Henry Hudson Trail – Seashore Branch

The Henry Hudson Trail is one of the longest and most diverse rail trails in New Jersey. At 22 miles it consists of 3 disconnected but good-length segments from Freehold to the Highlands. As with the rest of the trail the Seashore Branch is maintained by Monmouth County Park System. It has a nice paved surface suitable for users of all ages, impressive diversity of landscape and stunning waterfront views. This section of the trail runs from Matawan to Highlands along 13 miles of beautiful tidal areas, quiet towns and grassy bayfront views.

Starting at the trailhead on Lloyd Road you’ll pass through quiet neighborhoods, ride wooden bridges over grassy tidal areas, cruise through lovely wooded sections and snake along the shore of Sandy Hook Bay. The last affords spectacular views of the water and distant New York City skyline. There are many road crossings, especially between Matawan and the North Middletown communities, but the scenery outweighs the inconvenience and the ride itself is highly worth it. Just be sure to watch the traffic at those crossings!

History

Seashore Branch
A Highlands-bound train on the Seashore Branch along Sandy Hook Bay in the 1950s.

In its original form this segment of the trail was known as the Seashore Branch of the Central Railroad of New Jersey. Over the course of its existence it ferried thousands, even millions of people from New York City and Newark/Jersey City to the Jersey Shore from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. Later it continued as a commuter shuttle to and from Highlands, then Atlantic Highlands until November, 1966. From then on it saw very limited freight traffic which ended in 1983 when Conrail started abandonment proceedings. The Seashore Branch is now a permanent trail, while the Freehold Branch inland section was railbanked.

My Connection

I grew up in the area and rode this railroad as a kid with my Dad in its final days, boarding at Lloyd Road and Gerard Avenue in Matawan. The trip ran to 1st Avenue in Atlantic Highlands, the terminus at this final stage of passenger service on the line.

Connecting the Seashore and Freehold Branches

The trail in North Middletown
A section of the trail in North Middletown that parallels Route 36 – August 2019.

There are two places where the Henry Hudson Trail is disconnected and they are both on the Freehold Branch. But finishing them, especially the section in Matawan, would join it to the Seashore Branch thereby completing a significant alternative transportation route in the State. One gap is in Marlboro in the vicinity of the Route 79 and 520 intersection where the existing right of way is in good condition and without encroaching development. Completing that connection would join the Freehold-Marlboro section to the Morganville-Matawan section, thereby completing the lower Freehold Branch. The other is in Matawan Borough where the Morganville-Matawan section ends at Stillwell Street. Completing this missing section would take the trail across the Garden State Parkway to the Seashore Branch trailhead at Lloyd Road and Gerard Avenue. The bridge over the Parkway is still there and it seems to be in good condition, as is the wooden trestle bridge over Lake Matawan. The infrastructure is still in place so those structures would just need to be updated to put the trail across them. It’s frustrating that it hasn’t been finished for so many years but apparently the work has been put on hold until New Jersey Transit decides on whether to reactivate the line.

…keeping it as a rail trail would be better for the communities of Monmouth County…

Atlantic Avenue bridge looking East
The right of way from the Atlantic Avenue bridge looking East…part of the missing trail section in Matawan.

It seems to me that the sections should be finished anyway. This would make an already great trail even better and if train service is reinstated they’d have much of the work needed for reactivation already done. But I think keeping it as a rail trail would be better for connecting the communities of Monmouth County from its interior to the Bayshore, and provide a premiere walking and biking destination for all.

As with all the other rail trails I write about and certainly for any that you plan to visit, be sure to download the Rails To Trails Conservancy’s Trail Link app for all the information you’ll need.

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