Biking the Belvidere Delaware (Bel-Del) Railroad

The Belvidere Delaware Railroad, known locally as the “Bel-Del,” was built in the 1850s between Trenton and Belvidere, New Jersey as an independent railroad with trackage running along the Delaware River. It was ultimately acquired by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1870s and was an important rail line with connections to the Lehigh Valley and Central New Jersey railroads into the early 20th century. Railroads were big business in the second half of the 19th century and rail companies licensed track rights from each other so they could ply larger areas, extend their reach and grow their business. It seems a bit strange to lease your tracks to a competitor, but apparently they did it. The Belvidere Delaware did likewise and also became operator of the Flemington Branch until its absorption by the PRR. Signs along the route in Lambertville and Stockton tell of other railroads running service along the same tracks. The Belvidere Delaware line was abandoned by Conrail in late 1978 and converted to the beautiful Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park Trail in the 1980s…and that’s the short version.

tracks north of downtown Lambertville
Flemington Branch Tracks heading north out of downtown Lambertville; the old Bel-Del right of way and trail is at left.

I rediscovered the Flemington Branch when I was working on my thesis in photography from around 2010 to 2014 (my forthcoming post on that rail line will explain the rediscovery). This led to much research and reconnaissance of the railroad which subsequently brought my photography excursions to Lambertville. A few years later I discovered the Delaware & Raritan Canal Trail and the Belvidere Delaware Railroad.

Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park – Belvidere Delaware Railroad Trail at Prallsville Mills

A Premiere Trail

Delaware & Raritan State Park – Belvidere Delaware Railroad Trail near Stockton, NJ

The Delaware & Raritan State Park Trail along the Delaware River is simply one of the best Rail Trail experiences out there. (The tow path part inland is also highly recommended). As mentioned, It follows the path of the former Belivdere Delaware railroad and in my opinion it’s one of the State’s crowning achievements, for several reasons. Firstly, the riding surface is hard-packed and fast, well maintained and flat; secondly, the scenery is simply spectacular; thirdly, the length is some 70 miles, affording many locations to ride it; and fourth, the entertainment options available are, again, in my opinion, unmatched in New Jersey and possibly elsewhere.

The star of this entertainment lineup is certainly the Lambertville Inn Restaurant which occupies the former Lambertville Station (below). You can ride the trail (seen across the canal at left) and then repair trackside for lunch or dinner, or explore the shops, cafes and art galleries of downtown Lambertville. This photo was made in winter so it looks deserted but in the warmer months its full of activity on both sides of the canal. I’ve taken advantage of this stop—in fact many of my rides begin in Lambertville—and it just can’t be beat for a great rail trail ride experience. One of my riding companions remarked it reminded him of a European village, riding the trail past the quaint backyards that line the canal as you go through town. The tracks are still in place here and will soon brought back to life for tourist excursions from Flemington. Trains have not been in Lambertville since 1998.

platform at Lambertville Station
The former platform at Lambertville Station, now the Lambertville Station restaurant and bar

You can also ride North about 4 miles to the small Victorian Hamlet of Stockton and grab a bite at the cafe in the old Stockton Station depot built in the 1870s. As in Lambertville it has trailside tables, and then you can ride back. Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous you can continue 12 miles up to Frenchtown where you’ll find the Frenchtown Inn, Cocina del Sol and many other quaint shops and cafes. Lambertville to Frenchtown should be about 16 miles for a 32-mile roundtrip. See my post here to read all about Frenchtown, the most ‘awesome’ Victorian small town I’ve experienced to date.

Also up this way is the Prallsville Mills Industrial Complex (see the photo above). The name may make you think of smokestacks and steel but we’re talking an 18th-19th century industry here…a mill, grain silo, sawmill and other buildings that serve at any time as an art gallery, wedding location, or a cool place to explore the area history. And it sits right on the trail just north of Stockton town center.

Of course, you may choose to head South out of Lambertville to Washington Crossing State Park where, you guessed it—George Washington and 2400 troops crossed The Delaware River on Christmas Night, 1776 to successfully attack Hessian mercenaries garrisoned at Trenton. Just as a note, the victory was a major morale booster for the beleaguered Continental Army and the Colonies as a whole, and marked a major turning point in the Revolutionary War. I’ve made that ride… it’s about 14 miles roundtrip from Downtown Lambertville. No restaurants or cafes that way but it’s a nice flat ride with some great views of the river.

Display at Washington Crossing State Park

So, there you have it in a nutshell, the great Belivdere Delaware Railroad Trail, or Delaware & Raritan State Park Trail, whichever you want to call it. I typically go by the railroad name as that is my interest. Here’s a short list of links (by no means exhaustive—there are many restaurant and lodging options!) to help you plan a cool trip on this great New Jersey rail trail:

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