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
Here are some of the best New Jersey gardens and nature centers:
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
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
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
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
Greenwood Gardens – Temporarily Closed
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
The Willowwood Arboretum – Temporarily Closed
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Other gardens and natures centers in New Jersey we love:
Grounds For Sculpture
Leonard J. Buck Garden
The Willowwood Arboretum
Morven Museum & Garden
Sayen House & Gardens
Barton Arboretum and Nature Preserve
The Cross Estate Gardens