The National Park Service marks its centennial this month—and New Jersey has 12 reasons to celebrate. The state has a dozen NPS sites, including one of the newest members of the system, Paterson Great Falls, designated a National Historic Park in 2009.
The goal of the Organic Act of 1916, which created the NPS, is to conserve and protect the nature, history and wildlife of designated areas, leaving these sites “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Here’s how to enjoy the Garden State’s share of the National Park bounty:
Paterson Great Falls
Located in the city conceived by Alexander Hamilton to spur American industry, the Paterson Great Falls succeeded in driving manufacturing in early 19th-century New Jersey. Today you can view the 77-foot-high falls from a footbridge over the teeming Passaic River. You can also walk along the raceway, the three-tiered canal that used water from the Passaic to power the surrounding mills. (The city will celebrate the NPS centennial on August 25 with the Savor Paterson Festival. Visit this website for details.)
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area offers nearly 70,000 acres of forests and yawning river expanses carved out by the Delaware River. The area encompasses 40 miles of river for canoeing, kayaking and tubing; endless hiking trails; and 100 miles of scenic roadway.
The Lower Delaware National Wild & Scenic River
The Lower Delaware National Wild & Scenic River runs downstream from the Water Gap to the site of George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. Float the river or stroll through the historic towns along its banks.
Great Egg Harbor River
Great Egg Harbor River—named for its abundance of waterfowl nesting grounds—meanders for 129 miles from Berlin in Camden County to Great Egg Harbor near Ocean City. The river is considered one of the nation’s best birdwatching sites; it’s popular with canoers, kayakers and campers.
Gateway National Recreation Area
Sandy Hook, the Jersey outpost of the Gateway National Recreation Area, is more than a popular beach. It’s an outpost for Shore camping, birdwatching, sunset bike rides along Fort Hancock’s Officers Row, and tours of historic sites, including Sandy Hook Lighthouse and a decommissioned Nike missile base.
New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail
The 300-mile New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail follows the state’s Atlantic coastline from Perth Amboy to Cape May, then west along the Delaware Bay, passing through Shore towns and salt marshes, and within view of numerous iconic lighthouses.
New Jersey is blessed with 72.2 miles of the 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail. The Garden State stretch includes scenic bluffs, glacial lakes and a boardwalk through a wetlands area. Take a two-hour hike or go all in with a multiday hiking/camping trip covering the entire Jersey section of the trail.
New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve
The New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve comprises 1.1 million acres of forests, wild rivers, cranberry bogs and historic towns. Take a hike or paddle a river, and you might spot a rare species of plant or animal life—or maybe even the Jersey Devil.
Morristown National Historical Park
The American Revolution is remembered at Morristown National Historical Park, which includes Washington’s headquarters for the winter of 1779-1780, his army’s encampment at Jockey Hollow, and a history museum.
Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail
The Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail runs through New Jersey and proceeds to Yorktown, Virginia, where armies led by Washington and French General Rochambeau defeated the British in the Revolutionary War’s last major battle.
Thomas Edison National Historic Park
History was also made at Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange, the preserved laboratory of the influential inventor/entrepreneur. A ticket to the lab entitles you to visit Glenmont, Edison’s mansion in nearby Llewellyn Park.
The museum at Ellis Island (part of Statue of Liberty National Monument) documents the immigrant experience through a vast display of artifacts in the restored building where newcomers once set foot on U.S. soil for the first time.