New Jersey Butterfly Club

A chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA)

Hilltop Reservation

by Theresa Trapp

County: Essex.

Municipality: Verona and Cedar Grove Townships and North Caldwell Borough.

Directions: From I-280, take exit for Pleasant Valley Way, proceed north to Bloomfield Ave, then west toward one of the parking areas detailed below. From US 46, take Bloomfield Ave. east to parking areas.

Parking: Four main sites, with additional residential street parking near trailheads:

1. Highlands at Hilltop apartment complex at 200 White Rock Road in Verona. This is technically private land, but for one or a few vehicles it is preferable and convenient because it puts you at the top of the hill at the south end of the Reservation’s main service road. Drive up the hill and around the complex to the north end of White Rock Road, park your car near the tennis courts, then walk around the service gate and into the Reservation.

2. Cedar Grove Community Center at 199 Fairview Avenue in Cedar Grove. Park your car, cross Fairview Avenue at the designated crosswalk, walk west/southwest through Cedar Grove Park, then walk uphill into the Reservation on the main driveway.

3. Verona Community Center at 880 Bloomfield Avenue in Verona. Park your car, take one of the trails starting just north of Freedom and Liberty Fields, then walk north past Prisoner’s Pond and uphill into the Reservation.

4. Mountain Avenue ballfield parking lot off of Courter Lane in North Caldwell. Park your car, walk east to the dead end of Courter Lane, then walk around the service gate and into the Reservation.

Nearest sizable town: This is a densely populated suburban area (western Essex County); gas, food, etc., is available in all directions.

Habitats: The 284-acre Hilltop Reservation follows the ridgeline of the Second Watchung Mountain, and contains upland grasslands, oak/hickory and beech/maple forests, and both open and wooded wetland areas. Includes 15 acres of native grasses and wildflowers restored by the Hilltop Conservancy on the site of the former Essex Mountain Sanatorium, as well as additional forest-regeneration and wet-meadow restoration projects planned or in progress.

Maintained/Marked trails: Yes. Easy to moderate, including an asphalt service road through the center of the property. A map of the reservation is available.

Restrooms: None inside the Reservation, but available at both the Cedar Grove and Verona Community Centers.

Picnic tables: None inside the Reservation, but available at both of the above-named community centers.

Notable species: Generally good numbers of many common species.

Best time to visit: Anytime from April to October. Cresses are blooming heavily in April/May, and milkweeds and mints come into their glory in late June/early July.

Exploring Hilltop Reservation: Best bet is to park in back of/at the north end of the Highlands at Hilltop apartment complex, then walk around the service gate by the tennis courts. Continue walking 5 minutes north along the asphalt service road into the Reservation, where you will see the grassland restoration sites (3 acres and 12 acres, respectively). Both sites feature native grasses and wildflowers, and have wood-chip paths to guide visitors through. These open areas have a high diversity of butterflies and other pollinating insects, as well as songbirds and raptors patrolling for their next meal. After exploring the grasslands, Hilltop visitors can continue walking north/northeast on the service road (which closely follows the ridgeline), and visit the woods that cover the eastern and western slopes of the Reservation. The eastern slope features mesic species such as Tuliptree, Spicebush, and Flowering Dogwood, whereas the western slope has more drought-tolerant species such as Red Oak, Black Cherry, and blueberries/huckleberries.

Special precautions: Ticks and mosquitoes—bug repellant is recommended.

You might also want to visit: Modest numbers of butterflies may be found at Van Vleck Gardens, 21 Van Vleck, Street Montclair and Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, 474 Upper Mountain Ave, Montclair (best from mid-June on, AFTER the peak of iris bloom)

Further information about Hilltop Reservation is available.

To view a larger map, click on 'View larger map' icon in upper right hand corner. (Tip: The satellite view may also suggest good potential butterfly habitat to explore.)

Hilltop Reservation Restored Grassland With Wild Bergamot

Restored Grassland with Wild Bergamot.

Hilltop Reservation Restored Meadow

The smaller of the two restored meadows at Hilltop Reservation.