Start out from the end of the parking lot to your right. The trail gains a little altitude, but soon levels off into a picnic area. Ignore the blazes telling you to turn left here and follow the gravel road; instead, cross the picnic area and turn left into the woods towards the end. The trail is a little narrower now, and climbs steeply. You will gain most of the altitude here, so don't worry, once you are on the top the rest of the hike will be a little easier. The trail passes some residences to its right, with a rather desolate forest to your left. After a few minutes, the trail levels off a little and turns slightly right, going around a large stone structure. Then, it starts climbing again. As you come to the top of the hill, look for the blazes pointing you towards the left. Here you leave the woods road and follow the blazes. The trail here is barely distinguishable, so don't worry if you miss the turn; the woods road soon ends at a asphalt road; just turn left here and soon you'll rejoin the trail.
From here, the trail descends, but the rocky terrain makes for some difficult footing. You may spy bicycle tracks here as well; while cycling on the trails is illegal, the area is known for challenging biking conditions, and people often try to prove themselves here. In addition to the rocky footing, the trail is a little difficult to follow in this area. Overall, the trails in the South Mountain Reservation seem to have been abandoned in favor of the gravel roads. They are indistinct, with the blazes being too far apart and mostly worn out. The trail crosses several gravel roads, and from time to time may be difficult to follow.
After about fifteen minutes, you will arrive to one of the most beautiful places in the whole reservation - the Maple Falls Cascade. Here, a stream drops 25 feet over basalt rock, and over time, it has carved a steep, narrow canyon. You will arrive right over the canyon, turn right and follow the edge until you are able to cross on the other side. Especially on sunny spring mornings, this place is stunning.
Following the trail further, you will cross several more streams (two of them potentially difficult), through a relatively open forest. This place reminded me strongly on my early hikes in the Carpathian Mountains back in Europe, so I may be a little biased here, but if you are able to get here before the crowds arrive (a foggy, drizzling weather is probably the best for that), you will find this area to be one of the most calming in the whole New Jersey.
After climbing onto a small hill, the rail levels off and then slowly descends. For a while, it runs parallel to a gravel road, but once you clear a small structure that reminded me on a miniature Stonehenge, you will reenter the woods, only to emerge on a crossroads with a small bridge later on. For this part, the trail remains relatively rocky and wet in places.
For the first part, the trail follows the river on its west bank, about 30 feet above. The trail maps the slope of a hill, and is a little slanted. It may be slippery and quite dangerous when wet, and I would recommend great caution, or even avoiding this trail altogether. In wet conditions, the alternative is to turn left onto a gravel road at the initial crossroads, before starting on the white trail. At one point, you will need to cross a fallen tree, which is a little risky even in dry conditions.
After you cross a stream, the trail levels off and soon comes to another crossroads. You will be able to cross the river here much more comfortably, and then hike on a relatively flat terrain along the east bank. The trail runs parallel to a gravel road, but offers a much better view of the river and the series of lakes, created by a few small dams. After following a wide left turn of the river (this part offers the only sandy surface that I know of), the trail actually joins the road in order to cross a stream, only to enter the woods again. In this part, the trail is indistinguishable from its surroundings, and quite unremarkable. I would recommend you stay on the gravel road until you cross another bridge (the white trail rejoins the road at that point), and only then follow the trail again. After you cross yet another narrow bridge, you will have to walk for only a few more minutes on relatively flat terrain, in order to emerge on the other end of the parking lot.
Update (March 26, 2014): I haven't lived or hiked in New Jersey for about 10 years, but I am still getting updates on the hikes and trails described here. It has come to my attention that the US Army Corps of Engineers are considering building a flood dam in the reservation, which would significantly impact the park. For more information on this project, as well as possible alternatives, please visit this site.
© Jozef Purdes, 2003