If you’re looking for a unique and exciting outdoor spot to explore in Union County, New Jersey, look no further than Watchung Reservation! This sprawling park spans a few towns and boasts a beautiful lake, a deserted village, and even some fascinating fossils. Whether you’re looking for an insightful historical tour, a challenging hike, or an open space to explore, it’s the perfect place to get outside and enjoy the fresh air!
So, what can you expect when visiting Watchung Reservation? First and foremost, this park is great for adventurers of all ages, including families with small children. Pets are welcome in most areas as long as they are on a leash and no messes are left behind. The 2000-acre preserve is free and open to the public daily.
There are plenty of easy trails on the property that are excellent for hikers of any level of skill and experience. Plus, the area is home to various fascinating attractions that will keep the whole family entertained for hours. Read on for our in-depth guide to the various landmarks, activities, and nature trails the Watchung Reservation offers!
Seeing Watchung Reservation Attractions
The Watchung Reservation has many distinct areas to wander during your visit. Among the most popular attractions that bring in thousands of visitors each year is the enchanting Feltville Village, an abandoned spot in New Jersey.
Watchung is also home to coveted fishing locations and tons of venues for family fun. While the village may bring you to the area, you’ll want to stay for the lively attractions described below and discover everything Watchung Reservation has in store!
Feltville Deserted Village
One of the most notable points of interest on the property is the Feltville Deserted Village, located on the park’s north side and can be accessed from the parking lot at Cataract Hollow Road. After walking down the paved road for a few minutes, you will reach this popular attraction.
The Feltville Deserted Village has a rich history dating back to 1736, when a family settled in the area and opened a sawmill. However, the mill was unsuccessful, and they sold the land to David Felt in 1844.
He built another mill but was unsuccessful, and the village was abandoned again. In 1882, the land was repurchased and transformed into a “summer resort,” but it failed again and was eventually abandoned for good in the early 1900s.
Today, visitors can explore the abandoned buildings, visit the visitor’s center, and see the graveyard. Although the village is free and open to the public from sunrise to sunset, you can only explore the buildings and structures from the outside.
Please note that while the village is abandoned, people still live in the area, so it is essential to respect their space.
Nature Center at Watchung Reservation
Great Place for Families!
The Trailside Nature & Science Center features a variety of programs and nature walks for visitors to enjoy. The nature center is known for welcoming those with sensory sensitivities, presenting the county’s first sensory-friendly hiking trail. The loop is less than half a mile long, with a gazebo in the center to explore.
The nature center is exciting to families, as there are many children’s programs, workshops, and other educational opportunities to choose from when spending the day there. Among the most popular activities are bug crafts and scavenger hunts, but check their calendar for the most up-to-date events before your trip.
Don’t forget to bring your camera for your hiking adventure!
Seeley’s Pond is an ideal destination for all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. The area is beautiful to explore every season, presenting plenty of boating, fishing, and birdwatching opportunities. Visitors can enjoy the peaceful surroundings by observing the greenery and wildlife from the pond’s shores or walking around the perimeter.
Watchung Reservation Loop Playground
The Watchung Reservation Loop Playground is a fun and interactive way to spend the day with kids. It features a variety of play structures, including swings, slides, climbing areas, and plenty of open space for running and playing. The playground is well-maintained and has a safe, welcoming environment for children of all ages.
Hiking Trails in Watchung Reservation
The Watchung Reservation holds some of the most beautiful nature trails in New Jersey. Along with its exciting attractions and interactive experiences, these are the best hiking adventures to explore during your visit.Â
Watchung Reservation History Trail
The Watchung Reservation History Trail is a 6-mile loop that takes you through the park’s past, from its earliest colonial settlements to industrial innovation. Along the way, you’ll find informational signs about the people and events that shaped the area.
If you have a few hours to spare, consider taking a self-guided history tour on this moderately-challenging route. Just a reminder, this trail is known to get muddy, and the trail markers can sometimes be challenging to follow.
Lake Surprise Loop
The Lake Surprise Loop is one of the most well-traveled hikes in Watchung Reservation. At approximately 2 miles, this loop takes you around scenic Lake Surprise. If you want to extend your hike, it boasts a few off-shoots of trails. It’s a good idea to wear sturdy shoes during the Spring and Fall seasons, as the trails often get muddy.
The Sierra Trail is one of the most popular in the park. A much longer hike spans 11 miles and loops around the entire reservation. It’s an excellent option for experienced hikers or those looking for a challenge.
On the trail, you will come across forest, field, and wetland terrain. There’s also an option to take shorter loops around the Nature Center or cut through the middle of the Sierra Trail for a faster journey.
Deserted Village Loop
This is an easy 1.2-mile loop at just over 100 ft of total elevation gain. The first part of the trail is flat and paved, while the second is a woodland trail with some minor hills to climb. The loop is easy to follow and provides more informational posts about the village’s history.
More Information About Watchung Reservation
Are dogs allowed in Watchung Reservation?
Yes, dogs are allowed to be walked at Watchung Reservation. However, there are some specific areas we recommend avoiding. The Nature Center is a place we recommend avoiding due to the sensory-friendly hiking trail to avoid confrontation with those who may not feel comfortable about dogs.
Where is Watchung Reservation located?
Watchung Reservation is located in Union County and spans several towns, including Berkley Heights, New Providence, Summit, and Westfield, NJ.
Can you swim in Watchung reservation?
Swimming at Watchung Reservation is not listed as an activity at Watchung Reservation. However, fishing, boating, and kayaking are common and allowed activities in Lake Surprise and Seeley’s Pond.