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Hidden Gems of NJ: Outdoor Treasures

Our favorite outdoor spots off the beaten path


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PHOTO COURTESY LUNA PARC

Luna Parc 

22 DeGroat Rd., Montague Twp.

Open only a few times a year to visitors (the next is June 6-8), this whimsical house is the brainchild and residence of Paterson-born artist Ricky Boscarino, who started this nonprofit to inspire creativity in others. The detailed mosaic tile work, sculptures and vivid colors make it an epic photo op spot.

 

Photo courtesy of Leeza Hernandez
 

Bluebird Farm Alpacas

44 Willow Ave., Peapack

Visit this 11-acre farm in April and early May when the alpacas are at their fluffiest and the kiddos are guaranteed the best selfies ever. Choose from an open farm weekend or a private session where you’ll learn to handle, feed and pet these adorably friendly creatures who are far less feisty (and spitty) than their llama cousins. Check out the barn shop for a behind-the-scenes look at how sheared alpaca fibers are spun into yarn.

Photo courtesy of Angel Madison
 

Presby Memorial Iris Gardens

474 Upper Mountain Ave., Upper Montclair

This park is open year-round, but in full bloom come mid-May. See more than a thousand varieties of irises that bloom into over 100,000 flowers.

PHOTO COURTESY OF Lakota wolf Preserve

Lakota Wolf Preserve 

89 Mount Pleasant Rd., Columbia

This is a hike the kids will never forget. Sign up for a Wolf Watch tour, walk through the preserve and learn about the animals’ eating habits and behaviors. During the tour, your crew will get a chance to see British Columbian, Timber and Arctic wolves and watch how they interact with each other. You might even spot a fox or bobcat.

PHOTO COURTESY OF The Raptor Trust 

The Raptor Trust

1390 White Bridge Rd., Millington

A treasure for animal lovers, The Raptor Trust focuses on the care and rehabilitation of injured birds of prey, like hawks, eagles, falcons and owls.

Photo courtesy of Megan Muessen
 

KidStreet 

700 Garretson Rd., Bridgewater

Since 1995, New Jerseyans have traveled to this magical playground to watch their kids ride zip lines, explore a pirate ship and crawl through a network of tire-padded tunnels. They can also climb ladders, towers and spider webs, or catch some air on swings,  tires, monkey bars and slides. The best part? It’s all free.

Photo courtesy of Angel Madison
 

High Point State Park

1480 Rte. 23, Sussex

This state park in the northwest corner of NJ is home to outstanding views, a gorgeous lake and picturesque hikes. The 220-foot obelisk marks the highest point in the state, and it’s also a monument the kids can climb. During warmer months, you’ll want to swim in Lake Marcia. In the fall, visit to see the foliage at its peak.

Photo courtesy Teaneck Creek Conservancy

Teaneck Creek Conservancy

20 Puffin Way, Teaneck

Once a junk-filled wasteland, this nature preserve opened in 2006. It’s since become a go-to spot for locals featuring primo bird-watching, a butterfly garden, hiking trails and unique artwork, which makes for some pretty scenic walks.

PHOTO COURTESY Lower Cross FArm

Lower Cross Farm

9 Lower Cross Rd., Saddle River

NJ is filled with some of the best stables and equestrian spots in the country, including this Bergen County farm where your kids can learn to ride, show jump and take care of horses.

Photo Courtesy Deep Cut Gardens 

Deep Cut Gardens 

152 Red Hill Rd., Middletown

The Garden State has no shortage of beautiful places to marvel at flowers (like the New Jersey Botanical Garden, Duke Farms and Grounds for Sculpture), but we especially love this Monmouth County spot. You’ll find 52 varieties of roses spread across the gardens’ 54 acres. Beyond reveling in its beauty, you’ll also appreciate the passionate horticulturists who’ll teach you how to grow beautiful blooms at home.

PHOTO COURTESY THE Wildlife Conservation and Education Center

The Wildlife Conservation and Education Center 

303 Midland Ave., Garfield

There are many conservation centers in our home state, but this one specializes in bats. The curator loves them so much that he’s been dubbed “New Jersey’s Bat-Man.” His staff is passionate about teaching kids (and adults) all about these misunderstood creatures, too, now at a newer and larger location in Garfield.

PHOTO COURTESY Angel Madison

Jersey Shore Pirates 

281 Princeton Ave., Brick

Take your little swashbucklers on a “real” pirate ship! Perfect for birthdays, this boat will take you out on the high seas to search for sunken treasure. The kids and their mateys may have to fight off Pirate Pete during this hour-long adventure.

PHOTO COURTESY Freehand Custom Carvings 

Freehand Custom Carvings

117 Fredon Springdale Rd., Newton

This sculpture gallery is filled with intricate wood creations by head artist Brett McLain, all crafted by chainsaw. Marvel at the carvings, tour the gardens and maybe even see an artist in action.

PHOTO COURTESY Angel Madison

Gingerbread Castle

Gingerbread Castle Rd., Hamburg

If eccentric finds are your thing, plan to drive by the home of this once-working fairy tale amusement park. You can only see the castle from the road nowadays, but the site will stir your whole family’s imagination.

Cranberry Festival

3980 Main St., Chatsworth

Celebrate NJ’s tart fruit at the 35th annual cranberry festival October 20th and 21st, while getting a peek at the bogs while they are flooded for the big harvest. If you miss it, some local farms offer tours during October.

Find more museums, great eateries and historic spots

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