A Mountaintop Perch: Eagle Rock Reservation, Essex County, NJ

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The green trail will take you past this brook along the western edge of the reservation.

Here in the burbs of northern New Jersey, you’d probably expect that it’s hard to find a decent patch of woods in which to go hiking. But thankfully, we have a few such patches, including one that is literally up the hill from me.

Eagle Rock Reservation is perched high up on the ridge of the First Watchung, straddling the town lines of Montclair, Verona and West Orange. Like South Mountain Reservation down in Millburn, Eagle Rock is under the aegis of the Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

We finally got a weekend where the temperatures weren’t bone-chillingly freezing, or that it was either raining or snowing cats and dogs. So I spent that Sunday afternoon treating myself to a few hours of light hiking.

Eagle Rock is a good-sized place: 408 acres. There are five blazed trails, about seven miles total; eight miles’ worth of bridle paths and woods roads; and a couple of miscellaneous unmarked trails. One of the blazed trails is the yellow-blazed Lenape Trail, a multi-branched path that starts in the western part of the county and continues all the way down to Newark. (It also goes over the West Essex Trail in Verona and Cedar Grove; see my post on that here.)

The different sectors on the reservation map have rather fanciful names: Robin Wood, Sunnyside Grove, Boulder Wood, Stony Hill, etc.

All of the trails, blazed and unblazed, end up connecting to one another. But a map and a compass are definitely recommended. The trails range from easy to moderate in difficulty, so these would be good choices for family hikes – indeed, I saw quite a few families with kids out on the trails that day.

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Never forget: Essex County’s memorial to the Sept. 11 attacks sits at the edge of the mountain, with New York visible to the east.

In addition to the woods there are some open fields for picnics and Frisbee games. And most notably of all, you’ll find Essex County’s official memorial to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Because you can see all the way to New York from there, Eagle Rock was where a lot of residents came on 9/11 to watch the horrors unfolding across the river.

One year later, Essex County unveiled its official 9/11 memorial, a plaza with statuary, benches and flower beds in front of a granite wall bearing the names of all of the victims. This is where the county holds its remembrance ceremony every year with name readings and chamber music. Take a moment to stop if you come for a visit.

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From the parking area near the main entrance road, I hiked north on the Glen bridle trail, then turned down the Afterglow trail; that one leads to the parking area on the mountain approach road, and it also takes you past a nice clutch of boulders. Then I spent the rest of my hiking time taking the green trail across the reservation, past a brook and to a footbridge near the southwest corner, near an entry point from Prospect Avenue. To get back to the trailhead where I’d left my car, I took the blue trail back to where it joined up with the Lenape Trail and the entrance.

(Memo to the trail crews: the unblazed trails in the southwest corner of the reservation could use some TLC – it looks like there’s a lot of downed trees.)

The trails were all fairly marshy – no surprise, since it had rained fairly hard during the week – and I found myself reflecting that a lot of dogs were going to be heading home that day with muddy paws. And there were quite a few dogs out taking the air with their owners; a few came up to me wondering if I had treats in my purse, and an English springer spaniel tried to offer me a stick it had been playing fetch with.

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Someone decked out this tree hollow along the Afterglow trail to look a bit like someone’s living room at Christmastime.

Did a quick geocache run while I was at it, and along the Afterglow trail, I spotted a very interestingly decorated tree hollow.

Heard quite a few birds chirping and cawing away – a few blue jays, a couple of robins, etc. Definitely a good sign ahead of spring. Also spotted a black-capped chickadee, a tufted titmouse, and a fairly largish pileated woodpecker hacking away at a tree.

 Getting there and other stuff:

There are three different ways to get into Eagle Rock. There’s the main entrance off of Prospect Avenue in West Orange, there’s the serpentine approach road leading up the mountain from Montclair (I wouldn’t recommend that one if the roads are icy), and a trailhead up at the reservation’s northern edge in Verona, around about Afterglow Avenue.

On weekends during the summer, parking may be at a bit of a premium, since Eagle Rock’s a popular place for picnics or for taking in the view.

The small trailhead parking lots tend to fill up kind of quickly – on my way back down the mountain, I saw some cars parked along the edges of the road because every spot in the parking lot was filled. Additionally, there’s a restaurant here, the Highlawn Pavilion. A lot of people have wedding receptions there, so that’s another thing that will fill up the larger parking lots.

For further reading:

Eagle Rock Reservation: Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs

Eagle Rock Reservation Conservancy

 

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