Looking Back...Walking and Cycling the Countryside (from the 32nd edition)

by Catherine D. Kerr

A few days after moving to this area, I took a break from unpacking, pumped up my bicycle tires, and pedaled off to explore my new neighborhood. Within minutes I was rolling along Lower Creek Road near Stockton, riding beside the Wickecheoke Creek beneath a bright autumn canopy of leaves. Scarcely believing my good fortune in living so close to this scenic treasure, I made it the first entry on a mental list of great places for a local walk or a bike ride. I’ve been keeping that list for more than twenty years now, and I’m still adding to it. 

When it comes to scenery, Bucks and Hunterdon counties have been richly endowed. From the blue curves of the Delaware River to rolling farms and country roads inland, from Lakes Nockamixon and Galena in Bucks to the Spruce Run Reservoir and the Red Mill of nearby Clinton in Hunterdon, there is much to see and enjoy.

An old red barn
An old red barn.

The Delaware Canal at Washington Crossing Park
The Delaware Canal at Washington Crossing Park.

I am convinced that walking and bicycling are the best ways to experience these delights. Stone farmhouses and old red barns, fertile cornfields and crystal-clear creeks, patches of bold orange daylilies and breezes heavy with the scent of multiflora rose growing wild by the side of the road—these are some of the sensory impressions you’ll carry away from a day or even a few hours of cycling or walking here. It may be true that you can cover more territory in a car, but I think you miss too much when you go whizzing by in a cocoon of glass and steel. Even a good whiff of a working dairy farm serves to confirm that you are really there, and when the sights and smells are more agreeable, it’s easy to linger and enjoy them a little longer because you can simply step to the side of the road without worrying about where to turn around or park.

Delaware and Raritan Canal towpath
Delaware and Raritan Canal towpath.

If you’re new to cycling and walking in Bucks and Hunterdon, the canals are an excellent place to begin. Pennsylvania’s Delaware Canal and New Jersey’s Delaware and Raritan Canal both run parallel to the Delaware River and are accessible at many points along the way. Both have towpaths covered in fine crushed stone to create an even surface that is good for walking or cycling. (Best of all, some would say, is the fact that they are completely flat.)

In places like New Hope and Lambertville, a canal walk is basically a town walk. The towpaths lead past the back yards of houses and are only a short distance away from shops and restaurants. Away from the towns, where there is not as much development, the paths feel more like country byways. Some sections of the canals run right beside the Delaware—near Lumberville or just south of Lambertville, for example—and the towpaths provide broad views of the river.

It’s easy to plan a walk or ride by the canal that suits your mood. You can go just far enough to work up an appetite, for example, before arriving in town for lunch or a coffee break. If you’re looking for a longer outing, you can use the bridges across the river to create a loop route following the canals on both sides. The circuit along the towpaths through New Hope, Lambertville, Stockton, and Center Bridge totals about seven miles, for example, which may be a little long for a casual walk but could be covered in a leisurely bike trip of about an hour if you ride straight through. 

Wickechoeke Creek below Green Sergeant covered bridge
Wickechoeke Creek below Green Sergeant covered bridge.

The canal paths are multi-use trails, meaning that pedestrians, cyclists, and (in Pennsylvania) horses and mules share the way. To preserve harmony among all, cyclists should always give way to those on foot, and both groups should yield to horses and mules. (If you’re uncertain about how to go past these four-legged towpath users, ask the mule drovers or equestrians for advice on how to proceed.)

Many local parks have trails that are good for walking or cycling. The Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve near New Hope has gravel-covered trails leading through a wooded area that is a showcase for a collection of nearly a thousand species of plants native to Pennsylvania. The main part of the preserve is surrounded by a tall fence to keep out hungry deer. Inside, you’ll find a variety of trails including some that follow the course of Pidcock Creek. If you’re feeling very energetic, you can walk all the way up to Bowman’s Hill Tower, which (for a small admission fee) offers a sweeping view of the surrounding countryside.

Ridge Road farm
Ridge Road farm. Photo: Martin E. Kennedy

Lumberville from Bull's Island
Lumberville from Bull's Island. Photo: Martin E. Kennedy

At Peace Valley Park in New Britain Township, a paved bike/hike trail goes most of the way around scenic Lake Galena, a six-mile route. This is one of the most popular places for off-road walking or cycling in Bucks County. The park also has fourteen miles of unpaved nature trails, some near the lake and others through woods and fields nearby.

In Hunterdon County, there are natural trails at the undeveloped Sourland Mountain Nature Preserve in East Amwell Township and the Wescott Nature Preserve in Delaware Township.

Quite a few of the parks in the area offer walks for those who like to travel in company, leaving the planning to others. If you’re interested, it’s best to contact the individual parks for up-to-date information. For cyclists, the premiere organized event is the annual Covered Bridges Ride sponsored by the Central Bucks Bicycle Club, which draws some 1,500 cyclists to enjoy a group ride from Tinicum Park on Route 32 near Erwinna. This year’s event, scheduled to take place October 14, will include 20-, 32-, 50-, and 63-mile loops passing many of Bucks County’s dozen remaining covered bridges. The bike club also offers a variety of smaller group rides at all levels each weekend. [Visit their web site at www.cbbikeclub.org for more information.]

And there are great country roads all over this area. They take you away from the busy thoroughfares and seem almost able to carry you back in time. Many are still unpaved, some barely two lanes wide as they lead through woods and farmland. Though not a comprehensive list, these are some of my favorites:

The foot bridge at Lumberville
The foot bridge at Lumberville links the canals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Photo: Martin E. Kennedy

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Cuttalossa and Fleecydale Roads in Solebury Township, which follow the Cuttalossa and Paunacussing Creeks from the Delaware River up into the hills,

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Ridge Road in Buckingham Township, which takes you through open farmland through a peaceful valley that lies parallel to Route 232,

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Alexauken Creek Road near Lambertville, which runs right next to Route 202, though you’d never know it,

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Lower Creek Road near Stockton, the same road I “discovered” on my bike soon after I moved here; it ends at the Green Sergeant’s Covered Bridge, the last of remaining historic covered bridge in New Jersey,

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Creek Road just outside of Frenchtown, which starts near a public playground and follows the Nishisakawick Creek to the little town of Palmyra, passing through undisturbed woods,and, finally,

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Raritan River Road between High Bridge and Califon, which is well off the beaten path but is probably the most dramatically scenic of any of these. The road follows the South Branch of the Raritan River as it tumbles through Ken Lockwood Gorge, a favorite with fly-fishers. In a car, this unpaved road can seem nearly as rough as the whitewater beside it, but that shouldn’t bother you as much if you’re cycling or walking.

Rolling fields
Rolling fields. Photo: Martin E. Kennedy

If you do go exploring on these or other back roads, please remember that even on relatively quiet country roads, cars pose a potential hazard to cyclists and pedestrians. Keep an eye out for approaching autos and remember to walk on the left, facing oncoming traffic; cycle on the right, riding with traffic. When you ride a bike, always wear a helmet.

Ready to get going with your own catalog of scenic places in Bucks and Hunterdon Counties? I hope that this information will be just a starting point—and that you’ll enjoy adding to your list as much as I have over the years.

 

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