The Sussex Branch Rail Trail follows the railbed of the former Sussex Branch of the Erie Lackawanna Railroad. It travels 21 miles through wetlands, forest, farmland and small towns in this bucolic corner of the New Jersey Skylands. The southern terminus of the rail trail begins at Byram Township at Waterloo Road and runs northwest past Cranberry Lake, through the townships of Andover and Lafayette to the northern terminus at the Frankford Township Branchville Borough Boundary. The rail trail also passes through two state parks, Allamuchy Mountain State Park and Kittatinny Valley State Park, both popular mountain biking destinations in New Jersey. Each has an extensive mountain bike trail system that provides additional miles of singletrack for riders of all skill levels.
Our review covers the southern section of the Sussex Branch Rail Trail that travels around 7-8 miles one way between the two parks. If riding with less experienced children, mountain bikes or hybrids are fine within the parks where the cinder-based trail is smooth, flat and wide. Mountain bikes are recommended for the unmaintained stretch between them as the terrain is anything but smooth; the surface ranging from dirt, gravel and cinder to huge chunks of ballast. From end to end, it's an interesting bike ride close to New York City and quite an adventure.
The scenery along the way is constantly changing. The trail passes through rock cuts, woods, fields and farmland and past rushing streams, several wetlands and scenic lakes. You also pass by the backyards of residents as you approach rural local towns. Watch for beaver, deer, mink, muskrat, otter, turtles, birds, butterflies and other wildlife along the way.
North of Kittatinny State Park there is a 1.5 mile gap through the town of Newton. Contact the park office for current detour information. At Warbasse Junction the Sussex Branch trail intersects the 26 mile long Paulinskill Valley Rail Trail.
The Sussex Branch Rail Trail Description
Trail Highlights: Two State Parks, scenic lake views, stone arched bridge, wildflower meadows, antique shops
Allamuchy To Cranberry Lake
Pick up the Trailhead at the far end of the parking lot, past the gate. You can find Allamuchy State Park trail maps at the small Brown Kiosk in the lot. A Port-o-John and plastic trash bags are also available to trail users at the gate. This is a carry in-carry out park. The first 3 miles of the Sussex Branch Trail within northern section of Allamuchy Mountain State Park offers easy, scenic riding on a wide, smooth, cinder & dirt path. This section is perfect for family riding. We saw parents pulling kids in bike trailers, father and daughter mountain biking teams, including a mom trying to keep up with her two sons.
Many of the infamous Northern Allamuchy mountain bike trails in this section of the park can be accessed directly from the Sussex Branch Trail. These are generally hilly, rocky & technical best suited for intermediate to advanced riders. Trails for the beginner or less experienced rider are found in the Deer Park section to the west.
Soon after starting the ride you come to picturesque Jefferson Lake on your right. Continuing past the lake you enter the forest. Here the mostly shaded trail is cool and refreshing. Between the trailhead gate and the end of Jefferson Lake, the Waterloo, Ranger Loop and Pebble Loop mountain bike trails can be accessed to your left. Eventually you'll come to an intersection with a convenient park bench. Take a break here and admire the yellow daisies, purple asters and other wildflowers. The short path to the right leads to a small waterfall cascading to the rocky stream below. Past this fork the trail takes you once again into the forest, past lichen covered rocks and through large rock outcroppings on either side. You will pass the trailhead for the Iron Mine Loop mountain bike trail on your left.
At Cranberry Lake, the trail leaves Allamuchy and enters a parking lot along the lake. 180-acre Cranberry Lake is home to a resort community. There is a public boat launch and concession located next to the trail, including a trailer and cartop boat launch. The trail along the lake is a narrow, white gravel path. Many people walk this path, so use caution. Cross South Shore Road and ride through the D.O.T. Park & Ride lot. Pick up the trail at the other end. The spot where you re-enter this narrow section of the Sussex Branch Trail may be a little hard to find.
Cranberry Lake To Andover
The next 2 miles to the town of Andover follows along the west side of Route 206. Finding, following and riding the trail for this stretch can be somewhat of an adventure. It may not always be obvious or well-marked, so be alert. It is probably not appropriate if you are riding with young children.
From the parking lot, the trail is a narrow tunnel-like ribbon of large gravel through the underbrush. You may have to duck to avoid some of the branches overhead. At one point, you will have to walk a short section very close to the shoulder of Route 206. At Whitehall Road the trail almost disappears, becoming a narrow strip sandwiched between a small impromptu stream and a cement highway retaining wall. You may have to walk it (or bypass it by following Whitehall Road and climbing the hill back onto the trail where it runs above the road). Eventually the trail will widen and be easier to ride. Although wider, the trail is basically un-maintained all the way to Kittatinny Valley State Park. It’s surface is a mix of gravel, grass and dirt with roots. Before reaching the town of Andover you will pass by the backyards of homes and businesses along 206, pass over several bridges and under a large arched stone bridge of the railroad’s Lackawanna Cutoff. At Andover, the main street through town has interesting stores, antique shops and cafes.
Andover To Kittatinny
Before entering Kittatinny Valley State Park, north of Andover, you will have to cross busy Route 206. There is a wide curve in the road here so dismount, look both ways and cross quickly. Pass the trailhead parking and enter the State Park. Once again, the trail provides easy riding along the smooth, graded cinder surface. The ride from Andover to the Kittatinny Visitor Center is around 2 miles.
Soon after entering the park you will be pedaling through a wetlands area at the east side of scenic White’s Pond. The Sussex Branch Trail then enters the woods for a stretch before crossing paved Goodale Road (entrance to park for cars) and coming to a large meadow on your right. There is ample parking here and a paved road that leads through a wildflower-filled meadow to the Kittatinny State Park Visitor Center. To your left is a gravel road that leads uphill to a firetower.
There are many opportunities for mountain biking and hiking on the park’s dirt woods roads, old logging trails and extensive network of singletrack trails. Continuing north through Kittatinny on the rail trail, you enter the woods again and pass many trail access points. The hilly, technical terrain of this maze of unmarked singletrack trails is popular with experienced mountain bikers. It is one of the best mountain biking areas in New Jersey.
The Sussex Branch Trail then heads north out of the park, to the Newton-Sparta Road (Rt. 616) and beyond. From the Kitatinny State Park Visitor Center area to Newton-Sparta Road is about 2 miles. At Newton there is a gap of 1.5 miles that requires an on-road detour. Contact the park office for current detour information. The trail continues about 10 more miles to its northern terminus at Branchville. At Warbasse Junction it intersects the Paulinskill Valley Trail, a 27 mile rail trail extending from the western terminus at Knowlton to its eastern terminus at Sparta.
© October 19, 2009. Bikekinetix®. All Rights Reserved.
The railroad first arrived here in 1851 to transport iron ore from the Andover Mine to the Morris Canal. It later expanded to become the Sussex Branch of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western NJ rail system. Rail era station foundations, mileage and whistle markers, battery boxes, bridges, creameries and ice houses can be seen along the way. It also passes through the quaint villages of Andover and Lafayette, both with several antique shops and cafes.
For more information:
Trail Website: Sussex Branch Rail Trail