Ceres Park – Mantua Township/Pitman, Gloucester County, NJ
Distance: We did 1.6 miles missing some official trails,
There are a ton of unoffial trails back here, which wind through the park and connect to county owned land next door.
Type: Lollipop (officially)
Difficulty: 5 of 10 (due to blow downs. Without blowdowns, about a 2)
Total score: 8 of 10
Terrain – woods and cedar swamp surrounding lakes that were marl pits.
Directions – Located on Main Street in Mantua, just north of where it crosses Rt 55 (no exit from highway) and a little more north of Lambs Road. Note – Google Earth will take you to the wrong side of the park. Look for the park sign, which has a short driveway leading into the parking area.
Standouts – Cedar Lake and Emerald Lake, plus a stream, are the highlights of this gem.
Markings – None. LOTS of side trails too, so keep your head about you. We didn’t get lost, but one of the joggers we met said “Oh yea, everyone gets lost here their first seven or eight times”. Her hint – ask a guy on a bike, they always know where they are. Also HIGHLY recommend printing and taking a map with. Checking for number posts will help keep you on track and help you figure out where you are on the map.
Map – Can be found at – Mantua’s website
Description – This is beauty of park, named after that goddess that appears on the New Jersey state flag.* It’s wild, the lakes are great, and we spotted frogs and turtles. Go right now!
Wait, not yet! Read this first.
The parking lot was a bit tricky to find, because Google Maps was wrong about where the entrance was. We found it after circling. The next warning was that the entrance trail since the storm is a mess. That warning was not understated, it was like an obstacle course on Secrets of the Hidden Temple. There are some paths around them that we saw on the way back, but we mostly just crashed through head first. I had to pass the baby still in his backpack through a few spots, his walking is not quite where it needs to be yet to handle this sort of trail.
See? I told you.
The good news? After the five piece obstacle course (which does get progressively easier), the trail is pretty easy going. And more scenic. Side trails will come in, but ignore them and stay on the obviously main treadway. Use the map!
The trail will curve around, then reach the outskirts of Cedar Lake. This lake, and Emerald Lake, are the filled in holes that remain after marl was mined here for many years. The trail will skirt Cedar Lake, you’ll have to walk down a side trail to get a look at this, the smaller of the two lakes.
Coming back to the main trail, you’ll continue a short way until you hit the highlight of this park, the trail that goes between a cedar swamp (on the right) and Emerald Lake (on the left). The trail will follow the lake edge for quite a while. At some point, a side loop through the swamp will come in on the right side, but The Pres was having too much fun at the lake to attempt the swamp this time. Maybe next time!
Keep an eye out, we spotted two frogs and a turtle on this stretch.
Eventually, the pond peters out into a brook. You’ll reach an intersection with a trail labeled “Right of way” on the map. There is a manhole cover here. Just on the other side is a nicer stream.This was as far as we made it (about 3/4 of a mile in), and the right of way disappears off each side of the map, so I’m not sure where the other parts of the trail head.
We could have looped back through the swamp, but I let The Pres decide, and opted for the lake way (so he could throw more rocks in). So we backtracked the way we came. The highlight of the way back was a large turtle sunning itself on a log. And, of course, we had to go back through the obstacle course, although Tree Rider and I went around one of the big falls (The Pres went right through it, crying “I won!”).
Overall recommendation – One of my new favorite places to hike in South Jersey, this place is amazing. Even more fun with blow down obstacles, but even without, a lot of bang for not a ton of work. Okay, you can actually go over there and start hiking now.
Also, you can apparently also mountain bike here (Note: Soundtrack would not be my first choice). One guy called it “the best place below I-195”.
* Source – http://www.nj.com/gloucester-county/index.ssf/2012/04/whats_in_a_name_ceres_park_man.html