Exploring the Natural Beauty of South Mountain Reservation in New Jersey

Large waterfall over rocks

Nestled a few miles east of I-78, and the Parkway is an outdoor gem in South Mountain Reservation in Millburn/West Orange, New Jersey. This 2,000+ acre park in Essex County is home to several miles of nature trails and a zoo (and yes, there are giraffes). Here is what you need to explore this hidden gem in North Jersey.

Take a Hike

If hiking is your thing, South Mountain is for you! The preserve has miles and miles of hiking trails, boasting waterfalls, heavily forested areas, and fantastic rock formations. Hemlock Falls is my go-to; you can hike around the base and walk up a steep path to explore the top of the falls, too.

Nestled in Essex County, New Jersey, South Mountain Reservation stands as a pristine natural oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of urban areas. This expansive park offers many outdoor activities, with hiking taking center stage. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the wonders of South Mountain Reservation and provide you with all the information you need for an unforgettable hiking experience.

Getting to Know South Mountain Reservation

Located near towns and cities such as Millburn and Maplewood, South Mountain Reservation is easily accessible for nature enthusiasts. Whether you arrive by car or public transportation or prefer a scenic stroll or bike ride, reaching this sanctuary is a breeze.

As you step into the reservation, prepare to be captivated by its natural features and abundant biodiversity—lush greenery blankets the landscape, providing a serene backdrop for your adventures. Take a moment to appreciate the diverse flora and fauna that call this park home, from towering trees to vibrant wildflowers. You may even come across unique geological formations that add an extra layer of intrigue.

Exploring the Hiking Trails at South Mountain Reservation

South Mountain Reservation boasts an extensive trail network that caters to hikers of all levels. Whether you’re a beginner seeking a stroll or an experienced adventurer craving a more challenging trek, there’s a trail for you.

Embark on the Hemlock Falls Trail, a scenic route that leads you through tranquil woodlands to a picturesque waterfall. The cascading waters of Hemlock Falls create a soothing ambiance, offering the perfect spot to pause, reflect, and immerse yourself in nature’s beauty.

For breathtaking panoramic views, the Rahway Trail is a must. As you ascend the trail, be prepared to be rewarded with sweeping vistas of the surrounding area. Take in the expansive skyline and marvel at the harmony of nature and urbanity.

If you’re up for a more extended adventure, venture onto the Lenape Trail. This trail extends beyond South Mountain Reservation, connecting you to other parks and providing an opportunity for an ample hiking experience.

As you traverse these trails, always prioritize safety and adhere to trail etiquette. Stay on the marked paths, carry essential supplies such as water and snacks, and respect the natural environment. Be mindful of any specific rules and regulations enforced within South Mountain Reservation to ensure a pleasant experience for all visitors.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can you swim in South Mountain Reservation?

The explanation is that swimming is not permitted in South Mountain Reservation due to safety concerns and the lack of designated swimming areas. Alternative nearby options for swimming can be suggested if applicable.

What waterfall is in the South Mountain Reservation?

Introduction to the Hemlock Falls, a picturesque waterfall within South Mountain Reservation. Description of its beauty and any notable features.

How long does it take to hike the South Mountain?

The hike duration in South Mountain Reservation can vary depending on the trail chosen and the hiker’s pace. Mention that shorter hikes can be completed in a couple of hours, while longer walks may take several hours to a full day.

How long is the South Mountain Reservation trail?

The explanation is that South Mountain Reservation features an extensive trail network, making it difficult to provide a specific length for the entire trail. However, mention that individual courses within the reservation can range from shorter loops of a few miles to longer routes that extend beyond the reservation boundaries.

Additional Recreational Activities

Beyond hiking, South Mountain Reservation offers a range of recreational activities to enhance your visit. Find solace in designated picnic areas, where you can enjoy a leisurely meal surrounded by nature’s tranquility. Unwind and recharge as you take in the fresh air and the peaceful ambiance of the park.

Wildlife observation and photography enthusiasts will be delighted by South Mountain Reservation’s diverse fauna. Keep your eyes peeled for notable bird species, mammals, and other fascinating creatures. Capture these moments through your lens, creating lasting memories of your encounter with nature’s wonders.

Want to find more birds? Check this out. Best New Jersey Birding Spots

Immerse yourself in the cultural and historical significance of the reservation by exploring its landmarks. Discover the Hemlock Falls Stone House, a historical site that adds a touch of charm to the park. Visit Washington Rock, an iconic viewpoint where George Washington is said to have observed British troop movements during the Revolutionary War. These cultural and historical attractions offer glimpses into the past, adding depth to your experience in South Mountain Reservation.

Visit Turtle Back Zoo

If you havent been to the Turtle Back Zoo, youre missing out. The zoo has everything from kangaroos to penguins to giraffes – which you can feed! There’s also a petting zoo with goats, pony rides, a touch tank, and a sea turtle recovery center. And don’t forget the reptile house!


The zoo is part of the Zoological Society of New Jersey, which participates in global conservation efforts – including saving animals from extinction. Admission is $15 for adults (yes, you read that right), so it is worth every penny to watch sea lions, tigers, and bears (oh, my!),

Take a Boat Ride

South Mountain also has a vast reservoir where you can take a swan boat ride and go fishing on the waterfront. Take your kids to the fantastic Pirate Ship playground (or dog to the dog park) afterward to spend the entire day outside with your whole family. You can also bring your lunch to the covered picnic area or buy a snack at the kiosk.


Practical Information and Resources

To ensure a smooth visit, it’s essential to be equipped with practical information and resources. South Mountain Reservation provides ample parking areas, restrooms, and visitor centers to cater to your needs. Accessibility information is available for individuals with disabilities, ensuring everyone can enjoy the park’s wonders.

Before embarking on specific activities within the reservation, familiarize yourself with local regulations and permits. Some activities, such as camping or fishing, may require permits, and it is essential to adhere to any seasonal restrictions or closures to protect the park’s natural resources.

When preparing for your hiking adventure in South Mountain Reservation, it’s recommended to pack essential gear and items. Ensure you have appropriate footwear and clothing for the terrain and weather conditions. Carry an adequate water supply, snacks for energy, and navigation tools such as a map or GPS device to stay on course during your hike.

In conclusion, South Mountain Reservation offers a beautiful escape into nature right in the heart of New Jersey. With its extensive trail network, awe-inspiring landscapes, and abundant biodiversity, it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Whether you’re seeking a peaceful hike to a cascading waterfall, panoramic views of the surroundings, or a deeper appreciation of the park’s cultural and historical significance, South Mountain Reservation delivers.

Immerse yourself in the wonders of this natural sanctuary, respecting the trails and wildlife along the way. Plan your visit, familiarize yourself with the practical information and regulations, and embark on a hiking adventure that will leave you with lasting memories.

For more detailed information and additional resources, visit essexcountyparks.org to enhance your exploration of South Mountain Reservation. Embrace the beauty and serenity of this hidden gem, and let nature’s embrace rejuvenate your soul in this extraordinary New Jersey destination.

For zoo information, click here.

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