In 1893, American Tobacco Company President J.B. Duke turned more than 2,000 acres into a residential estate with stunning sculptures, expansive buildings and ornate gardens and fountains. In 2003, it opened to the public, with his daughter’s specific direction to use the land in the name of environmental stewardship. Today, more than 30 species of threatened or endangered animals call the farm home, researchers study native plants and local gardeners cultivate community gardens. This amazing natural sanctuary, filled with gorgeous bike-friendly roadways,trails and picnic spots makes a perfect place to spend an afternoon.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Stop at the Orientation Center near the parking lot where staffers will walk you through trail maps and share tips on the best paths to tackle (i.e. how to avoid big hills if you’ve got littler kids). Small adventurers can also borrow a special eco- kit (including binoculars, a field guide and activity sheets) and you can get info on audio tours and geocaching. The paths are well marked—and with 18 miles to cover, you’ve got endless options for repeat visits.
Wooded hiking paths? Check. Room to take a nice long ride? Check. Whatever your agenda, our favorite mode of transport here is bike, which allows you to cover a lot of the park in one day. Bring your own if you have them—If you don’t, they do offer some adult rentals for $5 (no kids’ bikes here), but get there early, as they go fast. If you go on foot, there are a handful of trams that will bring tired kids (and their parents) back to the park entrance.
• The Orchid Range: An indoor spot filled with stunning flora (not just orchids!) that make it feel like a jungle. The kids will love the carnivorous Venus fly traps.
• The Old Foundation: Located at the center of the farm, this was the beginning of a never-completed mansion. Its remaining patio area overlooks an open field perfect for picnics, birdwatching or chasing butterflies.
• Great Falls:These are man-made waterworks, originally intended to carry water from the reservoir into Vista Lake (the largest of nine lakes on the property). They get turned on daily at noon and are a highlight of the property in the warmer months.
Spend at least two or three hours here to see all the sights. Bring lunch and snacks—there’s a café in the main building, but on a summer day it’s beautiful to dine al fresco. Try to arrive early in the day or late in the afternoon— especially on weekends—as the park temporarily closes during peak hours when the parking lot is full. (Get up-to-the- minute updates at @DFParking on Twitter.)
Where: 1112 Dukes Parkway West Hillsborough Township, NJ
Hours: Thursday through Tuesday (closed Wednesdays) from 8:30 am– 6 pm during the summer.
More info at dukefarms.org