Nestled between New Brunswick, Princeton and the farmlands of East Amwell is a natural playground with acres of dense forest, plenty of boulders for climbing, ponds and lakes for bird watching and trails for hiking: the Sourland Mountain Preserve in Hillsborough.
Now, let’s mention this early: You might want to wait until the water from Ida subsides and the roads leading to the preserve are safe to travel.
We snuck in before the rains and strolled around the pond at the preserve’s south entrance and took the easy to moderate one-mile-plus round-trip hike to the Devil’s Half-Acre boulder site. It’s one of two unique boulder sites in the preserve; the other—Roaring Rocks—sits along Roaring Brook at the western edge of the area.
You’ll gain about 500 feet of elevation in the half-mile up to the Devil’s Half-Acre, traveling along wide, packed-dirt patches marked with stray small boulders on the trail and the occasional exposed-root tree. About a quarter-mile into the hike, you’re in it: Gone are the sounds of traveling cars and few sounds but the rustling of trees will disturb the immersion. Step on a twig or kick a rock, and the sound will echo throughout the forest. It’s wonderful.
As you approach the Devil’s Half-Acre, you’ll encounter some steep pitches and plenty of opportunities to shoot off the trail toward sizable boulders. Ample marking—just study the signs on the welcome poster before entering—keep you on track.
Boulders in and around the Devils’ Half-Acre size up to about 15 by 15 feet, and their unique shapes and locations ensure those looking to climb atop them can wind through the winds to find the top, and those interested in bouldering can gain easy access to the bases. Many of the larger boulders have been smoothed by time, water and other elements, but there’s enough hand and footholds on enough boulders to find one that suits your experience level—from beginner to expert. Probably lug a crash pad, though, as some of the boulders rest atop many smaller boulders.
The elevation levels out as you reach the Devil’s Half-Acre, and whether you’re bouldering or not, the vista is rewarding. Look down on cascading, giant boulders from the mountain top, and out onto acres of dense forest.
From here, you can continue the trail, which connects, eventually, to a loop that’ll take you to Roaring Rocks, or head back to the open fields of the entrance. The trails are also suitable for mountain biking; just look out for the boulders and roots shooting out from the trail.
Whether you’re in it for a challenging hike, a day climbing rocks or a moment of solitude, the Sourland Mountain Preserve has plenty of ways to recreate in nature; and it’s so big that you can go multiple times and have a unique experience each time. Go here.