Spring Lake Trail – John A. Roebling Memorial Park – Abbott Marshlands – Hamilton Township, Mercer County, NJ
(Formerly the Trenton-Hamilton-Bordentown Marsh)
Distance: 4 miles of trails in the park (we did 2 1/2 miles – the Spring Lake Trail. Will be back for the Watson’s Woods Trail)
Type: Web of interlocking trails.
Difficulty: 4 of 10 – some parts slippery and muddy, some parts of the trail (especially on the island portions) can be a little difficult to follow. Elevation is no problem.
Total score: 7 of 10.
Terrain –Swamps, swamps, swamps, lake, and woodlands
Trailheads – 40° 11.695’N, 74° 43.936’W (Spring Lake trail head), 40° 11.358’N, 74° 43.636’W (Watson’s Woods Trailhead)
Directions: Listed in my GPS as “Roebling Park” (but won’t take you to an access point). One parking lot is at the end of Sewell Ave (looks at first like a dead end, but you can curve left and drive downhill to the parking lot). Another lot is located just past the Watson House at 151 Westcott Ave, Hamilton Township, NJ 08610.
Standouts – birdwatching, beaver lodges/dam, swamps and marshlands, oldest house in Mercer County (built 1708), National Historic Landmark area
Markings – lines painted on trees, signs.
Map: Download a printable PDF here (from njtrails.org).
There are three things that drew me to this park – 1) hey, it’s a hiking trail 2) swamps, swamps swamps and 3) it was the site of the former White City Amusement Park.
We opted for hiking around Spring Lake, because that had been part of White City (and because to walk to the Abbott home was supposed to have some tidal issues, and we weren’t prepared).
We started off walking the West side of the lake, under the trees that may or may not be willow trees (I really have to get better on my plant ids). It’s a short walk of 0.2 miles. Spring Lake is freshwater, created by building a dike to block this area off from the marshes in the late 1800s. A freshwater spring then filled the lake with freshwater, and thus a beautiful picnic spot was born. Today, it’s still a great spot for a picnic – there are tables at the parking area, and benches along this stretch of the lake.
At the end of the straightaway, keep going straight, cross the bridge, and enter the island portion of the trails. Lots of birds on either side as you cross, keep your eyes open!
From here, the trails crisscross all over the island. However, the only way off is the way you got on… the bridge. I decided to keep hanging left and stay along the outside of the island. I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the results.
On the East side of the island, you’ll have great marshland views with what I think is the Trenton Power Plant. Keep an eye out for birds. Keep hanging left when you have a chance, and you’ll walk down that side of the island until you reach the point at the south end of the island.
Use the cul-de-sac to turn around (you kinda have to, you might never have this opportunity again) and head north on the island. You’ll continue to stay left whenever possible, keeping you on the West end of the island. The trail will go up and up and up (at some point you’ll transfer from the yellow trail to the red trail) until the red trail loops back on itself. As stated before, the trails on the island itself are a crazy web. The big things to look out for on this side of the island are the beaver lodges and dam.
More or less at the beaver dam, the red trail will loop back on itself, rejoining itself further down the island (the trails get a bit crazy, seriously). When you get back down to the next trail junction, hang a left. This will take you back to the bridge, which you’ll cross and be back at Spring Lake.
Of course, you could walk right back to the parking lot from here, but why would you? Take a right and walk down the South end of the lake. This is the dike that was built up to create the lake. You’ll cross over the release area and reach the SE corner of the lake.
At the Southwest corner, a spur trail splits off, heading back into the swamp. We took this, because why not? It was a little muddier that the other trails, just be careful that you don’t slip. The end of the trail is a nice view of the swamp from a different angle.
Back at the lake, you’ll be walking down the east side, then the north side of the lake. Nothing super interesting here, just peaceful lake views. At the Northeast corner, the connector trail for Watson’s Woods heads off toward that part of the park. The Pres was getting a bit tired, so we decided to forgo that for today. On the north side of the lake, you’ll be passing under the bluff, with houses built on top. More on that after some pictures.
On those bluffs above you were the rides and attractions of the White City Amusement Park. They had a roller coaster and various other entertainments,which you could take a convenient trolley to for only 5 cents. Today there is almost no sign of White City…
… except for the grand staircase that led from the attractions down to the lake and the mansion. You can see both here in this picture:
The staircase is in the park, and is public property. The rest of the staircase is still there, buried under years of yard droppings. The part that is covered is private property, so don’t go up any further! Tens of thousands of people use this staircase while the park was a popular local attraction. And while the mansion is private property, you can tour it thanks to an awesome blog and shutterfly account that the newest owners put together when they purchased the property. In addition to chronicling the rehab project, they also have amassed an impressive collection of old photos and newspaper articles about White City.
After 2 1/2 miles, the Pres and I sat on the bench next to the lake and had some pretzels and water. We then drove around the corner to take a look at the Watson house (you can hike there if you’d like). It is the oldest house in Mercer County (built in 1708) and is the headquarters for the New Jersey chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution. It’s furnished with 18th century furniture and is open for tours the second Sunday of the month, April to June and September to November. Groups can also schedule tours.
Overall recommendation: Beautiful swamp walk. Well worth going to, but probably not as much fun during bug season.
Friends of Abbott Marshlands – help promote and maintain the park
Mercer County Parks Website – official park website
NJTrails.org – Roebling Park – great map for parking
White City Overlook Mansion Blog – blog of the folks who bought the mansion that the park was centered on. Chronicles their rehabbing efforts and TONS of great, historic photos of the park when it was open.
The Abbott Farm National Historic Landmark Interpetive Plan– all the fun that a government plan can be.
WeirdUS Message Board post with pictures and a short history