The Rahway Trail at South Mountain Reservation

The South Mountain Reservation is home to a complex network of trails, including the Rahway Trail.

The Rahway trail is a 2.5 mile point to point trail in the southern half of the South Mountain Reservation. It’s a moderately difficult trail, with some small rolling hills. It tracks along the Rahway River for a scenic run, and you can use a variety of trails to create a full loop of five or six miles.

A map of the Rahway Trail with elevation data from Garmin.
Map of the Rahway Trail with elevation data from a Garmin segment.

I ran the trail this weekend as part of my long run. I didn’t have a chance to take pictures, but I’ll edit this post in the future after I do.

Let’s explore the Rahway Trail.

Accessing the Rahway Trail

Since the Rahway Trail is a point to point trail, you can choose to start at either the southern or northern end. There are parking options at either end, as well as connecting trails. There are hills either way, but if you travel south there’s a net elevation loss of a little more than 100 feet.

The northern trailhead is near Hemlock Falls. It splits off from the Lenape Trail just south of South Orange Avenue and heads to the west towards the Rahway River.

The closest parking lot would be the Hemlock Falls Parking Area (see on Google Maps). You can access this parking lot from South Orange Avenue heading eastbound. Once parked, walk south until you see a three way intersection. The Rahway Trail is marked by the white blaze and branches off to the right. The Lenape Trail branches off to the left and a carriage road continues straight.

Near the Hemlock Falls Parking Area you’ll see a walking bridge crossing South Orange Avenue. If you park at Tulip Springs (see on Google Maps), you can follow the Lenape Trail to this bridge and continue to the Rahway Trail. If you’re following the Turtleback Trail, it will also go right past this bridge. I started my run at the Turtleback Picnic Area and ran down the Turtleback Loop to this bridge.

The southern trailhead is at the southern end of the reservation near Glen Ave. You can park at the Locust Grove Parking Lot (see on Google Maps). However, this is often quite busy and you may need to park across the street at the Millburn Public Library. The Rahway Trail begins on the west side of the Locust Grove Parking Lot near the bulletin board.

Exploring the Rahway Trail

I started my trip down the Rahway Trail from the northern trailhead. I began at the Turtleback Picnic Area and followed the Turtleback Loop until I got to the bridge crossing South Orange Avenue. I took the Lenape Trail south across the bridge, and turned right at the trailhead for the Rahway Trail.

From here, the trail goes into the woods for a bit. It’s a fairly flat bit of trail that leads to the Rahway River.

The trail will cross the Rahway River when it reaches it. There’s no bridge, and you’ll need to carefully cross on the rocks. The river is usually fairly low and tame, so I would consider this safe. But definitely take care, and be aware that it may be a different scene after a heavy rainfall.

Once you’ve crossed the river, the trail will turn left and travel along it. You’ll soon climb a steep hill as you continue to travel south. The trail here is narrow, so be careful of your footing. It also goes up and down, undulating a bit, and this is a great place to incorporate some short hill sprints.

After about half a mile, the trail will turn left towards the river. It’ll descend to the level of the river, and thankfully at this point there is a bridge crossing the Rahway River. After crossing the river, the trail will be somewhat less hilly, although there are still ups and downs.

For a while it’ll travel right alongside the river, before moving slightly further inland. This part of the trail can get a little wet and muddy. There are also a lot of tree roots, so be careful of your footing.

You’ll pass by Campbell’s Pond on your righthand side. The trail will zigzag a bit, crossing and re-crossing parts of the carriage road (the River Trail). If you get tired of the tree roots, you can always follow this trail south to the parking lot.

In the last stretch of the trail, you may notice little fairy houses. These are a popular feature of the trail, and on weekends you will likely see crowds of small children hiking to explore these fairy houses. This is the only part of the trail that is likely to be busy. The rest of it is typically not traveled heavily.

As you come to the end of the trail, you’ll cross a small wooden bridge. You’ll see a parking lot ahead and a bulletin board with a map posted. This is the southern trailhead, and you could have begun here and run along the Rahway Trail north.

You can also loop around by heading north in the parking lot, turning right, and starting at the beginning of the Lenape Trail. This will loop back up to the northern trailhead.

Final Thoughts on the Rahway Trail

The Rahway Trail is a great option for an easy trail run.

It’s not too easy, and you’ll definitely know you’re running on trails. The tree roots require constant attention, and the hills are tiresome. But it’s not too strenuous, and you won’t be exhausted by the end.

That being said, it’s not a trail I would pick if I was trying to run fast. There are a number of places where you need to be careful of your footing, and if I was running hard I’d be more afraid of slipping.

This is also a great way to get from the middle of the South Mountain Reservation to the other end. The Lenape Trail is much more strenuous, and this is a good way to build a full loop through the reservation with a more moderate difficulty. If you were to make one loop of the southern half, you’d probably run five to six miles. If you use this as part of a loop starting in the northern half, you’ll do close to ten miles.

If you don’t want to run the Lenape Trail, you can also connect to several carriage roads to travel back through the reservation to your starting point.

The only thing to be aware of is that there can be crowds in the southern end of the trail where the fairy houses are. Normally, this isn’t too much of an issue. However, with covid I try more than usual to avoid crowded trails.

Check out this collection of trails in the South Mountain Reservation for other running trails to try out.

And if you’re interested in trail running, check out this guide to the what, how, and why of trail running.

I’m curious what you think about it. Have you run along the Rahway Trail?

What did you think about it? Leave a comment below.

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