Fall in Montclair: Local, county parks offer opportunities for hiking, exploring
By ERIN ROLL
With cooler weather and fall foliage on the way, autumn is an optimal time to go hiking.
Essex County has five reservations, including three that are in or close to Montclair, for hiking, bird-watching and taking in the scenery.
Mills Reservation occupies 157.15 acres between Montclair and Cedar Grove. It offers two parking areas, on Edgecliff Road to the south and on Normal Avenue to the north.
The parking areas fill up quickly on weekends, so drivers should be prepared to park along the side of the road, or park at some distance and walk the rest of the way.
Five trails are blazed throughout the site, and there also are unblazed trails and connector trails.
Mills is a favorite place for dog walks. However, dogs must be on a leash.
Quarry Point Lookout, at the southeast corner, overlooking Edgecliff Road, is a favorite spot. This viewpoint has a cement turret that held a searchlight during World War II.
Across Edgecliff Road to the south is the Montclair Hawk Lookout, which is maintained by the New Jersey Audubon Society. The platform is open from September through November. The society keeps a count of hawk and other bird species from this platform during hawk-watching seasons.
Views of N.Y.C.
The 408-acre Eagle Rock Reservation has roughly 14 miles of blazed trails and bridle trails, including a section of the Lenape Trail. The reservation sits on the town line between Montclair and West Orange, and can be accessed either through Undercliff Road in Montclair or Eagle Rock Avenue in West Orange.
The most significant viewpoint in Eagle Rock is the Essex County 9/11 memorial, which has a clear view of New York. During 9/11 residents gathered there to see the Twin Towers burning. The memorial includes a piece of steel from the World Trade Center.
Other viewpoints can be found along the Lenape Trail in the northeast corner of the reservation, near Afterglow Avenue in Verona.
Red-tailed hawks are a common sight.
The area near the memorial and Highlawn Pavilion is a favorite spot for picnics. Because of the reservation’s popularity, parking spaces can quickly fill up on weekends and holidays.
Waterfalls, obstacle course
South Mountain Reservation occupies 2,110 acres in West Orange, Maplewood and Millburn. The reservation is home to many varieties of deciduous trees, including oaks, maples, birches and beeches. In the fall, the foliage turns orange and bright yellow. There are 14.5 miles of blazed trails, as well as numerous carriage roads and bridle trails, which are popular with dog walkers and families.
One of the most popular landmarks in the reservation is Hemlock Falls, located near its western edge. The falls are especially strong after a rainfall. The Lenape Trail takes hikers to the falls, with the two nearest access points being the Tulip Springs parking area on Cherry Lane and a parking area on South Orange Avenue.
A red-blazed trail leads up a set of stone steps to a rocky overlook above the falls.
In the northeast section of the park, hikers will find a short interpretive trail, with signposts about flora and fauna in the area, leading to Turtle Back Rock: a rock formation resembling a turtle’s shell, overlooking Northfield Avenue. In the southeast section of the park, hikers and visitors can stop at scenic overlooks along Crest Drive in Maplewood.
South Mountain is also home to TreeTop Adventure Course, a world-class aerial obstacle course. The 30 challenge elements have a run time of 1 to 1.5 hours.
The Bonsal Nature Preserve is a 21-acre site in northwestern Montclair, near the town line with Clifton.
The entrance is hidden between two houses on Riverview Drive West. From the entrance, visitors walk down a set of cement steps and cross a footbridge spanning the Third River to reach the main east-west trail junction. Here, visitors can find a kiosk describing some of the plant and animal species that can be found in the preserve.
The field of phragmites on the eastern end of the preserve is a gathering spot for many bird species, such as red-winged blackbirds, from spring through fall.
The preserve is maintained by the Friends of the Bonsal Preserve.
It became a popular place to visit during the COVID-19 lockdown, to the extent that the Friends issued a plea for visitors not to venture off the trails, in order to reduce erosion.