Got a Fourth or Fifth Grader? Here’s How You Can Visit NJ and National Parks for Free

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400—that’s the number of national park sites in the United States—and 6 of these destinations are right here in New Jersey. Through Every Kid Outdoors, a national-funded government initiative, your fourth or fifth grader (and their guests, hi mom and dad) can get a free pass to explore all of America’s federal lands and waters—which spans millions of acres. From Puerto Rico to Maine and Virginia to the Hawaiian Islands, the sky’s the limit. But with COVID-19 putting a crimp in travel plans right now, there’s plenty of ways to kick-start your adventure right in your very own backyard of New Jersey.

featured image via findyourpark.com

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At some parks, kids can trade their paper passes for a waterproof card like this one via @utahsadventurefamily

How being in nature helps kids learn

If you’ve got kids ages 9-11, then here’s a fact that you might not know: These tweens are in a unique developmental stage where they begin to understand how the world around them works in more concrete ways. What this means is they are more receptive to new ideas and most likely curious about nature and the environment. That’s why Every Kid Outdoors is a great opportunity—your family can enjoy these federal lands and waters during this crucial stage of learning. The ultimate reward? Inspiring stewardship of these outdoor spaces for future generations.

How it works

While your kid must be in fourth grade to take advantage of the free pass, this year, they are extending vouchers to fifth graders who may have missed out last year due to quarantine. It’s valid starting every September 1 to August 31 during your child’s fourth grade school year (for fifth graders, the pass expires on August 31) and grants free admission to your child, siblings under 16, and up to three adults. You’ll need to print your pass and bring it with you when you visit since they only accept paper copies. Also, good to note when making plans—the pass doesn’t cover things like parking or special tours, and COVID shutdowns have pushed back some visitor center reopenings, so best to check before you go. Ready to plan? We found 6 home-grown NJ destinations that accept Every Kid Outdoor passes, so you don’t have to travel far. And when you do hit the road, following park etiquette like picking up litter and being mindful of animals or habitats, will teach your kids how to respect and preserve the parks so their kids and grandkids can someday enjoy it too.

The Pinelands National Reserve includes acres of farm, forest, and wetlands via findyourpark.com

Here are 6 awesome NJ parks you can go to now

Morristown National Historical Park
Despite limited resources, Morristown served as quarters for the Continental Army on two occasions—the winter of 1777 and again during the Hard Winter of 1779. Follow the army and George Washington’s trail through the park via the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National History Trail.

Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park
Paterson Great Falls, America’s first planned industrial city, offers historic mills and tours and stories of Alexander Hamilton.

Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge 
The Wallkill refuge conserves the biological diversity of the Wallkill Valley by protecting and managing land, with a special emphasis on forest-dwelling and grassland birds, migrating waterfowl, wintering raptors, and endangered species.

New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve 
This is truly a special place—it’s classified as a United States Biosphere Reserve and in 1978 was established by Congress as the country’s first National Reserve. It includes portions of seven southern New Jersey counties and encompasses over one-million acres of farms, forests, and wetlands.

Thomas Edison National Historical Park (Grounds are open, but most buildings remain closed. Look for reopening plans in late spring). 
Thomas Edison National Historical Park features America’s greatest inventor’s home and laboratory in the original condition.

Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge trails are open, but the visitor center is temporarily closed)
The Edwin B. Forsythe refuge protects more than 47,000 acres of southern New Jersey coastal habitats, which manages migratory birds.

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