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Manasquan Reservoir Perimeter
This scenic 5.1-mile multi-use trail hugs a reservoir and is popular with families, bird watchers, pedestrians, equestrians and bicyclists. Mile markers make it great for training.
Easy to Moderate
Allowed on leash
Views, Handicap Accessible, Birding, Wildflowers
Find your way to Georgia Tavern Road [directions below]. Once on Georgia Tavern Road, the entrance to Environmental Center will be about one mile on the right
From the Garden State Parkway [traveling north or south] take Exit 98 to US 195 West. At Exit 28B take Route 9 North-Freehold for a very short distance (about 500 feet), then at a traffic light make a right onto Georgia Tavern Road.
From US 195 East, take Exit 28B to Route 9 North-Freehold, and make the right onto Georgia Tavern Road.
From Route 9 South, just after the traffic light at Georgia Tavern Road, follow the entrance ramp for US 195 East but do not actually get on the highway. Instead, loop around the jug handle onto Georgia Tavern Road.
From Route 9 North pass under US 195, make a right onto Georgia Tavern Road.
The official start of the Perimeter Trail is at the Visitor Center on Windeler Road, However, there are several places to leave from, and we enjoy the Environmental Center off Georgia Tavern Road. Before hiking stop in at the Center to see the exhibits on local plant and wildlife, the birding area, and the Eagle Cam (a video camera filming the bald eagle nest in the area). There is also a short nature trail around the building, which is a brief section of the Cove Trail. Note: Bring your binoculars!
After leaving the Environmental Center, go back toward the parking lot and then bear slightly to the left onto the clearly identified Perimeter Trail. The hike consists of one long loop counterclockwise around the reservoir on a wide gravel or dirt pathway. In about a quarter of a mile, you have the option to bear left or right [on the trail map, linked below, the turn is obscured by a blue square]. Left will keep you on the Perimeter Trail; right will take you on a little detour around a wetland area. This is a continuation of the 1.1-mile Cove Trail mentioned above; it has some nice places to see wildflowers in spring, and birds all year. It also has significantly fewer hikers. It will re-join the main circular trail further ahead. Note: don’t pick the (endangered) lady slippers if you are lucky enough to see one, or any other wildflowers.
If you stay on the Perimeter Trail, you will pass Milepost 1 in about a half a mile (these posts will be going backwards since the hike markers officially start at the Visitors Center and in the opposite direction). The wetland area will now be on your left. Stop and look over the shrubs and bushes and you might see some egrets wading in the marshland.
After passing over a dike, the trail goes away from the shoreline, curving to the left (as it will for most of the trail) and into a forested area. You will pass a ranger station and maintenance facilities on your right. In full summer foliage you may not see much, but the buildings should be visible in late fall through early spring. After another 0.4 mile is the Visitor Center at Milepost 5 (this is actually about 1.4 miles from where the hike started). The Center offers boat rentals, a playground, vending machines, restrooms and a wildlife viewing area.
Continue past the parking lot entrance along the Perimeter Trail. Once again you will be moving away from unobstructed reservoir views into a wooded part of the park, with areas of marshland. If it has been a wet season, you can sometimes hear a variety of frog species in the pools alongside the trail. After about 0.5 mile you will see Old Tavern Road on your right and Bear Swamp Tract on the left. For next 1.3 miles or so, the trail goes behind both Main Dike and then Reservoir Dam. Once the trail curves toward the left again, the views will be back.
As you approach Milepost 3 (about 3.4 miles from the start) be on the lookout for fish swimming in the shallows near the shore, for egrets, cormorants, and osprey flying overhead. There is a rock outcropping and a bench for taking in the views. About a quarter of a mile past Milepost 3, a pathway bears off to the right leading to a wildlife viewing blind. Depending on the time of year and time of day, you may see turtles, raccoons, white tailed deer, a variety of waterfowl and other birds. Follow the trail back to return to the Perimeter Trail, turn right and soon you will enter another wooded area which extends for about a half-mile, with the reservoir peeking into view now and then. You will start to notice signs warning you not to go off trail on your left -- this is the bald eagle nesting site.
Just beyond Milepost 2 turn left to hike along a section paralleling Georgia Tavern Road, which is open to traffic. There is a guard rail for safety, but there will be car noise – this is not a spot to stop for a quiet lunch. Cross over a large dike on your left, with more inspiring views of the reservoir. Tree trunks in the water make for some excellent photos. Once you are about a quarter mile along the dike, turn back to face the trail from the direction just hiked. At about 3 o’clock, in an area of some tall pines, look for a large eagle’s nest; this is where the binoculars will come in handy. If you are hiking from February through about September, you may see the bald eagles that raise their chicks here every year. (Eaglets are hatched in mid-February). Maybe you will even see a young eagle! Once eaglets hatch at least one parent is often on or nearby the nest at all times.
Continue along the dike and take the opportunity to look right across the road to enjoy views of wetlands; Swans and Great Blue Herons can often be seen. You will pass by the Chestnut Point parking area, and in another quarter mile or so you are back at the entrance to the Environmental Center. You can go back inside to list what wildlife you saw on the hike.
Date of hike: February 13, 2011
Turn by turn description
0.0 – turn left onto Perimeter Trail
0.2 – stay left at fork, remaining on Perimeter Trail.
0.3 – Pass Mile Marker 1
0.7 – Pass wetlands on right, bear to the left staying on trail
1.4 - Pass Mile Marker 5, Visitor Center on left. Bear left after Visitor Center parking lot to stay on trail
2.0 - Trail bears a right for a little bit. Old Tavern Road on the right
2.1 - Trail goes back to bearing left
2.4 - Pass Mile Marker 4
3.0 - End of Reservoir Dam, bears left more sharply
3.4 - Pass Mile Marker 3
3.8 - Wildlife Viewing area on side trail to the right
4.4 - Mile Marker 2, make left onto trail alongside Georgia Tavern Road
4.6 - On dike overlooking reservoir, best bald eagle nest viewing site.
5.1 - Environmental Center parking lot