After a year spend indoors we’re all excited to slowly renter the world and take advantage (safely!) of all the spring fun NJ has to offer. Be sure to check your destination’s website or call ahead since COVID restrictions may affect hours or capacity limits. From gorgeous gardens to theme parks and open water activities it’s time to get out there and explore.
Visit an NJ Garden
353 East Hanover Ave., Morristown
181 Fairgrounds Rd., Hamilton
1112 Dukes Pkwy., West Hillsborough Twp.
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 (buildings there remain closed, but porta potties are available!). 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 West Hillsborough Township, 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. (Trails are open but buildings are closed. Saturday visitors will need to reserve a free entry pass per car.) 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.
Make New Animal Friends
89 Mount Pleasant Rd., Columbia
355 Washington Crossing-Pennington Rd., Titusville
44 Willow Ave., Peapack
It’s finally warm enough 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. (Tour capacity is limited and they are taking online reservations only.) 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’s 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. Open weekends, by reservation only.
Explore a National or State Park
128 South Hartshorne Dr., Highlands
211 Main St., West Orange
4265 Atlantic Ave., Wall
Bayview Ave. and 24th Ave., Seaside Park
330 State Park Rd., Hope
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. Masks are required and campgrounds are currently closed. 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 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.
Hit an Epic Playground
199 Challenger Rd., Ridgefield Park
Cherry Ln., West Orange
Claude Dr., Bridgewater
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 zip line!).
Go Horseback Riding
256 South Maple Ave., Basking Ridge
440 South St., Morristown
631 County Rd., Whitehouse Station
12-22 Woodland Ave., West Orange
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. If your child has special needs, try Rocking Horse Rehab at the Essex Equestrian Center in West Orange.
Spend the Day at an Amusement or Water Park
1 Six Flags Blvd., Jackson
200 NJ-94, Vernon
354 Great Meadows Rd., Hope
Time to hit the coasters, ride the carousel and more at nearby thrill parks. Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson has reopening for the season, meaning you can ride Nitro, Kingda Ka and soon the new Jersey Devil Coaster before the summer crowds start. 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
778 Frenchtown Rd., Milford
100 Rte. 46, Columbia
14th and Ocean Dr., Avalon
1121 NJ-109, Cape May
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 with Delaware River Tubing in Milford, set to open May 29. 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.
Visit a Local Ice Cream Shop
200 Park Ave., Rutherford
616 Grove St., Montclair
We all scream for NJ licks! Go on an ice cream crawl this spring, starting with Ice Cream Charlie’s in Rutherford that 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 and voted one of the best in NJ by our readers in 2020. Magic Fountain in Summit is a local fave, offering everything from homemade dog treats to specialty floats to the newly-added vegan ice cream. The Bent Spoon in Princeton doles out artisanal licks, not to mention gourmet hot chocolate, house marshmallows and baked goods. Freehold’s Jersey Freeze boasts a full Jersey-inspired food menu in addition to homemade chipwiches, ice cream cakes, cupcakes and pies.