Parking and Getting to the Bridge
The best way to enter the woods is to park at Battlefield State Park off Route 206. You can park right on 206, or at the Clarke House Museum.
The entrance is across the street from the beautiful white portico pavilion. (The portico below will be on the other side of the street, in other words.)
Once parked, head around the back of Clarke House. the trail begins straight through the mowed grass — enter the woods at the stone markers.
Head right on the wide leaf-strewn trail and follow the turquoise blazes. You’ll come to a field; head right to continue on the turquoise trail.
As you wander these woods, you’ll be walking among at least 45 different types of trees. This is because the preserve is a patchwork of tracts once farmland abandoned at different periods. Some of these trees date back as far as the 1720s.
Never Get Lost Again!
When you see the canal, bear left. This will put you on the Rivers Edge Trail and shortly put you on the suspension bridge.
Continue Your Hike
As we walked, the only sound we heard were the songbirds. Some remnants of mushrooms that survived our first frosts still remain on the tree stumps.
Suggested: Visiting Princeton During the Winter
The hike to the bridge is on easy, wide well-maintained dirt trails. Since it’s such a pleasant stroll, we recommend continuing on to the blue trail to the left of the bridge (Founder’s Walk). From here, you leave the wide trails of the Institute Woods and enter the quieter, less traveled Charles H. Rogers Preserve. Follow the blue diamond trail until you come to the gravel path by the water treatment buildings. They have a curiously Tudor look to them with funny little turrets.
After you have walked beyond the gate, make a left at the blue marker for the first bird viewing platform. It was quiet this Dec. when we visited but back in June the bird houses were quite busy. The marsh grasses were filled with a variety of warblers, thrushes and orioles. Continue on the blue path around the side of the marsh. You’ll come upon a second bird viewing platform. Follow the blue trail to the left and you’ll soon re-enter the Institute Woods.
Want to see more birds? Check out our Birdy Jerz birding guide.
Make your second right at the blue marker which leads you to the yellow blazed Founders Trail. While walking these woods you may hear the hum of traffic from nearby Route 1 in the background and even the occasional train whistle from the nearby Dinky Station. Stay straight at the trail intersection. Soon the Institute buildings come into view. There’s a beautiful pond that you pass along the way.
Stay straight when you come to the gravel road at the red blazed trail. Follow the marker leading you back to Clarke House.
This is a flat easy hike that anyone can do. The trails have no rocks, roots or scrambles — the biggest challenge we encountered was mud. I recommend visiting during different seasons; the landscape and wildlife have dramatic seasonal changes worth observing. No matter what season you choose, a walk in The Woods never disappoints
Make a Day Of It
Want to stay in the Princeton area? Explore the history of the university and town with this guide, or explore more of Mercer County with our Mercer County Scavenger Hunt.