Best Hikes with Children in New Jersey  by Arline Zatz

Best Hikes with Children in New Jersey Guide Book

by Arline Zatz (The Mountaineers Books)
Best Hikes with Children in New Jersey  by Arline Zatz
From the northern highlands of New Jersey to the beaches and pine barrens in the south, this popular guide is written from a child's eye view (but always emphasizes safety). Kids can check out an accessible beaver colony along the trail at Heddon Park; scamper over huge boulders while overlooking the Hudson River; or look for ersatz diamonds on a Cape May Beach. Trail descriptions highlight points of interest, opportunities for learning about nature on the trail, best places to camp, fish, or swim, and much more.

© 2005 Arline Zatz/The Mountaineers Books. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Best Hikes with Children in New Jersey" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 85.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 85.

Although you’ll be arriving and parking at Allaire Village, explore this historic site after the hike is completed. While hiking, you’ll be passing through lush woods beside tiny streams where ninety-four varieties of wildflowers can be seen. For bird lovers, there’s always the possibility of spotting a blue-winged warbler, a ruby-throated hummingbird, or dozens of other species. As a bonus after the hike you might want to board the Pine Creek Railroad, the first operating steam train exhibit in New Jersey and one of the earliest in the United States. Or you might want to camp to enjoy another day here. The fifty-five tent and trailer sites and the two yurts in this state park are spacious and shaded—perfect for overnight or a weekend.
Farmingdale, NJ - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 3.25
When you visit the north shore of Deer Park Lake, you may not see the broad-tailed beaver, the largest rodent in North America. But you will see its cone-shaped house and dozens of gnawed tree stumps. You’ll also enjoy circling this charming lake, which sits in the serene wilderness of Allamuchy Mountain State Park. Spring and fall are the best times of year to visit, while winter is great for exploring on snowshoes and cross-country skis.
Hackettstown, NJ - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 2.5
Chief Nummy and his band of Lenni-Lenape Indians hiked through this area of the southern Pine Barrens many times, and some of it has been protected as Belleplain State Forest and the Pinelands Preserve. Today it includes 2320 acres of upland and wetland forest, bogs, lakes, and meadows. Bring a magnifying glass for a closeup look at sphagnum moss and cinnamon fern, or bring binoculars for spotting birds such as the bald eagle and warblers as they dart in and out of the underbrush. A swim in Lake Nummy is just the ticket after hiking on a hot day, but it’s best to come during fall or winter to minimize exposure to mosquitoes, chiggers, and ticks. Wear long sleeves and pants year-round to safeguard against overgrown shrubs and overeager insects. Although this hike is on fairly level trails, be prepared to exert a great deal of energy in places where the sandy trail is soft.
Woodbine, NJ - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 4.9
Don’t drive too fast or you may miss the trailhead, located in the tiny town of Ongs Hat. A mere pinhead on the map, Ongs Hat consists of a few houses and a family restaurant. In the 1840s, however, it was widely known for its cranberry cultivation. The town was supposedly named for Jacob Ong, a robust Pennsylvania Quaker who loved to drink and dance. Ong ran a tavern in the 1700s and one night, when he might have had one drink too many, he tossed his hat high up onto the limb of an oak tree. Too high to retrieve, the hat became a conversation piece. Customers would yell to newcomers, “There’s Ong’s hat.” By 1828 this cry was officially adopted as the town’s name. Ongs Hat is the northern terminus of the Batona Trail, a 50-mile-long, pink-blazed path through the pinelands of southern New Jersey that was charted and built by the Batona Hiking Club of Philadelphia in 1961. The trail was designed to offer a true wilderness experience, despite the fact that it cuts across several roads and is accessible by car at a number of points. It passes through some of the most scenic areas of the Pine Barrens, a section of the state noted for its unusual plants, including several insect-eating species.
New Lisbon, NJ - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 6.3
Each winter we hike a small section of the 50-mile-long, pink-blazed Batona Trail that leads to Pakim Pond—a crown jewel within the 34,725-acre Brendan T. Byrne State Forest. The water, stained by iron deposits in the soil, may be the color of dark tea, but it’s clean. It’s best to come during fall and winter when the insects are gone and the rich green color of the pines add warmth on the bleakest day. If you do visit during the buggy summer months, be sure to bring insect repellant and check yourself for ticks. Beneath this ground lies a huge aquifer believed to contain 17 trillion gallons of clean water. Aboveground this wilderness area is unique with its vast array of rare plants, pine stands, cedar swamps, and more than 350 species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.
New Lisbon, NJ - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 6.5
If you haven’t had any luck at the casinos, you may strike it rich hiking along the flat, well-packed sands at Brigantine Island, one of many barrier islands along the southern New Jersey coast. Maybe you won’t find the leather-and-brass chest Captain Kidd purportedly buried here in 1698, but there are other treasures waiting to be discovered. These include the long, narrow Atlantic jackknife clam, strings of knobbed whelk egg capsules, and an assortment of shellfish found beneath rocks, planks, and driftwood.
New Gretna, NJ - Hiking - Trail Length: 5
Cattus Island Park is on a peninsula dividing Silver Bay from Barnegat Bay. If you could see it from above after the tide has flooded the marsh, you’d see why it’s called an island. The last private landowner was New York importer John V. A. Cattus who used the property as a private retreat for hunting and fishing. The area was first opened to the public as a county park in 1981. Salt marshes make up 70 percent of the 500-acre tract, with cordgrass and marsh elder the primary salt-tolerant plants. Among the other three hundred species are false heather, lady’s slipper, turkey beard, sweet pepperbush, and blueberry. Prickly pear cactus makes a brilliant appearance in June, while holly and pine add a touch of color during winter. Stop in at the Cooper Environmental Center upon arrival. The 5000-square-foot solar energy building houses excellent educational exhibits and affords a closeup look at some of the critters you’re likely to meet on the trail. These include the eastern king snake, the most common in the area, and the black rat snake, which can grow up to 9 feet and is one of New Jersey’s largest. Hands-on displays and a mural of life beneath Barnegat Bay add to the enjoyment. A naturalist is always on hand to answer questions.
Toms River, NJ - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.9
Opened in 1940, Cheesequake State Park is Middlesex County’s only state park. It lies between New Jersey’s northern and southern vegetation zones, making it a transitional area with unique plant and animal life over diverse terrain. While hiking the green-blazed Cedar Swamp Trail, the longest in the park, you’ll have closeup views of pine barrens similar to those in the southern part of the state; a freshwater swamp with outstanding specimens of Atlantic white cedar, sweetbay magnolia, and red maple; and a mature hardwood forest, where American beech, black birch, and white and red oak predominate. More than 180 species of birds have been sighted in these woods, as well as many mammals, including red foxes, white-tailed deer, and chipmunks. There’s still a lot of speculation about how the park was named. Some believe its origin is from the Lenni-Lenape Indian word chichequaas, meaning “upland village.” But because Cheesequake lies on a fault where tectonic movement has been recorded as recently as 1979, others think it was named because the earth trembles like cheese! When you explore the quaking bogs in the marshes, you may agree with this explanation.
Matawan, NJ - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 2.7
This 417-acre park is a hidden gem. Although a couple of the trails are designated as multiuse and are used by mountain bikers and equestrians mostly on weekends, it’s a good bet that you’ll be alone on weekdays. With more than 7 miles of trails to explore—a very easy 0.7-mile trail skirting through a bit of the forest; an easy 1.8-mile trail over a mostly sandy gentle graded trail; a moderate 2.2-mile multiuse trail with steeper grades and more primitive trail conditions; and a 3-mile primitive and challenging trail— there’s a wide choice as well as a lot to see and admire.
Lincroft, NJ - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.8
For more than 150 years the Delaware and Raritan Canal has been a tribute to the hundreds of laborers who created it. Armed with only picks and shovels, the crews spent countless grueling hours digging the long, deep trench. Today the canal is a major source of drinking water for residences and businesses in twenty-two towns, and since becoming a state park in 1974, it has been used by hikers, canoeists, fishermen, and bicyclists. Largemouth bass, pickerel, rainbow trout, and catfish can be hooked in this murky water. A fishing license is required. Although you won’t see many houses along this stretch today, stories abound about the old houses with their tall picket fences that prevented children from falling into the water. One owner placed empty whiskey bottles on the pickets as a decoration and much to his surprise found that passing coal barge crews would take aim at the bottles with pieces of coal. It didn’t take him too long to collect a free supply of coal for the winter!
Princeton, NJ - Hiking - Trail Length: 4.5
What you’ll find on this hike is great diversity. Each body of water is unique, and along the rim of each of these fascinating habitats—Long Pine Pond, Crater Lake, and Hemlock Pond—lies another world teeming with life. Salamanders, frogs, insects, and aquatic plants are only a few of the delights waiting to be discovered. Pack a magnifying glass and look carefully when arriving at each pond. You may find snails clinging to the rushes and reeds. Or at Hemlock Pond, surrounded by a canopy of majestic hemlocks, you may catch sight of a beaver at work. There may even be a few deer nearby. Most of the hike follows the Appalachian Trail, and backpackers may camp 1 mile north of Crater Lake off the white-blazed trail. Sturdy shoes will help protect against the many rocks encountered on the narrow path. An experimental weather station is set up in front of the parking lot, and a hand water pump (perfect for warming up muscles and filling canteens) can be found off to the right.
Layton, NJ - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 5
More than 2.5 million people are drawn to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area each year. Most go directly to the Kittatinny Point Visitor Center, where they can enjoy a leisurely picnic or views of the scenic Delaware River. Hikers, however, come for the peace of the surrounding woodland trails on the Kittatinny Ridge—best hiked on a weekday—and the sight of a huge boulder dating back 450 million years. If you’re planning to camp, there is no fee, but check in at the visitor center first. Backcountry camping is permitted only along the Appalachian Trail and only for hikers on extended trips of two or more days. Spring ushers in new ferns; during summer the fragrance of honeysuckle fills the air and rhododendron put on a magnificent display; in fall the leaves turn, casting a bright glow against a backdrop of tall, green hemlocks; and in winter a sheet of ice covers the stream’s pools, while a blanket of snow decorates the rocks.
Columbia, NJ - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 3.4
You’ll huff and puff hiking up the steep, rocky trail to Mount Tammany’s summit, but the reward is a spectacular view of the Delaware Water Gap, Mount Minsi, and surrounding farmland. Plan on frequent rest stops on the way up and be sure to carry ample water. During summer months, you might want to watch the water as it cascades through large boulders and fallen trees on its journey to the Delaware River. Mount Tammany, located within the 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, is part of the wooded mountain ridge known as the Kittatinnys—from a Native American word meaning “Big Mountain.” At the top, a perfect spot to admire the Delaware River as it cuts through the mountains, you’ll probably see turkey vultures and broad-winged hawks gliding on the wind currents.
Columbia, NJ - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 4.3
I’ve rarely seen other hikers on this short but challenging trail. Those who do hike the trail have a wonderful adventure, for they can enjoy the phenomenal beauty encountered every step of the way. Despite a couple of short climbs next to edges that drop off, the sight of Van Campen Brook’s many exquisite cascades is well worth the effort. The temperature is several degrees cooler within the glen on hot summer days, and during fall the trees are a patchwork of color against the gray boulders. Have lunch or a snack before or after the hike in the picnic area adjacent to the parking area where you can see and listen to the melody of the brook and admire the outstanding shag bark hickory and hemlocks, or wait until you arrive at the upper waterfall, a musical as well as visual treat. Sturdy shoes are essential for negotiating the damp, moss-covered rocks and logs.
Columbia, NJ - Hiking - Trail Length: 2
If you’re looking for an easy hike over level terrain, this is the perfect place, especially during spring and fall. Dorbrook, consisting of 534 acres of open and cultivated fields, hedgerows, and woodland bordering the Swimming River Reservoir, offers other outdoor opportunities as well. Thanks to the homes of the former owners, there’s a lot of space for indoor activities ranging from Tai Chi, arts and crafts, plus science and sports programs during the summer months for children and adults. An activities directory newsletter published six times a year is available by calling (732) 842-4000, ext. 239.
Colts Neck, NJ - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.6
You might not notice it unless you return year after year, but the beach at Holgate is constantly shifting and growing in length under the influence of changing tides and sporadic storms. This 3-mile strip, known as the Holgate Peninsula and part of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, is one of the few undeveloped beaches in New Jersey. Holgate was given to the U.S. Department of the Interior by the National Audubon Society in 1960. Hiking with pounding surf on one side and large dunes on the other is tonic for the soul. Arrive a couple of hours before sunset to watch the sky suddenly come ablaze as the lights are switched on in Atlantic City’s casinos across the water. Remember to bring insect repellent; the mosquitoes and greenheads are plentiful during this time of year. If you’re not a birdwatcher, hike here after a storm and you may find a Spanish coin that’s washed ashore. Or simply enjoy the fresh air, the sand dunes, and the sight of a fisherman landing dinner.
Oceanville, NJ - Hiking - Trail Length: 6
Visitors who hike the trails at Flat Rock Brook forget they’re only a few miles from midtown Manhattan. The surrounding woods are so dense that you’re guaranteed shade on the hottest day, and during any season you might spot a deer, raccoon, frog, and on rare occasions catch a glimpse of the secretive red fox. During spring a variety of wildflowers show off their dazzling colors. Walking the boardwalk a mere 0.1 mile affords a closeup look at jewelweed, in bloom from July through the first frost. The boardwalk guides you through the Backyard Habitat for Wildlife, two demonstration gardens of native plants selected to be both ornamental and useful to wildlife. The Gazebo Garden illustrates a particular design for a backyard area, and the Quarry Meadow displays a wide variety of plants available for habitat use.
Englewood, NJ - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.25
The day I decided to hike through the Forest Resource Education Center’s property turned out to be my lucky day because the Fall Forestry Festival was in progress. Celebrated annually on the first Saturday of October, it proved to be great fun as well as educational for all ages. Although I’ve always appreciated the beauty of trees, on this day, I learned many new facts. According to the New Jersey Forest Service, “Trees help supply oxygen we need to breathe; provide food and shelter for wildlife; shade us from the hot sun; act as a barrier against cold winds; provide the material for many products, including paper, food cartons, film, and furniture; help absorb pollution and purify water; tree roots help stabilize soil and prevent erosion; and trees beautify our communities and help conserve energy.” In addition, trees provide beautiful scenery when fishing, camping, biking, picnicking, and, of course, hiking!
Jackson, NJ - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.4
Sandy Hook, part of Gateway National Recreation Area, is a mixture of natural and historic wonders. While breathing in fresh ocean air at “the hook,” you’ll see dozens of fishing boats and freighters and hear buoys echoing mournful sounds in the distance. Take along a bag to collect treasures that have washed ashore. After a storm, you may find an old bucket, a twisted tree limb, a fishing net, or an unusual bottle. There are always shells, but remind children to make certain they’re collecting uninhabited ones. Common shells include those of the quahog clam, which was used by the Lenni-Lenape Indians for making wampum; the large “house” of the whelk snail; and the molted shell of the horseshoe crab, which resembles a perfect horseshoe when turned over. Shells with holes in the lower part are known as jingle shells, and when strung together, they make a dandy wind chime. Ghosts of the past arise on this hike as well.
Highlands, NJ - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.6
No matter which season you choose to hike to the top of Governor Mountain, you’ll have an exhilarating view of the countryside from a place locals refer to as “Suicide Ledge.” Added rewards include a bountiful carpet of wildflowers during spring, as well as towering red cedars. Sturdy hiking shoes are recommended for negotiating the steeper sections of trail. Wildflowers during spring, as well as towering red cedars. Sturdy hiking shoes are recommended for negotiating the steeper sections of trail. Walk left (west) on Carletondale Road. Turn left onto the yellow-blazed Cooper Union Trail just past a fire hydrant (which faces large boulders on the opposite side of the road). Each fall the beeches, oaks, and maples towering overhead put on a show of vibrant yellows, browns, and reds. If the trees have already shed their leaves, watch out for holes between the rocks that the fallen leaves may be covering.
Ringwood, NJ - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.3