Columbia Bike Trail: Beautiful Trail in Beautiful NJ

Columbia Bike Trail, New Jersey

The restored station at Califon

A recent movement that has swept across America has been the “Rails to Trails” campaign that has spurred many counties and towns to turn their old, unused railroad lines into biking/hiking trails.  One of the lines that has been converted is the Columbia Bike trail, which goes from Flanders, NJ, to the town of High Bridge.  The 15 mile trail offers those who hike or bike it a very nice shaded, well-maintained trail, an 80-foot high bridge over Ken Lockwood Gorge, and a restored railroad station in the town of Califon.

 


 

When we did this trail, we started at the Flanders end of the trail and went to the High Bridge end.  We parked on Four Bridges Road where the trail crossed the road.  The trail actually goes for about a mile from Four Bridges Road and then ends in a small parking lot, but this part of the trail was closed for construction when were there.  Going the other way from Four Bridges Road towards High Bridge, the trail is not very well maintained.  The trail is more like a small track and the surface is rocky.

Map of the Columbia Bike Trail, New Jersey

A map of the trail

It would be great for hiking or mountain biking, but I wouldn’t recommend street tires (like my bike had) on a surface like this.  After about a mile the trail goes through the back of a factory yard and then continues up a small hill to an unfinished housing development.  Follow the development road to the opposite side of the development (don’t go out of the development on the road that goes to the main road).  Get off the road and go down the small hill, then across a bridge, through what looks like a back yard, beside a restaurant (I believe it’s Friendly’s) and get back on the trail that starts again at the end of the parking lot on the other side of the road.

 

You are now in the town of Long Valley, which is actually a great place to start biking.  From here on, the trail is much larger and better maintained with a smooth surface and room for two or three bikes to pass each other.  The trail continues for several miles and then comes to the town of Califon.  Go straight across the first road you come to and follow the small street on the other side for a short ways, passing the old restored Califon train station, then turn off the road and back onto the trail.  Shortly after this, the trail comes into the Ken Lockwood Gorge.  This is one of the most scenic parts of the trail, where the trail runs high above the South Branch of the Raritan River.  In the middle of this section is the railroad trestle over the gorge.  This 80-foot high trestle is defiantly a point of interest along the trail.

Columbia Bike Trail in Lockwood Gorge, New Jersey

The trestle in Lockwood Gorge

After crossing the trestle, the trail continues for about another two miles and then comes to the town of High Bridge.  The trail ends here at a park and a real working railroad uses the railroad bed after this section.  You can either be “picked up” at this end by a second vehicle, or you can ride back to Flanders by the same route.

Round Trip Trail Length: 30 miles or less depending on if you do the whole trail; using a shuttle vehicle is an option

Facilities: Restrooms at the High Bridge end (in the park), occasional signboards with maps.

Fees: None

Trail ★★★★☆

Road ★★★★★

Signs ★★★☆☆

Scenery ★★★☆☆

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★★☆☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

 

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