Best New Jersey County Parks

Courtesy: Hartshorne Woods Park

New Jersey has many outstanding county parks. They range from zoos, outdoor nature education centers, lakes, scenic settings with hiking trails, boating, living history farms and everything in between

Note: This information is provided by event sponsors as a free service to our viewers. Sometimes conditions require cancellations or changes of dates, times and location which are not reflected in the original schedule. Before planning a trip to visit one of the listed events, it is suggested that you call the event sponsor to confirm the event schedule or for additional information on the event.

Northern NJ County Parks

Bergen County Zoological Park
216 Forest Ave
(201) 262-3771
Located in Van Saun County Park, is home to a wide variety of wild and domestic animals, living in recreated habitats natural to each species. The grounds are well-maintained, and the animals well cared for -- important for you and me. Without zoos like this that participate in the Species Survival Plan, the world would be a much poorer place. This zoo has many different species of birds, some exotic and rare, such as the endangered Andean condor. Reptiles, like the Red-footed Tortoise, the Green Iguana, Boa Constrictor, and American Alligator will be found here, as will mammals such as the Ferret, Opossum, Arctic Fox, American Bison, Mountain Lion, Golden Lion, Tamarin, and many, many others.

Turtle Back Zoo
560 Northfield Avenue
West Orange, NJ
Situated on 18 acres in South Mountain Reservation, the zoo was originally a showcase for animals indigenous to New Jersey, but currently features species from every continent except Antarctica. The zoo is open year-round, recording over 340,000 visitors in 2007. Recent additions to the zoo include Filipino "golden mantled" flying foxes, making Turtle Back the first zoo in the country to show this species of bat; an American Black Bear exhibit; the Essex Farm, which holds common farm animals and includes a petting zoo; and an animal-themed playground. Its most notable new feature is a $4.6 million reptile house and education center, the zoo's first indoor exhibit, which opened in June, 2006. The center contains a pair of nine-foot-long "black dragons", a species of monitor lizard which was discovered in Malaysia in 2005 and has yet to receive a scientific name. The lizards at Turtle Back are believed to be the only "black dragons" on display in the world.

Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center
Chatham Township, NJ
(973) 326-7600
The Great Swamp was created approximately 15,000 years ago, when the melting waters of the Wisconsin Glacier poured into the natural basin known as the Passaic Valley. However, the Great Swamp is not entirely swampland but rather a mixture of marshes, meadows, dry woods and brush-covered swamps. It is the intermingling of these four habitats that gives the Great Swamp its unique character, allowing the swamp to support a wide variety of plant and animal life. As visitors walk along trails and over boardwalks, they can observe plants varying in size from the tiny duckweed to the towering red oak. A multitude of colors emerge, from the yellow marsh marigold to the blue iris. And some visitors are rewarded with sightings of the wildlife that make the Great Swamp their home. Learn more about this living, breathing botanical and zoological resource with a visit to the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center. Numerous environmental programs for all ages are also available.

Environmental Education Center
190 Lord Stirling Rd
Basking Ridge, NJ
908 766-2489

Located within Lord Stirling Park on 425 acres of the western portion of the Great Swamp Basin of the Passaic River. The variety of habitats of floodplains, swamps, rivers, intermittent streams, marshes, meadows, and natural and man-made ponds, fields, and forests provide homes for diverse plant and animal populations in this environmentally sensitive park. All are within walking distances of the multi-faceted building. The Great Swamp Exhibit, a swamp vivarium, and an environmentally based library are located within the Center itself. You can hike the 8-½ miles of trails on your own or register for one of the multitude of programs – there are experiences available for all ages! The building is open year round, except for major holidays, 9am to 5pm. Note: Trails are for foot traffic only; pets, horses, bicycles & motorized vehicles are prohibited because the trails run through a wildlife sanctuary.

Washington Valley Park
Miller Lane
Bridgewater, NJ
908 722-1200
Situated on 715.5 acres that lie along the First Watchung Ridge in Bridgewater Township. The park contains the former Bound Brook Elizabethtown Reservoir that will become the focal point of the park along a network of trails. The park is located between the first and second Watchung Mountains at the geographic center of Somerset County. It consists of Pine and Hemlock forests, open freshwater wetland marshes, impressive rock outcroppings, numerous historic features and a 21-acre reservoir. Washington Valley Park offers several recreational opportunities in an undisturbed natural setting, including hiking, mountain biking, and hawk watching. The more than seven miles of trails are great for hiking, and some of the best mountain biking in the state. Washington Valley Park’s Hawk Watch area is one of the East Coast’s premier locations to watch thousands of raptors migrate south every autumn. And, if fishing is what you like, the reservoir is where you need to be. This body of water offers a multitude of fishing opportunities. Whether you are a person seeking solitude, or someone who is bringing their family for a day of fun, Washington Valley Park has something for the outdoors person in all of us. The park can be accessed from Vosseller Avenue at Millers Lane, and also at Newmans Lane.

Central NJ County Parks

Hartshorne Woods Park
1402 Portland Road
Highlands, NJ (Rocky Point Entrance
(732) 872-0336
A hilly, forested 787-acre site overlooking the Navesink River, this park is among the highest elevations along the Atlantic Coast and features prominently in area history as a former coastal defense site. Known for its challenging trail system and scenic views, Hartshorne Woods is a popular park for area hikers, bicyclists and outdoor enthusiasts. Park features: group cabin camping (by reservation), cross country ski trails, fishing in the Navesink River and trails for walking, hiking, biking, and horseback riding. It's the perfect place to escape the sounds of suburbia.

Holmdel Park
44 Longstreet Road
Holmdel, NJ
Holmdel Park is a 619-acre site, popular for active recreation and nature appreciation. This park features the David C. Shaw Arboretum, fishing, picnic areas, four tennis courts, two playgrounds, ice skating, sledding, and 10 miles of trails - including a 1/2 mile paved loop linking the Pond View and Forest Edge areas of the park with group picnic facilities and playgrounds.
The park also features two historic sites - Historic Longstreet Farm and the Holmes-Hendrickson House. Longstreet Farm is a living history farm where Park System staff recreates life as it was during the 1890s. Learn more about this site and see upcoming activities. The historic Holmes-Hendrickson House, at 62 Longstreet Road, is operated by the Monmouth County Historical Association (MCHA).

Howell Living History Farm
70 Woodens Lane
Lambertville, NJ
(609) 737 - 3299
Nestled in the heart of the Pleasant Valley Rural Historic District, this 130-acre park was a working farm for over 240 years when its last private owner, Inez Howe Howell, gave it to Mercer County in 1974. The Park Commission is restoring the farm to look and operate the way it did a century ago -- a time when most of Mercer County was still rural, and when farmers worked by hand and horse power to make the land productive. In keeping with Mrs. Howell's wishes, the Park Commission offers year-around programs that allow visitors of all ages to join in the work and fun of life on a farm.

Manasquan Reservoir
Visitor Center
311 Windeler Road, Howell
(732) 919-0996
Spend a day fishing, boating, or walking the trail at this beautiful spot in southern Monmouth County. Park features: * 1204 acres of land and water * fishing * 5-mile perimeter trail * 1-mile nature trail * playground * ice-skating * kayak and rowboat rentals. The Reservoir is also a natural setting for recreational activities and outdoor pursuits. The 770-acre Reservoir is part of a larger 1,204 acre site that include woods and wetlands, a 5-mile perimeter trail, fishing and boating areas, and a Visitor Center.
The Environmental Center is dedicated to providing experiences of learning and discovery related to wetlands ecology and wildlife and habitat protection. Through interactive exhibits, multi-media presentations, educational activities for schools and community groups, and wildlife observation areas, visitors gain an understanding of the importance of water in our world.

Southern NJ County Parks

Cattus Island
1170 Cattus Island Blvd
Toms River, NJ
A rare treat of unspoiled natural beauty offering miles of trails surrounded by the natural ambiance of coastal New Jersey. This environmentally sensitive park spans almost 500 acres and boasts miles of trails, many offering lovely vistas of the adjacent Silver Bay. Cattus Island is home to the Cooper Environmental Center, where you can find displays and collections of snakes and reptiles. There are several workshops available year round including environmental education, hiking and birding for those who want to learn more about New Jersey’s natural world. One of the latest additions to the park is a butterfly garden where you can explore the Monarch, Black Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail, Red Admiral and Painted Lady.

Ocean County Park
659 Ocean Ave. (Route 88)
Lakewood, NJ
This beautiful park has it's origin as financier John D. Rockefeller's estate when lakewood was a popular vacation and weekend destination for New Yorkers. The park has many attractive features including: a bike trail, cross-country skiing, driving range, fishing, fitness trail, handicap accessible, open playing fields, a covered picnic pavilion, 5 acre off-leash dog park, playgrounds, rest rooms, shuffleboard, softball, swimming, tennis courts, volleyball and a lake side swimming area with white beach sand, shower and rest room facilities. The freshwater lake is fed from an underground aquifer and surrounded by. Reservations for the picnic facility are available for a nominal fee for up to 600 persons. A minimum of three weeks prior to the requested date is suggested. Access to the beach and park are free to the public.

Estell Manor County Park
State Highway 50
Estell Manor, NJ
Located on over 1700 acres with hiking trails, boating, a nature center, and historic points of interest. Hiking and boating are also popular activities. Now mountain biking can be added to this list. Thanks to this new trail, a loop route totaling approximately 6 miles, Estell Manor is shaping up as the prime mountain-biking destination in South Jersey. The trail is located along the coastal lowlands and elevation change is negligible but at the same time incidental, due to the creative layout of the route. A serpentine hard-packed path through a forest of pine, oak, and holly awaits riders of all abilities. They also have facilities for picnics. For large groups you can reserve a pavilion or use the grills and picnic tables for a family outing on a "first come, first serve" basis.

Cape May County Park and Zoo
707 Route 9 North
Cape May Court House, NJ
Over 200 acres with many forested areas maintained in their natural state. Within the park, you will find picnic areas, walk/bike paths, fishing ponds, picnic shelters, a disc golf course, playgrounds & more. The Zoo is the featured attraction with more than 85 acres of beautifully maintained exhibits, over 250 different species of mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles and over 550 animals, you're sure to see something new. The Cape May County Zoo is open 364 days a year (closed Christmas). Winter Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Summer Hours: 10:00 a.m. - 4:45 p.m. No admission fee.

Wells Mills County Park
905 Wells Mills Road (Route 532)
Waretown, NJ
Over 900 acres of pine and oak forest within southern New Jersey's environmental marvel known as the Pine Barrens. Miles of hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty can be found here, including a "VIP" (Visually Impaired Persons) Trail. The three-story Nature Center offers a great display floor, a library, and the third floor "Elizabeth Meirs Morgan Observation Deck", recently dedicated in honor of a very active naturalist and conservationist in Ocean County. Environmental programs and classes are held regularly at Wells Mills, with experienced naturalists available to answer any questions you may have about the ecology of this area. The Annual "Pine Barrens Jamboree" is held at Wells Mills each October. A day filled with music, piney vittles and hand-made crafts, it's an event not to be missed! Beautiful Wells Mills Lake has trails meandering around it, perfect for a leisurely stroll through the 900 acres of Pine Barrens located within Wells Mills County Park. Canoe rentals are also available at a nominal cost.