Path to beach in Caven Point Wildlife Refuge

American naturalist and nature essayist John Burroughs may have put it best. “I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.”

After a ten-month-long lockdown and a nerve-wracking election culminating in last week’s Capitol insurrection, we could all use a little soothing and healing.

Below are eight walks in and around Jersey City you might want to consider for lifting your spirits the next brisk, sunny winter day. Seven of them traverse beautiful wetlands and offer great birding. One is in a 2,000-acre mountain reservation. All are dog friendly. Some are near playgrounds and other attractions for young kids.

Before we begin, a note about provenance. Most of these pathways were built thanks to a 1988 state law requiring municipalities to provide public access to the state’s shorelines (a right that traces back to Byzantine emperor Justinian in 500 A.D.). Credit for developing and maintaining these paths belongs to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, private developers, local municipalities, and agencies like the Hudson County Improvement Authority. Nonprofit environmental organizations including Hackensack Riverkeeper, the Hudson River Waterfront Conservancy, and the NY/NJ Baykeeper work to promote use of the walkways, develop educational programming along them, and occasionally litigate to protect private and commercial encroachment upon them.

The walks are organized by point of origin starting with those in Jersey City.

Hackensack Riverfront Walkway in Lincoln Park West (Jersey City)

Lincoln Park West used to be home to an 80-acre landfill. Now, thanks to efforts spurred by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection in 1998, it’s the site of a .75-mile-long public walkway that’s won not one but two prestigious awards for excellence in environmental restoration.

Pennsylvania Railroad Hudson & Manhattan Railroad passenger bridge as seen from Lincoln Park West Walkway

This western part of Lincoln Park (so called because it’s on the west side of Route 440) is 120 acres in size. The walkway itself meanders through 34 acres of restored wetlands planted with approximately 100,000 plants attractive to all sorts of wildlife: raptors, black skimmers, ospreys, egrets, waterfowl, fish and aquatic invertebrates.

Edgewood Lake, which allows for fishing, is on one’s right as the walk begins. All along the route are views of the Hackensack River and two of the four bridges in the Hackensack River Vertical Lift Bridges Historic District. Just beware of errant golf balls.

Most of the pathway, while protected by bluffs, is adjacent to Skyway Golf Course.

For more exercise, options abound.

Visitors can explore a similar type of path perpendicular to the main walkway (adding another quarter to half mile round trip), meander through the rest of Lincoln Park West past tranquil ponds and scenic overlooks, or, of course, walk over the ramp to Lincoln Park East.

Those who tackle both the riverfront walkway and the loop in Lincoln Park East will log 2.75-miles. Dogs are welcome as long as they’re leashed.

How to Find It: Lincoln Park West is located on Route 440 between Duncan and Communipaw Avenues, but it can be accessed only via a ramp (for both cars and pedestrians) from Lincoln Park East. Lincoln Park East has several entrances including ones on West Side, Communipaw, and Duncan Avenues.

Parking: There is free parking in both Lincoln Park West and Lincoln Park East.

Public Transportation: Via Rideshare

Walkway Hours: 24/7

Route Length: 1.5 miles (out and back)

Activities for Kids: Lincoln Park East has a playground

Caven Point to Port Liberte (Jersey City)

Perhaps more familiar to readers but by no means more mundane is the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway section from Caven Point (in Liberty State Park) to Port Liberte.

Indeed, so beautiful is this stretch that billionaire Paul Fireman is attempting to transform the wildlife refuge within it to more holes for Liberty National Golf Course, which he owns. (Fireman is trying to block passage of the Liberty State Park Protection Act and is hoping for cooperation from Governor Murphy; ongoing—and tireless—efforts to pass the act, which would keep Caven Point public among other things, are being been led by Sam Pesin, president of  Friends of Liberty State Park.)

Port Liberte as seen from Caven Point Wildlife Refuge

The walkway itself is beautifully designed. Initially curving around Liberty National’s hilltop clubhouse, the path is bounded by tall grasses and rocky shores. Past the glass-enclosed clubhouse the walkway proceeds to the peninsula’s 15-acre bird sanctuary that itself features beautiful boardwalks, scenic overlooks, and panoramic views of New York Harbor. Local photographer and blogger Shayna Marchese notes, “It [the sanctuary] consists of upland meadow, saltwater marsh, maritime forest, tidal pools, tidal mudflats, and the longest natural beach in Upper New York Harbor and the Hudson River. It is one of the last undisturbed natural estuaries in the New York City area.”

Upon leaving the refuge (which is open from October through March), turn left onto the walkway and continue until you get to Port Liberte. Turn left and go down a few steps, and the public path will continue by heading south. (Do not enter Port Liberte as it is private.) You will now be treated to unencumbered views of Brooklyn to the east and glimpses into the backyards of Port Liberte homeowners to the west.

Keep going.

The walkway again appears to end—this time at a swimming pool. In actuality, however, it continues as it wraps around the pool, parallels “Intrepid Place,” and dead ends at Chapel Avenue.

Why is Port Liberte worth the trip? Because it’s so different.

Modeled after Venice—and with architecture inspired by French fishing villages—the Disneyworld-like community consists of ornately styled homes situated along serpentine canals, many with their own boats and docks. The development is gated, so nonresidents are prohibited from entering without invitation. But the public walkway provides glimpses of the unusual domicile.

How to Find It: The entrance to the walkway is located off Morris Pesin Dr. across from the Liberty Park Diner.

Parking: While it remains closed due to COVID, Liberty Park Diner, located right at the rotary at the intersection of Burma Rd. and Morris Pesin Dr., offers the closest free parking. No-cost parking is also available in the Liberty State Park parking lot at the east end of Morris Pesin Drive.

Public Transportation: Via Rideshare

Walkway Hours: 24/7

Route Length: 4 miles out and back

Newport to Uptown Hoboken (Jersey City to Hoboken)

Yet another stretch of the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway runs from Newport to Uptown Hoboken. This route showcases  spiffy urban planning and postcard views of Manhattan. And like the entire pedestrian path, it’s part of the East Coast Greenway.

Pier C Park along the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway in Hoboken

Arguably the most enchanting part of the route is Pier C Park  in Hoboken, an irregularly shaped protrusion that sits atop stilts in the river between Third and Fourth Streets. But other appealing spots dot the four-mile out-and-back walk, too. Pier A Park, just north of Hoboken Terminal, offers an expansive lawn great for groups of people to meet (masked, of course). Maxwell Place Park, at the northern end of the walk, features similar grassy expanses plus some cool seating and a nicely designed playground and dog run.

The walk ends  a stone’s throw from the Hoboken Historical Museum. Check out their great array of memorabilia and first-rate art and historical exhibitions.

How to Find It: Heading north on Washington Blvd. in Jersey City, turn right onto Park Lane South just before you get to Target. You will see the walkway at the river’s edge.

Walkway Hours: 24/7

Route Length: 2 miles in each direction

Nearby Points of Interest: Hudson Street in Hoboken (featuring a half mile of eye candy in the form of magnificent brownstones), the Hoboken Historical Museum

Activities for Kids: Pier C Park and Maxwell Place Park have state-of-the-art playgrounds

Hudson River Waterfront Walkway Around Bayonne Golf Club (Bayonne)

Just seven miles south of Jersey City—and jutting out into New York Harbor—is a stunning section of the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway, arguably the most beautiful section of this fantastic 19-mile amenity. The path circumscribes the Bayonne Golf Club, features a gorgeous foot bridge, and offers dramatic views. You’ll feel as though you’re on the set of Poldark by Masterpiece Theater.

While this is a route on which dog owners (or is the polite term now dog parents?) would definitely want to keep their charges leashed, the walk offers benefits that others in the area don’t: feeling part of a larger community, lots of independent boutiques and restaurants just yards away, and wide pathways for strollers (to name just a few).

View of Bayonne National Golf Club clubhouse from Hudson River Waterfront Walkway. Photo courtesy of Sue Kaufmann.

Almost the entire 1.25-mile trail borders wetlands. As a bonus, two other worthwhile spots to visit—Atlas Yacht Club and the  9/11 Teardrop Memorial in Bayonne (that Jersey City didn’t want)—are a short drive away.

How to Find It: The walkway is adjacent to South Cove Commons Shopping Center at One Lefante Way in Bayonne.

Distance From Jersey City: 7 miles

Parking: Free parking at South Cove Commons shopping center (park near Home Goods)

Public Transportation: Hudson-Bergen Light Rail to 34th Street Station, Bayonne. This station is diagonally across the street from the South Cove Commons shopping center. The trail head is behind Home Goods.

Walkway Hours: 24/7

Route Length: 2.5 miles (out and back)

Nearby Points of Interest: Costco, Atlas Yacht Club, 9/11 Teardrop Memorial

Twin Parks: Richard A. Rutkowski and Stephen R. Gregg (Bayonne)

Two adjacent parks on Newark Bay in Bayonne offer a great combination of wetlands, fishing opportunities, jogging and bicycle paths, birding, beautifully canopied hills, historic artifacts, even a formal garden. For warmer-weather outings there are also athletic fields and tennis courts.

Historic Elco crane in Rutkowski Park

While little has changed in the stately 98-acre Gregg Park for many years, Rutkowski Park got refurbished recently as part of an environmental remediation project.

Upon entering the northern edge of Rutkowski Park off Route 440 South, one can pick up a gravel path on the right. Just look for the sign with a backpacker logo on it. This trail borders Newark Bay and leads to a scenic wood footbridge that meanders through wetlands for a quarter mile. Along the way are spots to fish, interpretive signs describing the area’s wildlife, and a reassembled crane from Elco Boat Works with a plaque honoring the history of the boat builder and the servicemen who served aboard their torpedo patrol units in Newark Bay during World War II.

The walkway south from Rutkowski Park leads right to Gregg Park. In fact, the only thing separating the two parks is an iron archway. Once through the gate, turn right to behold an impressive half-mile long waterfront promenade with unimpeded views of Port Newark. To the left are ball fields, and beyond them the remaining 90-plus acres that unfold as so many undulating hills. Tall trees dot the interior throughout. The vibe is gracious and relaxed.

Gregg’s winding paths, stone stairs, porticos, and monuments are a testament to the foresight of Charles N. Lowrie, who designed the park and was active in the City Beautiful Movement.

How to Find It: Stephen R. Gregg Park is located on JFK Blvd. in Hoboken between 37th and 48th Streets. Richard A. Rutkowski Park is on the water just to Gregg Park’s north. To drive to Rutkowski Park, take Route 440 South and exit on the right just past the overpass for NJ Turnpike Extension 78.

Distance From Jersey City: 7 miles (20–25 minutes by car without traffic)

Parking: Gregg Park offers free parking in the southwest corner, which is the equivalent of 37th Street and Newark Bay. Rutkowski Park’s free parking lot is at the entrance to the park off of Route 440 South.

Walkway Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Route Length: Up to 2.5 miles of combined trails

Activities for Kids: Gregg Park features playgrounds and athletic fields

Mill Creek Marsh (Secaucus)

If you want to immerse yourself in the Hackensack River wetlands with the shortest possible drive from Jersey City, the Mill Creek Marsh in Secaucus is for you. The 209-acre property features a mile-and-a-half-long trail that loops around a marsh situated right in the Atlantic Flyway. Lots of ducks and birds are on view.

Waterfowl in Mill Creek Marsh Park

While you are right off both the Turnpike and Route 3, you will still make some enchanting discoveries: stumps of ancient Atlantic white cedar trees (a species that has been gone from the area since 1923,) ducks such as green-winged teals and northern shovelers, attractive wood footbridges, and thoughtfully placed benches on which to sit and reflect.

Mill Creek Marsh is one of many areas highlighted on the “Parks and Trails” page of the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Association’s website (NJSEA is essentially the Meadowlands administration). It is open from 7 a.m. to dusk.

How to Find It: The entrance to the walkway is located right next to the Secaucus, NJ location of Bob’s Discount Furniture in the Mall at Mill Creek on Route 3. The address is 3 Mill Creek Drive.

Distance From Jersey City: 7 miles (20–25 minutes by car without traffic)

Parking: Free parking available near the walkway entrance

Walkway Hours: 7 a.m. to dusk

Route Length: 1.6 miles of trails total

Richard W. DeKorte Park (Lyndhurst)

Another jewel along the Hackensack, Richard W. DeKorte Park consists of nearly 640 acres of marshes and coastal impoundments in the town of Lyndhurst in the Meadowlands. Like so many of the trails that Hackensack Riverkeeper (and its founder Captain Bill Sheehan) helped develop, it’s not crowded. So, don’t tell anyone.

Interpretive sign along trail in Richard W. DeKorte Park. Photo courtesy of NJSEA.

But it is important for scientific and environmental reasons. “The region is classified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by New Jersey Audubon and is an area of conservation interest to the USFWS [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service], mainly due to a high diversity of wetland birds and wildlife,” according to the The Coastal Impoundments Vulnerability and Resilience Project.

DeKorte park also feeds the soul. It offers three-and-a-half miles of trails including one over a long jetty that will make you think you’re on Cape Cod (Provincetown has a jetty that’s pretty impressive).

Signs highlighting the park’s resources and wildlife are found intermittently along the pathways; other resources include an observatory for star gazing and a center for environmental and scientific education (both of which are unfortunately closed during the pandemic).

Dogs are allowed on leashes on most of the trails.

How to Find It: The entrance is located at 1 DeKorte Park, Lyndhurst.

Distance From Jersey City: 11 miles (30 minutes by car without traffic)

Parking: Free parking right inside the entrance

Walkway Hours: 7 a.m. to dusk

Route Length: 3.5 miles of assorted trails

Attractions for Kids: provides information on numerous environmental education opportunities geared to children (temporarily suspended due to COVID-19).

South Mountain Reservation (Maplewood-Millburn-West Orange)

For those readers who want a nearby hike, not just a walk (and who have access to a car), South Mountain Reservation in Essex County fits the bill. Over 2,000 acres big, the complex is just 17 miles from Jersey City, but its mostly wild, forested habitat gives one the sense of being hours away.

Wooded trail in South Mountain Reservation. Photo courtesy of All Trails.

Your sojourn will be handsomely rewarded. Visitors will find numerous trails ranging in length from less than one mile to over 30 miles. And the preserve has an impressive pedigree: According to Essex County Parks, renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted visited the reserve and considered it amongst “the most beautiful and promising terrain he had ever seen.” While Olmstead did not design the reservation himself, he delegated the job to his stepson’s firm, and it was eventually finalized by Olmstead’s two sons, both prominent landscape architects in their own right.

South Mountain Reservation is also known for having a pretty snazzy dog park. Pooches from far and away get their humans to take them there because of its agility courses and equipment.

How to Find It: South Mountain Reservation is located in parts of Millburn, Maplewood, and West Orange. Best to find directions to the trail of your choice.

Distance From Jersey City: Approximately 17 miles (30–40 minutes by car without traffic)

Parking:  Free parking lots are sprinkled throughout the complex. For just a few dollars one can also Park N Ride.

Park Hours: dawn to dusk

Route Length: The complex features a range of trails from less than one mile to over 30 miles in length.

Nearby Points of Interest: The reservation’s popular dog park with an agility course.The towns of Maplewood, Millburn, and West Orange offer a variety of shops and restaurants.

Attractions for Kids: Numerous offerings including a zoo and an award-winning 19-hole safari golf course (all unfortunately closed during COVID)

Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated that Paul Fireman was no longer pursuing privatizing Caven Point.

Deputy Editor Elizabeth Morrill has worked in business, not for profit fundraising and as a freelance copy editor. She holds degrees in American studies and education from Yale and Harvard.

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