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Mountain Lakes Open Space Area

Description from the New Jersey Trails Association Web Site - njtrails.org

The Mountain Lakes Open Space Area, a “central park” in Princeton, consists of some 400 acres just north of the center of town, most of it open to the public. It has a wide variety of hiking trails- and two biking trails – some connecting to other trails outside of the area described here. Along with views of Tusculum, the estate built by John Witherspoon, and historic Coventry Farm, it features a great variety of open fields, several small streams and lakes, old stone walls, boulder fields, and old growth pine and hardwood forests. The area is divided into five sections: The Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Preserve, including the Mountain Lakes House; Mountain Lakes North; John Witherspoon Woods; the Tusculum fields; and Community Park North. Most of the remainder of Tusculum, to the east, and Coventry Farm, to the west, is private open space.

Three major northwest-southeast trails, 2 northeast-southwest trails and a major loop crisscross the Mountain Lakes Open Space Area:

– The 1.0 mile Stuart-Coventry View Trail (red markers) begins at the west end of the main parking lot and runs NW along the newly restored lower dam and then along the Coventry Farm boundary in The Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Preserve before entering Mountain Lakes North and ending at the Stuart Crossing on the west inlet stream, where it meets the Stuart-Witherspoon Trail.

– The 1.1 mile Stuart-Witherspoon Trail (yellow markers) begins at the small parking lot on Cherry Hill Rd., runs SW through boulder fields (some huge rocks, including Devil’s Cave) and old growth forest in John Witherspoon Woods and Mountain Lakes North, crosses the west inlet stream at the Stuart Crossing, and continues along the Stuart Trail (private property- stay on the trail) to The Great Road. For longer hikes, across the road is the start of the PDS Trail (also on private property), which follows the PDS boundary to a connecting trail coming from Woodfield Reservation (see separate listing.)

– The 1.5 mile Pettoranello-Brookside Trail (white markers) crosses a dozen small and medium size streams (2 on bridges). It begins at the east end of the main parking lot and runs along several paved and unpaved trails in Pettoranello Gardens before entering the pine woods across the sewer line in Community Park North. From there it enters the Tusculum Fields, running NW through parts of the East Field and turning SW through the North Field, and then reenters the woods and turns NW again as it passes the ML House and drops down to the very pretty east inlet stream. Upon entering John Witherspoon Woods it makes a large loop on both sides of the inlet stream before ending at the John Witherspoon Woods Trail.

– The 0.7 mile John Witherspoon Woods Trail (red markers) begins at the trailhead kiosk halfway down the driveway to Mountain Lakes House (no parking.) Going down the steps to the east side, the trail runs north through various types of terrain and forest before entering John Witherspoon Woods and ending at the Stuart-Witherspoon Trail.

– The 1.0 mile Boardwalk-Tusculum Trail (blue markers) runs in both directions from the trailhead kiosk:
– To the east, it runs down the steps to an immediate junction, where it turns right and crosses several streams before entering the pine woods in Community Park North, then crosses into the Tusculum Fields and runs along the East Field to Cherry Hill Rd. (no parking.)
– To the west, as the only authorized bike path, it follows a maintenance “road” before entering the woods and then exits the Preserve and crosses some significant wetlands on a boardwalk built with funds donated by the J. Seward Johnson, Sr. Foundation.  After some great views of Coventry Farm, the trail ends at The Great Rd.

– The 0.8 mile James Sayen Trail (green markers) is a loop that is entirely within the The Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Preserve.  It can be accessed from either the Stuart-Coventry View or the Boardwalk-Tusculum Trail, or from the lower lawn of the Mountain Lakes House, and it makes a complete circle around the upper and lower lakes.
– In addition, several shorter trails and spurs exist, including the Community Park North Trail (yellow markers), which begins at the Unitarian Church parking lot and runs through pine woods to the driveway,  and the West Field Loop (orange markers), with views of the Tusculum estate.
– The sewer line (0.8 mile, no markers) enters the Area from Route 206 and runs west to a gate into The Glen (private) before reaching The Great Road.  This is a wide, grassy swath which separates Community Park North into the pine woods on the north and Pettoranello Gardens on the south.