Easing Back Into Hiking: Morris Canal Greenway

We considered several options for our Saturday, but my partner reminded me that it was the first Saturday with perfect hiking weather of the season, and he wanted something remote enough that it wouldn’t be crowded with other city folk escaping into the green. So, we headed west by northwest to Allamuchy Mountain State Park and the historic hamlet of Waterloo Village. That’s where we picked up the Morris Canal Greenway.

I chose the canal-side route, marked green and yellow along the bottom left quadrant of the map, because it followed the river, and crossed no lines of elevation … exactly what was needed after a winter of relative inactivity. Sure, I walk an average of 8,000 steps a day on my commute, but it’s all flat sidewalks and subway platforms, not exactly strenuous. I chose a similarly flat route for my first (of many, I hope!) easy hike of the season.

We got a mite confused looking for parking, and the trail wasn’t obvious where we picked it up (admittedly, somewhat in the middle) on the verge of historic Waterloo Village, but once we’d found it, the path was wide and clear, the markings on the trees quite obvious.

The trail runs along a low berm between a broad, winding creek and the Morris Canal, built in the 1830s, which for almost 100 years connected the Delaware River to the Hudson River, bringing the mineral wealth and coal of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley to New Jersey industry and New York City. What’s now a recreational trail would have been the tow path walked by the mules who dragged the barges down the canal, with the occasional drainage canal running beneath a wooden footbridge.

It was exactly the solitude we’d been looking for — in two hours, we only encountered two fishermen, and one was yards away in a kayak in the middle of the creek

Which wasn’t to say that we were alone. Robins, wrens, starlings and other birds, squirrels, chipmunks, fish, turtles. (Only the turtles sat still long enough to be photographed, and only from a very discreet distance!)

There were flowers, too. I recognized all kinds of flowers familiar from goofing off in the Pennsylvania woods around my childhood home and the homes of my friends, but I was surprised at how many flowers I could actually name.

The trail occasionally ran along the shoulder of a country road, and occasionally the river meandered away from the path, leaving a swath of wetlands disappearing into the trees, but the water kept returning. I couldn’t help but think it would be perfect for tubing on a hot August afternoon, floating down the not-too-fast-moving and just deep enough river, with plenty of opportunities to haul out and walk back along the canal greenway.

It would have been possible to take a combination of trails on the other side of the river back to the village, but as my partner pointed out, there are a lot of squiggly lines on those trails, which indicates harder going and elevation changes. I wasn’t out for a challenge this week, so we made our trip into an out-and-back.

We had a delicious early dinner at a quirky gastropub called Salt, and then decided on one more short loop of trail: the half-mile Fire Tower Trail. A short drive through a few developments and past some ostentatious ex-urb country houses, we found ourselves on the edge of the state park once again, and after a few false starts, located the broad trail — a fire road, you would call it in Maine — up to the fire tower. The views from the top of the precarious narrow metal stairs of the fire tower presented soothingly undulating canopy almost as far as the eye could see.

All in all, a beautiful little excursion, not too strenuous, and just the rejuvenation and relaxation I needed after months of juggling three jobs six days and four nights a week….

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