There’s a line in an old song that says “don’t go chasing waterfalls.” That’s bad advice to take literally, especially in the New Jersey Highlands. What most people don’t realize is that the Garden State actually offers a variety of swift streams, running rapids and crisp cascades as natural treasures to seek out.
As the weather begins to warm, here are 12 Garden State waterfalls that should be on every New Jerseyan’s to-see list. Don’t forget that these waterfalls get a boost after rain, so keep an eye on the sky when planning visits.
Enjoy the video clips and imagine how much better a little running water would make your weekend.
In the heart of Paterson, the Passaic River drops through a notch in the basaltic bedrock that was created by glaciers retreating during the last ice age. The result is the second-largest falls (by volume) east of the Mississippi River. Only Niagara Falls dumps more water than Paterson’s Great Falls.
How to get to Paterson Great Falls
There is no hike to see the Great Falls. Just park your car and walk to an overlook.
West of Paterson in Morris County is Boonton, another community shaped by a powerful waterfall. The Rockaway River’s run through the town is highlighted by Boonton Falls, situated in the town’s Grace Lord Park.
How to get to Boonton Falls
Boonton Falls is at the north end of Grace Lord Park. The path along the west bank of the river provides more shade, but the east bank will give you a better view of the falls.
The Ramapo Valley Reservation, a county reservation in Mahwah, is home to Ramapo Falls. The falls are on a small stream flowing from the MacMillan Reservoir to the Ramapo River. The Vista Loop trail, which brings hikers to the falls, also offers multiple overlooks. The Ramapo River, which runs through the park, is stocked with trout.
How to get to Ramapo Falls
The entrance to the Ramapo Valley Reservation is on U.S. 202 in Mahwah, next door to the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference headquarters. The Vista Loop trail takes hikers to the falls; the trail is marked with yellow blazes and begins at the entrance parking lot.
West of the Ramapo Valley Reservation is Norvin Green State Forest, which features a few waterfalls in its southern section. The Wyanokie Falls are on Blue Mine Brook as it flows south to Wanaque Reservoir. The hike to the falls is rocky and technical.
How to get to Wyanokie Falls
The hike to Wyanokie Falls begins at The New Weis Center on Snake Den Road in Ringwood. From the parking lot, follow Otter Hole Trail (green blazes) to Mine Trail (yellow blazes), and then on to Roomy Mine Trail (orange blazes). The trail passes over the top of the falls.
Also in the south section of Norvin Green State Forest on Posts Brook is Otter Hole. The beautiful set of falls is a very short walk from the parking area. Downstream from Otter Hole is Chikahoki Falls.
How to get to Otter Hole
To get to Otter Hole, park in the small dirt parking lot where Otterhole Road becomes Glenwild Avenue. Then head north on the Highlands Trail, which is marked with blue blazes. For a longer hike, continue along the Highlands Trail to Posts Brook trail (white blazes), then take that to Chikahoki Falls.
On the north side of Stokes State Forest, you’ll find Stony Brook Falls. Formed by Stony Brook on its way from Stony Lake to Big Flat Brook, these falls feature an upper and lower section. The upper falls are steeper and faster, and joined at their base by a small falls from a runoff stream. The lower falls are smoother but more elongated, giving a stepping stone appearance.
How to get to Stony Brook Falls
Stony Brook Falls are easy to access. Park at Kittle Field, the pick up the brown-blazed Stony Brook Trail. The trail is well worn and relatively flat; the brook runs alongside it so just follow downstream to the falls.
On the south side of Stokes State Forest is Tillman Ravine and its lovely waterfalls. Tillman Brook passes through the ravine on its way to meet Big Flat Brook near Walpack. The abundance of downed logs strewn about the ravine show just how powerful the brook can be after a heavy storm.
How to get to Tillman Falls
There are two parking areas for the Tillman Ravine Natural Area; both are on Dimon Road. Park in either of these and follow the white-blazed Tillman Ravine Trail to the falls.
Just south of Tillman Falls in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is Buttermilk Falls. This spectacular cascade is 200 feet tall, making it taller than Niagara Falls. The falls are at the very beginning of Buttermilk Falls Trail, a 1.4-mile-long trail that connects with the Appalachian Trail. If you follow the trail upstream, you’ll come across another set of much smaller falls.
How to get to Buttermilk Falls
Tillman Falls is very close to Buttermilk Falls, as long as the seasonal gate between Stokes State Forest and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area on Dimon Road is open. The parking area for the falls and trail is on Mountain Road.
Also found on the New Jersey side of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is Van Campen Glen Falls. The falls are the culmination of Vancampens Brook’s race through a beautiful ravine. At the base of the falls is a large pool, though it should be noted that the park prohibits swimming, wading and jumping in and around its waterfalls.
How to get to Van Campen Glen Falls
The trailhead for Van Campen Glen Trail is at the Upper Glen parking area on Old Mine Road south of Millbrook Village. The trail briefly follows a decaying abandoned paved road before turning south to follow the brook. Look for the yellow blazes that mark the path.
Just south of Van Campen Glen is Laurel Falls in Worthington State Forest. The falls are really three separate cascades, the brilliant climax of Sunfish Creek’s run from Sunfish Pond to the Delaware River.
How to get to Laurel Falls
To get to Laurel Falls, park in the Douglas lot on Old Mine Road. You’ll be able to hear them when you get out of the car, and it’s just a short walk to the base of the lower fall. Follow the Douglas Trail, marked with blue blazes, upstream to see the rest. Fair warning though, this is a steep trail.
South of Van Campen Glen Falls, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area gives way to New Jersey’s Worthington State Forest. At the southern end of this park is Dunnfield Creek Falls, another picturesque product of a ravine. At the base of the falls is a small wading pool deep enough for large dogs to swim in.
How to get to Dunnfield Creek Falls
To get to Dunnfield Creek Falls, follow the Dunnfield Creek Trail. The trailhead is at the Tammany parking area on I-80, just east of Exit 1. Take the white-blazed Appalachian Trail and follow the creek. Turn onto the green-blazed Dunnfield Creek Trail when it forks off to the right. The hike to the falls is very short and can be easily combined with a loop hike to the peak of Mount Tammany.
In Morris County’s Schooley’s Mountain Park, Electric Brook tumbles through the woods from Lake George to South Branch Raritan River. The water flows swiftly, with Schooleys Falls serving as the climax of the brook’s course.
How to get to Schooleys Falls
There are multiple access point to Schooley’s Mountain Park, but the one closest to the falls is at the park lodge on Camp Worthington Road. From the parking lot, follow the aptly-named Falling Waters Trail (blazed in blue) south of the Lake George dam.
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Michael Sol Warren may be reached at [email protected].