Summer is here! The sun is shining, the temperature is almost sweltering, and people are dying to leave their homes and venture outside for some fun and fresh air. With many popular attractions, such as shops, theme parks and restaurants, still off-limits – and likely to remain off-limits for the rest of the summer – parks have become popular destinations for those craving the outdoors. Luckily for New Jersey residents, as well as for the residents of surrounding areas, our Garden State is full of beautiful state parks just waiting to be discovered. Whether you are a history buff who wants to explore the state’s best historical sites, or a hiking enthusiast looking to blaze new trails and enjoy new vistas, the following are some of the best state parks in NJ that perfectly showcase the best that the Garden State has to offer.
Liberty State Park
Located in the midst of Hudson county’s most bustling metropolitan area, the 1,212-acre Liberty State Park in Jersey City offers an expansive green oasis for visitors who seek to momentarily escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Visitors can indulge in relaxing walks along the Hudson river bank and gaze at the world-famous Manhattan city skyline, which includes the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. They can also take full advantage of the park’s miles-long tracks to do some hiking, jogging, biking or rollerblading, or bring their families and friends to picnics at one of the park’s playgrounds. Other outdoor activities include fishing, crabbing, boating, and kayaking on the Hudson River.
Liberty State Park’s attractions also include special treats to the history buffs out there. Sometimes called the historic gateway to America, the park offers cruises to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, as well as entrance to the historic Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal, the setting for much of New Jersey’s transportation history in the northeast. In addition, visitors can also access an Interpretive Center, which takes visitors on an immersive journey through the area’s natural history, as well as the Empty Sky 9/11 memorial. No wonder it is frequently considered one of the best state parks in NJ.
Barnegat Lighthouse State Park
Once considered one of the most crucial “change of course” points for coastal vessels bound to and from New York along the New Jersey coastline, the Barnegat Lighthouse is now the focal point of one of the best state parks in NJ. Situated on the northern tip of Long Beach Island, in Ocean County, this 150-year old historic lighthouse is still illuminated today, emitting a single beam that can be visible for up to 22 nautical miles. Visitors to the top of the lighthouse are able to see a panoramic view of Island Beach, Barnegat Bay, and Long Beach Island. And those who do dread the prospect of climbing the 217 steps to the top, do not fret! They can also enjoy the magnificent views from the top thanks to four cameras that transmit a live feed of the landscape to a display in the park’s Interpretive Center. Said Center, which is adjacent to the lighthouse, also showcases several images, objects and historical photographs that not only depict the day-to-day life at a lighthouse, but also explain the important role that it played in the maritime life of the New Jersey coast.
Beyond the lighthouse, the park is also a popular destination for visitors who seek to partake in outdoor activities, such as fishing and observing wildlife. Hiking aficionados can enjoy strolling through the park’s Maritime Forest Trail, one of the last remnants of maritime forest on Long Beach Island, while those who prefer to relax and have a picnic by the waterways can do so on the park’s two picnic shelters.
Allaire State Park
The Allaire State Park is best known for the historical, 19th-century iron making village of the same name that exists on its grounds, as well as for its antique steam trains on the Pine Creek Railroad. Visitors to the park can visit the remaining buildings of Allaire Town, including a general store, a blacksmith shop, a carpenter’s shop, a manager’s house, a foreman’s house, and a church. The Visitor Center and Museum, located in a converted worker’s rowhouse, features exhibits on the 19th-century bog iron industry and the history of the historical village. If visitors are lucky, they may even be able to catch one of the more than 80 programs and events that occur annually on the park, including living history events, antique shows, arts, and craft shows, and flea markets.
The Allaire State Park also has plenty to offer to nature lovers, such as over 200 species of wildflowers, trees, shrubs and other plants that are not usually found in the Jersey Shore region. Moreover, the park also features a vast network of trails that are quite popular among hiking enthusiasts, as well as among mountain bikers and horseback riders.
Washington Crossing State Park
On December 25, 1776, George Washington and his hungry and ragged Continental Army crossed the rough Delaware River under the cover of the night in what would become one of the pivotal events of the American Revolution. They landed at Johnson’s Ferry, at the site now known as Washington Crossing State Park. Located in the Mercer and Hunterdon counties, this park is the ideal destination for those who like to visit locations steeped in historical significance. Park attractions include a Visitor Center Museum, which features gallery exhibits that explore the many facets of America’s revolutionary conflict, with an emphasis on the military campaign known as “The Ten Crucial Days.” Park-goers can also visit the Johnson Ferry House, an early 18th-century gambrel roof farmhouse and tavern that was likely used by General Washington and his officers at the time of the crossing of the Delaware River. Another option would be to go look at the Swan Historical Foundation Collection, which includes over 700 original objects that represent and contextualize the military history of the era.
For those who are more interested in appreciating the natural environment, the park is also well known for its trails and wildlife habitat – particularly for the several species of migrating birds that use the stream and ravine as a resting and nesting place, making it a site of interest for hobbyist birdwatchers. The park also is popular for hiking and picnicking and, in the winter, for cross-country skiing on existing hiking trails.
Ringwood State Park
Located in Passaic County, in the heart of the Ramapo Mountains, the Ringwood State Park Is often considered one of the best state parks in NJ. A favorite of Botanics enthusiasts, it is the site of the State Botanical Garden, which contains an extensive variety of plants, evergreens and deciduous trees and shrubs in specialty areas. Visitors to the garden can also enjoy its vistas and its spectacular view of the Ramapo Mountains. Beyond the garden, visitors to the park can also visit the Ringwood Manor, a beautiful country house that was the home of a line of well-known ironmasters for nearly 200 years. For architecture aficionados, the Skylands Manor may also be a worthwhile attraction. Though it was built in the 1920s, it nonetheless features elements of English Jacobean-style architecture that was prevalent in the English countryside 400 years ago, such as antique paneling, molded plaster ceilings and large windows, some of which contain 16th-century stained glass medallions.
Visitors to the Ringwood State Park can also enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking their way through an intricate system of marked hiking trails, or swimming in the brisk and invigorating spring-fed waters of Shepherd Lake. Fishing enthusiasts can partake in their hobby by the lakeside, while those who want to explore the lake and enjoy the vistas can rent a boat or a canoe.