Where to get lost in NJ nature this spring

The best way to celebrate Earth Day, for our money (which is not very much), is to spend some time with the Earth itself. Mountains, rivers, beaches, marshes—they’re all good places to commune with nature, and NJ’s got all of ’em. Here are some of our favorite places in New Jersey to go.

Jenny Jump State Forest, Warren County: There’s plenty of space for hiking, fishing, camping, running and more, but we like the secluded, natural trail to the Faery Cave. Enter the trail and at about a half-mile, it will snake sharply upward and around some boulders, and there you’ll see a small clearing that leads to a shallow cave. Feel free to explore in there, though it narrows dramatically about 15 feet in. Or, just park yourself in front of the cave and listen to the bird calls. Read more here.

Sandy Hook Beach and National Recreation Area: Open beach, wildlife and warming weather make it an ideal time to head to 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. Read more here.

Sourland Mountain Preserve, Hopewell: Nestled between New Brunswick, Princeton and the farmlands of East Amwell is a natural playground with acres of dense forest, plenty of boulders for climbing, ponds and lakes for bird watching and trails for hiking: the Sourland Mountain Preserve in Hillsborough. Read more here.

Island Beach State Park, Ocean County: Whether you’re after a beach day with the family, trying to train for a sprint-tri or need a natural landscape for photos, Island Beach State Park can surely accommodate. Located just south of Seaside Heights on Route 35, IBSP is one of the Shore’s best spots for getting lost in nature, viewing wildlife, kayaking, fishing, running and much more. Read more here.

Lake Solitude, High Bridge: A sign outside the parking lot at Lake Solitude informs visitors this site (with buildings still intact and ready for view) was where the Continental Army held a pair of loyalists during the Revolutionary War. It’s one of oh so many NJ spots where pristine natural areas and unique history collide. Go now before the summer rush (local officials had to clamp down on visitors in 2020 after too many NY’ers came in and overran the area).

Eagle Rock Reservation, West Orange: Tucked, somehow, between the bustling communities of Montclair, West Orange and Verona is the 400-plus-acre Eagle Rock Reservation, which boasts several trails for all hiking abilities, lush tree cover and unparalleled views of the New York City skyline. Though it’s a recreation area to be enjoyed year-round, a spring trek through the reservation is a unique experience. Start on the easy Lenape Trail on the eastern edge of the park, and as it begins to loop north, you’ll get a pristine view of New York City, unobstructed by the budding trees at the edge of the area. Read more here.

Hacklebarney State Park, Long Valley: Between Long Valley and Chester in north Jersey is Hacklebarney State Park, an ideal springtime recreation destination with wide trails for hiking, cookout spots, trout fishing, hunting, bird-watching and more. Read more here.