Hiking With the Tykes? Try an All-Ages Adventures

South Mountain Reservation’s 2,110 acres of Essex County woodlands offers 50 miles of hiking trails, mountain biking and more.

Members of the Chevalier, Alfano and Davidson families enjoy a shady stretch of trail around Orange Resevoir.
Members of the Chevalier, Alfano and Davidson families enjoy a shady stretch of trail around Orange Resevoir.
Photo by Erik Rank

South Mountain Reservation’s 2,110 acres of Essex County woodlands offers 50 miles of hiking trails, mountain biking and more. Best of all is the Waterfront, a family-friendly complex at the northern end of the park, where the Turtle Back Zoo, TreeTop Adventure Course, a fleet of paddle boats and a mini-golf course are just part of the fun.

For an all-ages adventure, try the tree-lined, 1.7-mile footpath around Orange Reservoir. Hikers, joggers, dog walkers and parents pushing strollers are plentiful along the paved, handicapped-accessible trail.

There’s ample parking on Cherry Lane opposite the picnic pavillion, boat launch and playground. Start your walk by heading north from the picnic area toward McLoone’s Boathouse Restaurant and the Safari Mini Golf. Swing around to the east side of the reservoir, and you’ll pass a walkway to the Turtle Back Zoo. As you proceed up the trail, whistles will announce the approach of two trolley trains as they steam through the adjacent woods.

The inner edge of the path follows closely along the reservoir, providing a peek at mallard ducks, frogs and turtles along the water’s edge. Farther south, the little ones can step off into the open woods for a hiking adventure—under the watchful eyes of accompanying adults. Even the 3-year-olds in our group felt comfortable and capable.

At the southern end of the trail, kids will enjoy the spillway and the walk across the causeway to the western side of the reservoir. A bit further on, you’ll return to  the popular picnic and playground areas. Here, you can grab a bite at the Snack Shack or rent a paddleboat or swan boat ($19 for 30 minutes in a four-seater boat).

Really hungry? Walk on to McLoone’s for lunch or a late-afternoon snack on the deck looking out over the reservoir. It’s the perfect spot to savor the day’s highlights.

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