Wells Mills County Park – Waretown (Ocean Township), Ocean County, NJ
Distance – 14.5 miles of hiking trails, plus a 3+ mile bike trail (the boys and I did just over two miles)
Type – Series of looping trails
Difficulty: 3 of 10 – bit of mud, but it had been raining for a whole week
Total score: 9 of 10
Website – http://www.co.ocean.nj.us/OCParks/ContentPage.aspx?ID=41fee2db-374d-49a2-a7ae-f17b5acc6c92
Open – Sunrise to Sunset.
Terrain – Lakeside, meadow, forest, and swampland
Trailheads – Trail system starts at the nature center – 39°47’39.90″N, 74°16’37.66″W
Directions – 905 Wells Mills Road Waretown, NJ 08758
Parking – Large parking lot
Standouts – beautiful cedar swamps, lovely lake, acres and acres of pinelands
Markings – Trails blazed with various colors.
Map – Trail map can be found here
Description – It was The Wife’s day to sleep in, so I decided to take Tree Rider and The Pres out of the house at the crack of down, drive most of the way across the state, and check out a park I’ve been hearing great things about since I started this blog – Wells Mills County Park. That’s not a typo, there were two mills here at one point, so take that grammar police.
We ended up here pretty early and went down the short path, path the bathrooms (complete with Smokey the Bear sign on the outside) to the visitors center/nature center.
The Conrad Trail (Blue Trail) with bit of the Penns Hill Trail (White Trail) to create a loop (about 1.5 miles total):
After talking with the ranger, we decided that our best bet was the Conrad Trail (the blue trail on the maps). To read this trailhead, we had to take the Penns Hill Trail (white) from just in front of the Visitor’s Center in a westerly direction along the lake.
On the Penn Hill Trail, a miracle occurred right away – Tree Rider wanted to HIKE. While he was given the nickname Tree Rider for other reasons, this second kid of mine has wanted nothing more than to ride in his pack from the time he was first going on hikes with the family (about two weeks old… I know, I’m ashamed we started him so late). Usually, when put on the ground, he’ll just point at the pack and say “Up! Up!” But this time, he wanted to follow his older brother. Unfortunately, he decided he wanted to start his real hiking career on a path littered with roots and small steps up and down. This is nothing for an adult, or even his brother, but Tree Rider is still working on his walking, so he fell down a lot. But he smiled the whole time.
Almost immediately when entering the trail, you’ll pass what is either an employee break cabin, a caretaker lodge, or both. Right after this is the canoe put in, a dock that juts out into the lake. We, of course, had to walk out and see what there was to see.
Afterward, back on the Penns Hill trail, we worked our way through some beautiful swampy areas, including my favorite – cedars. We crossed one bridge, then, just before the second bridge, hit the trailhead for the Conrad Trail. While I’m not sure the exact distance, I’d say this was a bit more than a 1/4 mile between the start of the white trail and the trailhead of the blue trail. We turned right to take the blue Conrad Trail.
Right at the beginning, the Conrad Trail was a little muddy, requiring me to scoop up Tree Rider and put him in the pack. He was okay with this, because he can see better from up high.
The Conrad Trail loops through some wet areas, over some boardwalks, and through a tiny patch of mud (the only we encountered on the trails this day despite a week of solid rain).
After crossing one more long walkway, the trail then emerges into the standard, but beautiful, pine barrens “lots of pine trees everywhere” terrain.
Finally, you emerge into the big field across from the visitor’s center, completing the Conrad (Blue) Trail.
We were still full of energy after this first hike, so we decided to take another hike on the…
Cold Brook Trail (aka Shrub Id Trail. Aka Pink Trail) – 0.70 miles
To get to this trail, take the White/Green/Yellow to the left (if you are facing the lake with the Visitor’s Center at your back). Walk just a short distance (make a tenth of a mile), and the pink trail will be on your left.
This trail is labeled as a shrub ID trail on the map, but we didn’t think to ask for a paper to tell us what the numbered signs along the way were depicting. Might be a good idea for this one.
Anyway, it sets off down what was obviously a road, with all the excitement that comes from walking down a road where you can still see the visitors center most of the time. Hang in there, it will get better.
When you hit the large pile of wood, the trail will head off to the right into the woods.
The trail immediately gets a lot more trail like. You’ll head through a nice patch of woods, go downhill slightly, and head to the edge of a swamp.
Unlike the other trails, this one just skirts the swamp at its edge, but it’s still a lovely bit of scenery. The trail will go along the edge of the swamp, then head back up a very slight hill.
The trail a few turns, then you’ll emerge back onto the Yellow/Green Trail, which is more or less a road at this point.
Turn right and you’ll be heading the short distance to the visitor’s center.
Other things in the park:
Don’t miss the view of the lake from the dam near the start of the Cold Brook Trail, just a short distance from the Visitor’s Center.
The Visitor’s Center/Nature Center also has some awesome stuff to see –
Overall recommendation – I LOVE this park. Well worth visiting, I can’t wait to go back and do the 8.4 mile Penns Hill (White) Trail.
Nearby – I’ve been dying to this for over a decade, and just never have, but the legendary Albert Music Hall is in Waretown. Folk, country, and pinelands music every Saturday night since 1974. Come watch, or bring your own instrument and join the folks in the pickin’ shed.
Boy Scout Note – Scouts, this trail system connects with the trail system of Jersey Shore Council’s Joseph A Citta Scout Reservation.