Hiking The Hilltop, With Kids


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Yesterday was my first visit to Hilltop Reservation. If you’re thinking of going, I would go soon. If you weren’t thinking of going, you may want to reconsider: While all of the leaves haven’t changed yet, they are on their way, and the place is beautiful.

Verona’s Hilltop always seemed like this obscure place to me, filled with stories of past disease, mental illness, ghost hunters and, more recently, houses yet to be built. (You can get some history on the Hilltop’s use as a tuberculosis sanatorium here.) It is the kind of place that gets driven by frequently and passed too often. But once there, you don’t even feel that you are still in Verona.

Your first challenge is getting there, because the entrances aren’t well marked, and the one that I used is going to be at the center of some heavy demolition soon. On Fairview Avenue just past the Verona Community Pool is a small sign on the left side that says Hilltop Reservation. This was virgin territory for me and I wasn’t even sure if cars could really go up that driveway before today.  Turn left here and head up the hill. Just before a barrier is a parking lot to the left.

The Hilltop Conservancy’s trail map identifies this entrance as the “Eastern Park Entrance”. When that lot is closed, your other options are to use the visitors parking in the Hillwood senior complex off Fairview or the parking lot by the Courter Road field in North Caldwell. The walking paths, which range from three-tenths of a mile to 1.8 miles, are well maintained and easy to navigate. My children ran free and there was plenty to explore.

Your kids can also play Wildlife Bingo, courtesy of some very clever people at the Essex County Environmental Center. At the North Caldwell park entrance kiosk, kids can learn how to collect different types of acorns for the New Jersey Forest Service seedling nursery.  Today’s acorns are tomorrow’s trees and with the dry summer we had, there are actually more acorns than usual this year.

After being on the Hilltop today, I am thankful for the Hilltop Conservancy, a group of volunteers whose mission is to is to keep the Hilltop as a nature preserve that provides habitat for native wildlife and plant species; and a site that provides respite, enjoyment, and learning activities to the community.  I am looking forward to the Hilltop of the future with open parklands and walkways. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be in the winter and am looking forward to a return visit.

Here are some photos of the Hilltop this fall, courtesy of Fred Goode.
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  1. We followed the Peace trail south to the Old Hilltop trail today, then took a detour over the White Rock Trail to Prisoner’s Pond. If anyone knows the answer to the question “Were the prisoners allowed to fish here?” let me know. BTW, the Old Hilltop trail comes out on the Linn Drive field just past third base, in case you want to hike from south to north.

  2. Thanks for this great write-up about hiking in the hilltop, it is a wonderful place for kids to safely explore year round while walking or cycling with parents. For little cyclists, there is a special Kid’s Korse just beyond the North Caldwell sports field parking area. The course is used for the kids only bike race, the Hilltop Grasshopper.

    As Virginia C mentions, there is a trail head by the third base line of the linn drive field, this trail leads to prisoner’s pond and much further. Parking is usually available at the Verona Community Center.


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