A device exploded at Duncrue towpath in the Hazelbank area at around 9.15pm on Saturday, during a security alert that closed the M5 between Hazelbank and Greencastle for almost 24 hours.
Detective Chief Inspector Karen Baxter said police had been brought to the area due to two phone calls earlier that day.
Three officers, one of whom was a woman, were on the towpath when the bomb exploded.
"There's clear intent here to kill officers and potentially the public," she said.
"They're extremely lucky to be alive. I've no doubt that had this device exploded in the way that the individuals intended it then we would have had deaths."
DCI Baxter said the attack showed a high level of planning, and revealed those who planted the device may have been watching the officers in the minutes before the explosion.
"It had all the hallmarks of a terrorist attack," she added.
It is not yet known when the device was planted close to the path, which is popular with cyclists, joggers and dog walkers.
We are concerned that they are completely reckless around their intentions and that it really doesn’t matter (to them) if they kill the public in their pursuit of killing police officers.
PSNI Chief Inspector Karen Baxter
NI Secretary of State Theresa Villiers condemned the attack.
"This attack shows utter contempt for the lives of police officers and complete indifference to the safety of the local community," she said.
"It is only by sheer chance that the police officers escaped injury and their families' lives have not been shattered.
"The vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland do not support this kind of violence."
Labour's Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Vernon Coaker MP described the incident as "disgraceful and sickening".
"There has been a worrying increase in the number and seriousness of these attacks in the last number of weeks. I once again commend the PSNI and the bravery of police officers who do their job with such professionalism and integrity," he said.
"These incidents serve only to highlight how important it is that peace and progress are not taken for granted. We must not be complacent about the need to continue working for both."
Policing Board Chair Brian Rea condemned the attempted bomb attack as well as public disorder in Glengormley on Friday, in which five officers were injured.
"These latest incidents of course come on the back of a foiled mortar attack and a period of street disorder which has resulted in over 150 officer injuries," he said.
"At last week's Board meeting the Chief Constable briefed members on some of the challenges that police officers are currently facing and officers were praised for their work on behalf of the community at this time.
"Given some of the pressures faced, it is important that we all show support for policing and the rule of law and order," he said.
North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds described the attack as "despicable".
"Those responsible were prepared to carry out murder of police officers or of any member of the public who happened to be in this part of a popular public park at the time. It was an entirely reckless and diabolical trap.
"This incident is a reminder of the risk that PSNI officers have to operate under when responding to calls from the public. Without question there will be people who know who was responsible for this attack and the planning of it," he added.
Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín said those behind the bombing would never succeed.
She continued: "This is obviously very concerning and thankfully on-one was injured or killed. Whoever was behind this is clearly anti Peace Process.
"However, they will not succeed in reversing the progress we have made. Those behind this attack and others are visionless and are clearly against change.
"That change in the North is happening and will continue to happen regardless of those who are wedded to killing for the sake of killing."