Hilltop Reservation



View Hilltop Reservation in a larger map

Park Overview:

A site in transition from the grounds of long-abandoned Essex Mountain Sanatorium into a new, spacious suburban park on Second Watchung Mountain; accessible from the Lenape Trail as a side trip

Trail Uses:Hiking
Dogs:Dogs on leash
Trail Miles:9 miles
Park Acreage:284 acres
Verona, Cedar Grove,
Caldwell, North
Web Map:Hilltop Conservancy Trail Map
Park Description:

Hilltop Reservation is a relatively new nature preserve in one of the most densely populated counties in the United States. One advantage is that cell telephone service is available throughout. It is located on a site that formerly included the grounds of the Essex Mountain Sanatorium, and before that other public service institutions dating back to the mid-1870s. The Sanatorium was established in 1907 to treat tuberculosis patients; the effort was ultimately abandoned in 1977. The current and early 20th century names are revealing, because they draw attention to the fact the Reservation is elevated - namely a site on the Second Watchung Mountain [sometimes mistakenly called "Orange Mountain"]. The Watchung Mountains are a group of three long low ridges of volcanic origin, around 400 to 500 feet high, lying parallel to each other. For additional information, see the Trail Conference's Watchung Region.

The site is in transition since the NJ Department of Environmental Protection dedicated the land for conservation and recreational purposes in 2001. The Hilltop Conservancy, a private not-for-profit organization, has assumed a leading role to revive the site. The Reservation is part of the Essex County Park System

Physically, Hilltop Reservation has the general shape of an irregular, long rectangle extending northeast from Verona - which is situated in a valley between the First and Second Watchungs -- to Cedar Grove. It parallels Fairview Avenue for much of the way, with smaller sections spreading out into Caldwell and North Caldwell. The Reservation's highest point is 670 feet.

Trails Overview:

According to a 2014 trail map (link above), the Reservation has eleven relatively short blazed trails ranging from 0.3 mile to 1.8 miles.   The network of interlacing trails adds up to just short of nine miles, and provides several opportunities to plan lollipop hikes [part in-and-out; part loop].      

  • An easy trail begins at the western entrance in North Caldwell [Mountain Avenue and Courter Lane], near a large sports field.  It has an ample parking lot with a formal kiosk displaying a large-scale trail map. Near Courter Lane follow the Arrowhead-blazed trail, its pathway is paved initially and then becomes a woodchip/gravel roadway, finally reverting to pavement at its crest.  It provides access to several other trails.
  • A more challenging trail starts at the Verona Community Center parking area, at the southwestern end of the park in Verona, near the intersection of Bloomfield Avenue and Linn Drive [again look for ball fields].  The Old Hilltop Trail [diamond blaze] trailhead begins by the left field line of a baseball diamond and climbs up hill following the general northeast trajectory of the park.  Several other trails in the park are intersected; the first is to the left where White Rock Trail [whose blaze resembles a pyramid with its peak lopped off] passes by the intriguingly named "Prisoners Pond," ultimately to rejoin the Old Hilltop Trail further along.
  • Two additional parking areas and trailheads are located along Fairview Avenue on the park's eastern side - see trail map.  The 34-mile Lenape Trail, also visible on the trail map, passes by Hilltop Reservation near Verona High School.  Plans are someday to reroute this trail through the park.

No copies of trail maps are available at the parking areas.  Hikers are encouraged to print maps before heading to the Reservation.

Note: biking is restricted to paved roads within the park.  



Driving: Hillside Reservation can be reached in numerous ways in this suburban setting.  Bloomfield Avenue [Route 506] and Fairview Avenue are two main intersections near its southwestern corner at the Verona Community Center. Use the Location Tab above, or Google "Verona, NJ 07044."  The Reservation is too new to be identified on Google's street map, but a satellite view shows the absence of suburban development.

Public transportationNJ Transit Bus #29 from Newark Penn Station runs along Bloomfield Avenue to Verona.  DeCamp Bus #33 from the Port Authority Bus Terminal [W.42nd Street and 8th Ave] also runs along Bloomfield Avenue.  Ask to get off at the Verona Community Center [Bloomfield Ave. and Linn Drive].

Contact Information:The Hilltop Conservancy