Chasing Waterfalls

These cascading wonders are worth the hike.

Buttermilk Falls, Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area, Walpack Township.
Buttermilk Falls, Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area, Walpack Township.
Photo by Steve Greer

Think New Jersey and splashing water, and immediately the Shore comes to mind. But the Garden State is also blessed with a spectacular array of sparkling waterfalls, mostly in the northern part of the state, with its high mountains and steep gorges. These white-water wonders are best viewed in spring, when rivers and brooks are running their highest. Some are easily accessible; others require a bit of a hike. The following is our guide to these Instagram-worthy natural wonders.

Boonton Falls
Grace Lord Park, Boonton
One of New Jersey’s easiest waterfalls to reach, this picturesque spot is located off Main Street in downtown Boonton. The falls, which once powered the New Jersey Iron Company, can be viewed from both sides of the Rockaway River within Grace Lord Park. The park’s path system has three access points. Enter at the north end of the park off Essex Avenue, near the gazebo, and you’ll see the wide river form a pool before flowing over a dam and plunging 25 feet down a steep gorge. You can also enter at the south end from a parking area on Morris Avenue, or at the middle from a parking area off Plane Street. Trails follow both sides of the river, converging at a stone bridge downstream of the falls. To the right of the bridge, there’s a massive rock formation that’s fun to climb for a good view of the tumbling water. The rapids starting below the stone bridge are a popular fishing and kayaking area (experts only). Swimming is prohibited.—JB

Bear Swamp Brook Falls

Ramapo Valley County Reservation, Mahwah
On nice days, the sprawling, 3,133-acre reservation is packed with families, dog walkers and students. Park in the main lot off US 202/North Ramapo Valley Road and take the silver-blazed trail toward the series of small waterfalls on Bear Swamp Brook. Some trails can be steep, but the pathways are smooth and easy to hike. Shortly after starting on the trail, you’ll encounter a brick building covered in graffiti. On your left, a small sign marks the spot of the former L.B. Darling mansion, built in 1864. Cross the wooden bridge; the serene  Scarlet Oak Pond will be on your right. Picnic tables along the pond are ideal for photo-ops. The silver trail, a little less than a mile long, gets steep once you pass the pond. The falls will appear on your left. For a better view, trek down the tricky dirt path to the brook. Choose the silver-blazed trail to return to the parking lot, or continue deeper into the park on the yellow-silver trail to see reservoirs and ruins.—MM

Great Falls, Paterson Great Falls National Park, Paterson.

Great Falls, Paterson Great Falls National Park, Paterson. Photo by Steve Greer

Buttermilk Falls
Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area, Walpack Township
Two miles south of the Wallpack Cemetery on Mountain Road—a rough, one-lane passage at parts—is Flat Brook’s 85-foot-high Buttermilk Falls, left, the tallest waterfall in the state. Off-season, Mountain Road is closed to vehicles roughly two miles in either direction from the falls. When the road is closed, park by the Wallpack Cemetery and walk south along Mountain Road; for a shorter trek, approach from the south on National Park Service Road 615, bear right onto Haney’s Mill Road, and cross a one-lane green bridge onto Mountain Road, where you can park at the gate and walk. When the road is open, there’s a parking area and trailhead signs at the base of the falls. A steep, uneven staircase built into the mountain rises to two viewing platforms. Advanced hikers can continue 1,000 feet up the mountain on the blue-blazed Buttermilk Falls Trail for 1.4 miles until it merges with the Appalachian Trail.—JB

Great Falls
Paterson Great Falls National Park, Paterson
The majestic, 77-foot-high Great Falls of the Passaic River inspired Alexander Hamilton’s vision of Paterson, the nation’s first industrial city. Now it’s the centerpiece of America’s newest national park. Get your first view of the falls in Overlook Park, then walk up McBride Avenue and turn right onto the  footbridge that crosses the raging river (as seen in the pilot episode of The Sopranos). Check out the free self-guided audio tour app, Mill Mile.—JB

Hemlock Falls, South Mountain Reservation, Essex County.

Hemlock Falls, South Mountain Reservation, Essex County. Photo by Dan Balough.

Greenbrook Falls
Greenbrook Sanctuary, Tenafly
This gorgeous, 165-acre woodland preserve is accessible to members only. (Annual membership is $35 for an individual and $50 for a household of two or more; register at njpalisades.org.) Enter the sanctuary from Route 9W/Sylvan Avenue in Tenafly. Using your membership key, unlock the gate and park in the gravel lot near the orientation center. Walk down the gravel path to the left of the center to Old Powder Magazine Trail, marked as the F trail. You’ll pass a small stone tribute to the Women’s Federation, which helped preserve the area. Follow the sign toward the A, C and E trails. At the top of an incline you’ll find the Duck Hawk Lookout, where you can rest on a small wooden bench and enjoy the view of the Hudson River. Continue along the A trail until you reach Picture Point, another scenic spot, where you may be able to hear the rumble of the falls. Follow the A trail along the Greenbrook River to the L trail, which links to the B trail. A path of smooth, flat rocks will take you across the brook and onto the path to the falls. You can backtrack to the parking lot or commit to a longer hike on the B trail, which circles most of the sanctuary.—MM

Hemlock Falls
South Mountain Reservation, Essex County
Hikers and history buffs delight in the 2,112-acre reservation, which includes the site of Beacon Signal Station 9, one of 23 beacons built by George Washington’s troops during the Revolution. Trail maps are available at the Millburn Free Public Library. Park in the Locust Grove lot off Glen Avenue in Millburn and take the 6-mile, yellow-blazed Lenape Trail to the Rahway River. The trail—not always well marked—leads up a rocky hill to an observation platform. On a clear day, you can see Manhattan. Turn left and continue on the yellow-blazed trail. You’ll venture through peaks and valleys and across a stream before reaching Hemlock Falls at the 3-mile mark. Three white markers denote the Rahway Trail. A right turn takes you to the base of the falls. Climb the stone staircase for a glimpse of the top.—MM

Tillman Ravine Falls, Stokes State Forest, Walpack Township.

Tillman Ravine Falls, Stokes State Forest, Walpack Township. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Tillman Ravine Falls
Stokes State Forest, Walpack Township
This swirling cascade in Tillman Brook is known as the Tea Cup, but it’s more like a water slide. Drive south from Route 206 on Struble Road, which becomes Dimon Road, pass the entrance to the Rutgers Cooperative Extension and 4-H center on your right, and continue to follow the signs for Tillman Ravine. (If the road is closed, you’ll have to park and walk.) Continue west until you reach the upper Tillman Ravine parking lot, which includes restrooms. Follow the white-blazed Tillman Trail; choose the lower route at the fork, which follows mossy bridges and fallen trees along the brook. After scrambling up a few rocks, look for a sign for Tillman Trail with one arrow pointing left to the Tea Cup and another to the blue-blazed Cemetery Trail. The falls will be on your left. Be careful—the rocks can get slippery! You can follow the Cemetery Trail to Wallpack Cemetery on Mountain Road, where the namesake Tillman family is buried.—JB

Hacklebarney Falls
Hacklebarney State Park, Chester
The park—a New Jersey Monthly staff favorite—has grills and picnic tables nestled next to boulders by the babbling Black River (which becomes the Lamington River as it flows south to join the Raritan River). Use the main parking lot off Hacklebarney Road, then follow the red-blazed trail down the stone steps on the left and along Trout Brook. Just after a bridge marked with blue blazes, the brook tumbles into a ravine; this is the start of a series of small waterfalls. To get safely down to the riverbed, follow the red trail up the hill until a hidden stone staircase appears on your right; be careful as you descend the steep steps down the ravine to an unmarked path along the river. After a few more cascades, Trout Brook merges with the Lamington River, which is stocked with trout for fishing. The wooded and rocky red trail continues along the river and eventually makes its way back up the mountain, merging with the main white trail and back to the parking lot. The entire loop (rated intermediate) can take about an hour.—JB

Hacklebarney Falls, Hacklebarney State Park, Chester.

Hacklebarney Falls, Hacklebarney State Park, Chester. Photo courtesy of Ed Murray/The Star Ledger.

Schooley’s Falls
Schooley’s Mountain Park, Long Valley
Enter Schooley’s Mountain Park via the parking lot off East Springtown Road. Head south and branch right, walking along Lake George until it turns into the blue-blazed Falling Waters Trail. Follow the trail along Electric Brook; it starts off easy, then meanders over boulders until reaching a rock scramble. Here you can slide on your bottom down the rocks to the base of the waterfall. Downstream of the falls, turn left at the private-property gate and follow the trail up the mountain. It emerges at a scenic overlook (marked with a star on the park trail map). For a longer round trip, the white-blazed Patriots Path trail from the parking lot also leads up the mountain; after the overlook, follow the signs toward the falls along the green-blazed Boulder Gorge Trail.—JB

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