Hacklebarney State Park — Chester, NJ
Hacklebarney is one of my favorite places to hike in NJ. The main features include a small waterfall, man-made rock stairs, and riverside trail alongside The Black River. Hacklebarney has many trails with different degrees of difficulty, fishing, hunting, and picnic areas. Take the longer loop trails and try to spot a couple endangered species of owl, hawk, and turtle.
Local Recommendations: Take a day trip into the town of Chester. The main street has some cool, low-key restaurants and boutiques with an artistic flair. Chester holds near-weekly events such as the spring Food Truck Festival (which is awesome), and flea markets. For good, authentic Mexican food check out Fresco Mexican and for homemade pies, ice-cream, and jams pop into the famous Alstede Farms on the other side of route 206.
High Point State Park — Sussex, NJ
High Point is part of a nine mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail and is the highest geographic point of New Jersey. From atop monument hill you can look out at New Jersey to the East, New York State to the north, and the Delaware River and Pennsylvania to the west. Lake Marcia has a beach and swimming area with lifeguards on duty. And Steenykill Lake is a quiet fishing spot. High Point is a must see for any visitor to NJ.
Local Recommendations: During peak season the park is packed with families camping and enjoying Lake Marcia. Park rangers often close the gates because they are at full capacity. I recommend getting to the park early in the morning, or on a weekday when you’re not surrounded by tons of people and screaming kids. Also, walking the winding stairs to the top of the monument is a thrill but the windows at the top are dirty and the views from down below at the base of the monument are much more satisfying. If you’re into yoga, check the website for Yoga on the Mountain dates/times.
Delaware Water Gap — Walpack Township, NJ
Not officially a state park, but it might as well be. This recreational area has over 4 million visitors a year and straddles New Jersey and Pennsylvania with the Delaware River cutting through the middle of the rec area. On the southern end is Worthington State Forest, and scattered all over are decent sized waterfalls like Buttermilk falls, Silver Thread falls, and Dingman’s falls. Hike Mount Tammany for a stunning lookout point over the river, or rent a tube and float the Delaware for the day.
Island Beach State Park — Berkeley, NJ
Island Beach is split into two main sections: At the northern part of Island Beach is a marine conservation zone, then further along the beach is open to swimming, kayaking, fishing, and surfing. Further south, trucks and dune buggies are allowed on the beach with a permit as long as endangered bird species aren’t laying their eggs in the sand (which, around June, they usually are). The bay side of the park is a large bird estuary where many bird watchers come to take photographs.
Local recommendations: The $10 you’d pay to get on any other beach in NJ is basically paying for the headache of being surrounded by too many people. Not the case, here: pay the $10 weekend entrance fee (weekdays it’s $6) to get away from the hordes.
Barnegat Lighthouse State Park — Barnegat Light, NJ
The park is located at the northern tip of Long Beach Island. From the park, you can see the southern tip of Island Beach State Park cross the water. The iconic lighthouse is over 150 years old and staple of the Jersey Shore. There is a museum adjacent to the lighthouse that has documented its history. Climb to the top of the lighthouse to get a better view of LBI.
Local Recommendations: If you’re in LBI and you want to get some amazing chicken wings go-to The Chicken or the Egg in Beach Haven. Also check out the historic Viking Village for some craft shops selling just about anything and putting on shows. Any restaurant in LBI has freshly caught seafood. Beware: many of these places are only open during the summer season and close for winter so don’t try going down the end of Autumn or early Spring and expect anything to be open. LBI is ghost town during the aforementioned months.
Washington Crossing State Park — Hopewell Township, NJ
The location where George Washington crossed the Delaware to surprise attack the British on Christmas morning. There is a museum, a nature center, and an open-air theatre. It’s a cool spot to learn a little more about the history of the American Revolution.
Cape May Point State Park — Cape May, NJ
Cape May lighthouse is another iconic landmark of the Jersey Shore that is still in use today. At the park the beaches, and bird watching. Photographers and “birders” with binoculars come in droves during the fall migration. This park is considered to be the best spot in North America to watch the birds migrating from north to south. If bird watching isn’t your thing then you can lay out on the beach, enjoy the day, or head into downtown Cape May for lunch, dinner, and drinks.
Local Recommendations: The entry to the park is a whopping $80 for NJ residents and $90 for out-of-staters. Luckily, the town of Cape May is a happening place with a good vibe. Here are some of the kickers: Magic Brain Cafe, The Mad Batter, George’s Place, Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, The Y.B., Fins, Ugly Mug. The list could go on.
Allaire State Park — Wall Township, NJ
This park was once the site of the historic Allaire village, which produced and shipped iron from Allaire to New York, via the railroad that that still operates and can be ridden (within the confines of the park). Many of the buildings are well preserved and some employees of the park walk around in clothing from the 18th century and educate tourists on the craftsmanship when the town was producing iron. The park has some good horseback riding trails, hiking/camping, mountain-biking trails, and fishing.
Local Recommendations: Bring your mountain bike and go through the trails, you can also follow a trail outside the park and ride right up to the beach a few miles away in Spring Lake Heights/Belmar.
Liberty State Park — Jersey City, NJ
The best views of the Manhattan skyline, Ellis Island, and Liberty Island. Great place to visit and take pictures.