Swimming River Reservoir Loop
Directions to trailhead
From the Garden State Parkway in either direction: Take exit 109 to Route 520 west (Newman Spring Road). Follow for 2.2 miles (past Brookdale Community College). Entrance will be on the left. If you live nearby, you can also take Route 34 to Route 520 east (Newman Spring Road). The entrance will be 2 miles down on the right.
From Points West: Take Route 233 East to Route 9 North or Route 79 North. Turn onto Route 520 (Newman Springs Road) east. Park will be on the right in about 6 miles.
Once in the park past the first parking lot and park in the marked Old Orchard lot.
For anyone near the central or northern Jersey Shore, this is a nice hike with plenty of diverse scenery – a reservoir, lake, meadows, woods and farmland. There are also ample opportunities for bird watching (I saw at least ten varieties of ducks and geese during this January hike). After the 5-mile hike there are a number of other activities in the rest of the park to finish out the day. The views of the Swimming River Reservoir and Marlu Lake are best in early spring, late fall and winter.
To find the Reservoir Trail trailhead in the Old Orchard parking lot, face the kiosk with your back to the parking area. (On the trail map look for the “TH” icon.) Begin by taking the paved path on the right for a few hundred feet. Look left to see at the edge of the woods another hundred feet away a trail marker indicating the Reservoir Loop (blue blaze) The trail map makes it look like this trail and the Woodland Trail (green blaze) leave from the same point, this is not the case.
- Be aware that the Monmouth County Park system blazes trails according to their level of difficulty, so the “moderate” Reservoir Trail (blue) is not uniquely blazed in this park.
- Another word of caution: There are many trails that go off this loop trail with very few markers. The trail map is relatively reliable but not always, so just pay attention and if something does not look right, it probably is not.
Just after beginning, where the wide Track Loop converges with the Reservoir Loop Trail, make a left turn. There are no markers, but the trail map is clear. Stay to the left on the smaller, narrower pathway. Shortly afterward part of the Swimming River Reservoir will come into view, depending on the time of year and amount of foliage. In less than quarter-mile the pathway curves to the right. At that turning point, but straight ahead, is a short walk to the edge of the reservoir and a very nice spot to take photographs. Once back on the main path walk with the reservoir on the left. At about 0.4 mile, the Reservoir Look Trail again converges with the Track Loop and remains very close for about 0.2 mile. Continue forward with the Track Loop on the right and the reservoir on the left.
In a few hundred feet after the Track Loop turns away and after crossing a very small stream, are three tall trees at what looks like a fork. The path that goes straight is just a water channel off shoot. Proceed to the right of the trees and up a small incline. Skirt the edge of a field for under 100-feet to where the pathway turns left into the woods. Continue relatively straight as the reservoir to the left gradually shrinks, turns into a marshy area, and then finally solid ground.
At the end of the reservoir, in not quite a mile from the trailhead, the pathway curves gently to the right. Ahead is the Marlu Parking Lot and a paved trail. Go to the left on the paved trail, hiking between the (dry) end of the reservoir on the left and the lower end of Marlu Lake to the right. A trail marker is up ahead at an intersection. The hike loops back to here.
At this intersection, turn right towards Marlu Lake, which remains on the right and an open field to the left. At the end of the field, in about 1.25 miles from the trailhead, is a marker as the pathway curves right and into the woods. It meanders through the woods, paralleling the lake. Ignore several off shoot trails with no markers and stay to the right to remain on track. Seasonally, there might be several very muddy spots on this part of the trail, so hopefully you have hiking boots on! In about a half-mile, woods will give way to reeds, and possibly more mud.
After crossing a bridge, veer to right for a few hundred feet to find a bench on the right. It is a convenient resting spot for bird watching or having a snack. Continue to follow the loop trail as it gradually curves left to a junction. A road and farmland will be in front of your, with no marker to indicate the way. Straight leads up and around Marlu Lake on another trail (also blue blazed). Turn left onto what looks like a mowed path through an open field. It can also be muddy. In another 0.2 mile or so the pathway turns sharply left. A wooded area is to the left and the pathway is along the edge of a large plowed field. On the right, just beyond the field, is Longbridge Road.
In about a quarter-mile, marked by a blue blaze, the pathway turns left into the woods where two giant trees appear to be standing guard over the entrance. At this point the pathway is grassy and very wide. In a couple hundred feet, to the right, are the remains of a farm building. Just afterward appears to be a fork, but no markers; remain on the wide path towards the right. After a small incline the loop trail intersects with a paved path. This part can be confusing. On the map, the loop trail appears to go straight over the paved path. In reality, just after crossing the paved path make a left -- no markers to help guide the way. (Staying straight here leads to a ranger residence near Longbridge Road). To repeat, turn left. Longbridge Road will continue to be on the right. After a short distance is the edge of a meadow. Stay to the right to follow a wide, sweeping path through the center of the meadow for the next half-mile. Longbridge Road will still be to your right; an unpaved service road will be off to your left. This is about the halfway point of the hike.
Towards the end of the field take the left fork. The loop trail will cross over a double driveway. Up the driveway is a building that was once used when the parkland was a horse estate. It is now houses the park’s “Historical Services.” In front and to the right, another section of Swimming River Reservoir comes into view.
Continue to follow the wide path straight for about a quarter mile, off to the left across a field are several buildings housing the Friends of the Parks and the Training Center. Near the end of the field the trail goes left. Once the field ends, there is a very short footpath on the right leading to a scenic viewpoint of the reservoir. This is part of a short peninsula jutting into the reservoir. Stay left to follow the loop trail where it curves around to go back up the other side of the peninsula. Across the inlet is near where the hike began.
Not quite a half-mile ahead is another fork, this one with a marker. To the left leads to the training center seen earlier -- remain straight. There are some better views of the water just past the fork. In another 0.2 mile is a paved road that leads from the Friends of the Parks and Training Center buildings to Historical Services. Remain on the pavement for a tenth of a mile or so. When the paved road curves left remain straight on a wide path along the edge of the meadow crossed earlier. Stay on this segment for roughly a third of a mile with the reservoir on the right and the meadow on the left. Ignore an unmarked turn off to the left halfway through.
Three-quarters of the way along the meadow, is the intersection encountered previously, and is about the four-mile mark of the hike. Turn right to hike by the end of Marlu Lake (again) and continue to a point near the Marlu parking area where several trails converge. It is possible to finish the hike by taking the Reservoir Loop Trail back to the Old Orchard parking area. But to complete a “figure 8” hike, take the paved foot- and bike- path to the left and head across a field for less than a half mile towards the Creative Arts Center. Nearby are restrooms and an off-leash dog area. To continue the hike, stay on the paved path that parallels a vehicular road and goes past the Arts Center. Beyond the playground a paved path ends and a dirt path begins leading back towards the Old Orchard parking lot. Along the way on the left is the Visitor’s Center, housed in a rebuilt colonial mansion.