Skipping stones on Hanks Pond, the only sound was that of the small, smooth rocks skimming the sparkling surface, the only movement the gold, red and yellow reflections rippling toward the shore of the 77-acre lake in the Pequannock Watershed.
“The watershed is considered one of the most pristine forests not only in New Jersey, but the United States,” said my fellow hiker, Kenya Travitt, manager of the Pequannock Watershed Recreation Facility, which, at 35,000 acres, covers portions of Morris, Passaic and Sussex counties. It’s larger than nearby High Point State Park and Stokes State Forest combined and offers large helpings of lakes, streams, forests and dramatic rock outcroppings.
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Purchased by the city of Newark in 1900 to provide residents with clean drinking water, the watershed offers hiking, fishing, boating, hunting and horseback riding—all by permit only. The facility has a dozen trails, all maintained by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, and nine parking areas (labeled P1-P9). Beaver dams have made some of the trails impassable; check at the watershed office for the latest conditions.
We tried two out-and-back trails, both starting at the watershed office in Newfoundland (223 Echo Lake Road), where you can purchase your permit and get a trail map. The teal-blazed Highlands Trail follows the western shore of Echo Lake, sometimes hugging the shoreline. The rocky but moderate hike totals 4 miles, out and back. We turned back where the lake ends and the trail turns left uphill.
Our second hike headed to the western side of Hanks Pond. From the watershed office, we drove north on Route 23 to the Clinton Road exit and parking area P1. From the kiosk, we followed the white-blazed trail to the blue connecting trail until we reached Hanks West Trail (blue/white). That took us along the lake and past the remains of an ice house. After about a mile, the lake ends. We turned back here, but stopped for lunch along the shore on our way back.
Both of these trails are off-limits to hunting—and no hunting is allowed in the watershed on Sundays.
Hiking permits are $14, but are discounted for Newark residents and seniors. The watershed office is open 8 am-4 pm, Monday-Friday, and 8 am-1:30 pm Saturdays, March-October. Permits can also be purchased at Newark City Hall or online at newarknj.gov, but must be picked up in Newark. Permits are good for one calendar year. Call 973-697-1724 for more information.
Prefer to ride? Trail rides are available at Echo Lake Stables.
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