Best Towns in New Jersey for Amazing Parks and Gardens

FOCUS ON NORTH AND CENTRAL JERSEY

Duke Farms

At Duke Farms in Hillsborough, you’ll find over 1000 acres of land to explore native species, sustainability efforts, and the area’s natural beauty.
Central New Jersey and North Jersey towns are filled with beautiful parks and gardens. Starting from the north and working our way south, here’s our guide to the area’s green spaces for hiking, birding, fishing, learning about history and the environment, and just enjoying nature. Great for family and individual fun. Get ready for excursions that will make you forget you’re so close to NYC.

Morristown, New Jersey

Immerse yourself in a living history landscape in Morristown

Morristown National Historical Park comprises four parts. Three sites are in Morristown: Jockey Hollow, camp grounds of Washington’s troops (just north of Bernardsville), the Ford Mansion, and Fort Nonsense. The fourth section, NJ Brigade Encampment, is in Bernardsville, and it includes the beautiful Cross Estate and its gardens. Morristown also has County Park Lewis Morris, Speedwell Lake Park for fishing, and the gorgeous Frelinghuysen Arboretum.

Chester, New Jersey

Try some rock scrambling by the Black-Lamington River in Chester

There’s certainly no shortage of outdoor activities in Chester, with thousands of acres of accessible public land to explore. The largest of them all is Black River Wildlife Management Area, a state park of 3,020 acres offering hiking and hunting within its forests, or fishing and canoeing along the Black River. Hacklebarney State Park has nearly 900 acres of hiking and walking trails, picnic areas, and plenty of trout fishing (and ample rock scrambling opportunities) along the Black-Lamington River. 

Bernardsville, New Jersey

Wander the last vestiges of the Great Eastern Forest in Bernardsville

The Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary started in 1965 with the Schermans’ donation of 125 acres to the NJ Audubon Society. The Hoffman estate was added in 1981, bringing the park’s total to 276 acres of woodland, field, and floodplain habitat for 200 species of wildlife. The Hoffman Center for Conservation and Environmental Education also serves as NJ Audubon state headquarters. Well maintained trails are perfect for family walks, and summer day and overnight camps are run here.

West Orange, New Jersey

Fun for the whole family in West Orange

West Orange is blessed with ample parkland, most notably the northern section of the 2,047-acre South Mountain Reservation. In recent years, Essex County has invested large amounts of money into transforming the West Orange end of the Reservation into the county’s largest recreation complex, which includes Turtle Back Zoo (arguably NJ’s finest zoo), a large ice-skating and hockey arena, a safari-themed miniature golf course, a treetop ropes/adventure course, and a large former reservoir with paddle boats and a popular walking/running path. The reservation also has 20 miles of trails for walking and hiking, 27 miles of carriage roads, natural areas with waterfalls, and a dog park. Because it sits on a ridge 500 feet above sea level, the reservation offers spectacular views of the NYC skyline.

Short Hills, New Jersey

Explore unique gardens in Short Hills

Short Hills has two notable nonprofit-run green spaces: Greenwood Gardens, a large, beautifully preserved private garden from the early 1900s, and Cora Hartshorn Arboretum and Bird Sanctuary, a small, hilly woodland (with adjacent gardens) that is perfect for a quiet nature walk. Both offer educational programs.

Chatham, New Jersey

Visit a mecca for birders in Chatham

The nearly 7,800-acre Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is a major attraction for hikers and birders, with more than nine miles of trails, including some boardwalk trails. Abutting the National Wildlife Refuge is the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center (run by the Morris County Parks Commission), which has great child-oriented exhibits and hosts seasonal events, summer camps, and walks on the surrounding trails.

Berkeley Heights, New Jersey

Stroll through a ghost town and check out a fun playground in Berkeley Heights

Berkeley Heights sits up against the 2000-acre Watchung Reservation, the largest nature reserve in Union County, with a 6-mile History Trail (with interpretive signage), a great playground, and the Trailside Nature & Science Center, offering environmental education programs for all ages. In the Berkeley Heights section of Watchung Reservation, The Feltville Historic District (also known as the “Deserted Village”) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and contains several buildings dating to the 18th century. Berkeley Heights’ Littell-Lord Farmstead is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Far Hills, New Jersey

Enjoy an exquisite garden in Far Hills

Natirar Park (Raritan spelled backwards) is a 404-acre park that used to be a private estate spanning Far Hills, Bedminster, and Peapack/Gladstone, with plenty of walking and biking trails and scenic views, including Great Meadow Trail and Upper Field Nature Trail, as well as ample space for picnicking. It is traversed by both Peapack Brook and the Raritan River, allowing opportunities for fishing as well. Another outdoors must for any Far Hills resident is Leonard J. Buck Garden, a breathtaking garden oasis with small walking paths winding among rows of gorgeous plants, wildflowers, trees, and shrubs that display brilliantly colored springtime blooms.

Hillsborough, New Jersey

Pretend you’re lord of the manor in Hillsborough

The 4,000-acre Sourland Mountain Preserve offers hiking trails, mountain biking, and a stocked fishing pond. At the northern edge of town is the popular 2,700-acre Duke Farms, the estate previously owned by the heiress Doris Duke. This private nature reserve has an environmental education center, a large community garden, hiking and biking trails (with bikes for rent), a gorgeous orchid greenhouse, a farm-to-market cafe, summer season farmers market, and seasonal family oriented environmental activities.