Posted in New Jersey

Every autumn, I mentally make a list for where I want to venture out for amazing fall foliage photos. I think about where in NJ I can go, with not too far a drive.

That’s right: New Jersey has some of the best fall foliage on the East Coast. Forget Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire: the Garden State has every bright hue on the fall foliage color palette, with beautiful nature reserves where you can hike completely on your own.

In this photo gallery, we’re showcasing gorgeous fall foliage images from two hikes: Watchung Reservation’s Lake Surprise Loop, and the Blue and Ivory Trails at the Great Samp National Wildlife Refuge.

You might be surprised about our choice to feature NJ fall foliage: we’ve showcased fall foliage in Brooklyn as well as incredible fall colors in the Adirondacks.

Without trying too hard, we landed trails to ourselves at both these nature reserves in northern New Jersey. Despite it being high season for everyone wanting foliage photos, we seem to have picked the right time of day to get a private hiking experience.

Despite the name, the Great Swamp isn’t swampy in all its areas. We walked the Blue Trail and Ivory Trail, both of which didn’t have any boardwalks or swampland at the time. It was smooth walking over relatively flat trails that made for an easy stroll in the leaves.

“Where’s the Great Swamp?” you might ask.

It’s a huge wildlife preserve in Morris County, New Jersey. It borders quite a few towns, including Harding Township, Chatham, Basking Ridge, Berkeley Heights and Long Hill.

It has a lot of variety, too. When we visited, the Great Swamp Wildlife Observation Center was unfortunately closed, and we’re not sure why, because it was prime foliage season. We had to find parking at this spot on Long Hill Road.

At Lake Surprise in Watchung Reservation, we were surrounded by red, yellow, orange and green leaves, and had the beauty of the still lake to walk past.

Watchung Reservation is located in Union County, NJ. It’s technically in Mountainside, with Springfield to the northeast and Watchung to the southwest. The reservation itself is kind of long and skinny, with quite a few trails packed in.

There’s a main parking lot that’s simple to find, and all parking is free. From there, it’s a short walk to the start of the Lake Surprise trail.

When you get down to the lake itself, choose if you will hike just one side of lake, or parts of it. Lake Surprise is very long and skinny, like a chili pepper. It’s also bigger than it looks on your map.

A few tips I have for taking photos during foliage season in New Jersey is to take photos up, down and at eye level.

If you want to take in the entire aura of your surroundings, consider that foliage is an all-encompassing experience. There are colorful leaves on the forest floor, there are trees swaying in the breeze right before your eyes, and if you look up, there are more trees with pretty leaves above your head.

In the past, when we’ve gone hiking for foliage season, we try to create variety in our types of foliage shots.

One of our favorite things to photograph at Watchung Reservation was the quietness at Lake Surprise. What a surprise, right? Among the species of trees in the region are maples, pines, birch and the American beech tree.

The best shots of a full line of trees in all their glory was taken by Dan, from across the narrow lake. Luckily, with the incline of the hill behind the opposite side of the lake, the trees seem to form a wall.

Don’t forget to take a photo with the most beautiful leaf you find.

The best time to see fall foliage in New Jersey almost seems to be later and later every year. The trees usually reach their peak around the end of October, and by early November, there are still quite a few with their leaves on.

These photos were taken on October 29th and October 30th, so consider that Halloween weekend is a time when you’ll snag photos of most trees at their peak, and some, even past peak.

I found that the Great Swamp region (Morris County, NJ) seemed like it was past-peak, while the trees in Watchung had a bit more life left in their foliage cycle. That could just be me, or maybe it was the day we went. During foliage season, a single day can make a difference in how the trees look. It’s an incredible time to see nature and to take photos, especially in northern NJ.

If you’re interested in visiting either one of these natural reserves, check out the websites for:

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