guides

Fall/Winter Outdoor Guide & Events

By Macaroni Kids Team- Edison, Metuchen, Iselin, Highland Park November 12, 2021

Late Fall/ Winter is known for indoors fun, cozy fires, roasted chestnuts, marshmallows. However this is an exceptional time to explore NJ outdoors, with many nature preserves, educational programs, activities, hikes happening throughout NJ. Enjoy and learn new things this winter with a comprehensive guide to all of NJ nature preserves, centers, and organizations.

Bergen County

Meadowlands Environment Center

´╗┐´╗┐2 DeKorte Park Plaza, Lyndhurst, NJ, 201-777-2431

Trails open daily 8am-dusk. 

Environment Center open Monday  9AM -4PM; Tuesday- Friday, 9AM-2PM. The center is closed on the weekend. 

Interactive learning center and observatory, built to LEED standards, is ­situated in a portion of Richard W. DeKorte Park, an area of several hundred acres of reclaimed landfills and revitalized wetlands along the Hackensack River and an annual migratory stop for thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds. Barrier-free trails with bird and photo blinds; environmental and astronomy education programs; interactive exhibits trace the environmental history of the Meadowlands; nature walks; teacher development workshops; school programs; outreach programs; scout programs; gift shop.

´╗┐From April-October, canoe and kayak rentals are available at Hackensack Riverkeeper Paddling Center in Laurel Hill County Park, Secaucus. Paddlers can explore the marshlands of the Sawmill Creek Wildlife Management Area. Guided paddles, bird walks, eco-cruises, river clean-up days and group outreach programs are offered. 

Educational Program throughout the year:

William D. McDowell Observatory: free open viewing on Wednesday evenings, weather permitting, Call before going- 201-460-8300.

Guided, free, Nature Walks with NJMC & the Bergen County Audubon Society, check Meadow Blog for dates. Registration recommended.

May- Oct: Eco-Cruises, Canoe & Kayak Rentals, Guided Paddles, visit Hackensack River Keeper website.

Jun-September: 

  • NJMC Canoe Tours, three-hour tour of salt marsh
  • NJMC Pontoon Boat Tours, two-hour tour departs from River Barge Park, Carlstadt. Ages 10 and up.

Tenafly Nature Center

´╗┐313 Hudson Ave, Tenafly, NJ, 201-568-6093

Visitors Center open daily 11-4. Trails are open dawn to dusk. Free admission. 400-acre nature preserve features seven miles of trails, pond, backyard wildlife habitat and a visitors center with live ­animals, interactive displays and library. Afterschool programs, parent/child programs, weekend family programs, scout and school programs, homeschool programs, seasonal activities, adult programs, professional development, birthday parties and vacation day camps are offered.

Trailside Nature and Science Center

´╗┐´╗┐Watchung Reservation, 452 New Providence Rd., Mountainside, 908-789-3670

 Visitor Center: Daily 12-5pm. Free. Located within the 2000-acre Watchung Reservation with 13+ miles of marked trails, the Trailside Museum and Visitor Center features many hands-on exhibits, ideal for young children, and taxidermy exhibits of local wildlife. Live reptiles and fish live in ponds at the base of a 34-foot-tall beech tree inside the Visitor Center. Interactive exhibits explain local plants, geology, Lenape Native American history and conservation. Weekly nature and exploration programs for children include adult/child interactive programs for toddlers and ages 3-4, drop-off programs for ages 4-6, after-school ­programs for grades 1-5, weekend ­family programs and summer day camps for preschoolers to grade 9. Scout badge and group programs; outreach programs; birthday parties; adult programs.

Burlington County

´╗┐Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge

´╗┐4 Sawmill Rd, Medford, NJ 08055, 856-983-3329

Nature Center: Monday-Friday 9AM-5PM, Sat and Sun 10 AM-4 PM. Adults $5, ages 4-12 $3.  Kids 3 and under have free entry.

 A 171-acre wildlife refuge with trails, wildlife rehabilitation hospital and nature center is an ideal outing with preschoolers. Kids can explore the hands-on discovery room, reptile room, easy nature trails surrounding Cedar Run Lake that lead to an outdoor wildlife area housing over 60 residents including hawks, owls, fox, and more. School and scout programs, naturalist hikes, homeschool classes, preschool programs, mommy and me programs, summer camps and birthday parties are offered. 

Essex county

Cora Hartshorn Arboretum & Bird Sanctuary

´╗┐324 Forest Dr South,Short Hills, NJ 07078, 973-376-3587

Stone House Nature Center: Monday-Friday 9-4:30, Saturday 9-4, Sunday 10-4. 

Summer hours: Monday-Friday 8-4, closed on Saturdays. 

Please be advised that no dogs are allowed on the property. 

16 acres of woodland with 3 miles of walking trails. Adult programs, day trips and hikes; parent/child, youth and family nature programs; after-school clubs; summer and vacation camps; scouting programs; birthday parties; school field trips and classroom programs for grades K-5.

Special events happen throughout the year. 

Essex County Environmental Center

´╗┐´╗┐´╗┐´╗┐West Essex Park, 621 Eagle Rock Avenue, Roseland, 973-228-8776

Fees may apply

Trails open daily dawn to dusk. Environmental Center open Monday-Friday 9-5, Saturday 10-2, closed on holidays. Situated in a wooded wetland habitat with access to the Passaic River, the environmental center serves as central headquarters for most of the environmental groups in Essex County; ­natural history and fine art exhibits; nature and horticulture programs for toddlers to adults; center-based and outreach programs; teacher workshops; scout programs; birthday parties; school vacation and summer nature camps. Also an excellent location for birthday parties.

Hudson County

Liberty State Park Interpretive Center

´╗┐´╗┐200 Morris Pesin Dr, Jersey City, NJ 07305,  201-915-3400

In addition to being a launching point to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Liberty State Park is a scenic natural area featuring bike/walking paths, a giant playground and an interpretive center with nature trail and exhibits, offering environmental programs, outreach programs and professional development workshops for educators. 

Educational and other programs throughout the year: 

Jun-Aug: Kayak Eco-Tours, adults and ages 16 and up explore the salt marsh and beach habitats from the water. Free, pre-registration required.

Middlesex County

Plainsboro Preserve

´╗┐80 Scotts Corner Rd, Cranbury, NJ 609-897-9400

Park is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays 9 AM-5 PM, Sundas from 12 PM-5 PM. This Preserve is a  joint effort of the Township of Plainsboro, County of Middlesex and New Jersey Audubon Society. The preserve includes a nature center with exhibits, reference library, nature store and over five miles of trails through mature beech woods, wet meadows, and along the shoreline of McCormack Lake. Family nature programs; field trips and programs for adults and teens; preschool programs; scout programs; school field trip and outreach; school vacation and summer camps for ages 6-12; birthday parties.

School and Youth Environmental Education Programs: Please call 609-427-3052 x102 or email plainsboro@njaudubon.org for information. Scout Programs: We offer a variety of badges that relate to the Plainsboro Preserve and Central New Jersey wildlife and natural environments. Programs are scheduled at least one month out from the initial request. Please call 609-427-3052 x102 or email plainsboro@njaudubon.org

Mercer County       

Watershed Association

´╗┐31 Titus Mill Rd,, Pennington, NJ, 609-737-7592

Reserve open dawn to dusk. Nature Center open Mon.-Fri. 9-5, Sat. 10-4. Butterfly House open dawn to dusk daily June-Oct. Member supported non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of the natural environment drained by Stony Brook and the Millstone River offers education programs for children, adults and families, summer camp, high school academy, teacher workshops, homeschool classes, school, scout and group on-site and outreach programs. The 930-acre reserve features 10 miles of hiking trails, pond, open-air Butterfly House, and LEED Platinum Watershed Center which houses exhibit halls with hands-on activities, laboratory, computer learning center, classrooms and nature shop. Birthday parties.

Educational and other programs throughout the year:

  • Geocaching, use a GPS-enabled device to locate 12 permanent geocaches.
  • Preschool Animal Nature Class on Tuesdays series for ages 3-5. Register for individual classes or entire series.
  • Watershed Academy, week-long environmental investigation for motivated high school students grades 10-12. 609-737-3735 x17.

Morris County

Frelinghuysen Arboretum

´╗┐353 East Hanover Ave, Morris, NJ 07960, 973-326-7601

Fees may apply

Haggerty Education Center: Monday-Sunday 9-4:30. Grounds are open from 8am-4 pm Matilda's Cafe open on the weekends from April to October: Friday-Sunday

Beautifully maintained estate known for rose garden, lilac collection and an ideal setting for informal picnics. Self-guided trail booklets and children's walking tour map available in the Mansion, headquarters for the Morris County Park Commission. Horticulture programs for adults, children, schools, scouts and home schooled students. Seasonal dining available. 

Yearly Events: Call 973-631-5004 for more information.

Branching Out: spring and summer sessions for ages 5-13 to learn about gardening, botany, horticulture. 

Sprouts and Seedlings: This series introduces children ages 2-3 (Sprouts) and ages 4-5 (Seedlings) to plants and nature through walks, stories and activities. $5 per session. Pre-registration is preferred, but walk-ins are welcome. All kids must be accompanied by an adult.

Scout Programs: Workshops for all girl scout levels, cub scouts and boy scouts. Please call to schedule a workshop for your group.

Junior Master Gardeners: Horticulture science program for grades 3-5. 

Art at the Arboretum: Art and nature series for ages 8-12 on select Tuesdays. 4-5:30, $8.

Family Photo Scavenger hunt on Saturdays and Sundays: Grab a camera or phone for a scavenger hunt with a new theme each month. Take a photo of every item and receive a prize. Anytime 9-3:30 daily in summer, weekends year round. $10/family.

Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center

´╗┐247 Southern Blvd, Chatham Township, NJ 07928, 973-635-662

Visitor Center opens daily 9-4:30. It is closed now but trails and outdoors are open to visitors. Interactive exhibit area and library. Pick up a self-guiding trail booklet for the two miles of trails and boardwalks leading through wooded and swamp habitats. Weekend family programs, environmental programs for toddlers to adults, guided trail walks, Baby & Me Hikes, scout and school programs, homeschool programs and teacher training workshops are offered.

Weekly schedules:

Monday, 10-11 AM: Toddlers 'n Tikes, morning walk and story for ages 2-5 with an adult. $5/child, advance registration required.

Awesome Animal Artists, 4pm-5pm:  Indoor/outdoor after school art program for ages 5-9. $5/ child, parents are welcome to participate.

Tuesday, 9:30-11 AM: Baby & Me Hikes, weekly hikes for parents, grandparents or caretakers and infant children to discover nature at different park locations.  $2, registration required.

Wednesday, 1-2:30 PM: Homeschool Adventures, monthly themed programs designed for homeschool families, all ages. $8 per child 5.

Friday, 4:30 PM: Monthly series for ages 10-15 to learn wilderness and survival skills. 

Saturday. 10 - 11 AM: Weekend Family Walk, all ages. $2 per person ages 3 and up.

The Nature Conservancy in New Jersey

´╗┐200 Pottersville Rd, Chester, 07930, 908-879-7262

This is located in New Jersey at Kay Environmental Center, The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization whose mission is to protect ­ecologically important open spaces, primarily through acquisition. Field trips, programs and volunteer opportunities are available for members and the public. Special events and trips are planned at Kay Center and at Conservancy preserves in Warren, Sussex, Cumberland and Cape May Counties. 

Learn more about their volunteer opportunities and other educational programs. 

Pyramid Mountain

´╗┐472 Boonton Ave, Montville, NJ 07045, 973-334-3130

Park open year round from dawn to dusk. The Visitor Center is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10 AM -4:30 PM. Trail guide is available online and at the Visitors Center for wooded trails to Tripod Rock, a 180-ton boulder balanced atop three smaller rocks, Bear Rock, and to the top of Pyramid Mountain for outstanding views of the New York City skyline. Nature programs; guided hikes; preschool walks; homeschool and school programs; scout badge programs; birthday parties.

The Raptor Trust

´╗┐1452 White Bridge Rd, Millington, 908-647-2353

Education Center, 908-647-1091. Open year round 7 days during daylight hours from 9 am. Suggested donation $2. Avian rehabilitation center supplies care, diet and housing for distressed wild birds with the goal of returning healthy, self-sufficient birds to the wild. Outdoor display area for unreleasable hawks, eagles, falcons and owls is open to the public. Group outreach, on-site programs, and telephone advisory service for wild bird related problems; gift shop. Check their website for upcoming special events. 

Educational programs throughout the year:

Free Self-guided walks or paid tours to meet and learn about 50 Ambassador Raptors. 

Schiff Nature Preserve

´╗┐339 Pleasant Valley Rd, Mendham, NJ 973-543-600

Schiff Natural Lands Trust, a nonprofit corporation, owns and operates the 423-acre Schiff Nature Preserve as public open space. Ten miles of trails are open daylight hours for hiking, biking, horseback riding or nature study. Ongoing programs include nature programs for children and adults; homeschooler programs; summer day camps; scout programs; school field trips; birthday parties; and environmental book club, yoga, and fitness hikes for adults.

Ongoing educational and other programs:

Fitness hikes on Saturdays and full moon hikes when appropriate. 

Monmouth County

´╗┐Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center

´╗┐´╗┐331 Georgia Tavern Rd (GSP exit 98), Howell, NJ, 732-751-9453

Center is open daily 10-4:30. 

Memorial Day to Labor Day, extended hours are available: Sat.-Thurs. 10-5, Fri. 10-8:30. 

Visitors learn about the importance of water, wetlands ecology, wildlife and habitat protection through interactive exhibits, multimedia presentations and wildlife observation areas. Free nature programs are offered most weekends. School, scout and group programs available. Monmouth County Parks offers extensive programming for children, teens, families and adults at parks throughout the county. Complete guides are published seasonally.

Educational Programs offered throughout the year:

Sat & Sun: Free Nature Programs, most weekends. Call 732-751-9453 for info.

Passaic County

´╗┐New Weis Center for Education, Arts & Recreation

´╗┐150 Snake Den Rd, Ringwood, NJ 07456

Grounds and parking lots are open from dawn to dusk. The New Weis Center, with 24 miles of hiking trails and the undisturbed forest and rugged terrain of Norvin Green State Forest as its outdoor classroom, reopened in the summer of 2016. The developing schedule includes seasonal family activities, scout programs, guided hikes, theater productions, art exhibits, and school field trips.

Somerset County

Duke Farms

´╗┐1112 Duke Parkway West, Hillsborough, 908-722-3700

Free Admission

November-March: Thursday-Tuesday, 8:30-4:30

April-October, Thursday-Tuesday 8:30-6, closed on Wednesdays 

The 2,740 acre estate and wildlife sanctuary was developed by tobacco and hydropower magnate James Buchanan Duke beginning in 1893. The estate is now a learning center and model of environmental stewardship. The New Jersey Audubon Society, Raritan Piedmont Wildlife Habitat Partnership, and the Rutgers University School of Biological and Environ­mental Sciences and Office of Continuing Education offer environmental programs for adults, families, children, educators and professionals at the farms throughout the year. 

Very popular for an outdoor day on bikes as well as walking. Bike rentals available on premises.

´╗┐May-Nov: ‘Farm to Table’ Market, local farmers market on Thursdays 3-8pm.

´╗┐Nov-Mar: ‘Farm to Table’ Indoor Winter Market, Sundays 11am-4pm.

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge Helen S. Fenske Visitor Center

32 Pleasant Plains Rd, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920, 973-425-9510

North Gate bridge is open during visitor center hours, daily 10-4. Trails are open from sunrise to sunset. Stop in the Visitor Center for maps, information and to visit the interactive exhibits, Discovery Den for children and gift shop. Friends of Great Swamp offers public and members-only programs, special events, group tours for schools, scouts, youth and adult organizations, and outreach speakers (908-647-1321). 

Educational programs offered for kids:

A Junior Refuge Manager Activity Book is available at the Visitor Center or can be downloaded online under "Visit–Wildlife Observation Center." Complete and earn a certificate and badge.

Nature Detective Trail: A Short loop path with 11 interpretive stops along the way, is designed especially for young children.

Scherman-Hoffman Sanctuaries

´╗┐´╗┐11 Hardscrabble Rd, Bernardsville, 07924 908-766-5787

Trails are open 7 days from morning to 5pm, 

Hoffman building open Tuesdays-Saturdays, 9 AM-5PM, Sundays noon-5. 

276-acre wildlife sanctuary belongs to the New Jersey Audubon Society. The Hoffman Center for Conservation and Environmental Education features an environmental learning center, observation deck, exhibits, ­book and gift shop. 3.2 miles of trails lead through ­woodland, field and floodplain habitats. Patriot's Path can be reached from the Scherman parking lot. Birding field trips; adult and family programs; summer natural history day camp for ages 4-grade 6; overnight camps for grades 6-10; teacher workshops; digital photography workshops; birthday parties. School, scout and group programs by reservation; teacher programs; outreach lectures and slide programs available for club meetings and special events.

´╗┐´╗┐´╗┐Educational programs throughout the year: Fees may apply,

  • Adult birding trips, wildlife & environmental workshops & lectures; nature-infused yoga; Friday & Saturday morning walks, digital photography workshops. 
  • Geocache Trail, bring your GPS for a two-hour trail walk through fields, woodlands and along the Passaic River.

Jun-Aug: Summer Camps, day camps for preschoolers to grade 6; overnight camps for grades 6-10.

Somerset County Park Commission Environmental Education Center´╗┐´╗┐

´╗┐190 Lord Stirling Rd, Basking Ridge, NJ, 908-766-2489

Trails open dawn to dusk. Education Center open daily 9am-5pm. No admission. Home to a host of classes, lectures, walks, and other environmental education programs. 430 acres bordering the Great Swamp and Passaic River feature 8.5 miles of walking trails with 8,000 ft. boardwalk and special boardwalk for individuals with disabilities, bird blind and frog ponds. Year-round nature and discovery programs are offered for children ages infant–5 with parent, preschoolers to age 12, families and adults; canoe and kayak trips; bird walks; field trips; summer camps; teacher workshops; outreach to Somerset County schools; cross country skiing in winter. Educational and other programs:

December: Festival of Trees

Sussex County

Kittatinny Valley State Park

´╗┐´╗┐99 Goodale Rd, Newton, NJ 07860, 973-786-6445

Park opens daily from sunrise to sunset. 

Office: Daily 9-4. 

Featuring glacial lakes, limestone outcroppings and access to the Paulinskill Valley and Sussex Branch rail trails, this State Park offers challenging mountain biking, easy family biking, hiking, fishing, boating and kayaking, 3 group campsites as well as cross country skiing and ice fishing in winter. Interpretive programs are scheduled year round, each weekend during the spring and summer, with less frequency during fall and winter. 

Educational program throughout the year:´╗┐´╗┐

  • Junior Naturalist Workbook & Program´╗┐ for ages 7-12. Stop by the park visitor center for info.
  • Geocaching, over 200 geocaches are waiting to be discovered in the park. To participate, create an account on the official Geocaching website. To learn about geocaching in New Jersey, visit the website for Northern New Jersey Cachers or attend a "Geocaching for Beginners" workshop offered monthly at the park.

Union county

Reeves Reed Arboretum

´╗┐165 Hobart Ave, Summit, NJ, 07901 908-273-8787

Grounds are open daily”

From April-Oct- 7am-7pm

November-March 9am-4pm. 

Wisner House Gallery: Tuesday-Friday 10 AM-4PM

Free admission, non-member suggested donation $5. Entrance gate opens automatically.

The Arboretum is a serene place for a walk through woodland trails, formal gardens, perennial, roses, daylilies, herbs and daffodil gardens. Pets are prohibited. Summer camps for ages 4-13; children, adult and family workshops and special events; group tours; scout programs; nature birthday parties; summer concert series; site rentals. Teens and up are welcome to volunteer.

Special Educational and fun programs:

Festival of Trees in December

Warren County

Lakota Wolf Preserve

´╗┐89 Mt. Pleasant Rd, Columbia, NJ, 908-496-9244

60-75 minute wolf watch programs are presented twice every day except Monday. 

Fall & winter times, 10:30 AM- 3:00 PM

Summer Times, 10: 30 AM- 4:00 PM 

Registration begins half hour before tour start times; an appointment is required for weekday watches and groups of 10 or more. In winter, call ahead to make sure weather permits opening. Adults $15, ages 2-11 $7, no credit cards.

Enjoy a scenic walk to an observation area in the center of four packs of Tundra, Timber and Arctic wolves. Learn about them through informal talks with caretakers and direct observation.

Merrill Creek Reservoir

´╗┐34 Merrill Creek Rd, Washington, NJ, 908-454-1213

Visitors Center: weekdays 8:30 AM-4:30 PM, weekends 10 AM-4 PM. 

290-acre environmental preserve surrounds this reservoir that was developed by seven electric utility companies to store water for release to the Delaware River during periods of low flow. A bald eagle nesting area can be observed from the Inlet/Outlet Tower parking lot off Fox Farm Rd. (take care not to disturb the eagles, walk or boat within 300 yards of the nesting area). Visitors Center features hands-on exhibits, dioramas and displays. Emphasis is on low-impact activities—hiking trails, wildlife observation blind, cross-country skiing. Swim­ming, camping and picnicking are prohibited. The stocked reservoir is popular for fishing and boating (canoes, sailboats and fishing boats, electric motors only). Naturalist-led environmental education programs are available for all organized non-profit groups, ages pre-K to adult.

Pequest Trout Hatchery & Natural Resource Education Center

´╗┐´╗┐Rt. 46, 605 Pequest Rd, Oxford, NJ 07863 908-637-4125

Trails are open daily dawn to dusk.  700,000 brook, brown and rainbow trout are raised here annually to stock over 200 public waters. The best time to see the hatchery is October to May when all areas are in operation. Self-guided tours, videos, exhibit hall, 3.9 miles of hiking trails and picnic grounds. Children and adult workshops related to wildlife and natural resources are offered on select weekends from spring to fall. Check their website for monthly listings. 

Interpretive Center (Closed now, due to Covid, please check before going): 

April-Oct: Daily 9 AM- 4PM,  Nov-March: Mon-Fri 9 AM-4 PM and for special events. Free. 

Email, mackidedison@macaronikid.com, if you would like to include any event or a park, preservations we may have missed in this guide.