Butterflies in New JerseyOne of my favorite springtime memories is of my 3-year-old son on a butterfly walk. I was amazed to see my rough-and-tumble firecracker keep his hands to himself and crouch down quietly to look at the delicate wings and intricate design of a newly emerged Monarch.

More than 100 butterfly species are indigenous to New Jersey—and at many family-friendly venues you can see them up close and personal, says Charlie Mayhood, president of the North Jersey chapter of the North American Butterfly Association in Morristown, NJ. Take a camera, because there’ll be photo-ops galore at these fabulous places:

  • The Philadelphia Eagles Four Seasons Butterfly House and Education Centre at the Camden Children’s Garden is like a greenhouse full of butterflies. A great time to go is May 14 or 15, when the Garden holds its “Beautiful Butterflies, Birds and Cinco de Mayo Family Festival.” There’ll be educational and craft activities, and kids can take home a “host plant” to attract butterflies on their own. 3 Riverside Dr., Camden, NJ; 856-365-8733.
  • The Kate Gorrie Butterfly House at the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association’s Watershed Reserve is a screened-in “hoop house” with the kinds of butterflies you’d naturally see in Central Jersey. Finding them in May is like going on a scavenger hunt—they’re there, but may be down low or hiding. Toward the end of the month they become more plentiful. May is also the month of the Reserve’s Caterpillar Zoo, which is good if you’ve got one child who loves butterflies and one who prefers creepy-crawlies. Check out the Butterfly Festival in August. 31 Titus Mill Rd., Pennington, NJ; 609-737-3735.
  • If your kids don’t need much structure, try the Reeves-Reed Arboretum. Stroll the Perennial Border and be awed by its breathtaking flowers and the butterflies among them. For $5, rent an “explorer backpack” with a butterfly and bird field guide and binoculars. On May 24, 2011 there’s a “Butterflies Abound” program, during which 3- to 5-year-olds search for butterflies, learn about them, hear a story, and make a craft; registration required. 165 Hobart Ave., Summit, NJ; 908-273-8787.
  • The Butterfly Conservatory at the American Museum of Natural History features a simulated tropical rainforest with up to 500 free-flying butterflies fluttering around you—or on you! It’s open until May 30. Central Park West at 79th St., NYC; 212-769-5000.
  • Your backyard. Camden and Kate Gorrie offer brochures with tips on creating a butterfly garden. Take one, get planting, and sit back in your chaise while your kids chase the butterflies that are sure to come. For more information about local butterflies, visit the North Jersey chapter of the North American Butterfly Association.

Renée Sagiv Riebling, from Metuchen, NJ, has two children who love to wander in butterfly gardens.