Mercer
Princeton

Herrontown Woods
Princeton, NJ 08540

Overview of Selected Trail

Herrontown Woods, part of a large corridor of preserved land lying across the eastern end of the Princeton Ridge, offers more than three miles of trails through peaceful, mature forest. The preserve includes the headwaters of a tributary of Harry’s Brook, and several rocky streams come down from the ridge and join near the parking lot. Boulders increase in size and number as trails rise in elevation. An open right-of-way for the underground Transco Gas Pipeline bisects the property southwest to northeast, crossing several of the trails, and offering longer views. The 142-acre property is owned by the municipality of Princeton and cared for by the Friends of Herrontown Woods (www.FOHW.org).

 

Trail Map
Summary
Full Desc
Flora & Fauna
History
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  • Herrontown Woods
  • Distance:

    Distance: 3 miles of trails. Additional trails in adjacent preserves extend southwest through the All Saints Church property, and northeast through Autumn Hill Reservation.

    Time:

    1-2 hours for a nice walk around a major portion of the preserve .

    Markings:

    Red, yellow, blue, green and white blazes on trees. A red/white trail provides a useful bypass to avoid wet portions at the north end of the red trail in late winter and spring.

    Trail Usage:

    Hiking/walking

    Elevation:

    140-283 feet above sea level

    Difficulty:

    Moderate inclines, some places where streams are crossed on stepping stones.

    Parking:

    Ample parking lot off Snowden Lane, across from Smoyer Park.

    Tips:

    Trails may be seasonally wet. Some trails have been rerouted, and stepping stones laid in the wettest areas, but be aware of these conditions…and enjoy the beautiful woods.

    Amenities:

    None, but bathrooms and water fountain are available nearby at Smoyer Park.

    Directions:

    From Nassau and Witherspoon Streets in the center of Princeton, go north on Nassau Street (Route 27) 1.1 miles. Left at light onto Snowden Lane. Go 1.5 miles. Sign on left (before you reach Herrontown Road) marks short lane into Herrontown Woods parking lot.

  • A long “outer loop” can be made by taking the red trail uphill (north) from the parking lot. When you reach the small red barn, the Veblen cottage is on your right, with the Veblen House farther east through the opening in the fence. Just past the red barn, turn right onto the yellow trail, which rises up onto the Ridge, then turn right again onto the blue trail.

    Both the yellow and blue trails pass by large depressions in the ground, where boulders were quarried for traprock. At the end of the blue trail, turn right onto the red trail and follow it along the perimeter of the preserve, crossing multiple streams and returning to the parking lot. Interior trails within this outer loop can be combined to make shorter walks. One of these inner loops, the yellow trail, leads to a large boulder field.

  • The woods are a diversified forest of oak, hickory, tulip tree, red maple, and sweetgum, the result of natural succession in areas earlier disturbed by farming and timber cutting. There is also a beech grove, with flowering dogwoods in the understory. Shrubs include spicebush in wet areas, maple-leafed viburnum further up the ridge. Protected from the plow by the boulder-strewn Princeton Ridge, many areas are populated by wildflowers and ferns.

    Spring sees mayapple, trout lilies and spring beauties throughout the forest, and jack-in-the pulpits where it is wet. Woodland asters are widespread in the fall. Warblers and thrushes can be spotted, and the great horned owl and Eastern screech owl can be heard in the evening. A white pine grove near the parking lot, planted in the 1930’s, succumbed to severe wind and snowstorms beginning in 1993. In 2018, the Friends of Herrontown Woods began managing this forest opening for more than 100 species of sun-loving native wildflowers, sedges, grasses, and shrubs.

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  • Princeton’s first dedicated nature preserve, Herrontown Woods was donated to Mercer County by renowned mathematician and visionary Oswald Veblen and his wife Elizabeth in 1957. Stone walls mark the extent of a once active farm that occupied the southeastern part of the woods, including the cottage clearing with its farmhouse, barn and corncrib.

    Elizabeth Veblen’s will added the 14-acre Veblen House property to the preserve in 1974. The Levine tract—additional land on the eastern side of the woods that was acquired in 1963—had seen traprock quarrying around the beginning of the 20th century. Wood-cutting for timber sale continued through the 1920s.

    By 2013, most of the trails had become blocked by fallen trees and invasive plant growth. A few volunteers cleared trails that year and formed the nonprofit Friends of Herrontown Woods (www.FOHW.org), which continues to care for trails and habitat. FOHW is also working to repurpose the Veblen House and Cottage donated by the Veblens as part of the preserve. Research on the history of the buildings and their past occupants can be found at www.VeblenHouse.org. Ownership of Herrontown Woods was transferred from Mercer County to the municipality of Princeton in 2018.

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