Hike through fields and forest around Swimming River Reservoir and Marlu Lake in Monmouth County.
Trail surface: mostly easy; some very prominent roots, especially in the beginning, and grassy areas can be quite muddy. Mostly flat, no big elevation changes.
- This route: 6.9 miles
- Shorter: Marshy Walk (.3 mile.), Woodland Trail (.6 mile), and various loops using multiple trails such as Reservoir and Marlu
- Also, a 1-mile track loop for runners (it’s forest and not an artificial surface)
Update 11/8/15: Route changed to incorporate Marlu now that the bridge connects it to Reservoir, description updated, new photos.
Our two cents: Nice park for short loops and easy strolls, plus a playground, ball fields, and even canoe and snowshoe rentals in season. For the avid hiker, this is pretty mild but we were able to get a nearly 7 mile loop out of the trails so it is a good option if relatively nearby. Lots of hiking along fields and not remote feeling. Navigating can be a tad difficult, see note on description below.
Books: Not in any books that we’re aware of.
Parking: N40 19.822 W74 08.388
Garden State Parkway to exit 109. Southbound, turn right onto Rt. 520 West (Newman Springs Rd.); Northbound, turn left onto Rt. 520 West 2.2 miles to Park (past M.T. Thompson park and Brookdale College entrance ) on left.
OR VIA State Hwy. 34 to Rt. 520 east. Southbound, turn left; northbound, turn right. Follow Rt. 520 east to Park entrance. This hike starts from the Old Orchard parking lot.
Note: There is another Thompson Park, in Middlesex County.
Restrooms: Porta-john in parking lot, and several more scattered around the park.
Note: Like most Monmouth County parks, the trails are basically unblazed. On the trail map, a BLUE SQUARE denotes moderate and a GREEN CIRCLE is easy – they aren’t blazes. There are sometimes posts with the trail names on them at junctions, but those are quite sparse here. By referring to the map you can figure out your location OK, but the trails themselves are not marked.
0.0 – Look for the trail kiosk at the end of the parking lot. Turn RIGHT and walk along the paved Thompson Loop.
When the paved Thompson Loop curves to the right, look for a BLUE marker post at the treeline at left. Walk towards that and enter the woods.
0.2 – At an area with a wide path (Track Loop), veer LEFT onto the trail.
0.4 – Just before getting to a view of the reservoir, the path turns RIGHT. (Walk out to the view first, then come back to the turn)
Follow the trail as it hugs the reservoir, traveling above it. Keep LEFT at a wooden fence. [Side trail to the right is likely a short cut]
1.2 – Where trail becomes faint and overgrown – veer RIGHT uphill away from the water to the edge of a field, turn LEFT for a few steps, then veer LEFT where the trail re-enters the woods.
1.6 – Come out into a clearing and parking lot. Cross the parking lot and start following the Marlu trail (it is not marked). A spur trail parallels the trail to the left.
1.9 – Veer RIGHT at an intersection (a wildlife blind is off to the left by the water). The trail splits again shortly – keep following it as it turns to the right. Follow Marlu along field edges.
2.5 – The Marlu trail approaches the road and ends at a bridge. Turn LEFT and go over the bridge, then turn LEFT after the bridge, and start following Reservoir Trail. Continue along the field.
2.8 – At a corner, take a few steps straight out-and-back to a bench with a view of Marlu lake. A trail marker post was laying on the ground the day we hiked this.
Continue on Reservoir Loop as it follows along the field on a grassy path in the field (potentially muddy). Road and a farmhouse are visible. The trail curves around to the LEFT. Walk along plowed fields.
3.1 – Turn LEFT back into the forest, between two very large trees.
3.4 – Cross over the paved Thompson Loop, continuing on the trail. Just after that, turn LEFT and continue on the trail. [Trail also goes straight.]
3.5 – Come out to a large open field. Walk across the field along a mowed/cleared path in the field.
3.7 – Follow the path in the field to the RIGHT, heading towards a house and a driveway.
3.9 – Follow the path in the field as it turns LEFT. The path crosses the driveway. Ignore a side trail to the right. Continue along the path between the field and the edge of the forest.
4.6 – Keep to the RIGHT at a trail split (left is likely a short cut), and then keep RIGHT again for a short out-and-back to a view of Swimming River Reservoir.
Continue on the path at the edge of the forest, keeping RIGHT when encountering any splits in the trail.
5.3 – Arrive at a paved road near park buildings (Training Center, Friends of the Parks) and follow it.
5.5 – Veer off to the RIGHT, at a post marker with “Trailhead”. Continue following the field path.
5.7 – Turn RIGHT and follow the paved Thompson Trail over a long bridge at Marlu Lake. Continue following the paved Thompson Trail as it passes the Marlu Lake parking lot from earlier, and follow the paved Thompson Trail/Inner Loop back to the lot.
[We continued on paved Thompson Trail/Inner Loop back to the parking lot instead of turning right back into the forest and retracing our steps on the Reservoir Loop, but that is of course an option. Based on our GPS data, taking the Reservoir Loop vs the paved Thompson Trail back at this point would add .5 mile to the route]
Hiked: 11/20/11. Trail Blog: “Thompson Park – Swimming River Reservoir and Marlu Lake”“