Watchung Reservation  LbNA # 7794

Placed DateSep 7 2003
LocationNew Providence, NJ
Found By The Pakrat
Last Found Dec 29 2008
Hike Distance?


Placed September 7, 2003

Total distance: Approx. 6 miles (4 with the bypass)
Total time: About 3 hours for this half of the loop; 5 for all 10 miles

Watchung Reservation is a small oasis in the middle of suburbia, complete with riding stables (beware of horse feathers while hiking) and a wonderful playground. While you will occasionally see the roadway, cars, and houses while hiking, Watchung is a remarkably peaceful site to find within 5 minutes of a major interstate (which, unfortunately, you can often hear).

There is a 10-mile loop trail that circumnavigates the park; this letterbox was placed so that you only need to complete half of the figure eight “Sierra Trail.” Another letterbox has been placed on the other half of the park for those of you who want a more strenuous hike. The entire 10-mile loop is about 5 hours; this section will take about 3 hours. My paces are a single footfall.

To Get There:
From Route 22: Take Mountainside/New Providence Rd. exit. Proceed uphill (north ) on main road. Turn right on Tracy Drive. At traffic circle take third right and proceed 1/2 mile to Trailside Nature Center.

From Route 287 and 78 East: Rt. 287 to Rt. 78 east to exit 44 (New Providence/Berkeley Heights). ** At T-intersection turn left on Glenside Avenue. After 1.2 miles, turn right into the Watchung Reservation (Route 645) and pass Lake Surprise and then picnic areas as you climb the Watchungs. At traffic circle take first right and proceed 1/2 mile to Trailside Nature Center.

From Route 78 west: Rt. 78 west to exit 43 (New Providence/Berkeley Heights). Turn right at light on McMane Avenue. ** Follow directions from Route 287 and 78 East.

Park at the Trailside Nature Center on New Providence Rd. A trail map can always be obtained within the Nature Center, but the hours are fairly limited; maps are occasionally available at the trail entrances.

Trails start at the rear of the parking lot, opposite the Nature Center and Museum. Enter the Sierra Trail through the wooden archway marked “Nature Trail.” You will be following the WHITE blazes throughout, although at the beginning the Sierra Loop follows the same route as smaller loop trails and you will see other blazes as well.

You will cross 3 wooden bridges; before the 4th bridge, after the yellow trail intersects with your white, go left to stay with the white blazes and the Sierra Loop. Pay attention: you will have to take a sharp right shortly (and step over a small log) when the white trail branches off from the yellow.

At a little over 1½ miles, the Sierra Loop trail takes a sharp left to follow a section of bridle trail. After ¼ mile, the trail then takes another sharp left, and heads up a hill into a lovely evergreen forest. However, a somewhat less-than-scenic section of the trail follows (lots of broken glass, litter, some mining stuff). For those of you who wish to bypass this (and cut about 2 miles off the trip), continue straight along the bridle path when the Sierra Loop goes left and into the evergreen forest. In about ¼ mile, you’ll come to a paved and busy road; take a right and you’ll rejoin the Sierra Loop trail on the right after the bridge.

For a very short time, you will be walking along Sky Top Drive (essentially to use its bridge). The Sierra Loop then cuts across a field to the right, and re-enters the woods. After about ¾ mile, you will come to the end of the narrow trail, and join a larger bridle trail, still following white blazes. The trail takes a bend to the right, then the left, and you'll come to a stand of evergreen trees (with one huge fallen one right across it). Before the evergreens end, keep an eye out for a small fallen tree on the right side of the path with a white blaze on it and a three-trunk tree on the left of the path with a (very) faded yellow cross on it.

Take the small, unmarked trail due north of this spot. Continue 41 paces to a three-trunk tree with a mini-arbor of vines clinging to it. Retrace your steps 4 paces. Go 13 paces at 268° to a five-trunk tree. The letterbox is concealed in the crook of the tree.

Return to the Sierra Loop trail and continue to the Deserted Village and Masker’s Barn. The Sierra Loop takes a hard right and re-joins the bridle trail for a brief way. You can opt to continue along the Sierra Loop for the full 10-miles and the other letterbox, or take the following short cut back to the parking area.

When the Sierra Loop leaves the bridle trail to the left, continue straight along the bridle trail. At the T intersection, go right. Very soon after, go left over a small wooden bridge and go left on the blue trail. The blue trail (turns orange) will lead you back to the parking area.