New Jersey Suburb Nature Guide
Updated: Apr 2
The weather is getting nicer which means it's time to take advantage of the great outdoors! When you live in the suburbs it's easy to drive to a state or national park to take in beautiful views, see stunning wildlife and most importantly, create memories with your family.
We've rounded up 5 great spots in Northern & Central New Jersey that are the perfect day trip for young families that want to get out into nature without going on a 10-mile hiking trip. Read on to see what's in store for you, and let us know what trip you end up taking! Tag us on Instagram, #SEARCHtheBurbs.
*Please note that some of the activities below may not be available at the time of publishing due to the COVID-19 safety precautions*
Flat Rock Brook Nature Center
Located in Bergen County in Englewood, Flat Rock was established in 1973 and spans 150 acres. Enjoy trails, a picnic area, a playground, native habitat gardens and a Raptor Aviary. Trail lengths range from an easy 0.3 miles to a longer one mile. What's great about Flat Rock is that while on your walk you can engage with a number of terrains, like wetlands, woodlands, quarry cliffs and even meadows.
When you're done with your walk you can have a picnic or check out the birds at the Raptor Aviary. Owls, hawks and more stay at the Aviary to be taken care of as they are no longer healthy enough to enter the wild again. This is a great opportunity for your young ones to see these gorgeous birds up close and in-person.
South Mountain Reservation
If you're interested in longer trails and more of a variety of wildlife, a trip to South Mountain may be for you. Located in West Orange in Essex County, South Mountain offers an almost overwhelming amount of activities for the young and old alike. It is seven times the size of Flat Rock!
What is probably most famous about South Mountain is the South Mountain Recreation Complex which features the Turtle Back Zoo. The Zoo features amazing animals like bobcats, porcupines, alligators, leopards, wolves, Komodo dragons, sting rays and more. But the fun doesn't stop there! There's also mini golf, train rides, paddle boats in the nearby Orange Reservoir and more. Your little ones will love the Regatta Playground, a pirate ship-themed playground that is always full of smiling children and lots of laughter.
If you really want to get your family moving, South Mountain offers trails that are one to seven miles long, but the trails can be quite steep, so keep that in mind. There's also a short and sweet fairy trail that features unique fairy homes sprinkled along the trail that are fun to find and examine.
If your little ones find looking at trees "boring" or don't get that excited about wildlife, consider a trip to the Deserted Village. Located in Watchung Reservation in Union County, the Deserted Village was erected in 1850 and at one time had over 150 people living in this small town. However, over time, the town became vacant and eventually became part of the County Park System in the 1920s. Enjoy walking past 10 buildings that are trapped in the amber of their time.
Included are a church, barn and general store. Some of the buildings have been restored and are even used for events like weddings. It's the perfect place to go where you'll have a lot to look at while also having the chance to get some fresh air.
Great Swamp & Raptor Trust
One our team's favorite places is the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. You can find the Great Swamp in Morris County, and the Refuge area is about 12 miles in diameter. Enjoy spotting over 244 different bird species along with other wildlife favorites like turtles, frogs, snakes and foxes. What's great about the Great Swamp trails is that they are on wooden platforms that glide over the swamp, so it's all flat walking which is great for kids!
One of the highlights of the Great Swamp is the Raptor Trust. The Raptor Trust is similar to Flat Rock's Aviary in that it houses injured birds. However, they also heal birds that will soon return to the wild, so seeing them at the Trust is extra special. Check out eagles, a snowy owl, merlins and more!
If woodlands, swamp and meadows aren't doing it for you, there's always the beautiful dunes and sea air at Sandy Hook! Sandy Hook is also known as Gateway National Recreation Park and is located in Monmouth County which is where the Jersey Shore begins.
Enjoy walks along the beach or on a long, flat trail that is often used for biking riding as well. If you don't have a bike, there are rentals available (although these rentals may not be available during the off season). While you're there be sure to check out the 250 year old Sandy Hook Lighthouse and keep your eye out for Ospreys!
There's a reason why New Jersey is known as the Garden State! When you live in New Jersey you really get the best of all the worlds - beautiful woodlands, rolling countryside and a close proximity to the greatest city in the world.