The Best Gardens and Nature Centers in New Jersey

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New Jersey has some of the best gardens and nature centers around— and that’s one reason why it’s called the Garden State. Our lush state is full of beautiful gardens and landscapes, as well as nature centers where you and your littles can learn about all different environments and species. And now that many are re-opening, NJ’s garden and nature centers are having a moment, because they are the perfect social distancing activity to do with the fam. Stroll or bike around the sculptures at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, learn about bamboo at Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick or visit the beautiful roses gardens at the Essex County Rose Garden in Brookdale Park. Each location has posted guidelines on social distancing, so check them out before you go.

featured image via New Jersey State Botanical Garden & Skylands Manor

Psst! Snap a photo of your little ones frolicking through the gardens, and tag @njmom or #NJMOM for a chance to be featured in our next photo round-up.

Here are some of the best New Jersey gardens and nature centers:

New Jersey State Botanical Garden & Skylands Manor

The New Jersey Botanical Garden and Skylands Manor range across 96 acres of gardens and about 1000 acres of woodlands—there are plenty of spaces to explore and home to unusual plant species from around the world. Stroll around the carefully crafted formal gardens or through walking paths that are a must-see for the little botanists in your life. The trails, roads, and boat launches are open now, although the buildings remain closed for the time being. Be sure to keep in mind social distancing and wear a mask while you’re there.
Ringwood State Park, Ringwood
(973) 962-9534 

Duke Farms

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A visit to Duke Farms will feel like a mini-escape to another place via @drnorton

You’ll spend a peaceful afternoon at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, which is home to over 1,000 acres of gorgeous land. Walk or bike through the paths and stop by the Orchid Range for both tropical and subtropical species. Are you in a geocaching game right now? There’s plenty of geocaching at Duke Farms. The park has reopened at 50% capacity (the main buildings remain closed). Remember to wear a mask and keep a safe social distance while your there, and also be sure to check out their COVID-19 guidelines before going just to be sure you don’t miss any updates.
1112 Dukes Parkway West, Hillsborough
(908) 722-3700

NJ Audobon Nature Center of Cape May

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Get a lesson about shore environments at The Nature Center of Cape May via @naturecenterofcapemay

The NJ Audobon Nature Center of Cape May is a great spot to visit all summer. During the year, the Nature Center is fully equipped with a touch tank and a three-story observatory tower for bird watching. At the moment, only their trails are open. Of course, follow safe social distancing while you’re on the trails and check up on their COVID-19 resource page here before going.
1600 Delaware Ave., Cape May
(609) 427-3045

Rutgers Gardens

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Stroll through the luscious and colorful landscape of Rutgers Gardens.

Rutgers Gardens are open 365 days a year and are completely self-sustainable. The students and workers at Rutgers Gardens hope to bring together inquisitive minds and inspirational gardening in this garden, which includes a shrub garden, a bamboo forest, a holly garden, herbs, and ponds. Rutgers Gardens also hosts farmer markets and other fun events throughout the year. Their hours are revised, due to COVID, so get a heads up on their social distancing measures and guidelines before you go here.
Rutgers University, 112 Ryders Lane, New Brunswick
(732) 932-8451

Greenwood Gardens Temporarily Closed

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The flourishing grounds of Greenwood Gardens.

Stop by Greenwood Gardens for all the flowers you can handle. This garden wants you to feel connected with nature, so they offer special events, bird walks, and plant walks throughout the year. Enjoy Twilight Tours in the fall – wine and cheese on the terrace and then guided tours of the garden. Greenwood Gardens’ vision is “a world that embraces the beauty and transformative power of nature, and celebrates the history of a place.” Although their grounds are temporarily closed for the time being, be sure to check for updates frequently on when they’re reopening.
274 Old Short Hills Rd., Short Hills
(973) 258-4026

The Willowwood Arboretum Temporarily Closed

Take an early morning stroll or sunset walk through Willowwood Arboretum.

Open to the public daily 365 days a year, from 8 AM to dusk, you can take the kids to The Willowwood Arboretum. There are several formal gardens to wander through, but there are also informal walking paths to stroll around. You’ll see plants that love the sun, plants that love the shade, subtropical plants, bulbs, ferns, and shrubs. New to this garden is a Cell Phone Tour, which guides you around the gardens using your cell phone. They are temporarily closed due to COVID but their website will post updates on when they’ll be reopening.
300 Longview Rd., Far Hills
(973) 326-7600

Deep Cut Gardens

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Deep Cut Gardens is filled with the most stunning trees, flowers, and koi ponds.

Deep Cut Gardens is dedicated to the home gardener. There are 54 acres of gardens full of “cultivated and native plant materials to be observed throughout the seasons.” You won’t get lost in these gardens – everything is easy to see and pretty low to the ground. Their grounds and some buildings are open, but face masks are required to enter any buildings. Be sure to give them a call beforehand to check in on any social distancing guidelines. Learn more about our visit to Deep Cut Gardens.
152 Red Hill Rd., Middletown
(732) 842-4000

Van Vleck House & Gardens

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The beautiful greenery and flowers adorn every inch and building of Van Vleck House and Gardens.

Van Vleck House & Gardens is a formerly private estate that is now owned by The Montclair Foundation. The gardens and walking paths are open to the public 365 days a year. As you take in the beauty of the estate and the villa, you can check out their bloom list to see what flowers are blooming. There are over 60 kinds of trees alongside shrubs, rhododendrons, and perennials. Their gardens are open to the public from 9 AM to 6 PM daily, free of charge, however, their buildings remain closed to the public. There is no restroom access on the grounds so be sure to keep that in mind, and masks are also required.
21 Van Vleck St., Montclair
(973) 744-4752

Reeves-Reed Arboretum

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Take a relaxing breather at Reeves-Reed Arboretum via @mangelka

Though the Reeves-Reed Arboretum is known for its spring Daffodil Bowl (when the gardens are filled with thousands of blooming daffodils), there’s plenty to admire here. Take a hike through the trails, explore outdoor sculptures, and relish in the history of the grounds and display gardens. Due to COVID, all programs and visits to the building have been canceled, although their grounds remain open. Be sure to check in here for their response to COVID-19 and safety guidelines.
165 Hobart Ave., Summit
(908) 273-8787

Cora Hartshorn Arboretum & Bird Sanctuary

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Get lost in the colors of Cora Hartshorn Arboretum via @tadejvrabec

Open during daylight hours year-round, the Cora Hartshorn Arboretum & Bird Sanctuary is a fantastic spot to enjoy nature and make new friends with birds. The 16-acre forest was once a degraded woodland, so this arboretum wants to achieve its goal of sustaining a healthy, diverse, woodland habitat. Currently, the building is closed to the public, but the trails are open, and the Arboretum has an interactive scavenger hunt you can download to do on the trails to keep littles busy and learning about nature.
324 Forest Hills Drive South, Short Hills
(973) 376-3587

Cattus Island County Park’s Cooper Environmental Center

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Stunning sunsets are a frequent occurrence at Cattus Island County Park via @mattbaronphoto

Cattus Island County Park features 530 acres and 7 miles of trails, filled with beautiful paths surrounded by the Barnegat Bay. It’s a cool mix of trees and watershed, as well as sand and shore. The Cooper Environmental Center is closed, but the park remains open for passive recreation, following social distancing guidelines.
1170 Cattus Island Blvd, Toms River
(732) 270-6960

Essex County Rose Garden 

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Roses upon roses at Essex County Rose Garden via @aydens_eyez

The Essex County Rose Garden at Brookdale Park started in 1959 and has grown to now 1,500 bushes of over 100 varieties of roses. Some of those include hybrid tea, floribunda, hybrid musk, rugosas, and antique roses. Did you know that roses are more than just pretty colors and lush fragrance, but they resist disease? Stop by this garden to see thousands of beautiful roses. Be sure to check the Brookdale Park Conservancy’s Facebook for any updates before you go and keep in mind you must wear a mask and follow social distance guidelines.
Brookdale Park, Essex County
(973) 268-3500

Camden Children’s Garden

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Take in the beautiful, friendly butterflies at Camden Children’s Garden via @pethie

The Camden Children’s Garden is a special place for families to come together and experience beautiful flowers and greenery, but to also learn about horticulture. Reopening officially with new temporary hours and discounted admission on July 4, kids can choose from the Potting Shed, Picnic Garden, Storybook Gardens, Dinosaur Gardens, and many other activities like the carousel, a treehouse, and an “underground” tunnel maze. Right now, masks are required to be worn by all staff and visitors, and social distancing guidelines are encouraged. Be sure to check their website for new updates on social distancing.
3 Riverside Dr., Camden
(856) 365-8733

Other gardens and natures centers in New Jersey we love:

Frelinghuysen Arboretum
Grounds For Sculpture
Leonard J. Buck Garden
The Willowwood Arboretum
Morven Museum & Garden
Sayen House & Gardens
Linwood Arboretum
Barton Arboretum and Nature Preserve
The Cross Estate Gardens

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About Author

Erika is a yogi, writer, coffee enthusiast, and world traveler. If she's not at the beach or chasing the sunset, she's looking for the best iced coffee she can find and planning her next adventure. Her favorite NJ spots include The Saint, Island Heights, and Lava Java House.

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