Much of New Jersey's open space lies in the southern and northwestern portions, where agriculture remains a vital part of the local economy. Who would then guess that the town to boast the most acreage of preserved farmland and open space would be less than an hour from Philadelphia in the tightly-packed central portion of the most densely populated state in the nation?
Upper Freehold, in the western panhandle of Monmouth County (population 642,030 in 2007) feels like a time warp as farms connect to other farms, families set up roadside produce stands in the summer, and a quaint turn-of-the-century downtown anchors it all. About 80 percent of the township is farmland, county or state parks; its over-7,500 preserved farmland acres are the most of any town in New Jersey.
Start in Allentown, which, at .6 square miles, is as much connected to its 47-square-mile neighbor as if they were one (which they were, until 1889). After a slice of pizza at La Piazza Ristorante (11 Church St., 609-208-0640), a cup of fine tea and fresh-baked scone at The Garden Tea Room (4 South Main St., 609-208-1880), or a mini-tour of the borough's deep history (visit allentownnj.com for a self-guided tour), get in your car or bike out of town. Bike is best, where you can truly appreciate just how much land is out there. Be advised that there can still be a fair amount of traffic depending on the time of day, so err on the side of caution when cycling.
Go three miles northeast on Main Street, later Old York Road, and visit the 6,300-acre Assunpink Wildlife Management Area (386 Clarksburg-Robbinsville Road, Robbinsville), which surrounds a massive lake; ride two more miles, make a quick left onto Windsor-Perrineville Road, and enjoy some vino at Silver Decoy Winery (609-371-6000) in nearby East Windsor. Go west on Main Street instead, make a quick left onto Route 539, and in minutes arrive at Cream Ridge Winery (609-259-9797), specializing in fruit wines alongside the more traditional reds and whites. Turn right just past the winery to visit historic Walnford (62 Walnford Road, 609-259-6275), a restored 18th-century village within the 1,400-acre Crosswicks Creek Greenway. Come for a free historical demonstration or a quiet walk along the water. Or split the difference, and take Route 526 for four miles and enjoy a hike at 422-acre Clayton Park (161 Emleys Hill Road, 609-259-5794). Along the way, take in some of the most breathtaking farmland views in New Jersey – and don't forget to take your camera.
- Upper Freehold Township: www.uftnj.com
- Allentown New Jersey: www.allentownnj.com
- New Jersey Wines: www.newjerseywines.com
- Monmouth County Park System: www.monmouthcountyparks.com
- From Philadelphia – I-95 North to US-1 North, NJ-29 to I-195 East, exit at 8 or 7. (travel time approx: 1 hour)
- From New York – New Jersey Transit Northeast Cooridor Line to nearby Hamilton Train Station. From Hamilton, I-295 South to exit 60 B-A to merge onto I-195 East, exit at 8 or 7. (travel time approx: 1 hour 40 minutes)
- From Atlantic City – Atlantic City Expressway West to exit 28 for 12th St./NJ-54 toward Trenton/Hammonton; Route 206 North to New Jersey Turnpike, exit 7A to I-195 East, exit at 8 or 7. (travel time approx: 1 hour, 30 minutes).