Hit the Serene Columbia Trail for a Family-Friendly Hiking Adventure
If you're looking for a new hiking trail or family-friendly nature walk to try with your kids, that's not too challenging but has enough variety to pique their interest, head to Hunterdon County's Columbia Trail—and feel free to bring your little ones as this is a fun stroller-friendly path!
The Columbia Trail is a fantastic, relaxing hiking route, running about 15 miles from High Bridge, through Califon, and into Long Valley and Washington Township in Morris County. Read on for more details on this family-friendly hiking spot and find more places to go hiking in New Jersey in our Guide to Parks and Playgrounds.
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The Columbia Trail follows what used to be a railroad corridor, so it's a flat, wide hiking path that passes behind neighborhoods, through wooded areas, by farms, and across some local streets as it follows the South Branch of the Raritan River. Much of the hiking trail has a fine, crushed-stone surface, so it's a great path to explore on a bicycle or with a stroller. It's also just one clear path, so you don't have to worry about losing your way.
If you're hiking with little ones, a nice place to catch the trail is right at its start in High Bridge. You can park right in the lot at 79 Main Street, steps away from the town's quaint business district—more on that later. There's a portable bathroom in the lot if you need it. Once you're ready to hit the hiking trail, head to the walking path, and then cross Main Street and a couple of smaller streets and you'll feed directly onto the hiking trail.
Keep your eyes peeled; Deer, raccoons, and fairies inhabit the forest along the Columbia Trail.
You'll immediately notice the huge trees that line the path and provide an enormous canopy of shade. Animals like deer, raccoons, and squirrels live in the woods, but if you're astute, you might catch some special inhabitants on this enchanting path: fairies and gnomes! Dozens and dozens of adorable fairy homes are nestled through this area of the Columbia Trail. They were initially placed there by a local resident to draw kids to nature, but now anyone who's crafty and creative can add a fairy house, as long as it follows the county's rules such as being made of biodegradable materials. My kids had a great time skipping down the trail and spotting all the houses.
You'll have to venture off the main hiking trail if you'd like to catch this view of the Lake Solace Waterfall. Photo courtesy of the High Bridge Historical Committee
Another cool feature: About half a mile into the trail is the Taylor Steelworkers Historical Greenway, a seven-mile hike through the woods that leads to some interesting historical areas and beautiful scenery. We didn't have the time to fully explore this area but we ventured just far enough to catch a glimpse of the Lake Solace Waterfall through the trees and hear the rushing water. The trail looked somewhat steep and more of a moderate-to-difficult hike (beyond my family's experience level for sure!), but it does eventually lead to the TISCO Office Building, which was built in 1725. Further into the hike, you'll find the more than 100-year-old Carnegie steel truss bridge that crosses the Raritan River, the ruins of the Union Iron Forge, and the Solitude House, which dates back to pre-Revolutionary War times.
Solitude House has stood for more than a century.
Back on the trail, a couple of other nice features are a small bridge that passes over Cokebury Road, which is about 1.3 miles in. If you continue further on the trail from here, you'll pass right over gorgeous Ken Lockwood Gorge (a sight to behold, especially when there's autumn foliage). And, at mile 2.7, you'll find a second bridge that's elevated 80 feet over the river and spanning 260 feet! If you have a fear of heights, don't worry. There are high metal barriers lining the footbridge.
In Morris County, you'll pass through some serene open areas and farmland, plus Schooley’s Mountain County Park, where you can hop over to the Langdon Palmer Fishing Access Area on Fairview Avenue. So, bring your fishing gear if you're up for a little added outdoor adventure.
Because of its beautiful and fairly flat terrain, I know some parents love biking this trail with kids, but I'd issue this warning: Some trail sections have a bit of a drop-off on the edges toward the river. I'd encourage new riders to walk their bikes on these sections and definitely stay toward the middle of the path. Another word of warning: In some spots, you can venture nearer the stream, but take care as the rocks can be slippery.
After you've explored the hiking trail and are ready to refuel, there are some cute spots very close to the trail in High Bridge. Right next to the parking lot is the adorable Polka Dot Cafe, which is open Wednesdays-Sundays for lunch (hot dogs, soup, sandwiches, and ice cream); grab a coffee at Scout's Coffee Bar + Mercantile; or drive over to Gronsky's for a sweet treat. There's no better way to finish your trip than enjoying a double-scoop cone from this local favorite ice cream shop.
Unless noted, all photos by author