Beautiful marsh views, wonderful boardwalks, birding
Bugs have to be ridiculously awful certain times of the year.
Cattus Island Park – Toms River, Ocean County, NJ
Distance – 7 miles of trails, but getting to some will require backtracking, so distances covered will be longer than listed trail distances. (we did 4.5 miles total just doing the Blue and Orange trails and the road connecting them)
Type – Series of loop trails.
Difficulty: 1 of 10 (and should always be easy, just as long as you prepare for bugs and direct sunlight in the warmer months)
Total score: 10 of 10
Terrain – woodlands and swamps
Surface – various natural surfaces, plus packed dirt on the road.
Trailheads – 39°58’58.57″N, 74° 7’42.43″W (next to Nature Center)
Directions – 1170 Cattus Island Boulevard, Toms River, NJ 08753
Parking – Large parking area by the Cooper Environmental Center.
Dog friendly? Yes, keep on leash and pick up after them
Stroller friendly? Yes, if you have an offroad stroller
Benches? Yes, benches scattered throughout the trail system
Facilities?: Port-a-potties, but I believe there are real bathrooms in the Nature Center that will be opening after renovations very, very, very soon.
Markings – Painted blazes for each trail, well marked.
Map – Can be found here
When I started this blog 93 years ago, I started to get suggestions for great trails pretty quick. One of the earliest suggestions that I got was Cattus Island. Two weeks ago, I had a day off from work, so The Pres and I finally, finally, finally made it happen.
Toms River is a good ways from us, but we got here around 11 AM. The Nature Center is closed for renovations (should be reopening any week now), so we walked down the road, past the Visitor’s Center, past the trailhead for the Red Trail, and into the marshes.
We headed down the road (closed to traffic) so that we could reach the Blue Trail. I stopped to take so many pictures in the marshes that it took us a while to go the short distance to the trail.
Here, we turn onto the 2.2 mike Blue Trail, which is a loop. The Blue Trail isn’t much at first, just a path through the woods within sight of the road.
But as soon as you get away from the road, you start to hit views of Silver Bay. Already, I was thrilled with this hike.
And from there, it only gets better. The trail weaves through reeds and forests, passes a bird blind, and then reaches the first trail junction.
The first trail junction is simply a junction of the Blue Trail with the Blue Trail. The right branch (the Cedar Line Shortcut) makes for a shorter loop of the Blue Trail, and is for bikes, who can’t continue on the boardwalks ahead. The left branch makes for a longer loop and is for hikers only. You will cheat yourself if you don’t choose left, so totally choose left. This will carry you through some reeds and more woods until you hit the boardwalk section of the Blue Trial.
The boardwalk is the best part of the Blue Trail. It will carry you through the marshes, with a few places offering amazing views of Silver Bay. You will leave the boardwalk a few times in this section, but a new boardwalk will soon start up again.
When the boardwalks run out, you’ll hit the road again, which bisects the Blue Trail. Here, we opted to get off of the Blue Trail (don’t worry, we’ll be back) and turn left to walk up the road until we ran out of road. As it was before, this stretch had some wonderful marsh views. There were also a bunch of osprey nests, which must be great when its the right season and not December.
At the end of the road is nice little picnic area. There was also a small beach, so we stepped out to take in the views. It was then that we noticed that there were a series of benches going up the beach. You didn’t have to ask us twice, so we hiked our way up the beach until we reached the furthest point, which offered great views of Barnegat Bay. Across the water stood Dover Beaches North.
What a view. At this point (ha!), there was nothing to do but backtrack down the beach, so we did.
We were all ready to head back up the road when we noticed a pair of ladies and a dog coming off of the Orange Trail that started next to the picnic area. I had thought I had read that it was closed due to storm damage, but I hadn’t checked the park’s webpage for almost two months (note: always check the website before heading to the trail), so I thought that maybe they knew something that I didn’t. There hadn’t been any closed signs at the parking lot (other than the Nature Center) and we didn’t see any signs at the trailhead.
Anyhow, we were here now, so we decided to try the 3/4 of a mile Orange Trail and see how it went. If the trail was supposed to be closed, we sincerely apologize.
This trail (featuring a much repaired boardwalk) led over to a place dubbed Scout Island, which has been the recipient of many an Eagle Project from the Boy Scouts of America, especially Troop 1 of Toms River and Troop 32.
Once on the island, the trail simply loops back around to the boardwalk that leads across the marsh. You are in the furthest reaches of the park into the bay, so the views are great. The trail is nearly entirely made of boardwalk. Many pictures were taken.
Once around, you backtrack on the boardwalk across the marsh and reach the picnic area again. The it’s back down the road through the marshland until you reach where we left the Blue Trail.
Here, we turned left onto the Blue Trail to finish up our loop. The second part of the Blue Trail loop is longer and slightly less scenic, but offers more woodsie terrain. We walked until we reached the other end of the Cedar Line Short Cut.
After the short cut, it’s another stretch until the road is reached once again. There’s another bird blind in this stretch that looks back on the Nature Center.
When you reach the road, the Blue Trail actually crosses it, the hangs a left to parallel the road. Within a few hundred yards, the Blue Trail will end on the road a short ways above where we first got on it.
The Blue Trail will put you back on the road in the direction that you want to head. You’ll go back on the road through the marshes and up to where the nature center is located.
At this point, we’d done 4 1/2 miles (the trail distances are misleading, as there are road walks to the various trailheads). We were by the Nature Center, next to the trailhead for the 1.7 mile red Maritime Forest Loop. I left it up to The Pres if he wanted to keep going or to start on our 1 1/2 hour ride home, and he opted to head home. 4 1/2 miles being a good stretch of the legs, we walked back to the car and hopped in to head for home.
Nearby: The Ocean County Park system is amazing. If you need more hiking after this, Jakes Branch County Park is about 20 minutes away and Wells Mills County Park is a half hour away. This is also about as close as your going to get (30 minutes drive) to Island Beach State Park, which we haven’t managed to get to yet.