Tenafly Nature Center: Maple Sugaring, Hiking And A Fairy Trail


My daughter loves waffles with maple syrup, and when she found out that we were going to learn about how maple syrup was made at Tenafly Nature Center, she was thrilled. We spent the afternoon identifying maple trees and understanding the conditions needed to collect sap, and we even got to taste test. Besides maple sugaring events, this non-profit, independent, member-supported nature preserve in Bergen County has a Faerie Trail, 7 miles of hiking trails, and a pond surrounded by wildlife—it’s no wonder this nature center is a go-to in New Jersey. Scroll down for more details about our sweet visit. (featured photo taken at Tenafly Nature Center)

Tenafly Nature Center Maple Sugaring class

We learned all about maple sugaring inside the classroom at Tenafly Nature Center. Photo taken at Tenafly Nature Center

Learning about maple trees

Did you know it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup? Before we headed outdoors, we were educated in the indoor classroom at Tenafly Nature Center. We sat on benches with other families and listened to fascinating facts about maple sugaring. We learned that maple syrup is typically collected between January and March and that maple syrup comes from the sap in maple trees. We also discovered that for sap to be collected, it has to be below freezing at night and above freezing during the day.

Tenafly Nature Center tree tap

We learned how to tap the maple trees on a practice tree. Photo taken at Tenafly Nature Center

Tree tapping and sap collection

Our environmental educator explained that we can identify a maple tree by the leaves when searching for which tree to tap. But what do you do if the leaves have fallen off? Maple trees have grayish-brown bark, and while most bark peels horizontally, maple trees have an opposite pattern (vertically), so we searched based on the bark. We also learned about sap collection methods and how Native Americans collected sap from maple trees with items like birch batch baskets and deer antlers to pick up hot stones to boil the sap. The Europeans originally learned from the Native Americans and how collection methods have changed, with current collections occurring by sending the sap through tubes to a sugar shack.

Tenafly Nature Center maple sugaring boil

The aroma of sap being boiled is a delicious smell. Photo taken at Tenafly Nature Center

Boiling sap and taste testing

The smell of fresh boiling sap produced a sweet, sugar aroma that was definitely worth a whiff. The environmental instructor recommended boiling the sap outdoors on an outdoor stove or grill if we decided to try this process at home since the sugar could be harsh on walls and wallpaper. We tried a blind taste test to see if we could figure out which syrup was real maple syrup versus pancake syrup. We could guess right away by the rich taste of the maple syrup, and we also learned that some processed pancake syrups don’t even have any real maple syrup in the ingredients. 

Tenafly Maple Center maple sugaring

We were surprised to learn that 40 gallons of sap only made 1 gallon of maple syrup. Photo taken at Tenafly Nature Center

Making maple syrup

We learned that the same trees could be used year after year for maple sugaring. It was also interesting to discover that different grades of syrup vary depending on the time of year they are tapped. The golden sweet syrup is from the beginning of the season, and many candies are made out of that type of syrup; later, there is amber syrup, which is less sweet, and dark syrups are produced in the last few weeks of the season.

Tenafly Nature Center maple sugaring faerie trail

The Faerie Trail was a pleasant surprise along the 7 miles of trails at Tenafly Nature Center. Photo taken at Tenafly Nature Center

More to explore

After maple sugaring, we explored the nature center and found 7 miles of hiking trails, a large pond, and even a Faerie Trail. We followed the trails until we reached the Bellflower Faerie Trail, which my daughter loved. Along the trail, she discovered colorful fairy houses, a fairy trailer, and even a two-story fairy house. It was a magical .3 miles long and had the cutest little surprises and details. The house on the large tree branch was one of her favorite moments. Beyond the Faerie Trail, we took a different path and discovered Pfister’s Pond, a picturesque area perfect for photos or for taking in some nature views. Within its nearly 400-acre expanse, Tenafly Nature Center hosts two ecosystems, areas for birding, and views for all seasons.

Tenafly Nature Center Pfister's Pond

Pfister’s Pond is right down the path from the visitor’s center and is worth visiting. Photo taken at Tenafly Nature Center

Things to know before you go

Tenafly Nature Center teaches over 26,000 people annually to enjoy and understand the natural world. Since 1961, they have been a leader in open-space preservation and environmental education. The center hosts events all year round, from Maple Sugaring in the winter to Spring Break Nature Camp in the spring to Family Hikes in the summer to Celebrate Fall Day in the Fall. They also host birthday parties, group programs, and Forest School, where ages 1.5-7 can learn all about the outdoors. While visiting, guests can explore trails, the Pollinator Garden, the Birds of Prey Aviary, and the Little Free Library, and younger explorers can join the Junior Naturalist program. Prices vary per program, and members get discounted rates depending on the membership type they choose. Tenafly Nature Center is open daily except for major holidays and private events. Maple Sugaring will be available on Sundays until March 17, 2024.

Tenafly Nature Center 
313 Hudson Avenue 
Tenafly, NJ 07670

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About Author

Melanie Bodner has always had a love for writing, but now she has a new love…being a mom. Before having her kids, Melanie was no stranger to writing or working with children. She wrote for a local newspaper as a reporter and taught English and Dance in a public school. Now Melanie enjoys spending time with her kids, doing yoga, writing and decorating her home. Check out her Instagram @burlapbythebeach.