October 18, 2020 – Franklin Lakes, NJ
Length: Approximately 2 miles
Max elevation: 430 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 24 ft.
Route type: Circuit
Web Map: Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve
Avenza App Map (FREE): Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve
Trailhead parking: 1 Nature Preserve Way, Franklin Lakes, NJ 07417
Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve is a 147-acre public nature reserve, located mostly within Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, with a tiny portion extending into North Haledon, New Jersey. Situated between the First and Second ridges of the northern Watchung Mountains, the preserve occupies the site of the former Haledon Reservoir, which previously supplied water to North Haledon, Haledon, and Prospect Park. Passive recreation opportunities include hiking, fishing, boating and bird watching.
The preserve is truly an amazing crown jewel amid attractive surrounding suburbs. The 75-acre scenic lake is an eye catcher, with fishing, birding, and picnic opportunities, along with plenty of scenery for photography. The forests, islands, dikes, dams and smaller ponds provide a wide variety of terrain and habitat to amble along with family and friends.
The Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve is open to the public from dawn to dusk.
The area of the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve was once used as a reservoir and watershed to supply downstream municipalities with drinking water. To this end, Molly Ann Brook, which flows through the preserve, was dammed in 1919 to form the large Haledon Reservoir and an accompanying smaller basin. This gravity dam is 25-feet tall and 625-feet long. However, by the mid-2000’s, the Haledon Reservoir and its surrounding property were disused and no longer maintained.
In 2006, the borough of Franklin Lakes, the host municipality of the majority of the property, purchased the reservoir facility in part with funds provided by the New Jersey Green Acres Program and the Bergen County Open Space Program. At the time, the site represented the largest land acquisition in the history of Franklin Lakes. After making extensive improvements to the property, including repairing roads and completing much needed maintenance on the property’s two dams, the newly christened Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve was opened to the public in June, 2011.
In early 2012, the New York–New Jersey Trail Conference began cutting and blazing trails in the preserve. The preserve’s main path, which previously only ran along the eastern shore, was extended to make a complete loop around the reservoir. In October, 2013 two floating bridges were constructed across the gaps in the earthen dikes, allowing the Island Bridges Trail to extend completely across the lake.
The Preserve Shoreline Loop (white blaze; 1.5 miles) – trailhead at the parking area – encircles the former reservoir. This trail links to a network of 12.3 miles of trails at the High Mountain Park Preserve in Wayne, NJ. Its trailhead is roughly 0.2 mile from the parking area on the loop trail, on the west side of the reservoir.
The Island Bridges Trail (blue blaze; 0.5 mile) follows earthen dikes and bridges that cut across the lake near its northern end.
The handicapped accessible trail includes an ADA compliant pathway from the parking lot, a new ADA compliant trail that follows the water’s edge, boardwalk sections across wet sections, and ADA compliant picnic tables. The trail connects to the existing 2.3 mile trail system within the Nature Preserve.
The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has maintained the trails at the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve in Bergen County since December 2011.
Still dealing with some foot issues, I was looking for an easy and scenic hike where I could capture some images of the fall foliage. This turned out to be a great choice. We arrived slightly before 8am on a Sunday morning and there was only one other vehicle in the sizeable parking lot. Upon our return, about an hour or so later, there were about a 1/2 dozen cars in the lot and people walking about. I could see this preserve, just like most places these days, become crowded as the day wears on.
From the parking area, climb up the road leading to the dam, passing to the left of the locked gate. When you reach the top of the dam, you’ll notice (on the fence on the left) a triple white blaze that marks the start of the Preserve Shoreline Loop Trail. You’ll be following this white-blazed trail around the lake.
Turn left and cross the dam, with views of the lake to the right and of the Lower Pond to the left. At the end of the dam, turn right and follow a narrow dirt path between a chain-link fence (with High Mountain Road beyond) on the left and the lake on the right. Several short side trails on the right lead to viewpoints over the lake, and benches have been provided for those who wish to rest while admiring the views. Soon, you’ll reach an opening in the fence where the Red Trail to High Mountain Park Preserve begins on the left. The white-blazed trail now crosses an open grassy expanse and enters a wooded area.
After crossing a wooden footbridge over a culvert, the trail reaches the intersection of High Mountain Road and Ewing Avenue. Here, it bears right and begins to parallel Ewing Avenue. The trail crosses an inlet of the lake on another wooden footbridge and continues beneath tall evergreen trees.
Upon reaching the intersection with Waterview Drive, go through an opening in the fence on the left and use the road bridge to cross the outlet of a wetland to the northwest. At the end of the chain-link fence, turn right and reenter the preserve (just beyond a large sign for the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve).
Just ahead, a signpost marks the start of the blue-blazed Island Bridges Trail. Turn right and follow this trail along a dike that juts into the lake, forming a lagoon on the left. Short paths lead out to the water on both sides of the trail, and there are fine views of High Mountain to the right (southwest). Along the way, the trail crosses two floating pontoon bridges over gaps in the dike.
Just past the second bridge, you’ll notice an open area on the shoreline across the lagoon to the left. This feature, known as Basalt Beach, is a large expanse of basalt rock (characteristic of the Watchung range). In another 500 feet, as the trail bears left, an expanse of basalt rock may be seen just to the right of the trail.
Soon, you’ll reach the end of the Island Bridges Trail at a junction with the Preserve Shoreline Loop Trail, marked by several jagged basalt boulders on the right. Turn right and follow the white-blazed Shoreline Loop Trail along a wide dirt-and-gravel woods road. After a while, you’ll pass homes on the left. Just beyond, you’ll notice a sign on the right for an Accessible Trail. The wide path on the right is a “lollipop”-loop trail that leads to a viewpoint over the lake. You can take this loop if you want to lengthen your hike a little.
Just ahead on the woods road, as you come to a pine grove, you’ll notice a continuation of the Accessible Trail on the right. You can either continue ahead on the road (the official route of the Preserve Shoreline Loop Trail) or follow the Accessible Trail, which winds through the pine forest and crosses a wetland on a pontoon bridge. Either way, you’ll reach the kiosk adjacent to the parking area where the hike began, completing the loop.
A really easy and scenic hike that is almost entirely flat. Road noise can be heard from the western leg of the Shoreline Loop Trail as it runs along a narrow strip of land, close to the road. Once away from the road, it feels more removed from civilization. The constant views of the lake and the chance to see wildlife, makes this a worthwile spot for a walk.
Scenic landscape, a lot of bird activity, good place for an easy stroll around the reservoir.
Road noise along the Shoreline Loop Trail. Since the preserve is surrounded by a residential area, it probably sees a lot of foot traffic.
Take a walk!