Know the New Hiking How-tos
Cheesequake State Park Loop
Directions to trailhead
Take the Garden State Parkway to Exit 120 (be sure to stay in the local lanes south of the Raritan Toll Plaza). Turn right at the end of the ramp and continue to the first traffic light. Turn right at the light onto Morristown Road, then turn right again at the next traffic light onto Gordon Road. Follow Gordon Road as it turns sharply left and continue ahead, past residential subdivisions to the left, into the park. You will pass a toll booth (an entrance fee is charged from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend) and the park office. Continue for 0.1 mile beyond the toll booth, and park in the trailhead parking area on the left side of the road. GPS address: 300 Gordon Road, Matawan, NJ 07747.
The park -- located in a transitional zone between New Jersey's southern and northern vegetational types -- has four marked hiking trails, blazed in yellow, green, blue and red, respectively. This hike will follow the Green Trail, which is the longest and most interesting of the park's trails, proceeding for most of its route through a protected natural area. There are green blazes at all intersections and important turns in the trail. In addition, green blazes on brown wands indicate each tenth of a mile along the way.
All four trails begin at the kiosk at the southern end of the parking area. Just beyond, the trails fork. Bear left and follow the blazes downhill along a wooden boardwalk with many long steps. At the next intersection, the Yellow Trail continues straight ahead, but you should turn left, following the green, blue and red blazes. After crossing the first of many wooden bridges you'll encounter on this hike, the trail heads uphill to the park's Nature Center. You will want to stop here to view the informative exhibits and obtain a trail map.
Continue ahead along the trail through the hardwood forest. You will soon reach a spot with a view through the trees over the Cheesequake Salt Marsh to the right of the trail. Continue downhill on wooden steps and a boardwalk, then climb a long flight of wooden steps. Just beyond the top of the steps, the Blue Trail leaves to the right, but you should turn left, following the green and red blazes.
After paralleling a ravine on the left, the trail descends wooden steps to cross a bridge over the ravine. Soon, the trail climbs some more wooden steps, levels off, and crosses a sand road known as Perrine Road. Just beyond the road, the Red Trail leaves to the left, but you should bear right to continue along the Green Trail.
After another relatively level stretch, the trail bears left at a fork and descends rather steeply, passing a beautiful stand of tall phragmites (swamp grass) on the right. Next, it descends wooden steps to cross a fresh-water swamp on a long boardwalk, the end of which has been built around several large red maple trees.
At the end of the swamp, the trail climbs a little and levels off. Soon, it descends wooden steps to cross another boardwalk which passes through an Atlantic white cedar swamp, with dense thickets of sweetbay magnolia. Here, a layer of clay beneath the surface traps the water and prevents it from draining off. After crossing this interesting and unusual swamp, the trail continues through deciduous woods, crossing a boardwalk over a wet area. It climbs over a ridge and descends to cross Museum Road, another sandy road.
After another level stretch, the trail climbs over exposed tree roots abd ascends wooden steps. From the top of the rise, it descends gradually, turns right to cross a ravine on a wooden bridge, then turns left to cross a smaller ravine on another bridge and continues ahead on a level path.
After descending to the left of a shallow ravine, the sandy Museum Road is visible straight ahead. Here, the Green Trail bears right, as an unmarked trail joins from the left. Just beyond, you will notice a depressed area to the left of the trail. This is the site of the former park museum, built in the 1950s but never used. The building – after which Museum Road is named – was demolished soon after it was constructed.
The trail skirts a low-lying area with deciduous trees on the left, often flooded during periods of heavy rain. Just beyond a huge fallen oak tree (uprooted by Hurricane Sandy), the trail turns left and proceeds across the low-lying area on a long boardwalk. After crossing a stream on bridge, the trail bears left and continues to skirt the low-lying area. Soon, it curves to the right and crosses a short boardwalk, with a viewing platform that overlooks a grassy, wet area. The dead trees in this area were killed by siltation from development outside the park that settled into this low area.
The trail now turns left and crosses another boardwalk. It then climbs over a small hill, turns right to briefly parallel a ravine on the left, and continues along a level footpath. After descending into a ravine and crossing a wooden bridge over a stream, the trail climbs to Perrine Road, opposite a restroom building.
Turn left and continue along this paved road for about 900 feet, passing another restroom building at Gordon Field, a group camping area. About 150 feet beyond the second restroom building, follow the Green Trail as it turns right at a wooden arch and – along with the Red Trail – follows a footpath into the woods. It skirts to the left of the field, then bears left and descends to Museum Road. Turn right on this road and follow it, past a turnoff to the Nature Center, back to the parking area where the hike began.