A hiking trail through one of America’s most densely populated counties.

Lenape Trail, Essex County, N.J.

The Lenape were the original inhabitants of the northern New Jersey area where I live. They were the original inhabitants of all of New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, New York City and parts of Long Island and the Hudson Valley. You’ve heard the story of Manhattan Island being bought from its native inhabitants for trinkets. It’s deals like that, along with fraudulent promises of hunting and use rights that forced the Lenape off their land. Wars, including inter-tribal warfare, and smallpox further decimated the tribes. Most of the survivors ended up in Oklahoma, Canada, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The Lenape would hardly recognize what has become Essex County, N.J. It is the second most densely populated county in the most densely populated state in the country. Overall it is the 15th most densely populated county in the U.S. Yet it also was the first county in the country to create a county park system. The Essex County Park Commission was created in 1895 and its first task was creating the nation’s first county park, Branch Brook Park in Newark. As would be the case with several future Essex County Parks, Branch Brook was designed by the Olmstead Organization.

Considering the profile of this county, you might be surprised to learn that it’s the home of a 36-mile hiking trail that looks like an upside down “U” across the county map. Its name is the Lenape Trail. While that is a tribute to the Lenape, the pathways have nothing to do with anything the original inhabitants did. However, it has everything to do with the Essex County Park system. It connects 18 parks in 11 different towns, starting in Newark and ending in Millburn. Seventy percent of the trail goes through woodlands or parks while the other 30% runs along roadways. To do it start to finish would take almost six hours.

Al Kent, a former park commissioner in neighboring Morris County, began the blazing of the trail (always in yellow blazes) in 1976. He was affiliated with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, the Sierra Club and the New Jersey Environmental Lobby. He finished up the original iteration of the trail in 1979.

My dog and I did not do it start to finish. These photos are from several trips to different parts of the trail and are from winter and spring.

From Here to Here

Branch Brook Park (Newark)

Brookdale Park (Bloomfield and Montclair)

While most of the trail goes through preserved woodlands or well-manicured parks, it also goes through busy intersections like this one in Bloomfield:

Or along quiet residential streets like this one:

Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, Mountainside Park (Montclair)

Mills Reservation (Montclair and Cedar Grove)

Hilltop Reservation (Cedar Grove, North Caldwell, Verona)

Verona Park (Verona)

Eagle Rock Reservation (West Orange, Montclair and Verona)

South Mountain Reservation (Maplewood, Millburn and West Orange)

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4 Responses to A hiking trail through one of America’s most densely populated counties.

  1. Hello. Have you lived in NJ for most, or all, of your life?


  2. retrosimba says:

    Thank you for this wonderfully informative post, Ken. The photo of the New York skyline from South Mountain Reservation is particularly stunning.

    This post brought back sweet memories for me of when in summers as a boy in Bayonne my parents would take the family to Jenny Jump State Forest near Hope, NJ, in Warren County. For a Bayonne kid, it was like entering another universe. Hard for me to believe we hadn’t left the state. Your mention of the Lenape Indians reminded me of the legends surrounding Jenny Jump, as well as our amazing summers in cottages on the lake there.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great pics, brings back memories (I miss the Iris Garden!).

    Liked by 1 person

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