5 Nature experiences for kids in Northern New Jersey

By Julie Lepore, Macaroni Kid Summit / SOMA / Short Hills publisher August 13, 2019

Our area is a suburban oasis - full of lively downtowns, tons of kids’ activities, town pools, and playgrounds galore. But sometimes, you just want to get the kids outside! Here are a few nearby places you can bring the kids for unique nature experiences!

Trailside Nature and Science Center
452 New Providence Rd, Mountainside
One of our favorites, this free nature museum is open year-round. It has an indoor component with a few cute exhibits for the kids to poke around in. They have tons of events, nature classes, and hikes for kids of all ages (some are drop-off, some are parent/child), which are always uploaded to the Macaroni Kid calendar. It’s situated right in the Watchung Reservation so after visiting, you can either explore Trailside’s new sensory-friendly trail complete with a little play zone and fire pit (which I highly recommend) or you can also hike any of the surrounding trails in the Watchung Reservation. The sensory-friendly trail also backs up to the Watchung Loop Playground (one of our favorites) so you can really make a whole day of it!

The Raptor Trust
1390 White Bridge Rd, Millington
Take my word for it, The Raptor Trust is worth the drive! And, by the way, the drive isn't really that long anyway! A bird sanctuary situated in the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge, The Raptor Trust is free to enter and so much fun. There are a bunch of permanent bird residents there but also some that are being rehabilitated until they are released to the wild. There are multiple types of owls, eagles, songbirds, and more, in very visible enclosures. The entire bird viewing area is outside. If you’re up for it, you can head to The Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center for a hike after your visit with the birds.

Reeves-Reed Arboretum
165 Hobart Ave, Summit
Reeves-Reed Arboretum is a nonprofit garden and arboretum with a great educational center. They have events and festivals throughout the year but you can also go for quick hike and explore the grounds on your own. From May through October you can take a free guided tour every Saturday at multiple time slots - check the Macaroni Kid calendar for times! But wait, there’s more! They offer classes for kids of all ages - some drop-off, some parent/child, some for the whole family. They cover a wide range of topics like gardening, wildlife, bugs, food, and so much more. They also have some really fun events and classes for adults, bus trips, birthday parties, and camps for kids. For $125/year, you can get a family membership and get access to most of their offerings for free and discounts on the ones that you don’t get for free with your membership.

Cora Hartshorn Arboretum and Bird Sanctuary
24 Forest Dr S, Short Hills
Situated in the heart of Short Hills, you might miss Cora Hartshorn Arboretum and Bird Sanctuary if you didn’t know about it! It’s a modest arboretum where you can take a quick, very kid-friendly hike and then stop at the Stone House to see some animal exhibits. They have both live and mounted animal specimens. Throughout the year they offer early childhood education classes, camps, birthday parties, guided hikes, and host special events. An annual family membership is just $75 and you need to be a member to participate in classes and events.

South Mountain Fairy Trail
197 Glen Ave, Millburn
Right across the street from the Millburn Library, it’s a quick loop lined with adorable fairy houses nestled along the way. You can just hike the loop with the houses or you can head onto one of the woods roads and see even more of the South Mountain Reservation. You can pick up a map at the Millburn Library to navigate your way on the trails. On the actual Fairy Trail, there is a scenic area with a water feature but you can keep going all the way to Hemlock Falls if you’re up to it! If your little hikers aren’t so ambitious, just do the loop and then head into Millburn for some ice cream. See more tips for hiking the Fairy Trail here.

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