I start off this list with my favorite family hiking area of all time. I've explored many places over this seemingly never-ending COVID 19 quarantine, yet South Mountain Reservation continues to be the one place both of my kids yearn to go back. Maybe it's because every time we visit, we discover something new. From the fairy trail near the Locust Grove entrance to the beautiful Hemlock Falls to custom-made nature forts, there is always something exciting going on in this 2,110 acres nature reserve near the Rahway River. Even at the height of the pandemic, we were able to find plenty of parking near the Cherry lane/boy scouts area entrance.
I first came across the Tenafly Nature Center while searching for fall activities around the tri-state area. I wanted to avoid some of the overcrowded pumpkin patches while still immersing ourselves in the beauty of the season. Boy did I land on the right spot! The Tenafly Nature Center not only has toddler-friendly hiking trails but every season they have hands-on activities where parents and children alike learn about nature’s most valuable gifts. For instance, you can learn all about making apple cider in the fall or experience maple tree sapping in the spring. The hiking trails (yellow and white) are a great choice for the very young with restless little legs. You can take a break in a designated nature play area near the nature center's main building or listen to the bullfrogs at the Pfister pond. Seasonally, you might find a picture story to follow along in a trail (picture above).
Nestled just two miles south of the George Washington Bridge, in Englewood, New Jersey, you will find a 150-acre nature preserve the whole family can enjoy. There are shorter and longer trails clearly marked. You can hike along the path or explore a steady stream where little ones are sure to find little creatures to learn about. Furthermore, Flat Rock Brook offers an amazing Nature Day Camp that my son was part of last summer.
Exploring a little further into New Jersey, we came across the Trailside Nature & Science Center; an environmental education center tucked in the Watchung Mountains of Mountainside, New Jersey. With a much more comprehensive trails selection than the two previously mentioned, I found this area more suitable for families with older children or at least those ready for longer loops. I must admit that most of our hikes are not about completing the loop but rather about exploring a mushroom patch or analyzing a rotting log along the way. The Watchung Mountains offers plenty of opportunities for children to test their self-confidence (and your confidence in them too!)
While you might not think of Liberty State Park as much when it comes to hiking, we've had some pretty cool nature adventures in this beautiful open space facing the New York City skyline. The park is primarily used for walking, jogging, biking, or enjoying a picnic in the open fields. Beach areas are accessible from various locations. Head over to the waterfront and watch the black skimmer trawling for fish, or take it a step further and visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island without the hassle of going into New York City. The park was recently in the spotlight given a proposal to expand the Liberty National Golf Course that would destroy part of a natural habitat behind Lady Liberty. The efforts were dismissed in 2020 thanks to public activists and various conservation groups.