What to Do, See and Eat in Mountainside: A Borough of Picturesque Trails and Parks

Mountainside is home to some of the best parts of the extensive Watchung Reservation.

Watchung Reservation Sensory Trail entrance in Mountainside
Photo: Shutterstock/michusa

Located in Union County on the line between Central and North Jersey, with a population of 6,957, Mountainside is nestled up against the Watchung Mountains, which gives the area its picturesque name.


September 2023 cover of New Jersey Monthly

Buy our September 2023 issue here. Cover photo: Laura Moss

Watchung Reservation is divided among a few different towns, and some of the best parts of this extensive park and trails system can be found in Mountainside. Adults and especially children will love the interactive and engaging exhibits found at the Trailside Nature & Science Center, a wonderful place to visit and learn about the history and wildlife found in this part of the state. Especially fun is the wildlife-at-night show, which is presented in a little side room with amphitheater-style seating. There are live and taxidermied animals and a giant American beech tree growing right in the atrium. The center is also the designated starting point for the 6-mile Watchung Reservation History Trail, and just outside is the popular Sensory Trail for children. Closer to the business center of Mountainside is Echo Lake Park. In the winter, kids go sledding, and in the warmer months, you can rent a pedal boat. 


A local favorite is the the Publick House, an upscale gastropub. This is the place to go for all occasions: date night, cocktails, happy hour, a family celebration, you name it. To quote one local, “I haven’t found a loser on the menu.” Tip: Try the smoked crab dip. Chrone’s is a less polished option, but this bar-meets-Italian joint serves a mean New Jersey-style bar pizza (thin crust). Don’t skip the pillowy cavatelli with broccoli, garlic and oil. Surprisingly, Spanish cuisine is an option in Mountainside, too. The Spanish Tavern serves plates of paella and Serrano ham croquettes to rave reviews. 


Mountainside doesn’t have any lodging within its borders, but the historic Grand Summit Hotel in nearby Summit offers a boutique experience, complete with an attractive outdoor pool.

Want to keep exploring? Check out more of our 12 favorite small towns to visit now.

Trailside Nature & Science Center, 452 New Providence Road; Echo Lake Park, 1028 Springfield Avenue; Publick House, 899 Mountain Avenue; Chrone’s, 906 Mountain Avenue; Spanish Tavern, 1239 U.S. 22 East; Grand Summit Hotel, 570 Springfield Avenue, Summit

No one knows New Jersey like we do. Sign up for one of our free newsletters here. Want a print magazine mailed to you? Purchase an issue from our online store.

Read more Shore & Travel articles.