Cruise the Hackensack River
At only 50 miles long, the Hackensack River is one of the smallest but also one of the most urban rivers in the world. The eco-cruises are part of the Hackensack Riverkeeper program founded by Bill Sheehan. The organization’s mission is to protect the estuary’s eco-system through advocacy, education and conservation. With three different excursion options offered on specially-equipped pontoon boats, there is plenty to see. On the Meadowlands Discovery tour, passengers take a trip through the Sawmill Creek Wildlife Management Area, also known as the “Jewel of the Meadowlands,” full of shorebirds, herons, waterfowl and more. The Boating through Bergen trip travels the same route used by coastal schooners to carry cargo in and out of Bergen County, where passengers get the chance to see a WWII submarine. The Excursion Around the Bay itinerary explores Newark Bay, which empties into New York Harbor and, subsequently, the Atlantic Ocean. Additional activities with the Hackensack Riverkeeper organization include canoeing and kayaking, nature walks and birding and community cleanups.
When: See schedule for dates
Cost: $25-$30 for adults; $10 for kids (ages 4-12)
Liberty State Park
With arguably the best Manhattan skyline view from New Jersey, Liberty State Park is the perfect place to spend the day. The park, with its sweeping Hudson River views, includes Liberty Science Center and an outdoor performance area. Visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, fishing and more—there’s even a launch site for kayaks. Fun fact: the park is the only location in New Jersey with ferry service to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. It just so happens, one of those places made our list of the 11 New Jersey National Parks you need to visit.
Hungry? Try nearby restaurant Maritime Parc—a perennial on our annual best restaurants list.
Catch a Performance at the Paper Mill Playhouse
Experience the bright lights of Broadway right here in the Garden State at the Paper Mill Playhouse! In 1986, it was ranked by the National Endowment of the Arts as second in the nation for artistic excellence, only behind the Metropolitan Opera. The newly announced 2015-2016 season schedule is jam-packed with five musicals and two world premieres, including A Bronx Tale, directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks with music by Alan Menken.
Name dropping: Some big-time thespians who got their start at the Playhouse might sound familiar, too. Do the names Bernadette Peters, Anne Hathaway or Kristin Chenoweth ring a bell?
When: See the season calendar for details
Where: 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn
Cost: Ticket prices start at $28
Explore the Watchung Reservation on Horseback
Watchung Stables, located in Union County’s Watchung Reservation, has been operated by the county since 1933. You can learn to ride, strengthen existing skills or simply enjoy the natural beauty of the 2,000-acre preserve, which has 26 miles of equestrian trails. The reservation’s 6-mile-long history trail explores several sites including Copper Mine, Feltville Mill and the Deserted Village.
When: See website for hours
Where: 1160 Summit Lane, Mountainside
Cost: 1-hour public group rides start at $32 per person; see fees for more information
Rock the Boat in Ringwood State Park
Ringwood State Park’s Shepherd Lake Recreation Area has 74-acres of spring-fed water where you can do, well, whatever floats your boat. Boating, canoeing and fishing are allowed at this state park nestled in the mountains just shy of the New York State border. Don’t worry about having a boat of your own, rentals are available for the day.
Want a more grounded experience? Sunbathe on the beach and watch the boats in the distance. If that isn’t your thing, the parks extensive network of trails will lead you to picturesque places nearby like Ringwood Manor, Skylands Manor and the New Jersey Botanical Gardens.
Tour the Historic Sites
Morristown is where George Washington and his Continental Army spent the coldest winter during the Revolutionary War from 1777-1778. Just 31 miles from New York City and protected by the region’s mountainous terrain, it was a strategic location for battling the British. Morristown National Historical Park consists of Ford Mansion (where Washington lived for six months), Jockey Hollow (where the troops made camp), Wick House (where General Arthur St. Clair setup headquarters) and other locations crucial to the Army’s winter survival
History buffs rejoice! The National Park Service holds Encampment Weekend in May complete with drills, battle reenactments and a historical walk.
Climb to the Highest Point in New Jersey
At 1,800 feet, High Point State Park in the Skylands Region is aptly named. It is the highest point in the Kittatinny Mountain Range, named for the Lenape word “kitahtëne” meaning big mountain. You can park near the High Point Monument then climb more than 200 steps to its top for a bird’s-eye-view. The park has more than 50 miles of trails including some memorable sections of the Appalachian Trail.
Interested in extending your stay? Visitors can camp out overnight. In addition to 50 tent sites along Sawmill Lake, there are two cabins and a third group cabin available for rental.