Garden State Greenery: The Best Parks in New Jersey

Morristown National Historic Park Nj
Morristown National Historic Park. Image via @nationalparkservice/Instagram.

With the weather warming and signs of spring on the horizon, here is our list of the best parks in New Jersey starting in the north and heading south.

From western mountains to suburban enclaves to the beaches of the Jersey Shore, New Jersey has no shortage of great green spaces in a variety of diverse cities and towns. Whether it’s history, playgrounds, or just a great picnic spot with a view, New Jersey’s plethora of parks offer a surprising variety for families, hikers, surfers, campers, and just about everybody in between.

The Best Parks in New Jersey

High Point State Park

High Point State Park Nj
High Point State Park. Image via Wikipedia.

With the highest elevation in New Jersey at 1,803 feet above sea level, High Point State Park is situated at the state’s northwestern boundary with New York and Pennsylvania along a portion of the Appalachian Trail. The 50 miles of hiking in this park sport a diverse terrain, while a public swim area at Lake Marcia and tent sites for camping offer a big taste of the outdoors.

The notable attraction at this Sussex County greenspace is the High Point Monument, which was completed in 1930 and dedicated to New Jersey’s war veterans. The top of the 220-foot-high structure, which can be climbed through an internal set of stairs, offers observers views of the Pocono Mountains toward the west, the Catskill Mountains to the north, and the Wallkill River Valley to the southeast.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Delaware Water Gap Nj
Delaware Water Gap. Image via @stepping.stoness/Instagram.

Hiking is the name of the game at this sprawling park, which spans 40 miles and several towns along the longest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi. Some of the Garden State’s best vistas along the Delaware River can be found at the top of Mount Tammany, while a 1.4-mile hike to Buttermilk Falls concludes with a waterfall.

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail also runs through this National Park, which offers historical preservation in the form of Millbrook Village. Dating to the early 1800s, the small agricultural village sports a variety of preserved structures with volunteers bringing the town to life on select weekends by demonstrating skills like woodworking, weaving, spinning, blacksmithing, gardening, and more.

Palisades Interstate Park

Sporting a little bit of everything including Hudson River and New York City views, Palisades Interstate Park spans several towns heading north from Fort Lee up to Rockland County, New York. The southern tip of the park includes both picnic and playground areas underneath the George Washington Bridge, while the Fort Lee Historic Park section sports a reconstructed Revolutionary War encampment.

A tree-covered roadway offers a scenic byway for bikers, while 30 miles of trails offer diverse hiking options. The Long Path, which spans 11 miles along the cliffside, is one of the park’s most popular, while The Giant Stairs takes hikers 500 feet down the palisades via piles of boulders.

For those less adventurous but looking for a view, the State Line Lookout offers the landscape without the hassle. Other points of interest include the Englewood Boat Basin’s picnic areas, the Greenbrook Sanctuary in Tenafly, and the Women’s Federation Monument in Alpine, which was built to commemorate the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s role in preserving the palisades.

Van Saun Park

Van Saun Park Nj
Van Saun Park. Image via @nyc.pix/Instagram.

Situated in Paramus and River Edge, Van Saun Park is one of Bergen County’s most family friendly parks. The space sports several large playgrounds, three miles of biking and walking trails, and hosts seasonal events including a Winter Wonderland with ice skating and a Halloween festival.

The facility includes the Bergen County Zoo for an admission fee ($8 per adult, $5 per child), which features a train ride, carousel, splash pad, and picnic areas along with seasonal pony rides and other barnyard fun.

Liberty State Park

Liberty State Park Concert Series
Liberty State Park, Jersey City. Image via

An oasis among the state’s most populated area, the 1,200 acres of Jersey City’s Liberty State Park first opened in 1976 as New Jersey’s gift to America during its bicentennial. The expansive green space includes walking paths, playgrounds, picnic areas, and a nature interpretive center among other highlights scattered throughout the park, which was built in an area once dominated by railyards.

The Central Railroad Terminal, first opened in 1889 for now-defuncted train service, was restored and converted into a ferry ticket office for nearby Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, which can be taken in along the Liberty Walkway portion of the park. The Liberty Science Center features the world’s largest IMAX Dome theater, while Caven Point offers seasonal nature walks through a bird sanctuary in the middle of New York Harbor.

The park’s recreational opportunities are being expanded, as a 240-acre interior portion of the property is undergoing an ecological restoration that will reintroduce native tidal and non-tidal wetlands while creating new meadows and an urban forest.

South Mountain Reservation

South Mountain Fairy Trail Nj
South Mountain Reservation – Fairy Trail. Image via @ineeda1ee/Instagram.

Spanning over 2,100 acres through Maplewood, Millburn and West Orange, South Mountain Reservation has earned a reputation as one of the best and most popular parks in New Jersey. Its 23 miles of walking paths are highlighted by a “fairy house” trail, which was founded by local artist Therese Ojibway and features homemade tiny homes along a easier trail that is great for kids.

The main area of South Mountain includes a reservoir walk with paved pathways and picnic pavilions. Paddle boats are available for rent at the park, which sports multiple playgrounds for children of all ages.

The Turtle Back Zoo, home to over 500 animals, a train line around the reservoir, and an amphitheater are situated within the park, as are the two year-round ice-skating rinks inside the Richard Codey South Mountain Arena.

Branch Brook Park

Branch Brook Park
Branch Brook Park. Image via @njmonthly/Instagram.

Situated in the northern section of Newark, the 360-acre Branch Brook Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was the nation’s first county park when constructed. It was designed by the renowned Olmsted Brothers, who also drew up plans for New York City’s Central Park.

Accessible via the Newark Light Rail, the park is noted for its lakes, historic bridges, bike and walking paths, and yearly cherry blossom festival. Branch Brook Park is a segment of the 36-mile Lenape Trail, a unique urban/suburban walking route that runs through 11 towns in Essex County.

Morristown National Historical Park

Morristown National Historic Park Nj
Morristown National Historic Park. Image via @nationalparkservice/Instagram.

The greenery within this park is steeped in so much history that it was named the first historical National Park in the entire United States back in 1933. Split into several sections, the most outdoorsy portion of the park is Jockey Hollow, which was the site of the Continental Army’s winter encampments in 1776-77 and 1779-80.

The New Jersey Brigade Encampment Site features reconstructed soldier huts with a three-mile tour road for bikers and 24 miles of hiking trails. Other major points of interest include the Washington’s Headquarters Museum, which is filled with artifacts from the Revolutionary War era, and Ford’s Mansion, a home where George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and other historical figures resided during parts of the war.

Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park

Delaware Raritan Canal State Park
Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park. Image via @michael_sladden/Instagram.

Spanning almost 59 miles, this mostly secluded greenery starts out in New Brunswick along the Raritan River, heads south to Trenton, and then north along the Delaware River. These “towpaths,” which are mostly flat and dirt, were once used by mules to tow barges along the canals but have been repurposed for hiking, biking, and kayaking.

The paths are a great way to see the diversity of the Garden State’s western towns, with highlights that include the Trenton Battle Monument. Washington’s Crossing, which was the eastern landing point following George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River in 1776 during the Revolutionary War, has a proper park dedicated to the historic event.

The trails along the New Jersey state park can be linked up with the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor along the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, as many of the bridges that go across the water are biker and jogger friendly. One of the more popular crossings is the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge.

Gateway National Recreation Area (Sandy Hook)

Gateway National Park Sandy Hook
Gateway National Park, Sandy Hook. Image via @michaelmckennaphoto/Instagram.

Spanning three different sections in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and New Jersey, the Sandy Hook portion is a great spot for bikers and easily accessible via ferries from New York City. A five-mile-long multi-use pathway starts at the park entrance and ends in Fort Hancock, a former military base that includes a museum.

The park also holds the distinction of having the oldest operating lighthouse in the United States, which first opened in 1764. All seven beaches within Sandy Hook sport views of New York City including Gunnison Beach, which holds the unique distinction of hosting New Jersey’s only “clothing optional” bathing area.

Island Beach State Park

Island Beach State Park
Island Beach State Park. Image via @canygirl61/Instagram.

Spanning ten miles sandwiched between Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, this narrow barrier island is mostly untouched by development and great for bikers and wildlife explorers alike. Island Beach State Park is a big surfing destination and a major fishing and crabbing spot, with guided kayak tours offered in the summer months.

The park sports a true beach in the geographic center of the island, which can be the starting point for several easier hikes along flat terrain. The end of a pedestrian footpath at the southern point of the island leads to an inlet along the southern tip that offers great views of the Barnegat Lighthouse.

Cape May Point State Park

Cape May Point State Park
Cape May Point State Park. Image via @jpm10307/Instagram.

Nestled in New Jersey’s southernmost town along the Atlantic coast, Cape May Point boasts 244 acres of freshwater meadows, ponds, forests, dunes, boardwalk paths, and beach views. The area, situated just outside historic Cape May, was initially a military base and still sports a World War II-era gun battery and fire control tower that was later converted to a sound surveillance station during the early days of the Cold War.

The park is perhaps best known for the famous Cape May Lighthouse, which dates to 1859. The terrain in the park varies from dirt paths to boardwalks and the location of the greenspace makes it popular for bird watching, as the cape is a strategic location to witness migration patterns.

Which of these New Jersey parks are on the top of your list to visit this spring or summer? If your favorite spot to enjoy nature in New Jersey didn’t make the list, let us know at [email protected].

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