Go Here: Sandy Hook Beach and Gateway National Recreation Area

Eschew the fees and crowds, and head to Sandy Hook Beach and the Gateway National Recreation Area for a late-winter and springtime immersion in nature.

Open beach, wildlife (plenty of horseshoe crabs to gawk at) and warming weather make it an ideal time to head the northernmost beach on the shore. Sure, the lighthouse, museum and historical structures are closed at the moment, but there’s plenty to do outdoors to keep you busy.

There are three hiking trails within the Gateway National Rec Area, which are fun on their own, but if a snow storm should pass through, they make for a good snowshoe path. It’s also an excellent, unique area for cross-country skiing, if you’ve got the equipment for that. Bike-only paths make for a long, easy ride.

Bird watchers, of course, know the merits of Sandy Hook; about 325 species migrate through the area every year. Keeps your eyes peeled for the unique American woodcock in a couple months.

Sandy Hook also happens to be one of the state’s best saltwater fishing spots (indeed, you can’t fish in the fresh water streams in Gateway National Recreation Area). Head north for particularly fish-crowded waters, and in early spring look for blackfish, cod, winter flounder, and a little later, striped bass. Plus, there are opportunities to charter a boat, head offshore and catch a variety of fish later in the season.

And if you have a dog, now’s the time to bring it to Sandy Hook—pooches are prohibited starting March 15.

While foliage fills out in the state’s parks and forests, the ocean and pristine beach at Sandy Hook make it an optimal spot to commune with nature in the early spring. Go here.