By ERIN ROLL
For Montclair Local
It may still feel like summer outside, but fall is on the way.
Montclair and Essex County have an abundance of places to go for autumn hikes or for taking in the fall foliage, if you don’t feel like driving all the way to Vermont or upstate New York.
The township and its neighboring communities are home to a variety of parks and nature preserves that have a variety of tree species — oak, maple, elm, birch, beech and hickory — all of which will turn bright colors later in the fall.
Depending on your interests, you will also find hiking and horseback riding trails, bird-watching stations and scenic viewpoints.
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Essex County’s more urban regions will start to see the foliage change color in October.
The 40-mile Lenape Trail, which runs between West Caldwell and Newark, connects several county and local parks in and around Montclair.
On weekends and holidays with good weather, the parking areas at Mills Reservation, Eagle Rock Reservation and South Mountain Reservation can quickly fill up, so visitors arriving by car are advised to come early or to have a backup location for parking.
Located on Montclair’s northernmost border with Clifton, the 30-acre Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve was named for the man whose family helped the township buy the land and designate it as a nature preserve in the 1970s.
The preserve is a favorite destination for bird and wildlife watchers, although with the onset of fall many bird species will start to migrate south for the winter.
The preserve can be accessed on Riverview Drive West, and the entrance gate is located between two private houses. From there, a set of cement steps and a footbridge will take visitors to the main east-west trail junction, where visitors can also find a kiosk describing some of the plant and animal species in the preserve.
Located on the town line between Montclair and Cedar Grove, the 157.15-acre Mills Reservation is a favorite destination for hikers, dog walkers (on-leash only) and bird-watchers.
One of the best views in the park, whether for birds or for foliage, is the old concrete searchlight turret foundation on Quarry Point, overlooking the southern edge of the reservation on Edgecliff Road.
Across the road from the main reservation is the Montclair Hawk Watch platform, which is open for fall viewing from September to November. Visitors may see red-tailed hawks, one of the most frequently seen birds of prey in northern New Jersey, and peregrine falcons, merlins and Cooper’s hawks. The New Jersey Audubon Society maintains the platform and keeps a running count of hawk and other bird species during migration seasons.
Eagle Rock Reservation
The reservation spans 408 acres in Montclair, West Orange and Verona, and is home to 14 miles of blazed trails and bridle paths. It is advisable to wear boots or other suitable footwear, as the trails can become somewhat muddy after a period of heavy rainfall.
The Lenape Trail runs along the eastern edge of the reservation and provides hikers with some overlooks for bird-watching or taking in the scenery.
Eagle Rock is home to Essex County’s Sept. 11 memorial, which is one of the most-visited areas of the reservation. Many residents gathered on the overlook, which has a clear view of lower Manhattan, to watch the destruction of the Twin Towers. The original memorial featured a book with the names of Essex County victims with an eagle flying overhead, and a group of statues. In the years following the attacks, additional features have been added to the memorial, including a piece of steel from the original World Trade Center.
The reservation has two main points of access: Eagle Rock Avenue in West Orange and Undercliff Road in Montclair. The two main parking lots are near the Eagle Rock Avenue entrance, and a smaller trailhead parking area located off the approach road leading up from Undercliff Road.
South Mountain Reservation
One of Essex County’s largest parks at 2,110 acres in West Orange, Maplewood and Millburn, South Mountain Reservation is home to many varieties of deciduous trees, especially oaks, birches and beeches. When fall arrives, these trees put forth an array of bright yellows, reds and oranges.
The carriage roads are a favorite with hikers, joggers, dog walkers and families with kids.
A favorite destination is Hemlock Falls, which is located on the western edge of the reservation. The falls are at their best following a significant rainfall.
Visitors can reach the falls by following the Lenape Trail (yellow blazes) from the Tulip Springs parking area and heading south and east. As a bonus, there is a grove of pine trees near this trailhead, and the ground is usually covered with a thick carpet of golden-brown needles. As of the Labor Day weekend, part of the trail leading to the falls was washed out, so visitors may have to tiptoe through the brook in order to reach the falls.
A set of stone steps leads up the waterfall to a series of overlooks, but it is strongly recommended that visitors wear a good pair of hiking boots or otherwise suitable footwear.
In the northeast corner of the reservation in West Orange, visitors will find Turtle Back Rock, a rock formation named because the grooves give it the appearance of a turtle’s shell.
At the southern edge of the reservation in Millburn is a little “fairy village,” tiny houses that volunteers have set up and painted (with permission) along the white-blazed Rahway Trail. The fairy trail is a favorite destination for families with children. However, due to the fairy village’s popularity, the trail sees heavy foot traffic, so the South Mountain Conservancy urges visitors to stay on the trail and not disturb any of the plant life or fairy houses.