Peaceful Hiking in Central Jersey at Plainsboro Preserve

Just 30 minutes outside Princeton, NJ lies 1,000 acres of dense forests, wide fields, and lakeside views — the Plainsboro Preserve. The Plainsboro Preserve is owned and operated by NJ Audubon and is free and open to public from dawn to dusk.

The Preserve boasts 5 miles of trails including a geocache route, a nature discovery trail, and — my favorite — a short, narrow pathway that ushers particularly persistent hikers out past scraggly trees and beaver habitats into the center of a beautiful lake.

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Your experience at the Plainsboro Preserve in New Jersey will probably begin at the Environmental Education Center located near the entrance to the property. Inside you’ll find a play-place for the kids, animal exhibits, a birding library, a gift shop, trail maps, binoculars for spotting wildlife, and an expansive back deck with a gorgeous lake view.

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The lake, the centerpiece of the preserve, is Lake McCormack, a former mining operation in the late 1960s that was filled with water when a spring was hit at the site. Now, this once-industrial area is home to turtles, fish, frogs, otters, beavers, and many other animals. The rolling hills along the lake are a side-effect of dredging by the former mining operation, leaving a landscape that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen — an amazing combination of natural beauty and human-made features.

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Of course, a big attraction at the Preserve is birding. Over 200 types of birds have been spotted at the preserve (you can check a running list in the education center to see recent spots!). Walking the trails in the Preserve will transport you to a paradise of greenery and animal life. I started my walk on the Blue Trail, which leads through a dense beech and pine forest alongside a lush pastoral field.

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Where To Go

Once I exited the woods, I followed the wide, gravel-lined White Trail along the lakeside, and then Maggie’s Trail, a short stretch that extends along a skinny peninsula jutting into Lake McCormack. The view from the end of Maggie’s Trail is beautiful — isolated, expansive, and scenic.

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The view from Maggie's Point on Lake McCormack.

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The Plainsboro Preserve is a great destination in New Jersey for family outings, solo casual hiking, and relaxing in the forest — all easily accessible just outside the suburbs.

Have you been to the Plainsboro Preserve? Let us know in the comments!

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