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Go Take a Hike (in New Jersey)!

Where to find family-friendly trails in NJ


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Hiking is a great way to experience family togetherness. It also relieves stress, revitalizes the spirit, stimulates the senses, is an easy way to exercise and, best of all, it’s fun as you experience nature first-hand.

How to begin? As a Chinese philosopher observed long ago, “the longest journey starts with just one step.” Even if your child doesn’t walk yet, you do! By the time she is three months old, neck muscles are strong enough to support her head upright, so buy a child-carrying backpack, free your arms, and hit the trail. With a steady pace and fresh air, most young babies are lulled to sleep—freeing you to enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

At about age 2, as children become increasingly aware of their surroundings, and they’ll become eager to hike. You’ll experience double pleasure listening to their approving sounds of happiness as fluttering leaves, swaying branches, and passing animals attract their attention.

They’ll be able to walk several miles when they’re older, but at any age, plan frequent stops so they can hunt for tiny critters or admire a butterfly.

Get Up & Go Hiking

It’s best to start hikes early in the morning. In November, wear layers of clothing you can peel off as you work up a sweat. Bring lunch, snacks, water, sunscreen, and a first-aid kit. Share the load by giving each child a backpack with water, a disposable camera, pen and notepad, binoculars, magnifying glass, and a whistle in case he is tempted to stray.

Marked (blazed) trails abound in New Jersey. Some of my family’s favorites include:

  • Loantaka Brook Reservation (Morris Township, NJ); an easy, well-marked 3.5-mile round-trip trail, with a pond frequented by ducks and geese. Please call before going for best directions; 973-326-7600.
     
  • The 3-mile round-trip Black River Trail at Hacklebarney State Park (Long Valley, NJ) sits in a gorge of unusual beauty. The first mile may be slow going because kids love to toss rocks into the brook or watch the numerous tiny waterfalls. Reaching the river is exciting, for there are large and small ripples and boulders to climb along the path. Be sure to use caution: rocks in the water can be slippery; 908-638-8572.
     
  • Cheesequake State Park (Matawan, NJ) offers several easy trails, each with different terrain, plus a nature center filled with live critters and excellent displays; 732-566-2161.
     
  • Choose one of the three short trails at the Pequest Trout Hatchery (Oxford, NJ). Later, visit the interactive displays in the Natural Resource Education Center, and learn how more than 600,000 trout used to stock the state’s waterways are raised here; 908-637-4125.
     
  • Hiking along the long boardwalks at Lord Stirling Park (Basking Ridge, NJ) will keep you high and dry in the swampy areas as you pass huge stands of cattails. In the dense wooded areas, or when taking a break atop the platform overlooking the Passaic River, you may spot fox, raccoons, skunks, or deer; 908-766-2489.

Seeing nature through our children’s eyes, and answering their questions while we hiked, our own senses and appreciation for the outdoors always came into better focus. Yours will, too.

Arline Zatz, from Metuchen, is the award-winning author of several New Jersey guidebooks, including Best Hikes With Children in New Jersey (The Mountaineers).

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