After spending so much time in our homes this past year, we’re ready to get back out there and (safely) explore our beautiful state. The good news is that in New Jersey, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a ton of fun. We searched the state for the best free fun for families. These spots have free admission all the time! Read on for spots near and far that are definitely worth the trip.

*All places on the list are currently open to the public but call ahead or check the website to confirm opening and closing times and capacity restrictions which may vary due to COVID.

Craig Terry, Greater Wildwoods Tourism Authority

Beaches & Lighthouses

Atlantic City Beaches, Atlantic City
Sand, sun and towering resort hotels and casinos make these beaches a popular NJ attraction.

Barnegat Beach, Barnegat Twp.
Skip the fees and congestion of more popular shore spots and come here instead for fishing, crabbing and more. There’s now a public dock for boating, plus a boardwalk and historic downtown walking tour when you’re not lounging in the bay. Nearby Barnegat Lighthouse State Park is free to enter, but there’s a nominal fee if you want to climb to the top.

Barnegat Lighthouse, 208 Broadway, Barnegat Light
Located on the northern tip of Long Beach Island the area where the lighthouse stands was regarded as one of the most important navigational points for ships bound to and from New York Harbor.

Ideal Beach, Middletown Twp.
This beautiful, secluded beach is a great place to chill in summer or take a peaceful walk in the colder weather.

Jennifer Lane Bay Beach, Manahawkin
During the summer months, the beach here has lifeguards for swimming 10am-5pm.

Keansburg Beach, Keansburg
This well-kept beach with clean sand is the perfect spot to take in a sunset with the family.

Leonardo Beach, Middletown
A cozy, more private beach overlooking Manhattan – locals like to do some fishing here.

Twin Lights Historic Site, Highlands
The Navesink Twin Lights is a non-operational lighthouse and museum located in Highlands, overlooking Sandy Hook Bay, the entrance to the New York Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.

Wildwood Beaches, Wildwood & Wildwood Crest
If you’re looking for a quieter shore vibe, head to the Crest where the kids won’t be as tempted by rides and the smell of funnel cake. Head to nearby Wildwood if they need their fix. Both beaches boast enormous expanses of sand to sprawl out on. Bring your bikes for an early morning ride.

Click here for more of NJ’s free beaches.

 

ANGEL MADISON

Museums & Historic Attractions

Batsto Village , Hammonton
Batsto Village is an historic site in the South Central Pinelands of New Jersey that is known throughout the country, both for its beauty and its historical significance.

Empty Sky Memorial, Liberty State Park, Jersey City
Experience a historical moment of our country’s history with this twin wall memorial mimicking the width and stature of the Twin Towers. Hundreds of names are sketched onto the walls and there’s a view of the NYC skyline in the distance, which makes for a peaceful and respectful opportunity to teach your kids about 9/11.

Deserted Village of Feltville, Berkeley Heights
This historic area which contains several buildings dating to the 18th century is known locally as “Deserted Village.”

Kip’s Castle Park, Verona
Kip’s Castle is a 10-acre estate that contains a 9,000-square-foot mansion that replicates a medieval Norman castle.

Millville Army Air Field Museum, Millville
This historic airstrip features a charming museum with aircraft, military history and photograph exhibits.

NJ Maritime Museum, Beach Haven
Check out this nautical-themed museum packed with shipwreck finds, photos, navigation equipment and more.

Marine Mammal Stranding Center, 3625 Brigantine Blvd., Brigantine
The Sea Life Museum was originally built during wartime to disguise sonar equipment, but fast forward to today and it’s now home to marine artifacts including 25 life-like replicas of marine animals that were found in NJ waters.

Morristown National Historical Park, Morristown
Morristown National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park consisting of four sites important during the American Revolutionary War: Jockey Hollow, the Ford Mansion, Fort Nonsense and the New Jersey Brigade Encampment site.

GREG ALBER OF SEASHORE PHOTO FOR NOYES MUSEUM OF ART

Noyes Museum of Stockton University, Galloway Township
The Noyes Museum of Art is an art museum that calls itself as the only fine arts museum in southern New Jersey. The museum opened in 1983. Since 2017, the museum is fully a part of Stockton University.

Passaic County Arts Center, Hawthorne
Through gallery exhibitions, workshops, arts classes and public programs, the Arts Center promotes an appreciation for the visual and performing arts by engaging the community in an environment that nurtures creative expression. Reservations must be made for admission.

Paterson Great Falls, Paterson
The Great Falls of the Passaic River is a prominent waterfall, 77 feet high, on the Passaic River.

Thomas Edison National Historic Park, West Orange
Thomas Edison National Historical Park preserves Thomas Edison’s laboratory and residence, Glenmont.

TOWNSHIP OF BRIDGEWATER

Playgrounds

Colonial Park, Somerset
Check out this 685-acre park with recreation features including gardens, a dog park, nature trails and a playground.

Newport Green, Jersey City
This landscaped waterfront refuge on four acres includes a sandy beach, play area and special events.

Kidstreet Playground, Bridgewater
Several wooden play structures for kids, along with a sandbox, picnic tables and lots of trees.

Overpeck County Park, Bergen County
Overpeck County Park is an 811-acre county park with major sections in Leonia, Palisades Park, Ridgefield Park, and Teaneck, surrounding Overpeck Creek, a tributary of the Hackensack River.

Regatta Playground, West Orange
A well-maintained playground near Turtle Back Zoo.

Click here for some more of our favorite (and free!) playgrounds worth traveling to. 

KATIE ROSARIO FOR ESTELL MANOR PARK

Parks

Allamuchy Mountain State Park, Stanhope
This park is known for hunting and has some of the best trout fishing in the state thanks to access to the Musconetcong River.

Big Brook Park, Marlboro
Area contains a stream, diverse wildlife, trails and archeological areas with fossils and artifacts.

Branch Brook Park, Newark
This playground is host to an amazing cherry blossom festival.

Dorbrook Recreation Area, Colts Neck
535-acre green space featuring sports courts, a playground & spray park, plus paths and picnic areas.

Estell Manor Park, Mays Landing
1,677-acre park offering birding, biking, boating, fishing, hiking & cross-country skiing options.

Farny State Park, Rockaway Twp.
Farny State Park is a 4,866-acre state park located in Rockaway Township in Morris County.

Hacklebarney State Park, Long Valley
The freshwater Black River briskly cuts its way through rocky Hacklebarney State Park, cascading around boulders in the hemlock-lined ravine.

High Mountain Park Preserve, Wayne
High Mountain Park Preserve is a protected area of the Preakness Range of the Watchung Mountains in Wayne.

Hoboken Cove Boathouse, Hoboken
This all-volunteer based non-profit’s mission is to provide free water sport programs and access to local waterways for all to enjoy.

Johnson Park, New Brunswick
Bring your kids to play on the pirate playground located near the Animal Haven and Grove 2.

Kittatinny Valley State Park, Newton
This park features include Glacial lakes, limestone outcroppings, former railroads and a small airport.

Musconetcong Gorge Park/Preserve
There are plenty of waterfalls and cascades along a stream running through a scenic gorge, plus a section of the Highlands Trail.

New Jersey Pinelands National Preserve, New Lisbon
The Pinelands is a unique location of historic villages and berry farms amid the vast oak-pine forests, extensive wetlands, and diverse species of plants and animals.

Ponderosa Farm Park, Scotch Plains
Modest park featuring playgrounds and a sprinkler area, plus open green spaces.

Ringwood State Park, Ringwood
Of particular interest are the crabapple vista, terraced gardens, perennial and annual gardens and woodland paths

Vorhees State Park, Glen Gardner
This park served as a camp for Franklin Roosevelt’s program to get people back to work during the Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) planted trees and constructed shelters, picnic sites and trails throughout the park.

Van Saun County Park, Paramus
This park is home to the Bergen County Zoological Park, which is free during winter months, and has open picnic space and a cute playground.

Washington Rock State Park, Green Brook Twp.
One of the oldest state parks in New Jersey, Washington Rock was originally purchased in 1913 to commemorate the historical events of 1777.

CAPE MAY COUNTY PARK & ZOO

Zoos & Nature Centers

Cape May County Park & Zoo, 707 North Rte. Cape May Court House
The kids can stand next to giraffes, get kissed by camels and even hear a lion’s roar while you check out the zoo’s residents. Don’t forget to check out their calendar for fall after school programs.

Closter Nature Center, Closter
Check out this non-profit organization dedicated to environmental education, recreation and the conservation of 136-acres of forested wetlands, streams, ponds and trails in suburban Closter.

Cohanzick Zoo, 45 Mayor Aitken Dr., Bridgeton
With nearly 100 animals and 45 different species from around the world, this small zoo, nestled in the woods and home to cute faces like Holly the Asiatic black bear, is packed with awesome attractions and some big-name species.

Duke Farms, 1112 Dukes Parkway West, Hillsborough
Boasting interactive exhibits and displays and some of the oldest tress in NJ, this farm is the perfect place for a full moon hike, workshop, bike rides and more.

Environmental Education Center at Lord Stirling Park, Basking Ridge
Lord Stirling Park offers approximately nine miles of hiking trails, naturalist led programs, school field trips, fun festivals, nature themed exhibits, facility and classroom rentals, a resource library, science and conservation research and more.

Essex County Environmental Center, Roseland
This is an environmental education center with a mission to create awareness, understanding and appreciation of the environment and its relationship to Essex County residents.

Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center,  Chatham Township
Situated on 45 acres on the eastern end of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, this place serves as an important crossroad between nature and civilization.

Howell Living History Farm, 70 Woodens Ln., Hopewell. Twp.
Explore the hen house, blacksmith area and hog barn as your family makes their way around the giant farm. The kids can also join hatchery (crafts, storytelling, singing and chores) and farmhands (they can do chores like feeding animals, planting potatoes, collecting maple syrup, etc.) programs, which give the kids a taste of farm life.

Monmouth County Park System

Huber Woods Environmental Center, Locust
This special place helps visitors experience and develop relationships with the natural world through exhibits and displays.

J.A. McFaul Environmental Center, Wyckoff
A wildlife sanctuary with a pond, animal shelters, garden trails, picnic sites and nature exhibits.

Nature Center of Cape May, Cape May
Check out this nature-focused campus featuring an observation tower, themed gardens and hands-on activities for kids.

Plainsboro Preserve, East Windsor
A variety of trails are offered at this lakefront nature preserve.

Rancocas Nature Center, Westampton
Visit this non-profit organization situated on 210 acres of the Rancocas State Park with three miles of hiking trails through meadows, forest and wetlands.

Schiff Nature Preserve, Mendham
It’s no wonder this is the place where “Wild Things Happen Naturally!” They have 15 miles of marked trails and protect approximately 768 acres of land in the heart of beautiful Morris County.

Tenafly Nature Center, 313 Hudson Ave., Tenafly
There are hundreds of activities and events going on throughout the year, whether you just want to take in the peacefulness of nature or explore the butterfly house, which is home to several native NJ butterflies, there’s something for the whole family to enjoy.

Watershed Institute, Pennington
On a nearly 1,000-acre nature reserve in Hopewell Township, Mercer County Watershed staff and volunteers work to protect and restore our natural habitats.

 

MORRIS COUNTY PARK COMMISSION

Trails & Hiking

Columbia Trail, multiple towns
Columbia Trail has the distinction of being named for a natural gas pipeline that runs beneath it for 15 miles in rural northern New Jersey.

Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park, multiple towns
The D&R Canal trail is a 77-mile recreational trail made up of three segments that transverse three counties: a canal towpath from New Brunswick to Trenton; a canal towpath/rail trail from Trenton to Bull’s Island; and a rail trail from Bull’s Island to Frenchtown.

Eagle Rock Reservation, Prospect Ave. and Eagle Rock Ave., West Orange
Hiking trails with views of the New York City skyline and picnic areas wind through this park, making the reservation of a desirable spot for a variety of activities like hiking. You can bring the kids to see the city lights at night or observe the Essex County 9/11 Memorial.

Garret Mountain Reservation, Woodland Park
Garret Mountain is Passaic County’s major recreational area, providing the visitors with grass fields, several miles of walking/running trails, basketball courts and picnic areas. Barbour’s Pond is state stocked with fish for anglers, as well as an Equestrian Center with horseback riding lessons.

Loantaka Reservation Trail, Morristown
A scenic park offering eight miles of trails, picnic areas, athletic fields and green space.

Middlesex Greenway, multiple towns
This is a 3.5 miles rail trail in Metuchen, Edison and Woodbridge. It makes up a portion of the East Coast Greenway.

Patriots’ Path, Morristown
This is a multi-use trail with a total length of 90 miles that stretches from East Hanover, which connects with the Lenape Trail in Essex County, to Allamuchy Mountain State Park in Sussex County and the Village of High Bridge in Hunterdon County.

Paulinskill Valley trail, Multiple towns
The Paulinskill Valley Trail is a rail trail along the Paulins Kill river and is the sixth longest trail in the state at 27 miles.

Pyramid Mountain National Historic Area, Montville
Enjoy a wide range of geological and ecological experiences at the spectacular natural area known as Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area. This area of 1,675 acres offers rugged trails, fields, forests, rock outcroppings and wetlands.

Rifle Camp Park, Woodland Park
Rifle Camp Park is a 169-acre county park of Passaic County, located mostly within Woodland Park. The area of Rifle Camp Park served as a location where Washington’s troops could observe British movements during the Revolutionary War in 1780.

Saddle River County Park, Saddle Brook
Saddle River County Park is a 577-acre linear park that meanders with the Saddle River and its tributary brooks. It consists of five park areas that are linked by a multi-use path, including circular paths around some ponds.

ANGEL MADISON

South Mountain Fairy Trail, 197 Glen Ave., Millburn
Bring your kids on a fairy tale adventure where they’ll discover hidden fairy houses made from nature (and dusted with magic!) along the trail.

Stairway to Heaven hiking trail, 441 Rte. 94, Vernon Twp.
This a 2.9 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Vernon township that features beautiful wildflowers. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round and dogs are welcome.

West Essex trail, Verona
West Essex Trail follows a short distance (just under three miles) of the former rail bed of the Caldwell Branch on the old Erie-Lackawanna Railroad.

CORA HARTSHORN ARBORETUM

Gardens & Arboretums

Cora Hartshorn Arboretum and Bird Sanctuary, Short Hills
The arboretum building is currently closed but trails are open daily from dawn to dusk.

Hunterdon County Arboretum, Lebanon
Covering 73 acres, this garden has a beautiful gazebo and terrace.

Leonard J. Buck Garden, Far Hills
This is one of the premier rock gardens in the eastern United States. Begun in the late 1930’s, the garden has reached a breathtaking point of maturity.

New Jersey Botanical Garden, Ringwood
The New Jersey Botanical Garden includes 96 acres of gardens surrounded by 1000 acres of woodlands. Join NJBG hike leaders on an easy, child-friendly hike. (There may be a parking fee in busier months.)

Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, 474 Upper Mountain Ave., Upper Montclair
Open year round, this flowery gem is best to visit in the springtime, and what better way to kick off the season than with visiting a flower garden. Embrace the flower power with over 10,000 iris’ and over 100,000 in bloom each year. This flower garden has been nicknamed the “rainbow on the hill.”

BRUCE CRAWFORD FOR RUTGERS GARDENS

Rutgers Gardens ,New Brunswick
Rutgers Gardens welcomes you to visit as often as you like to enjoy their “living museum,” a large array of gardens and plant collections.

Reeves Reed Arboretum, Summit
This is a nonprofit arboretum and garden which is a popular wedding spot. The arboretum grounds are open daily from dawn till dusk, free of charge.

Van Vleck House, Montclair
A former private estate that displays a public botanical garden of mostly ericaceous plants that has been developed over several generations.

Written and reported by Ronnie Koenig, Angel Madison, Taryn Pire and Megan Muessen

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