Despite being the fourth smallest state in the United States, there is a charm to the natural wonders of New Jersey which rivals more sprawling locations in the country. Additionally, there is a rich history infused into New Jersey’s park and heritage sites few other places can offer. In fact, no matter where you find yourself in New Jersey, there is bound to be a great outdoor space to visit close by to enrich your historical, cultural and ecological understanding of the area. Take for instance The Morristown National Historical Park, part of The Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area. Two further national park experiences which visitors can enjoy are the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange. Then there is the Cheesequake State Park in central New Jersey, which contains two very different ecosystems. Visitors can also enjoy the more tamed beauty of Frelinghuysen Arboretum. To help you make your selection, a summary of some the state’s most loved parks including, where appropriate, accommodation, activities and ecology is provided.
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail
The Appalachian Trail is a public footpath over 2,000 miles long that runs from Maine to Georgia. It passes through New Jersey starting at the Delaware Water Gap before heading north along Kittatinny Ridge then east towards Pochuck Valley. The fact that New Jersey is home to some of this far reaching trail’s most remote and rugged sections makes this trail a noteworthy feature of the state’s parks. Being well-equipped with parking lanes and country lanes, this 45 mile walk is as accessible for amateur hikers as it is for experts. In terms of terrain, there are wetlands and cross bogs, springs, streams and ponds plus flat sections as well as rocky, steep patches. Keep in mind this is a mountainous trail, and the elevation ranges from 350 to 1,685 feet. To avoid uphill climbs, start the route from the north and head south.
The visitor center is at the Water Gap, Warren County and contains maps plus a host of interesting insights on the trail. Furthermore, the wildlife sanctuary contains a wide array of beautiful bird species, making for a great visit for the whole family. Camping is allowed only in designated areas, of which there are several. The park practices a Leave No Trace policy, asking campers and hikers not to light campfires or leave behind trash in the interest of preserving the surrounding natural habitat.
The Crossroads of The American Revolution
This nationally significant designated area between the Hudson and Delaware valleys is where some of the most important events of the American Revolutionary War took place. Together historic sites, libraries, museums, monuments and preservation groups make up this National Heritage Area, which spans across 14 counties. Within it you will find Morristown National Historical Park and several sites from the famous Battle of Monmouth. You can also visit Princeton, the meeting point where peace was declared by the Continental Congress in 1783. Notable historical houses that can be visited include the Stony Brook Friends Meeting House and the home of Alexander Douglass.
Morristown National Historical Park
This site commemorates the winter encampment of General Washington’s continental army between December 1779 and June 1780, thought to be one of the coldest winters since records have been kept. The beautiful wooded area also features soldiers’ huts, a library collection and a museum with interesting artifacts obtained during and after the Revolutionary War. Seasonal events are held depicting the park at this historically significant time, and in the summer months rangers provide guided tours. There are no accommodation options on site but the nearby towns of Fairfield, Morristown and Whippany offer a range of hotels.
The Thomas Edison national Historic Park
Great American inventor Thomas Edison is celebrated at this site, which is comprised of his laboratory and home. Feast your senses on machines run by pulleys and belts and phonographs playing music. Watch movies about the man’s life and achievements, attend the Laboratory Complex Visitor Center or make a visit to the museum shop. The park promises to have something to entertain visitors aged three to 93.
Cheesequake State Park
If you assumed the vegetation of a given park to be uniform, Cheesequake State Park asks you to think again. From upland forests to a salt marsh along the coastline, five marked trails give you ample opportunity to explore the extraordinarily various habitats in this park. As you would imagine given the diversity of the ecosystems here, there are a plethora of animals and plant life on display. In addition, the onsite Nature Centre gives you the opportunity to learn something interesting about the park’s wildlife.
Given its location in central New Jersey, you can get a taste of the diverse of communities that span both the north and the south of the state within the park. There are several campsites available, some of which close during winter months so be sure to book before you travel.