ANGEL MADISON / Holland Ridge Farms

The threat of snow is over and now spring is on its way. From gorgeous gardens to theme parks and open water activities, it’s time to get out there and explore NJ.

Visit an NJ Garden

New Jersey isn’t called the Garden State for nothing. There are tons of stunning gardens and arboretums to marvel at with the fam. Visit Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown for 127 acres of bike trails, rose gardens and open space. If you have budding artists on your hands, take ’em to Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, a garden boasting more than 300 unique and surreal sculptures, not to mention lily ponds and free-roaming peacocks. And there’s no shortage of natural beauty at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, where guests can explore over 1,000 acres of land, hang at the stunning Old Fountain, sniff their way through the Orchid Range and break a sweat on 18 miles of trail. A trip to Princeton Lavender will make your stress melt away as soon as you breathe in the fragrant air. They have plants for sale and adorable animals you can hand-feed on site. Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with festivals and kid-friendly programs. Holland Ridge Farms in Cream Ridge is gearing up for its spring festival weekends and u-pick tulips.


Attend a Springtime Festival

Earth Day is April 22 and many towns around the state are planning celebrations. You can tap into Mother Earth by doing yoga or forest bathing. The Renaissance Faire is merriment for all with sword fighting, jousting, knights and jesters. Rutgers Day combines with Ag Field Day and the New Jersey Folk Festival to bring three sections of the New Brunswick campus to life with lots of greenery, food and activities. The Rock & Roll Steampunk Fair features music and street performers. Long Branch hosts a kite festival along the beach where you can watch the high-flying acts or bring your own. For more flying in the sky, Area 57 offers a hot air balloon fest in Warren County. If you want a combo of comedy, music, speakers and more, Norththe  2 Shore Festival runs up and down the state during June, crossing three cities, with entertainment at more than 50 venues.


Take the Kids Out to a Ball Game

NJ is home to several Minor League Baseball ballparks. Tickets are cheap, the food is great and the games are exciting, especially if you catch a glimpse of a Major Leaguer who is down for rehab. There are fun activities for kids, too, like running the bases, getting autographs or watching fireworks. The Somerset Patriots will rebrand as the Jersey Diners for select games this season. The New Jersey Jackals host a baseball clinic for future athletes.


Make New Animal Friends

It’s the perfect time of year to visit their fave zoos and aquariums again. But there are more unconventional ways to get their wildlife fix. Have a howling good time at the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Columbia, where the kids can take a Wolf Watch tour of the grounds and see three different types of wolves interact, eat and play. If you’re into bird watching, Washington Crossing State Park is a great place to start. Meet owls, hawks, bluebirds and other feathered friends who use the stream and raving for resting and nesting. If the kids want something hands-on, nothing beats Bluebird Farm Alpacas in Peapack, who are at their fluffiest in April and May. Visit the barn to pet and feed these cuties, then shop alpaca yarn and more at the barn shop. Your little animal lovers will love exploring Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in Medford, where they can hike, see rehabilitated animals and hang out in a special playroom for kids.


Explore a National or State Park

You might’ve hiked the usual suspects near you (we love Palisades Interstate Park in Alpine and Stairway to Heaven in Vernon), but have you crossed a national or state park off your list yet? Start with Gateway National Recreation Area in Highlands, which will take you to the beaches of Sandy Hook, a historic lighthouse and tons of fishing spots. History buffs and STEM kids will have a blast at Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, where they’ll get to see his lab complex, film studio and inventions. As for state parks, head to Allaire in Wall Twp. to get a taste of the 19th-century iron industry; Island Beach State Park in Seaside Park for clean, empty white sands and an ocean view; or Jenny Jump State Forest in Hope for canoeing, picnicking and boating. The Cape May Lighthouse has 199 steps to the top, and you can visit the nature center/museum next door for some sea-level learning within Cape May Point State Park.


Hit an Epic Playground

When the kids have energy to burn or it’s just too nice outside to stay indoors, head to a next-level park. Overpeck County Park in Ridgefield Park boasts walking paths and sports fields, plus climbing walls, a trampoline web, spinning monkey bars and more. Regatta Playground in West Orange is tucked away in South Mountain Reservation next to Turtle Back Zoo and has a massive ship centerpiece complete with sails. Bridgewater’s KidStreet, built entirely by local volunteers, has huge jungle gyms and obstacle courses for kids to take on (don’t miss the zipline!).


Go Horseback Riding

From private stables to recreational rides, there are tons of ways the kids can try their luck in the saddle. Lord Stirling Stable in Basking Ridge has currently put pony parties, group trail rides and lead line rides on pause but you can join up for their free Saturday “Dog Walk” along the equestrian trails (there’s no fee and dogs are not required!). Morristown’s Seaton Hackney Stables is home to ring camps, trail rides and private lessons. If you’re experienced, take on an unguided ride on the open trail at Silver Bit & Spur Farm in Whitehouse Station. Rocking Horse Rehab at the Essex Equestrian Center in West Orange provides services for individuals with disabilities.


Spend the Day at an Amusement or Water Park

Time to hit the coasters, ride the carousel and more at nearby thrill parks. Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson has your daredevil faves like Nitro, Kingda Ka and the Jersey Devil Coaster – plus the addition of THE FLASH this year as part of the 50th anniversary celebration. Hurricane Harbor added new slides and attractions last year, and will have updated areas this year, too. Dates for luxury glamping within Six Flags’ Wild Safari are open for reservations. Mountain Creek in Vernon boasts a mountain coaster, ropes course and golf during the spring, not to mention an epic water park over the summer. For the youngest of your squad, Land of Make Believe in Hope is set to open Memorial Day weekend. Think a pirate ship, wading pool, jumbo carousel and more.


Make a Splash on the Open Water

Calling all thrill seekers! Nothing beats white water rafting, tubing or kayaking down the Delaware River. Hit the rapids with the fam for two to four hours, then settle in for a picnic lunch. Tubing trips are a great choice if you want to skip all that paddling; hit the water then stay the night at Delaware River Family Campground in Columbia. Want to keep your distance from the water? Head down the shore to whale and dolphin watch before peak season hits. Try Miss Avalon Dolphin and Nature Cruises in Avalon, or a 12-hour excursion with Utsch’s Marina Cape May.


Enjoy Outdoor Entertainment

There are lots of great outdoor concerts at a venue like MetLife Stadium or PNC Bank Arts Center or your town’s waterfront park. Or check the schedule for a huge music festival, like Sea.Hear.Now or Barefoot Country. Towns are starting to announce their PorchFest plans, where you go from house to house listening to different musicians. If you prefer movies to music, bring a lawn chair or blanket and a cooler filled with snacks and you’ll have an enjoyable evening watching an outdoor movie. Find a drive-in theater for some nostalgic fun.


Visit a Local Ice Cream Shop

Go on an ice cream crawl this spring, starting with Ice Cream Charlie’s in Rutherford which scoops flavors like cannoli, frozen hot chocolate and Rice Krispy. Hoffman’s Ice Cream is a Jersey institution, serving up sweets in multiple locations including Point Pleasant Beach, Spring Lake and Long Branch (be sure to try Jersey Monkey, a mix of banana ice cream, peanut butter and chocolate chips). Applegate Farm in Montclair is also a crowd fave, housed in an 1848 farmhouse, where they made Columbian coffee or white pistachio. Magic Fountain in Summit is a local favorite, offering everything from homemade specialty floats to custom cakes to top hats. The Bent Spoon in Princeton doles out artisanal scoops, not to mention gourmet hot chocolate, house marshmallows and baked goods. Jersey Freeze in Freehold, and at Bell Works in Holmdel, boast a full Jersey-inspired food menu in addition to homemade chipwiches, ice cream cakes, cupcakes and pies. Wait in line for Torico Ice Cream in Jersey City and you won’t be disappointed by the cases of ice cream, pies, cakes, sandwich cookies and sundae kits that surround you.

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