Hidden Secrets of NJ: The South Mountain Reservation, Essex County


South Mountain Reservation. Photo by Joy Yagid


South Mountain Reservation, created between 1897 to 1905 and designed by the famed Olmsted Brothers, is a 2,110-acre county park located in Essex County, New Jersey. Less than 20 miles — as the crow flies — from midtown Manhattan, the reservation offers a wild and wonderful natural environment for hikers, from quiet paths, waterfalls and a native wildflower garden to more programmed areas such as the Turtle Back Zoo, a sculpture garden, paddle boats and a dog park.

What it didn’t have until recently was a detailed trail map. Thanks to the South Mountain Conservancy such a map now exists — and the fall is the perfect time to check out the reservation.

The last trail map was published in 2010 and at that time, a tight deadline unfortunately did not allow for much detail, according to local Maplewood artist Susan Brand, designer of the beautiful new map, released earlier this year.

South Mountain Reservation. Photo by Joy Yagid

The map took more than six months to create and required quite a bit of research on Brand’s behalf along with input from Dennis Percher, president of the South Mountain Conservancy, and David Hogenauer – long-time hike leader and local historian on all things South Mountain Reservation. Brand spent time finding old maps and corrected a at least one long corrupted name: It’s not Cobble Falls, but Hobble Falls, named after the Hobble Brook. Brand also found the name of a previously unnamed brook, Will of The Wisp.

A section of the new South Mountain Reservation trail map

The map is a great improvement over the previous one. It’s twice the size, and, instead of being one-sided, it is enlarged and split between two sides. This allows for much more detail. Trails, streams, waterfalls (a total of three plus one cascade), parking, picnic spots, the Fairy Trail, topographic lines, scenic views — both natural and the New York City skyline — are now included.

Added bonuses: The map is produced on a special waterproof and tear proof paper, and includes a large legend with an explanation of the trail blazes.

Fun Facts:

  • Even though local lore says that no part of South Orange is in the reservation, it’s not true! There is a very small sliver by Glenview Road that is in the reservation!

  • Thomas Edison’s silent film, “The Great Train Robbery” was filmed in the reservation at Thistle Mill Ford.

  • Painter’s Point is named after one painter, Worthington Whittredge. His painting “Millburn, NJ” (ca. 1885) is currently displayed in the Newark Museum

The map, $7, and map and trail guide by Hogenauer, with Percher, $15, can be purchased locally. For a list of locations, please visit the South Mountain Conservancy’s website.

Happy trails!

Worthington Whittredge, Millburn, New Jersey, ca. 1885. Oil on canvas, 20.375 x 15.375 in. Collection of the Newark Museum, Purchase 1946 Felix Fuld Bequest  46.160