Like my co-authors on this site, I’m going to add my two cents about fitness efforts, especially in regards to upping the ante a bit for the New Year. Unlike my co-authors, it has probably been a year since I set foot in a gym and safe to say, I am a bit Grinch-like when it comes to working out. Don’t get me wrong – I love being active, but like toddlers and vegetables, exercise has to be disguised as something else for me to consume it.

Which brings me to the New Year’s Eve day hike I took with my oldest son on the Pennington Loop Trail. Getting outside and into nature has a way of not only being a good source of exercise, but seriously balances my spirit. It is also my kids’ natural habitat and when they are bouncing off the walls inside, a quick hike to a creek or out in the woods does the trick every time. And there is copious research about how important it is for everyone – especially children – to connect with nature on a regular basis. (Check out this recent article on that very subject).

See? We're harmless hikers!
See? We’re harmless hikers!

So I’m kind of passionate about it. When we moved to New Jersey, a major requirement of where we ended up settling was the availability of green space and natural land. Here in Hopewell Valley, we are blessed with exactly that. The Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space, D&R Greenway Land Trust, and Lawrenceville Hopewell Trail are all full of hikes, trails, preserved farmland and wooded areas just waiting to be explored.

But it can be a little intimidating to venture out on a hike and not know exactly where you are going to end up. And have your kid need a diaper-change in the middle of the woods. Or fall on their rear in a pile of mud. But that’s all part of the adventure, right?

So to start, here is something to demystify the experience for those willing to venture out. My first hike when we moved to town was down the Pennington Loop Trail. I noticed the trailhead while playing at Kunkel Park, and one day set off with my son to explore it. I felt a little “Into the Wild”-esque and could hear my mother’s voice chiding me for walking with my kid alone in the woods. But seriously, this trail is full of friendly neighbors walking their dogs, or local high school students on cross-country runs, or people like me.

baldwinlakeYou can access the trailhead at the end of the parking lot at Kunkel Park and wind down to cross Lewis Brook via a small bridge constructed of three utility poles. On this particular hike, my buddy was in the BOB stroller and I popped a wheelie going over the bridge with him still in the stroller. I was able to push him in the stroller on the entire hike, so if you have kids who might poop out halfway down the trail, a sturdy stroller or hiking pack or baby-wearing device will do the trick.

The trail winds through the Stony Brook floodplain through beautiful mature woods that are just gorgeous any time of year. Orange blazes and blue D&R Greenway signs on the occasional tree will help you stay on track, but the path is pretty clearly tread through the woods. The trail winds up a small hill to the manmade Baldwin Lake before traversing a field that is full of wildflowers in the summer. At this point, hikers can either divert back through the woods on a short trail returning to Kunkel Park like we did, or access North Main Street or the Penn View Heights neighborhood and walk back through town.

All of this information and more is available in a “Guide to Walking Trails in the Hopewell Valley,” a publication compiled by Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space that is available at local branches of the Mercer County Library.

So tell us, what is your favorite local hike, and is there anything stopping you from getting outside?

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Andrea Fereshteh has been writing for as long as she can remember. An avid journal-keeper as a child, she dabbled in dramatic notes to her parents and designed her own stationary. With a zest for small talk and meeting new people, she pursued journalism in college and worked for nine years in PR, writing and media relations for the higher ed and nonprofit sectors. She has a mousters and ducktorate from Disney University and is a mother to two lively boys who inspire her to just keep writing, just keep writing.