South Mountain Reservation is one of the last bastions of preserved space in a highly developed section of Northeastern New Jersey. The 2,000-acre tract encompasses a network of trails along braided streams and quiet forests. Despite its tranquil surroundings, visitors can access the park via mass transit, since the Millburn train station is across the street.
This 6-mile loop begins on the Rahway Trail, which follows the river of the same name north along a series of ponds and dams. Bug spray is recommended during summer months. As the route veers east, you'll traverse a beautiful woodland setting.
Merge onto the Lenape Trail and follow it to Hemlock Falls. Whitewater pours down the jet-black rock face of an intimate gorge. This is one of the few public spots in the Essex County where a person can grab a sense of solitude and untouched, natural beauty. Climb up the Falls Overlook Trail to explore the headwaters and the upper gorge. Opportunities for sunbathing and wading are excellent here.
From the falls, the route gains a few hundred feet through more woods to a grassy, boulder-strewn summit area. Views of the western hills are unveiled once hikers leave tree cover.
Follow the Lenape Trail east to Washington Rock, a lookout for the Essex County and Newark Militia during the Revolutionary War. At more than 500 feet, this highpoint affords an impressive panorama to the south. This spot is a great place for watching foliage in autumn.
Descend from the monument, walking past a picnic area before closing the loop at the parking lot.
-mapped by MacKenzie Ryan
From NYC: Take the Lincoln Tunnel to NY-495 West. Merge onto I-95 South. Take the exit onto I-78 West. At 4.7 miles, take the Garden State Parkway exit. Merge onto I-78 West. At 3.4 miles, take exit 50B toward Maplewood/Millburn. Turn right at Vauxhall Road. Make a slight left at Millburn Avenue. Turn right at Essex Avenue. Turn right at Lackawanna Place. Turn right at Glen Avenue. Trailhead is on the right side of the road.
- Distance: 10.1
Location: 40.727509, -74.304329
Rahway Trailhead: Find trail maps in the tiny box posted behind the wooden trailhead sign. Follow white blazes and begin hiking the hard-packed, rooty path through a deciduous forest. Cross a narrow footbridge, the first of many in this low-lying area.
Location: 40.729301, -74.306493
Go straight at Y-junction and a begin a slight descent toward the Rahway River. The trail traverses a ridgeline just above the water.
Location: 40.730452, -74.306814
Turn left at Y-junction and take the spur trail to access the dam, its falls, and an intimate creek area. When finished exploring, retrace steps back to Rahway Trail.
Location: 40.7313, -74.306293
Turn left at Y-junction and take the second spur trail to explore Diamond Mill Pond. When finished, retrace steps back to main path.
Location: 40.732946, -74.306499
Veer left at T-junction. For a short distance, walk north on the access road. Keep an eye out for white blazed trees on the right.
Location: 40.733286, -74.306483
Bear right at Y-junction and merge with Rahway Trail. From here, the trail climbs up a rocky, rooty hill.
Location: 40.734683, -74.30589
Continue straight at 4-way junction. An access road crosses the Rahway Trail here.
Location: 40.734983, -74.305724
Walk straight at 4-way junction with the same access road. Cross over the footbridge. The grade picks up shortly after the bridge, but only for a bit. Keep the river to the left.
Location: 40.735947, -74.304746
Turn left to access a short spur trail that takes hikers down to the water and showcases an old cobblestone dam and a large, abandoned pumphouse. When finished, retrace steps back to Rahway Trail.
Location: 40.736578, -74.303816
Go straight at 4-way intersection.
Location: 40.73765, -74.302993
Bear left at Y-junction with fire road and Rahway Trail. The faint trail dips through a sparse set of woods. Do not pass the three storm drain covers--this indicates hikers have gone too far on the fire road and missed the trail.
Location: 40.739151, -74.302211
Continue straight, heading north and ignoring the various spur trails. Here the Rahway Trail will follow the river very closely.
Location: 40.739625, -74.301768
Bear left at Y-junction.
Location: 40.741139, -74.301879
Pass a skinny bridge on the left, but do not cross it. Walk north through a riparian area.
Location: 40.741979, -74.301186
Bear right at Y-junction. Depending on the season, hikers may need to rock-hop across a tiny stream.
Location: 40.744053, -74.30012
Go straight at 4-way. To the left, there are short cascades flowing over a dam and another brick pumphouse across the creek.
Location: 40.745645, -74.297764
Veer left at Y-junction. To the right is a faint use-trail. The Rahway Trail follows the water.
Location: 40.746837, -74.296193
Turn left and cross bridge. Continue on the left side of the river.
Location: 40.747307, -74.297431
Turn right onto the narrowing trail and follow the white blazes.
Location: 40.752657, -74.292845
Rock-hop from the left side to the right side of the river.
Location: 40.752452, -74.292694
Turn left at T-junction.
Location: 40.75236, -74.292354
Go right at Y-junction.
Location: 40.751323, -74.291652
Head straight through the 4-way junction. The Rahway Trail ends here. Merge onto the Lenape Trail, marked by yellow blazes on the trees ahead.
Location: 40.751351, -74.289185
Reach a small, teaser-set of falls on the left of the Lenape Trail. Continue to reach Hemlock Falls.
Location: 40.750541, -74.288918
Reach Hemlock Falls. Bear left and climb the stairs up the Falls Overlook Trail, marked by red dots.
Location: 40.750568, -74.287922
The Falls Overlook Trail ends here; however, continuing on the spur trail to the right affords great close-up views of the gorge below. A small cascade sits at the end of the spur trail. Sunbathing and wading opportunities abound along the way. When finished, retrace steps back to the Falls Overlook Trail.
Location: 40.750571, -74.288849
Merge onto the Lenape Trail at the base of Hemlock Falls and cross over the short stone bridge. Immediately after crossing, make a sharp right. A short, rocky climb follows. After the climb, bear left.
Location: 40.750202, -74.291112
Make a sharp left and follow the yellow blazes.
Location: 40.746918, -74.29007
Head straight at 4-way with the Balls Bluff Trail.
Location: 40.741126, -74.293804
Veer right at yellow blaze on a dead tree cut in half. The Bear Lane runs parallel to the Lenape Trail here.
Location: 40.74093, -74.29526
Cross over the Bear Lane, heading straight through the 4-way.
Location: 40.736629, -74.300614
Go straight at the 4-way with Pingry Trail.
Location: 40.730933, -74.303594
Go straight at 4-way with Sunset Trail.
Location: 40.729238, -74.302095
Turn left at Y-junction. The town of Millburn is to the right, just past the fence.
Location: 40.728669, -74.300937
Reach a nice overlook with a patio that offers views of Essex and Union counties. When finished, continue up the paved path.
Location: 40.72889, -74.30031
Reach Washington Rock Historic Site. After perusing the area, walk up the road.
Location: 40.729572, -74.298801
Turn right off paved road and onto a thin path that traverses more woods.
Location: 40.729763, -74.297928
Bear right and begin descent back to parking lot.
Location: 40.727189, -74.302301
Walk through the picnic area. A pavilion, tables, and grills are free to use.
Location: 40.727707, -74.303876
End of Lenape Trail and parking lot.
Location: 40.745046, -74.298391
The dam at Diamond Mill Pond
Location: 40.731161, -74.306288
Where hikers must rockhop the Rahway
Location: 40.752491, -74.292941
Tiny teaser falls before Hemlock
Location: 40.751126, -74.288263
Location: 40.750183, -74.288692
Location: 40.72869, -74.300108