.  In the winter you can clearly see the Columbia Trail, the return route for this hike, running along the other side of the river, at a higher level.  In about three-quarters of a mile, cross over an old stone bridge, pass another gate then a parking lot and accessible fishing deck.  Only the hardiest of vehicles will be able to reach this lot as erosion has pretty much eaten up the portion of River Road that lies ahead and you may need to pick your way over a bed of large rocks.

Ken Lockwood Gorge BridgeAt 2.9 miles River Road leads under the Ken Lockwood Gorge Bridge, a metal bridge constructed in 1891 to replace the original wooden bridge that collapsed in 1885 under the weight of a 46-car train carrying iron ore.  The Columbia Trail crosses over on this bridge.

3.5 miles into the hike, River Road once again becomes paved and leads through a residential area.  At the intersection turn right on Hoffman’s Crossing Road, follow this road briefly, then turn right on the Columbia Trail at the bicycle crossing sign.  You will notice the teal diamond blazes of the Highlands Trail as it follows the same route as the Columbia Trail through this section.  For reference, when you come to the 3½ mile post, you are 4 miles into the hike.  Look at the other side of the post to see how much farther you have back to the parking lot.  Mileage posts are located every quarter of a mile on the Columbia Trail, ascending in the direction you are headed, descending in the opposite direction.

Columbia Trail/Highlands Trail Through GorgeContinue following the Columbia Trail as it winds through the gorge providing a higher up view of the river, a different perspective from that experienced down along the banks.

At 4.9 miles cross the river on the Ken Lockwood Gorge Bridge that you previously walked under.  An interpretive marker tells the story of the bridge collapse and train wreck of 1885.  Shortly after crossing the bridge, the teal-blazed Highlands Trail leaves the Columbia Trail to the right where it switchbacks up out of the gorge and reaches Voorhees State Park in just under 2 miles.  Continue along the Columbia Trail crossing the bridge over Cokesbury Road at 6.3 miles.  Reaching the side trail on the right that leads down to Cokesbury Road closes the loop of this lollipop hike as the rest is a retrace of the beginning of the hike.  In .4 mile cross a residential road then in another .4 mile pass the Taylor Steelworkers Historical Greenway entrance on the left.   The last .4-mile stretch brings you through town and back to your car in The Commons parking lot.

Click here for more pictures of this hike. 

Turn by turn description
[0.00]  Exit the parking lot entrance, cross straight over Main Street and continue on paved trail[0.40]     Turn right at Taylor Steelworkers Historical Greenway; left on red at fork to overlook of Lake Solitude; retrace then continue right on Columbia Trail[0.90]  Cross residential road[1.30]  Left at fork before bridge on side trail down to Cokesbury Road; right on Cokesbury Road and cross bridge over river[1.40]  Left on paved River Road just the other side of the bridge[1.70]  River Road crosses power cut[1.85]  River Road turns to gravel after last house on right[1.95]  Parking lots and accessible deck for Ken Lockwood Gorge on left[2.05]  Continue beyond barrier [2.80]  Continue beyond barrier after crossing old stone bridge; parking lot and accessible deck beyond gate[2.90]  Continue on River Road under Ken Lockwood Gorge Bridge/Columbia Trail[3.50]  Pass through gate; River Road becomes paved and passes through residential area[3.90]  Turn right on paved Hoffman’s Crossing Road[3.95]  Turn right on Columbia Trail/teal-blazed Highlands Trail at bike crossing sign[4.90]  Cross over Ken Lockwood Gorge Bridge[5.05]  Keep straight on Columbia Trail when teal-blazed Highlands Trail leaves uphill to the right[5.95]  Columbia Trail crosses power cut[6.30]  Cross bridge over Cokesbury Road; continue on Columbia Trail when side trail from beginning of hike leaves to the right[6.70]  Columbia Trail crosses residential road[7.10]  Continue on Columbia Trail at Taylor Steelworkers Historical Greenway entrance on the left[7.35]  Columbia Trail becomes paved and crosses roads through town[7.50]  Back at parking lot

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

Great hike as described

A great hike, especially for a hot day. The description is accurate and easy to follow. However, if you want to really enjoy it, give yourself some more time to just relax and appreciate the scenery and, maybe, soak your feet in the cool water.