Moderate hike that takes in a viewpoint from historic Washington Rock, Hemlock Falls, and the Rahway River.
Historic Fun Fact: Washington Rock is where a signal beacon warned the Army at Morristown of the British Army’s approach.
Fairy Fun Fact: There are whimsical, tiny “fairy houses” along parts of the Rahway trail, made entirely of natural materials to fit in with the landscape. The creator of these was revealed in an article in July 2016, “Thumbelina’s Secret Architect, Creating Fairy Houses on a New Jersey Trail“. Please take only photographs and leave them as is for others to enjoy!
Trail surface: Moderate, somewhat rocky trails. A few easy stream crossings, and one over the Rayway River that may be tricky depending on water level/rock shifting.
- This route: 6.0 miles.
- Shorter: There multiple parking areas, trails, and woods roads to create shorter routes. The woods roads also tend to be easier and more level.
- Longer: Use the Lenape and Oakdale Trails to add in the other half of the park or extend the route with the Turtle Back trail.
Update 8/15/17; 12/11/15 – Minor revisions to the description.
Map: There was an overview map at the trail kiosk that is more detailed than the map online. No paper maps at the park the time we went, print the map beforehand. A more detailed laminated trail map can be purchased from the South Mountain Conservancy.
Books: A similar route with detailed instructions and a trail map can be found in Hiking New Jersey and Best Day Hikes Near New York City. A moderate and a longer option is in 50 Hikes in New Jersey. The park trails are described in the The New Jersey Walk Book.
Parking: N40 43.699 W74 18.253 [Locust Grove Parking Area]
From east of the park (westbound) on I-78: Take exit 50 B “Millburn” “Maplewood”. At the end of the ramp, you must go right. Drive through 3 traffic lights, not counting the one at the end of the ramp.
At the fourth light (Millburn Ave.), turn left. Drive to the second traffic light (the road makes a turn to the right and becomes a one-way street called Essex Ave.). Turn right onto Lackawanna Place, go under the RR tracks, and you come almost immediately to Glen Ave. Across the street and a little to the right is a drive way entering the park with a sign “Locust Grove”.
*These directions and for other parking areas on are this South Mountain Conservancy page.
Restrooms: None at the trailhead or along this route. Rest area northbound Parkway at exit 142 (but was closed for repairs as of 12/11/15). Gas stations on Vauxhall either didn’t have them or had an ancient out-of-order sign. Porta-johns at the Oakdale and Turtle Back Picnic Area parking lots at the other end of the park.
Hike Directions: Overview: Lenape (YELLOW) – Rahway (WHITE)
This route starts from the Locust Grove parking area. There are many unmarked woods roads, but the hiking trails are mostly well blazed.
0.0 – Start in the far corner of the lot, by the wooden trail kiosk. Begin following Lenape (YELLOW) into a picnic area. The next blaze is a little hard to spot, it’s across the picnic area, in the back left corner.
Follow Lenape (YELLOW) uphill on a woods road, with houses on the right. A large rounded structure behind a fence is on the left.
0.5 – Turn LEFT onto a paved road. Blazes indicating a turn may be hard to spot. Shortly, the paved road splits. Bear LEFT (the other side joins up anyway) and head over to the stone wall for views over the surrounding area. There is a trail kiosk, an evergreen tree that may be decorated with Christmas ornaments, and a monument to General Washington.
Take the gravel trail past the monument to the fenced lookout area.
0.7 – With your back to the view, turn LEFT and continue following Lenape (YELLOW).
1.3 – Maple Falls Cascades – an easy stream crossing where there are several water cascades.
1.9 – Beech Brook Cascades – more water cascades.
3.3 – Arrive at the base of Hemlock Falls. There are some benches, making for a nice break spot.
When ready to continue, cross over the bridge and bear LEFT, continuing to follow Lenape (YELLOW). [RED DOT on WHITE is straight ahead up some stairs to go to the top of the falls.]
3.4 – Come to a trail junction with a trail sign for the Rahway Trail. Start following Rahway (WHITE) straight. [Lenape (YELLOW) goes right.]
3.5 – A rock-hop over the Rahway River. If the water level is high this can be a bit tricky.
[Option – If the water level is high or the crossing too hard, backtrack to the trail sign and use the River Trail woods road instead of the Rahway Trail. We prefer Rahway but the River Trail is a level woods road and meets up with this description at 4.1 miles below. There, pick up Rahway (WHITE) again, to the left of the bridge but before crossing it]
Rahway (WHITE) continues in a pretty area along a ridge with the river below.
4.0 – The Rahway (WHITE) turns LEFT onto a gravel road. [The trail is also marked with WHITE over RED blazes].
4.1 – Cross over the river on a bridge, and turn RIGHT just after the bridge, continuing to follow Rahway (WHITE). There are two WHITE markers indicating the turn, but if you find yourself at the tree just ahead that has 3 WHITE over RED markers, you missed the turn. Rahway (WHITE) is a path along the river, not the woods road.
Continue following Rahway (WHITE) as it hugs the river. This area was very washed out when we hiked it, not all that scenic, and the trail was hard to spot sometimes.
4.7 – Possibly pass a BLUE over WHITE marker on the right – we did not spot this on our most recent hike. Continue straight on Rahway (WHITE).
4.9 – Trail junction where the WHITE marker is hard to spot. A footpath continues straight along the river where a pond can be seen ahead, and a woods road veers off to the left.
The Rahway (WHITE) is between these. There is a WHITE marker on a tree, walk straight past that and head between two large tree trunks. The marker on the right tree is now so faded it’s barely visible.
Note: The woods road that veers to the left (unmarked woods road that is shown as River Trail on the map) closely follows Rahway (WHITE) at this point on, so if you miss this marker the woods road will meet back to the trail again. In fact, Rahway (WHITE) co-joins with the River Trail a few times over bridges. The River Trail is also an easier option to take back because it’s more level than Rahway (WHITE).
The trail will join and cross the woods road many times, just keep following the WHITE markers back to the parking lot.
Hiked 12/11/15 – Extended route, from Turtle Back picnic parking.
Hiked: 12/22/11 – Trailblog: “South Mountain Reservation in December“