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Sierra Trail Longer Loop
This loop hike encircles the Watchung Reservation, passing ruins of an old mill, an historic village, a cemetery dating to the 1700s, a scenic gorge and an attractive lake.
Easy to Moderate
Allowed on leash
Views, Public Transportation, Historic feature
Watchung Reservation trail map (available at the Trailside Nature and Science Center)
Take I-78 West to Exit 43. At the first traffic light, turn right onto McMane Avenue. When you reach the T-intersection with Glenside Avenue, turn left. Then, in 1.2 miles, turn right onto W.R. Tracy Drive (County Route 645) and enter the reservation. You will pass Surprise Lake and some picnic areas. When you reach the traffic circle, take the first right onto Summit Lane, then turn right onto New Providence Road. The parking area is to the right, where the road makes a sharp left turn.
DescriptionBefore beginning your hike, obtain a free trail map of the reservation from the Trailside Nature and Science Center, adjacent to the parking area. Proceed west (downhill) on the extension of New Providence Road, marked with the white blazes of the Sierra Trail (which you will be following for most of the hike). Opposite a “Do Not Enter” sign, turn left and follow the white-blazed Sierra Trail, now joined by the Green Trail and the pink-blazed History Trail, across a wooden bridge over a brook. The trail continues through the woods and, after crossing wooden bridges over two streams, reaches a junction with the Yellow Trail. Turn right, now following both white and yellow blazes, and descend to reach the same brook that you crossed previously. Turn left (do not cross the brook), joining the Orange Trail. Continue ahead at the next junction, where the Orange Trail leaves to the right and the Yellow Trail begins, but at the following junction, turn right, now following only white blazes. Soon, you’ll begin to parallel a scenic gorge on the left. Along the way, the Blue Trail joins, and the path begins to descend. At the end of the gorge, the Blue Trail leaves to the right, but you should turn left, continuing to follow the white-blazed Sierra Trail, which parallels Blue Brook. The trail soon bears left and climbs away from the brook, bears left again at the next intersection (briefly joining the pink-blazed History Trail), then turns right at the next junction. In another quarter of a mile, the trail crosses a small brook. Be careful to proceed straight ahead here and then bear left, uphill. After passing some houses to the left, the trail crosses a dirt road and soon begins a gradual descent. About two miles from the start, the white blazes turn left onto a dirt road. The trail follows the dirt road for only 300 feet, and then turns left, leaving the road and continuing on a footpath. It ascends through a beautiful pine forest, planted by the CCC in the 1930s, and soon reaches an open grassy area, with a picnic pavilion ahead. Bear right here and follow a gravel service road out to the paved Sky Top Drive. The trail crosses the road and re-enters the woods, then makes a sharp right turn onto a wide woods road parallel to Sky Top Drive (which often may be seen to the right). About three-quarters of a mile from the crossing of the paved road, the trail begins to descend. As the trail bends to the left, a short path to the right leads to an overlook above an abandoned quarry, with I-78 visible in the distance. After descending more steeply, the trail makes a sharp right (with a townhome development directly ahead) and follows an eroded gully (with a number of blowdowns) down to Green Brook. On the opposite side of the brook, behind a tall concrete wall, is an active quarry. The trail now runs along the brook, with New Providence Road on the other side. In about a third of a mile, as the road curves sharply to the left, you’ll reach the site of an old mill, with many brick and concrete ruins still visible. After passing the ruins of the dam that supplied power to the mill, the trail bears right and climbs steeply to an overlook, then heads east, turns left onto a woods road, and descends to Sky Top Drive. You are now about four and one-half miles from the start of the hike. The Sierra Trail turns left and follows the road, using the highway bridge to cross Blue Brook, with Seeley's Pond to the left. After crossing the bridge, the trail immediately turns right, goes through a grassy area, and re-enters the woods. It follows a footpath through some fairly dense vegetation and crosses several small brooks on a long stretch of wooden boardwalk. Just beyond, the pink-blazed History Trail joins from the right, and both trails climb wooden steps, passing an historical marker for the Drake Farm. About three-quarters of a mile, from the crossing of Blue Brook, the Sierra Trail turns left onto a wide dirt road (the pink-blazed History Trail turns right on the road), and it finally emerges on a paved road at the Deserted Village of Feltville. Named for David Felt, a New York City businessman who founded the village in 1845 to house the workers at his nearby paper mill, it was abandoned about thirty years later. Some of the buildings in the village have been restored and are now used as private residences. The Sierra Trail follows the paved road through the village for 0.4 mile. After the road curves left, it passes a cleared area, with a kiosk and benches, at the site of David Felt’s home. It then goes by the church/store building and an adjacent residence. A short distance beyond, the Sierra Trail turns right on a bridle path. In 200 feet, it turns right again onto another dirt road, and soon passes a small cemetery which contains the graves of the Willcocks and Badgley families, who first settled the area about 1736. The road soon narrows to a footpath which meanders through the woods. About a third of a mile from the cemetery, the white-blazed trail turns right, descends on a dirt road for 400 feet, then turns left, leaving the road, and immediately bears right onto a footpath. Soon, the trail reaches the stone dam of Surprise Lake, built in 1845 to provide power for David Felt's paper mill. A short side trail leads down to the base of the dam. The Sierra Trail continues along the northwestern shore of this long but narrow lake for almost a mile, then turns right at paved Tracy Drive, crossing the lake on the shoulder of the vehicular bridge. On the other side of the bridge, the white blazes turn left, crossing the road. Follow the white blazes for only 100 feet and turn right onto an unmarked bridle path. Just beyond, another wide path to the left leads to the park stables, but you should continue straight ahead. In about 0.2 mile, the white-blazed Sierra Trail will rejoin the bridle path. Continue ahead, following the white markers, for the next 0.4 mile, but do not turn left where they leave the path near the traffic circle; instead, bear right, continuing to follow the unmarked bridle path across the paved road. In about 500 feet, you will meet the Sierra Trail again; this time, leave the bridle path and follow the white blazes to the right, onto a footpath. Continue ahead on the white-blazed trail, which crosses the Red Trail and then joins it. In about half a mile, the trail reaches the Trailside Nature and Science Center. Turn right onto the short path leading to the center, then turn left and follow the road to the parking area where you began the hike.