The Lawrence Hopewell Trail is a treasure, hidden in plain sight in a pastoral section of Mercer County. Its paved and well-groomed gravel paths cut through some of the prettiest real estate that New Jersey has to offer.
The LHT loop is just over 20 miles, so it’s technically not impossible to cover it on foot, if you’ve got the desire and time. But I took the loop on bicycle, taking in the various scenes—farmland, forest, Main Street, swamp, river, wildlife—at an easy pace.
It’s worth noting that I’m a fully-functioning adult who doesn’t own a bicycle (brief pause for our cyclist friends to process and compose themselves). Moreover you could politely say that I don’t know my ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to the world of “cycling.” Hiking? Sure, I’ve been a weekend warrior on the AT since my early 20s. Running? As frequent and far as my surgically reconstructed knee will allow. But biking? I just never caught the bug… that is, until this week’s assignment forced me onto two wheels and gave me yet another expensive hobby to dump my money into.
Do not attempt this loop on a road bike; while the trail is incredibly well-maintained, the terrain simply does not lend itself to the ultra-thin rims or puncture-prone tubes. We suppose you could navigate the LHT on a cruiser or fixed-gear with beefed up tires but be prepared to exert yourself. I rode the loop on a borrowed, rusted-out Walmart mountain bike with only two functioning gears. There aren’t really any “punishing” climbs but without the ability to shift, some sections weren’t exactly “leisurely riding.” You’ll have no troubles on a proper mountain bike, or better yet, a hybrid.
The LHT has 16 segments, but for my purposes, it made the most sense to divide the loop into two legs: East, situated alongside Princeton and West Windsor; and West, bordering Lawrenceville, Pennington and Hopewell Borough.
You can start your journey wherever, but I had luck completing the loop in a clockwise fashion; riding the eastern leg first, southbound, and then the western leg, north, back up to the starting point. I parked the car at the Mt. Rose Preserve parking lot, rode down Carter, Cleveland and then Pretty Brook Roads before connecting with a portion of the trail that was off limits for motor-vehicles; indeed, most of the LHT is self-contained, but there are a few segments where you need to continue on county roads for a brief time. The Eastern leg (if riding south) comes to an end at the southernmost point of the trail—just above Bristol Myers Squibb on Princeton Pike, and east of The Lawrenceville School. Riders will encounter some of the busier thoroughfares on this leg (Carter Road, Province Line Road, Princeton Pike) but the shoulders afford cyclists plenty of room, and you’re only on the road for a moment or two at most.
While it takes a bit longer to traverse, the Western leg is arguably the more picturesque and tranquil of the two; exploring Mercer Meadows and Rosedale Park is worthy of a separate day trip. If time isn’t a concern, I highly recommend stopping for a snack on Main St. in Lawrenceville—it’s a quaint town with some good food spots (ice cream fans: the Purple Cow is great). It’s essentially the midway point on your trip and, mark my words, you’re going to regret riding the second leg on an empty stomach.
The LHT is really well-suited for riders of any age, experience or abilities. Traveling at a less-than-blazing pace with plenty of stops for pictures and the occasional wrong turn (everything is well-marked, I just spaced out), I was able to complete the LHT loop in under three hours. In the Village Park section (and Rosedale Park, too) there is a station with an air pump and tools to get your bike back in shape. Also, if you’re in need of supplies or more intense bike repair/service, there’s an REI under 10 minutes from The Lawrenceville School on the southern tip of the trail, or Sourland Cycles is located just 5 minutes north of the Mt. Rose Preserve in Hopewell Borough.
Research the LHT, download a printable trail-map or donate to its upkeep here: https://lhtrail.org/
Enjoy the ride!