Washington Crossing State Park – Hopewell Township, Mercer County, NJ
Distance – 14 miles of trail total, including a 2 mile bike trail and a 2.2 mile horse trail. We did 3.2 miles of trails
Type – Web of trails
Difficulty: 2 of 10 – some small hills to contend with
Admission – Small fee per car on weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day (2017 – $5 in state, $7 for out-of-state)
Website – Washington Crossing State Park – DEP
Open – 8 AM to 8 PM
Terrain – Woods, swamps, riverside, and fields
Surface – Various, from paved to dirt to grass
Trailheads – 40°18’7.94″N, 74°51’44.52″W – many, many, many trailheads, but this is where we started at the Visitor’s Center
Directions – 355 Washington Crossing Pennington Rd, Titusville, NJ 08560
Parking – Large lot at the Visitors Center. Other lots at the nature center, down by the ferry house, and the picnic area. You can also park outside the fee area right on the river to see where the crossing took place.
Dog friendly?: Yes, but must on leash. Not allowed in buildings.
Stroller friendly?: An offroad stroller should work fine
Benches?: Scattered in places along the trails.
Facilities?: At the visitors center and nature center and possibly the picnic area. We learned the hard way that the ones by the amphitheater are locked except during performances.
Markings – Well marked trails on posts and with painted blazes
Map – Trail map is located here
So, The Pres has been really obsessed with George Washington and the War for Independence lately… you know, normal five year old stuff. Mount Vernon is a bit far, so The Pres, Tree Rider, and I headed up to Washington’s Crossing on a late June morning to go exploring.
For those who don’t know (and the history teacher in me will try desperately to keep this short), this is one of the most important places in the entire War for Independence. George Washington’s Continental Army, fresh off many terrible defeats and near destruction while fighting the British around New York City, was in a bad spot. His army had gone from 20,000 men to just 2,400 men, multiple generals were trying to have him removed, and many of his men’s enlistments were almost up. The army was beaten and broken and, if the army didn’t stick together through the winter, the war was pretty much over. All you need to know about his situation is that the British army had no plans to attack him, they were very content to sit still and wait for the Americans to destroy themselves. They left over a thousand Hessians in Trenton, just to keep an eye on things.
So Washington came up with a desperate gamble… cross the Delaware in the darkness of Christmas night 1776 (over an icy and dangerous river), march ten miles to Trenton, surprise the Hessians, and hopefully save the American cause.
So, in the dead of night, they crossed the river from Pennsylvania to here.
It took too long, an icy rain storm struck, two Americans froze to death waiting for the rest of the army, and there was no way Washington’s plan could go off by daybreak like he had planned (oh, and two of the three wings of the army didn’t manage to cross the river, but he didn’t know that at the time), but Washington and the army went anyway, and won a stunning victory over the Hessians. They then sprinted back up the road and made it back across the Delaware before the British army in the area could respond. It was the beginning of perhaps the ten most important days of the war, and I’m sure I’ll write a post about the Battle of Trenton (we went to the reenactment last December) and the Battle of Princeton at some point.
Enough history! We started by looking at the exhibits in the Visitor Center, which are well worth checking out. Then, on to the hiking. We decided to start at the Visitors Center (since we were already there) and head past the flag poles to the Continental Lane Trail, marking the path inland from the river where Washington’s army had marched.
We went left down the trail, toward the river. It’s a bit over a quarter mile before you reach the intersection with the Green Dot Trail, just before the Continental Lane Trail runs into a parking lot.
At the intersection of the Green Dot Trail, we decided to head left. This took us through the George Washington Memorial Arboretum to the footbridge over River Road.
Once you make the bridge, it’s up and over. The bridge will give you a chance to admire your first views of the Delaware River, as well as a stretch of the Delaware and Raritan Canal. At the bottom of the bridge, take the white combination car and pedestrian bridge across the canal.
Then, take the red brick pathway past the Nelson House (not here during the landing) and you can access the riverbank. This is where Washington’s men landed and rested after their crossing of the Delaware River. You can look across the river here to see Washington Crossing Historic Park in Pennsylvania, where Washington’s army began their crossing.
I suggest that you stay here for a while and wander down through the picnic area. My kiddos were antsy after about ten minutes, so back we hiked over the canal, over the bridge over River Road, past the arboretum, over the small road, and to the intersection with the Green Dot Trail and the Continental Lane Trail.
At this spot, I recommend turning left and walking down to the Johnson Ferry House. This building WAS here during the crossing, and historians believed Washington and his officers made their final plans in this house.
Anyway, WE didn’t go to the house, because the 3 and 5 year old were having none of it. They headed straight over the Continental Land Trail and continued on the Green Dot Trail. It went uphill through the grass, then across the other part of the driving loop, and into the woods.
The Green Trail went straight along to the edge of a parking lot, then turned right into the interior of the park. Shortly after, the Green Dot Trail meets up with the Red Dot Trail. Here, we turned left onto the Red Dot Trail
(That’s a lie, we actually went the wrong way from the way we wanted, but since I am writing this later, no one has to know that).
The Red Dot Trail almost immediately dropped down to a creek, Steele Run. At the creek, the trail turned left to reach a small bridge over the creek, the took a hard right to meet up with the Yellow Dot Trail (the Red Dot Trail and the Yellow Dot Trail will overlap for a stretch) and follow the edge of the stream on the far bank.
We then followed the Red Dot/Yellow Dot overlap until the Red Dot Trail split off to the left. We took that split to stay on the Red Dot Trail.
After the split, we headed North on the Red Dot Trail, crossing the Blue Dot Trail once. The second time we crossed the Blue Dot Trail, we took a right turn onto the Blue Dot Trail and headed down that trail.
We shortly came to a T intersection. Here, we turned onto an uncolored connector trail on the map and took it straight into a big field by the open air theater.
Here, we walked out of the parking lot and down to the Knox Grove Day Use Area. We then turned right again and took the road across the stream (crossing the Yellow Dot Trail), then cutting over to the Continental Lane Trail.
Once on the Continental Lane Trail, it’s a straight shot in the footsteps of Washington’s soldiers (well, at least his soldiers’ steps on the way back) for about a third of a mile, at which time you are across the street from the Visitor’s Center.
We had hoped to hike up to the nature center, but hadn’t quite made it, so I drove the kids up there. It’s really nice.
Nearby: Washington Crossing Historic Park is the Pennsylvania twin of this park, well worth driving over the bridge and strolled down the rows of historic buildings. I haven’t managed to be here when the museum is open, but its supposed to be nice.
The Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain is just north of here, and there is a connecting trail from this park into that one.
Want to learn more?
For older elementary aged kids, When Washington Crossed the Delaware is a great little book (this was in my reader when I taught 5th Grade).
1776 by David McCullough has a great piece about the crossing and the Battles of Trenton.
The A&E Made-for-TV movie The Crossing with Jeff Daniels from some where around the year 2000 is also excellent, although has violence and little bit of language.
Tons of history, lots of trails to choose from, variety of terrain, nature center
One of the trails had high grass, which only worries me because of how bad the ticks are this year. The rest were well groomed. They can't all be perfect!