For a fun and educational walk with your kids, consider Monmouth County Parks Department’s Safari Backpack program. The backpacks are loaned for free and contain everything a young explorer may need, including magnifying glass, binoculars, butterfly net, trail maps, scavenger-hunt activities, and pamphlets to help identify birds, insects, flowers and trees. “The Safari Backpacks are meant to get kids excited about exploring,” says Ruth Carll, senior naturalist for the parks system. You can choose from three county locations:
Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center • Howell
Stay close to the Visitor’s Center and check out the pollinator garden and the birds and insects that congregate at the front pond. For more of a walk, venture out on the 1.1-mile Cove Trail, which skirts the nearby lakeshore, or the more ambitious 5.1-mile loop around the reservoir.
Deep Cut Gardens • Middletown
Pick up a backpack at the horticultural center, then take the paved path through the main garden of the 54-acre sanctuary to see flowers, bees and butterflies. Explore the greenhouse and koi pond, or meander through chestnut, oak, maple and ash groves on the Meadow Walk.
Huber Woods Environmental Center • Middletown
Choose among meadow, forest or pre-K-geared backpacks. The park has eight miles of trails; the short Discovery Path and Nature Loop, both under a half mile, are ideal for little legs and for spotting wildflowers and butterflies.