Van Nest Refuge WMA – Hamilton Township, Mercer County, NJ
Distance – Did 1.7 miles loop. Trails connect into Mercer County Park, so can expand this hike much, much further!
Type – Loop-ish
Difficulty: 5 of 10 – some bridges were out when we were there, which involved some fancy footwork. If they were/are replaced, it would be a 2.
Website – None
Open – Sunrise to Sunset?
Note – This is a WMA, but it seems to be closed to deer hunting due to it’s connection with Mercer County Park.
Terrain – Forest and swamp
Surface – dirt trails
Trailheads – N 40° 16.137 W 074° 40.295
Directions – Parking lot located off of Hughes Drive, just at the intersection of Quaker Bridge Road.
Parking – Small parking area at the preserve. Can also park in Mercer Meadows much larger lots and walk into this area.
Dog friendly? Unsure
Stroller friendly? No
Markings – painted blazes
Description – In March 2021, I was looking for a new little adventure. Ended up heading northward to check out Mercer County Park, which has been on the list forever. Unfortunately, it was frigid and I only got about a mile and half in before the frigid temperatures and whipping winds sent me scurrying for the car (and I’m not easily set scurrying).
But nearby (actually, connected!) was the Van Nest Refuge, which has more tree cover… yay! So parked in the small, dirt lot (is off of Hughes Drive, NOT Quakerbridge Road) and set off on a 1.7 mile hike.
Well, it was definitely a little warmer with some of the wind cut down. Headed out on the Yellow Trail into the park. The trail was clear enough at the tail end of winter and looked to be used as much by bikes as by hikers. Enjoyed winding through the Winter woods with the remnants of snow.
At some point, I ended up on a Blue Trail, which wasn’t on my map on my phone, but is on the official Mercer County Park map (although not labeled as blue). The took me toward the dam.
The trail heading out was pretty easy… right until it wasn’t I hit a wet spot where you had to cross on makeshift bridges made of logs (and, sneak peak, this wouldn’t be the only one). Fortunately, I managed to keep my feet dry on these crossings, but definitely something to think about if you want to deal with before tackling these stretch of trails (on the trails next door at Mercer County Park, I didn’t come across anything like this) .
Pretty soon, I arrived opposite the dam that creates the large lake at Mercer County Park. The trail angled toward it, at which point I switched to the Orange Trail that followed the edge of the water.
The trail wandered into the other end of the swamp that we’d had to cross on sticks before. This tine, we could see the remains of what clearly had been a trail bridge. If anyone hikes this and its repaired, please let us know!
Some creative hopping later, we were back on dry land, but soon his another bit of bridge remains. This one was easier to navigate across.
A short walk later and we emerged in the clearing near the parking lot. Before we left, had to walk over to the historic marker near the parking lot. This shared that Washington’s army had marched near this spot.
Then it was back into the car to try to get feeling into my fingers!
Nearby: Mercer County Meadows is connected to this park!
Warning: A non-numeric value encountered in /home/customer/www/southjerseytrails.org/public_html/wp-content/themes/engine/functions/reviews.php on line 338
Nice patch of woods, plenty of miles to be had with the connections to Mercer County Park.
Bridges were out when we were there, which made some bits tricky.