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The Best Running Trails in Princeton

Brian Harris, the manager of Pacers Princeton, tells you what local running trails to try this weekend

By Sarah Emily Gilbert

Brian Harris, the manager of Pacers Princeton, knows running. Racing competitively since high school, Harris took his speed to the University of Virginia’s track and cross-country team before qualifying for a year of running eligibility at Kutztown University. After graduating in 1998, Harris had a brief stint as a teacher before realizing he was still addicted to those exercise-induced endorphins. He returned to the running scene, but this time, as the manager for Princeton Running Company. Although impressed by the Running Company’s success, Harris desired to open up a Princeton running shop that maintained its small town feel and put the locals first.

Harris partnered with his friend and fellow runner from college, Chris Farley, and in fall 2014, they introduced Pacers Princeton, a full service running specialty store, to Palmer Square. Like a running pacer who enters a race not to win, but to help other runners achieve their goals, Harris’ store is more about sharing the running experience with his customers than selling the most products. Harris is the first to admit that his business philosophy sometimes makes for an uphill battle, but Harris overcomes uphills almost every day while running, so what’s one more in the grand scheme of things?

Between leading morning group runs through Princeton and running on his own, Harris has become an expert on the best running routes in the area. If this sounds like something you would be interested in, then you might want to take it slowly at first, Harris is a natural at this as he knows how to pace himself and keep going, if you try out too much too soon, you could injure yourself. You may not be aware that runner’s knee can be quite painful, so it will be best to read up on it first. If you have some time, Click here to read the entire article on this type of injury so you can keep running for years to come. Who knows, you may meet Harris on one of these trails.

Always ready to help a fellow runner, Harris shares his top five go-to running spots with Princeton Magazine.

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1. Institute Woods:

“A little over one mile from downtown Princeton, this series of trails owned by The Institute for Advanced Study is best in the summer, since it is almost entirely shaded. One other nice feature is the well-maintained trails are also relatively wide. Numerous crisscrossing trails provide good variety, although if you are running more than four or five miles, there will be some repetition. Parking is best from Princeton Battlefield State Park if you wish to run entirely in the woods.”

2. Mountain Lakes or Witherspoon Woods:

“Mountain Lakes and Witherspoon woods provide the best “rugged” trail running close to the heart of Princeton (less than one mile from downtown). This series of single-track trails are relatively hilly and have lots of twists and turns, so be careful if your ankles tend to roll easily. There are numerous creek crossings within Mountain Lakes and a variety of different paths to choose. Also, wooden walkways over marshland are plentiful, which makes the journey seem more adventurous. One of the highlights is a long (almost mile) plank path a couple of feet off the ground towards the great road. The views from this part of the park towards sunset are striking. Parking at a large lot off Mountain Avenue makes this an easily accessible choice.”

3. Mercer Meadows section of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail:

“The largest section of Mercer Meadows is a ten to fifteen minute drive from downtown Princeton, but it provides some of the best and longest trails for runners seeking runs of longer than five or six miles. Located in Lawrence and Hopewell Township, the series of trails (paved and cinder) can take you on a journey throughout a vast portion of Lawrence Township. There are many places to park along the rolling trail section, offering a surprising amount of variety for those looking to change up their routine.”

4. Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park:

“D&R Canal Path jaunts are the closest to Princeton, most heavily used, and longest trail surface in the area. Princeton University almost sits on the canal near Washington Street, making it the surface of choice for most students. Although runs along this vast trail system are flat, they are never boring with sights ranging from rowers along Lake Carnegie to canal locks in Kingston and views of the Delaware River where General Washington made his famous Christmas Eve crossing. The route is marked for mileage, and well maintained for ease of use. Parking exists all along the course of the park, so choose your destination and enjoy the scenery.”

5. Sourland Mountain Preserve:

“More technical and a bit further from Princeton (roughly 20 minutes or more, depending on your destination), the Sourland Mountain Preserve offers hills, boulders, beautiful vistas and an overall challenging change of pace for the more adventurous trail runner. For the nature lover who also happens to be a runner, the habitat cannot be beat. Birds, deer, the occasional bear and other animals native to the area in addition to plants and foliage galore provide the kind of scenery most people do not associate with central New Jersey. There is also access in Ringoes, Hunterdon County, but the Somerset county section of the park is much larger:”

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