We all love the accomplished feeling of completing a challenging hike. The deep inhale as you stare up at the rock scramble ahead of you and mentally plan your hand and footholds. The inevitable “ah” moment when you finally ascend the mountain and get that first glimpse of the amazing view that made it all worthwhile. We hike for these moments of pure joy.
And yet, there is also joy to be found in those quieter hikes; the peaceful strolls along a serene pond on a crisp fall day. Plainsboro Preserve exists to nourish our souls for these types of moments. Explore more Central Jersey spots.
The Plainsboro Preserve is a 1,000-acre land tract that is managed by the NJ Audubon Society in conjunction with several local municipalities. It contains Lake McCormack, one of the largest lakes in the area, in addition to the floodplain of Devil’s Brook and is home to ten species of rare or endangered plants. The five miles of well-marked trails offer nine different length options for every style of hiker.
Our wheelhouse is 3 – 4 miles so we opted to do a combination of trails. This allowed us to see some of the very best features of the park in one visit. We began along the Orange Trail. This is the less traversed part of Lake McCormack. The trail was a bit muddy but at that time of year (mid-Fall) there was an abundance of mushrooms which made it well worth the muddy trek.
This wet meadow was full of an abundant variety of mushrooms. My favorite find of the day was the beautiful orange-tinged wolf’s milk. We also were fortunate in spotting several white-tailed deer grazing peacefully on this side of the lake.
After following the shoreline of Lake McCormack, we looped around and joined up with the Blue Trail. This part of the trail takes you through the beechwood forest. The views of the lake with the fall colors reflected are quite striking. When a flock of squawking geese flew overhead, we really felt like we were living in a magical moment.
The Blue Trail offers a nice little 0.30-mile option, Maggie’s Trail. This is a walk out on the lake’s peninsula. The views are lovely and the evidence of fresh beaver activity is always thrilling, even if we have yet to spot a beaver in person.
In addition to hiking trails the Preserve has an Environmental Education Center and offers numerous educational programs (which will pick up again after quarantine). There’s even a small gift shop which benefits The Audubon Society. This isn’t the park to come to if you are looking for adrenaline rushes and huge physical challenges; we have plenty of places for that here in NJ. It is the kind of place you can stroll along comfortably with friends, family or even alone and breathe fresh air, admire gorgeous mushrooms and wildflowers and enjoy a peaceful clear blue lake on a perfect fall day. We all need that once in a while.
All photos courtesy of the author. Follow her on Instagram.