Grab your hiking shoes, your water bottle, and your favorite companion, and get going on one of Essex County’s best hiking paths. No need to venture far to find some stunning views and terrain for all experience levels. Read on for some of the top hiking trails in Essex County.
Brookdale Park Outer Loop: 1.9 Miles, Easy
Brookdale Park is located at 473 Watchung Avenue, Montclair. Just getting into hiking? Start at Brookdale Park’s outer loop. AllTrails lists this 1.9-mile loop as good for all skill levels; reviews laud it as a pretty walk with plenty of shade along a paved path. This is not a hike for experienced trekkers, but any skill level can enjoy the serenity of a quiet walk. Those looking to up the intensity might consider a run here. Families with small children can call it an adventure. No matter your goal, this simple path is a pretty spot in Essex County.
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Mills Reservation Trail: 2.1+ miles, Easy to Moderate
The main entry to Mills is at North Avenue & Reservoir Drive in Cedar Grove. Mills Reservation sits on the line of Cedar Grove and Upper Montclair. It is a fabulous place to spend a few hours communing with nature. Opt for the 2.1 mile main loop for an easy walk on a well-worn path. Or, spend the day traversing the numerous smaller paths within the reservation. You’ll find yourself ambling through trees, pausing beside streams, and then popping out to some of the best views of the NYC skyline anywhere nearby. The main loop at Mills Reservation is suitable for most hikers and is enjoyed by families, dog-walkers, and runners. The smaller trails are moderate at times, mostly because of the uneven terrain and potentially muddy paths.
West Essex Rail Trail: 5.5 miles, Easy
Access this trail at 201 Fairview Avenue, Verona. Straddling the Essex/Passaic county lines, the West Essex Rail Trail is exactly what it sounds like: a former rail line turned hiking path. This is an out and back trail just over 2.5 miles in length and offers an easy walk through nature amid a decidedly developed area. Shady and mostly flat, this trail is a lovely place to hike with dogs (on leash) or family, or simply to find a little quiet time for yourself.
Eagle Rock Reservation: Varied Distance, Easy to Moderate
Eagle Rock Reservation is located at Prospect Avenue & Eagle Rock Avenue in West Orange. When headed to Eagle Rock Reservation, it’s best to have a clear plan for your hike. With over 400 acres and plenty of trails to choose from, this park situated between West Orange, Montclair, and Verona offer lots of options—and spectacular views of the NYC skyline. Most of the trails are labeled as easy, but the distance is entirely up to you. According to AllTrails, the Red Trail Loop is the most popular choice at Eagle Rock. This 3.4-mile loop offers incredible views, but one drawback is that part of it runs parallel to a road. When at Eagle Rock, it’s easy to mix and match trails, however, so check out the trail map here before you go.
Orange Reservoir Loop Plus Zoo Loop, South Mountain Reservation: 1.8 miles, Easy to Moderate
South Mountain Reservation is located at South Orange Avenue & Cherry Lane in West Orange. South Mountain Reservation is another excellent source of nearly unlimited hiking paths, but the Orange Reservoir Loop offers an easy, paved walk for any skill level. Skirt the reservoir and take in the scenery, or start here with a run and then venture off into any of the paths that South Mountain Reservation offers. An easy way to extend your adventure is to join with the Zoo Loop, which connects with the Reservoir loop half a mile around the water. Zoo Loop is 2.1 miles long and turns the easy Reservoir loop into a warmup. The hills on this paved trail can get steep, but the surrounding nature is absolutely lovely.
Hemlock Falls Trail in South Mountain Reservation: 5+ miles, Moderate
South Mountain Reservation is located at South Orange Avenue & Cherry Lane in West Orange. While many trails at this Essex County nature reserve are listed as easy, hikers seeking a little more challenge can certainly build a course to Hemlock Falls that will satisfy them. The paths can get muddy and heavily trafficked, so plan your trip in advance but don’t miss this gorgeous waterfall or the forests surrounding it.
Lenape Trail: 36 total Miles, Easy to Hard
Access the Lenape Trail at a variety of locations throughout Essex County. The Lenape Trail connects “18 parks and 11 municipalities” in Essex County, according to the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference. Depending on where you pick up this yellow-blazed path, you could be in for an easy stroll or a challenging hike. Check out the trail guide here to choose the portion of the route that’s best for you. Or, break it up even further. The Lenape Trail Loop in Verona is an easy 1.4-mile stroll. Pick up the trail in Brookdale Park, South Mountain Reservation, Mills Reservation, and Eagle Rock Reservation, so any of the previously mentioned routes will allow you to connect with this epic adventure.
Ambitious hikers who want to do the whole thing should be aware that the Lenape Trail, from Branch Brook Park to South Mountain, is over 2,000’ in elevation gain. AllTrails lists this route as “hard”, not surprisingly. The 36-mile course is estimated at a 14+ hour hike, so definitely work up to this challenge.