I've had an idea brewing for a few months about a new walk in a different part of New Jersey. Its not that there's a shortage of ideas for walks, but as the weather warmed I started thinking about the New Jersey shore. My family usually spends a week at the beach and there's always plenty of good memories of those times. Usually, we find ourselves heading further south to Long Beach Island, but I've got plenty of fond memories of "the Shore" closer to home too.
Tom Landes, a charter member of the FreeWalkers, had mentioned that we should get together near where he lives in Allenhurst, a small town right next to Asbury Park. So, with the seed he planted, I started thinking about a different kind of walk that emphasized the coast. What seemed interesting to me is that the beginning of this walk would be fairly close to our East Coast Greenway walks, which traversed the other side of the Raritan. It would be nice to start at the Amboys and work our way down but that route would present some logistical problems since it would require walking on Route 35 until near the Keyport area. As is our FreeWalker custom now, we search out spots where mass transportation, especially trains pass through. Fortunately, the North Jersey Coast line of the NJ Transit is a pretty good solution for at least the northern shore area, since it goes through most towns from Matawan to Asbury and even beyond to Bay Head.
Looking at the map and considering a challenging, but not too difficult walk, the area along the bayshore area and the coast seemed like an interesting and very accessible place to walk. Our walks have varied a great deal from old communities, to industrial and urban areas, to mountains and parks. What seemed to be the backbone of a great route was the Henry Hudson Trail, of which the northern part provides a pretty natural path from Matawan to the Highlands. From the Highlands, just walking along the coast is a unique experience, that is mostly easy and welcoming with either sidewalk or boardwalk, and the ocean on one side making it easy to follow.
I lived in Atlantic Highlands back in the 1970's and really like the peacefulness of the bayshore area.and its proximity to the ocean. The area seem to be tucked away in its geographic corner away from a more bustling New Jersey. It was also a time when I had a growing interest in riding my bike. While Route 36 was there much as it is today, it seemed to me to be less busy. And, we lived only blocks away from the harbor. Particularly beautiful was the lookout point at the top of Mt. Mitchell where you could see the entire Sandy Hook on most days. One of the highest points on the U.S. east coast.
I decided before I commit to a new walk I should spend a few hours scouting out the route. The Henry Hudson Trail was created in the early 1990's and did not exist when I lived there. So, I called Tom up and easily convinced him that he should join me on a 30-mile bike ride along the planned route. We took off on Saturday, July 24 to explore the route.
The Aberdeen-Matawan train station looked like a good place to start. The first train coming from New York south gets to the station at 7:11, so the natural time to start a walk would be 7:30 a.m. on a weekend at least. There's also a train that arrives slightly before 7:30 heading north. Tom took his bike aboard that one and arrived right before 7:30. All we needed to do was follow a couple of streets to find the head of the Henry Hudson Trail, probably about 1/2 mile away.
Its a different experience riding on the Henry Hudson Trail versus following streets and highways in this area. The trail is an easy paved 10-ft wide path, used by cyclist, runners and walkers while we were there. Much of the path is tree-lined and shady. It's flat and in pretty good condition as it skirts most of the busy areas of the costal towns and runs parallel to Route 36, although for the most part, the highway remains out of sight.
What's particularly striking is the marsh areas here in the bayshore area. They seem natural, broad and open at times. A view you would never see from Route 36. Although the bayshore area has been criticized as a poor economic area, there was little evidence of that along the trail. The trail crossed several streets and residential areas in Keansburg and Union Beach with small but respectable homes. Occasionally, there was a deserted building or strange area but they were rare sites. The trail, being 20 years old now showed some sign of wear but seemed to be fairly well used and a valuable, if not well-known resource in this area.
Once in Atlantic Highlands I relied on my memory of the town, although it's changed alot, to get to the harbor and back on to the Bayshore Bike Trail - the new continuation of the Henry Hudson Trail along the water. His new section is a real knockout of a trail with great natural views at the water's edge and a couple of special trail boardwalks to cross some marshy areas. Your get the impression you are in another environment altogether, perhaps a section of the New England coast.
The Bayshore trail ends at Papomora Point at the start of Highlands where you walk through town and head to the new Sandy Hook Bridge. This bridge, just finished this year, is pedestrian and bike friendly and leads to the sea wall at the start of Sandy Hook. From here its a straight shot heading down sidewalk and boardwalk though various towns along the way to Asbury Park.
Tom and I decided to have some breakfast that day and he recommended Steve's Cafe in Sea Bright. It was a great local place that's known for a real Jersey Breakfast (typically a Taylor Ham and egg sandwich, from my point of view) and his famous homemade muffins.
Refueled we headed out toward Long Branch (crowded as usual) following Ocean Avenue and various other roads that hugged the oceanside. We stopped at the Allenhurst Beach Club near where Tom lives to take a short break before heading into Asbury. I made a mental note that this looked like a good place to take a dip in the ocean, should conditions be right at the day of the walk. The route looked good to me and I pictured it being even nicer on a bright sunny, and probably somewhat cooler, day in October. Tom agreed that this looked like a good route for a walk that celebrated summer.