Jake’s Branch Park – Beachwood, Ocean County, NJ
Distance – 8.6 miles of trails (incl a 2.6 mile bike trail). We did just over 4 miles on the Blue and White Trails
Type – Loops
Difficulty: 3 of 10 – a few uphills, shorter pines leave you exposed to the sun in hot weather
Total score: 8 of 10
Website – Ocean County Parks page
Open – Sunrise to Sunset.
Terrain – Small hills (remains of ancient sand dunes), mature and new pine forest, and a bit of swampland
Directions – 1100 Double Trouble Rd, Beachwood, NJ 08722
Parking – Large lot
Dog friendly? – Yes (must be kept on leash)
Stroller friendly? – Offroad strollers should be fine
Benches? – A few, spaced about a mile apart on the Blue Trail.
Bathrooms/Changing table – Yes and yes.
Map – An up-to-date map can be found here
Description – Another Saturday, another day with the kids while my wife went to work. We’d had this one on our list for a while so….. Jakes Branch County Park it was! Hopped in the car for the hour and fifteen minute ride to this park.
When we got there, we checked out the visitor’s center (see the bottom of this post), then set off to walk the Tindey Trail (aka, the Blue Trail), the longest trail in the park, circling the outside of the parkland to the tune of four miles.
We started at the trailhead next to the visitors center, opting to take the blue Tindey Trail around the perimeter of the park. The trail leads a few feet into the woods, then splits. We opted for left, to start. You’ll finish the loop back at this point in four miles or so.
Once on the trail, you immediately hit some burned over areas. Actually, my favorite part about this whole hike was the various fires and/or controlled burns along different sections of the trail that resulted in very different maturities of the pitch pines that you walk through. It’s really neat.
Anyway, you will wind around a bit under the base of the observation tower and pass the intersection with the red Spruce Street Trail.
A short while after, you’ll pass the intersection with the 0.7 mile green Interpretive Trail. This is a lollipop trail that comes right back to this point, so it’s a great way to add an extra 3/4 of a mile to this hike if you’d like some extra hiking. Unsure yet of how The Pres was going to be hiking, we passed it by and kept going.
Shortly after this, you’ll have playground equipment come into view and start crossing the new, 1/2 mile purple trail, which is not yet on the maps. It was officially closed when we were there, but folks seemed to be on it (and the equipment) anyway. It’ll be awesome when its open, but for now, we kept marching onward.
The trail winds around near the equipment before reaching it’s southernmost points. This part was definitely my least favorite part of the hike, because the road noise from the Garden State Parkway was pretty bad here. You can even see the cars for a short stretch. Fortunately, this noise dissipated later in the hike once the trail headed back North away from the highway.
Fortunately, just as I reach my most frustrated point with road noise (I couldn’t hear what The Pres was saying), the hike started to get really good. The trees shrank down to “The Pres sized” (as he called them) and closed in on the trail, creating an awesome feeling as you walked through their tunnel.
We soon reached the split off for the 0.2 mile white Swamp Trail. The Pres was moving pretty good, so we let Tree Rider out of the pack and figured he could hike for a while on this out-and-back spur trail.
This turned out to be a mistake, as Tree Rider got about 2/3 of the way down the spur and decided he no longer wanted to hike. After five minutes time and about eight feet of progress, back in the pack he went, and back to the blue trail we went.
We turned left and continued down that blue trail.
Soon, we were near the purple trail again for another brief glimpse at playground equipment, but, crossing the yellow Bike Trail for the first time, we settled into the quieter, less peopled section of trail
This stretch also had the coolest burnover area of the hike.
More than halfway into our hike, we opted to stop at the bench to eat a snack in the shade of the trees. Good call.
After ten minutes or so, it was back to work. We soon crossed the yellow trail for a second time, which at this point lines up with the dirt Pine Street.
The trail curved, crossed Sugar Sand Road, crossed a small bridge, and wandered out to the other end of the red Spruce Street Trail.
We walked a bit further, then took a break at the second bench in the loop. It was on this stretch that we also began seeing wilderness area signs, so be extra careful to stay on the trail here!
At this point, we were getting close, and Tree Rider wanted out again, so he walked about a half mile on this back stretch, even insisting on wearing his pack. The trail has a long unbroken stretch, wanders near some swamps, and then hits the yellow Bike Trail again.
Once reaching the yellow trail, you’ll cross it three times in rapid succession as the hike comes to a close.
As you get to the end, you’ll first spot the cars in the parking lot, then the familiar tower of the visitors center. You’ll turn left onto the tiny spur of the blue trail that you started on, then emerge next to the Visitor’s Center.
This is a convient spot to emerge because you totally need to check out…
The Visitor’s Center!
Check out the exhibits and live animals, and don’t miss the view from the top of the tower.
No visit here is complete without heading up to the roof for a bird’s eye view of the park.
Nearby – The Hindenburg went down at nearby Lakehurst Naval Air Station. You can also hike at nearby Double Trouble State Park.
The recently burned out areas and the variety in the maturity of the pine forests is really neat.
Beware of ticks.