12 Reasons There’s No Place Better than NJ in the Spring

When the warm weather hits, keep busy with these fun, mostly free activities!

Spring has sprung! After this crazy, up-and-down winter, we’re ready to get outside and soak up some sun. There are plenty of wonderful reasons to be excited about spring in New Jersey, such as:

National Parks Abound

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Wick House at the Morristown National Historical Park. Photo by Lauren Bowers

The National Park Service systems of New Jersey range from an almost 80-foot high waterfall to a 55-mile long river and even include the Pine Barrens—a 1.1 million acre reserve in South Jersey. Don’t know which park to explore? Our list of 11 New Jersey National Parks is a good place to start—it includes Ellis Island; Thomas Edison’s Essex County residence and laboratory; and a section of the 2,185-mile long Appalachian Trail, which stretches across 14 states.

Free Flowers

Photo by Lauren Bowers

New Jersey Botanical Garden in Ringwood. Photo by Lauren Bowers

We all know that old saying about April showers, right? Let’s just hope the flowers start blooming even earlier than May this year. Whenever the buds do bloom, the Garden State’s got plenty of free places to check them out. A list of our favorite public gardens includes Greenwood Gardens in Short Hills and Willowwood Arboretum in Far Hills. For a comprehensive list of New Jersey gardens and arboretums, visit Garden State Gardens.

Farmers Market Season

Freshly picked carrots from the Let it Grow CSA.

Photo by Josh Chaffee

With warm weather comes the growth of fresh produce, which also means the start of weekly farmers markets. Check out our extensive list of local farm markets around the state to find the one nearest you. Spring also means it’s the time to register for CSAs, or community-supported agriculture programs. For a one-time fee—half share or full share—members receive regular deliveries of fresh produce for the entire season. To learn more, read our story about one Chester farm and its CSA program. Ask your local farm about their program or visit jerseyfresh.nj.gov for a full list.

Hundreds of Miles of Hiking

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge. Photo by Lauren Bowers

New Jersey’s six regions each offer plenty of trails, whether rocky and steep over mountains or flat through wetlands and marshes. Find the trail closest to you in our regional hiking guide, offering dozens of hikes and hundreds of miles to traverse. The iconic, interstate Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and includes 72 miles in New Jersey’s Warren and Sussex counties. We’ve got four moderate trails on the AT from 2.6 to 5.1 miles in length. For a hike with a view, follow one reporter’s journey through the dramatic cliffs of Palisades Interstate Park in Hudson County.

Boundless Biking Trails

If biking is your preferred mode of exercise, there are plenty of trails for exactly that. Check out the five great places to bike from the Northern Pinelands Loop, which passes through Whitesbog Village in Burlington County, to the 27-mile-long Paulinskill Valley Trail in the northwest corner of the state. For a closer look at the rail trails of Sussex County—Paulinksill Valley and Sussex Branch—read about New Jersey Monthly editor Ken Schlager’s excursion here.

State Park Stays

With nearly 20 state parks, forests and recreation areas offering campsites and cabins, there are plenty of places to choose from when considering where to camp out for the weekend. Visit the NJ DEP’s Division of Parks and Forestry page for more details and a full list of sites. Looking for a more glamorous option? There may be a yurt in your future. If you’re traveling with a more high-maintenance crew, these rounded huts—a hybrid between a tent and a cabin—may be the perfect solution.

Jersey’s Great Lakes

Photo by Matthew Wright

Photo by Matthew Wright

From the depths of the Pine Barrens to High Point State Park—the tallest point in New Jersey—these 20 lakes offer the perfect place to cool down on a hot day. Bring lunch for a picnic, rent kayaks and canoes or just enjoy the simple pleasures this time of year has to offer. Read the full story for details on admission prices, boat rentals and more. All state parks open for swimming from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Wild Water Parks

Photo courtesy of Sahara Sam's Oasis Indoor Water Park

Photo courtesy of Sahara Sam’s Oasis Indoor Water Park

A handful of errant days in the 70s already has us plotting how we’re going to keep cool this summer. When the temperatures do rise and stay up, you’ll want to know where you can go to cool down—and have fun while doing it. Check out the nine Jersey water parks where you can do just that. Read about ticket prices and hours, plus tips you should know before you go.

Summers at the Shore

Photo by Marc Steiner

Photo by Marc Steiner

Okay, fine, we’re really getting ahead of ourselves on this one. But can you blame us? Spending summertime at the shore is an undeniable fact of life if you’re a born and bred New Jerseyan. We all have beaches that we’ve been visiting every summer since we were tykes. But if you’re looking for a change in scenery this season, look no further. Our guide to the Jersey Shore annually features shore destinations and highlights everything they have to offer for food, fun and more. Our by-county beach directory provides important information on dozens of destinations from Sandy Hook to Stone Harbor and beyond. Learn about the beach town’s vibe before you go and what you can’t miss.

Downtown Destinations

A scene in downtown Ridgewood, number 14 on our list of the state's Top Towns.

Downtown Ridgewood. Photo by Ron Wyatt

The best time for strolling New Jersey’s 16 best downtowns is during warm weather—when bulky jackets don’t need to be brought along and shopping can be done hands free. From Ridgewood to Cape May and more than a dozen stops in between, we’ve got the scoop on where to shop, dine and stay—and what you absolutely can’t miss while there.

Dining Outside

waterfront1

Dinner with a view means something entirely different during the warm spring and summer months. It’s a chance to take in the landscape while enjoying some of New Jersey’s finest cuisine. Sunrise, sunset—whatever the time of day, enjoy your meal at any of these waterfront eateries.

A Feast of Festivals

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons: wagnertc

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons: wagnertc

By the time the temperatures start warming up, those of us who have been hibernating all winter just can’t wait to get outside. The spring and summer months bring along plenty of opportunities to do so at outdoor festivals. Upcoming festivals include the New Jersey Wine & Food Festival at Crystal Springs (April 1-3); Atlantic City Beer & Music Festival (April 8-9); and Red Bank International Food & Beer Festival (April 24). Be sure to keep an eye out for our annual list of summer food festivals you can’t miss!

What warm weather activity do you love the most? Let us know in the comments!

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