Spring has sprung. The weather is getting warmer. Days are getting longer. Pollen attacks and rainstorms aside, this is a terrific time of year to just be outside.

How lucky we are to live in New Jersey, home of so much natural beauty! Usually, when we think about "things to do" as an individual, couple, family or group, we gravitate toward businesses, buildings, cities and towns.

But let's not forget that this is "The Garden State". Every corner of the state and every season of the year offers great opportunities for recreation, relaxation, fitness, and fun. It's one outdoorsy wow after another!

The outdoor adventures I lay out in this article are not really a surprise. But maybe I can introduce you to a new activity, new hobby, or new corner of the state to explore.
This article is part of a special series brought to you by the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism.

Jersey State Parks Passport

The New Jersey State Park Service operates a total of 49 state parks and forests, plus marinas and historic sites. It can be hard to keep track of all of them!

Luckily, our friends at VisitNJ.org have a brand new, exciting offering: The Jersey State Parks Passport.

The passport does NOT cover entry fees to state parks. However it does offer a comprehensive virtual guide to all the recreation opportunities, activities, and adventures available across the state.

Want to hike? Done. Want to bike? Got it. Want to kayak, canoe, or just explore? It's there.

Plus, as you visit locations in the passport, you can earn points to redeem for real prizes. Visiting a specific location or completing a special activity can even earn you bonus points.
There is no app to download. Once you sign up for the Jersey State Parks Passport, you get a text message with a personalized link to your pass. Pro tip: Save that bookmark to your phone's home screen for one-tap access on-the-go!

Getty Images/iStockphoto
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Personally, I have never been kayaking or canoeing. Shocking, I know! It's on my short-term bucket list, especially since I've been researching the most perfect places to paddle in the state.

The Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey offer plentiful opportunities to hit the water. And they are almost all tucked away, quiet and peaceful. Check out Parvin Lake in Pittsgrove, Salem County. Part of Parvin State Park, the bountiful flora and fauna will be a highlight of your paddle.

At Union Lake in Millville, you can cruise around a 5,000-acre manmade lake. Birdwatchers will want to keep an eye out for bald eagles, belted kingfisher, osprey, ducks, and wild turkeys.
For fishing enthusiasts, it is hard to beat Monksville Reservoir in Ringwood, Passaic County. For a special challenge, you might also explore the submerged water forests there.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Bike It

Whether you're a daily rider or you have not biked in years, you will find countless spots across New Jersey to enjoy a beautiful bike ride.

One of the best trails in the state for biking, walking, and even cross-country skiing in the winter is along the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park Trail. The ol' D&R Trail stretches for over 70 miles through Mercer, Hunterdon, Middlesex, and Somerset counties, following the towpath of the canal. It is popular, it is historic, and it is beautiful.

To the north, another trail worth a bike ride is the Saddle River County Park Bikeway. More of a suburban ride along and through several Bergen County communities, it is an easy, comfortable ride — and especially convenient if you live in the area.

Finally, how about a scenic sunrise bike ride along the oceanfront? Fair warning: Some boardwalks and promenades do not allow bikes. But the 2.5-mile Ocean City Boardwalk does. Just be sure to check the legal biking hours before you go, which vary by season.


Off the Beaten Path: Explore Nature

Sometimes, you need a break from the routine. Sometimes, you want to walk and soak in nature but enjoy something a little different. Luckily, New Jersey has plenty of "different" experiences, each providing their own special "wow" moments for all ages.

One of my family's favorite half-day trips is to the Rahway Fairy Trail in South Mountain Reservation in Millburn, Essex County. Nestled between Papermill Playhouse and Turtle Back Zoo is a half-mile trail inhabited by tiny "fairy houses." It makes a "boring" hike way more interesting for the little ones. Just follow the white-blazed trail from the Locust Grove parking lot.

Want to search for another secret, hidden deep in the New Jersey woods? On the 85-acre grounds of Princeton Battlefield State Park, you'll find historic monuments and hiking trails galore. Adjacent to the park are the Institute Woods, where you may discover the infamous Swinging Bridge, which crosses a few feet over Stony Brook. It has to be one of New Jersey's most intriguing bridges — part terrifying, and part really cool. Swinging Bridge makes for great Instagram photos for sure!

If you haven't been to Duke Farms in Hillsborough, Somerset County, you are really missing out. The 2,700-acre former estate of James Buchanan Duke and then Doris Duke is now a sanctuary dedicated to preserving the region’s natural beauty. And it does that exceptionally well, highlighting hundreds of plant and bird species on immaculate grounds. Come to relax, or take a walk along their impressive 20 miles of hiking trails.

Surprisingly, the cranberry is not New Jersey's official state fruit — that title belongs to the blueberry. New Jersey does produce the third most cranberries among all U.S. states, behind only Wisconsin and Massachusetts.

As we all learned in elementary school, cranberries are harvested by flooding the bogs where they grow and allowing the berries to float to the top. In Browns Mills, Burlington County, Whitesbog Historic Village gives a front-row seat to the once-largest cranberry bog in the state. (Visit in September to see the harvest in progress.) There are outdoor recreation activities here. And blueberries, too.


Wondrous Waterfalls

Remember that hit 1990s song by TLC? Don't go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to.

Wow. TLC must have never visited New Jersey, which has a ton of wonderful waterfalls, ranging from small to tall to breathtaking.

The tallest and biggest waterfall in New Jersey is Buttermilk Falls in Layton, Sussex County. It's way up there but breathtaking to view. The area is rather rustic, with dirt roads and rickety trails leading to amazing observation points.

Closer to the hustle and bustle of central New Jersey, check out Tinton Falls. Yes, the Monmouth County borough is literally named for a waterfall. It's small but mighty. A park aptly called Overlook by the Falls offers hiking trails and a platform to view the falls.

Another iconic New Jersey waterfall, which I guarantee you have seen photographed at some point, is Paterson Great Falls in Paterson, Passaic County. The 77-foot-tall waterfall along the Passaic River has walking bridges and observation decks to view the cascade. Historical sites, including mill tours and tributes to Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.

Getty Images/iStockphoto
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Hike THE Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is a legendary hiking trail, stretching 2,190+ miles from Spring Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. Every spring, summer, and fall, thru-hikers attempt to walk the whole thing, an incredible physical, mental, and logistical challenge.
Some 72 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs right through New Jersey, from the Delaware Water Gap in Warren County to Greenwood Lake in Passaic County.

You don't have to hike the entire trail, or even the entire NJ section, to appreciate the variety of landscapes along the way. Stretches of the A.T. run through Worthington State Forest, Stokes State Forest, High Point State Park, and Wawayanda State Park, to name a few.

Pick a spot and hike a mile or two. Just be sure to do your research about trailheads and necessary supplies. The New Jersey stretch of the Appalachian Trail is not as rugged as in other states, but it is still good to be prepared, especially given the usual hiking hazards, ranging from bears to rockslides to thunderstorms.

Getty Images/iStockphoto
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Just Walk

I have talked about lots of ways to get outside for some fresh air and sunshine. Some of which require special equipment and/or spending money.

But those investments are absolutely not necessary to find an outdoor WOW in New Jersey. Check out some more of my favorite places to just put on a pair of comfortable shoes and walk.

My favorite place to explore with my family and scout group is the Watchung Reservation, near Mountainside in Union County. The hiking trail system is diverse and scenic, with numerous historic sites around the property. Trailside Nature & Science Center is a great visit too.

Of course, you could also take a cruise along New Jersey's roughly 130-mile coastline. The most picturesque might be along the Sandy Hook peninsula, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. It's easy to find your very own secluded piece of oceanfront. Just watch out for the (totally legal) nude sunbathers on the infamous Gunnison Beach.

And finally, we have to remember that not all outdoor beauty is natural. The Hudson River Waterfront Walkway is an ongoing project to build a connected promenade from the Bayonne Bridge to the George Washington Bridge. Lots of magnificent views of Manhattan and the Hudson River here. Plus, it's easy to take a side trek to explore some neighborhoods, enjoy some local eats, or do some shopping.

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